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Back-to-school guide

Back-to-school guide — Kids will go crazy for a ”Tom and Jerry” lunch box, ”Jurassic Park” candy, and more

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Back to school means back to the stores — at least for parents, who have to sort through all the lunch boxes, backpacks, and other academic and after-school paraphernalia designed to show classmates just how hip a kid is to the latest movies and TV shows. With show-biz product licensing now a $62 billion industry, chances are that at least some of Jurassic Park‘s 1,000-plus artifacts will end up replacing all those Aladdin items your kids begged for last year. To sort out the must-haves from the must-I?’s, we went shopping with two discriminating Westport, Conn., youngsters, Scott Simon, 10, and Lauren Raynor, 5. Here’s what they said about this fall’s crop of minimerchandise:

Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa school supplies Mooove over, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello. These brave TV bovines are being promoted as the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Lauren: ”I’d like to have all the pencils, the sharpener, and the stampers. I could also use the memo pad. The pencil case would be good to keep everything in, too.”

Tom and Jerry and canteen Though the dueling duo has been around for decades, Tom and Jerry: The Movie has provided a new excuse for stamping their faces on everything kid-related. Scott: ”It’s okay, I guess.”

Snow White lunch box and Thermos Where there’s a Disney movie there’s a lunch box, but this pretty plastic version isn’t nearly as cool as the 1977 metal one that featured a spinner game on the outside. Lauren: ”Why didn’t they make it in pink?”

Jurassic Park candy and cookies On the theory that kids eat up anything having to do with dinosaurs, Jurassic Park presents cookies, raptor eggs, and giant jawbreakers for the lunch box. Lauren: ”The cherry-vanilla raptor eggs are delicious, but they get stuck in your teeth.”

Snow White jeans Rule of merchandising: When you have cartoon characters as recognizable and lovable as the Seven Dwarfs, put as many as possible on every single item of clothing. Lauren: ”I love these, but what happened to the other three dwarfs?”

Eek! The Cat stuffed animal Though the plush version is cuddly, you wouldn’t want your child sleeping with this mean-spirited Saturday-morning character. Lauren: ”He’s so cute!”

Free Willy T-shirt Kids love animals and they like message T-shirts, but they have a hard time with uplifting movie titles. Scott: ”This shirt has too much stuff on it, and ‘Free Willy’ sounds like you’re trying to get a crook out of jail.”

Jurassic Park T-shirt The biggest movie of the summer has exploded into more than 30 different T-shirt designs, including this in-your-face version. Scott: ”That is one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.”

Full House Michelle doll Full House, the ’90s version of The Brady Bunch, is No. 1 with kids, and precocious Michelle is the role model for a new generation of preschoolers. Lauren: ”I love the way she says ‘Whoa, baby’ and ‘No way, José!”’

Dennis the Menace sweatshirt John Hughes’ movie brought back Dennis the Menace in the form of Mason Gamble, but today’s kids, raised with Home Alone‘s savvier Macaulay Culkin, may not care. Scott: ”Yuck, I wouldn’t wear his face on my chest.”

Operation: Aliens backpack 20th Century Fox found a new market by translating the successful, adult-oriented Alien films into kid-friendly merchandise. Scott: ”Wow, it’s got great comic book-like graphics. I’d definitely use it.”

Itchy & Scratchy watch Bart Simpson’s favorite cartoon, this show-within-a-show inspired the first merchandise sub-spin-off from prime time’s most successful licensing program ever. Scott: ”That’s cool how it pops up. Can I keep it?”

Operation: Aliens action figures This is one of the country’s top three best-selling toy lines, and the Alien Queen with ”Deadly” Chest-Hatchling, which even Fox executives worried was too gruesome, outsells the other figures two to one. Scott: ”These are very, very cool.”

Meteor Man hat Few movies escape unmerchandised these days. This inner-city fairy tale opted for one of the staples: a cap. Scott: ”Boring.”

Once Upon a Forest plush toys Even though the movie was a dud, its environmentally conscious animated characters have been recycled as stuffed huggables. Lauren: ”I think my Dad won one of these at a fair.”