As an ‘80s baby, I have a particular fondness for toys that pre-date the ‘90s nostalgia in which we’re all so often enmeshed — and I will always, always keep a place in my heart for Teddy Ruxpin. And, hey, I have good news for anyone who’s right there along with me: Teddy Ruxpin is back! He’s a lot more advanced in 2017 than he was when us older millennials, Xennials, and Gen X-ers were kids, though, because, well…that’s what happens when a 30-year-old toy gets a reboot.
Created by former Disney Imagineer Ken Forsse in 1985, Teddy Ruxpin was initially produced by the now-defunct company Worlds of Wonder. Although the toy was enormously popular — in November of 1985, Worlds of Wonder told the Los Angeles Times that they were on track to sell more than a million of the bears by Christmas, while a spokesperson for Toys R Us said that Teddy Ruxpin was selling better than the incredible in-demand Cabbage Patch dolls did during their first year of life — Worlds of Wonder folded just a few years later; when the company liquidated its assets, Hasbro acquired the Teddy Ruxpin line, and in 1991, manufactured the toy under the Playskool brand. This new version, which used eight-track-esque cartridges instead of cassettes, was in circulation until 1996.
In 1998, yet a third company, YES! Entertainment, began manufacturing Ruxpin; this version went back to using cassette tapes (the cartridges…uh... hadn’t worked so well), but was short-lived. By 2005, a fourth company had picked up the Teddy Ruxpin mantle: BackPack Toys. The bear went digital for the first time during this incarnation, but again, it didn’t last long.
At that point, Ruxpin languished in obscurity for quite some time — but then, in February of 2016, something magical happened: Wicked Coo lToys announced that it was teaming up with Alchemy II to relaunch Teddy Ruxpin yet again. Said Wicked Cool Toys Co-President and Partner Jeremy Padawer in a press release at the time of the announcement, “We are embracing the past and making Teddy Ruxpin as adorable and engaging as ever, while innovating Teddy with features that will amaze parents and their tech savvy children.” Jan Forsse, President of Alchemy II (which owns the Teddy Ruxpin brand), added, “Teddy Ruxpin is more than just a toy. He’s about friendship, magical fun,storytelling, and literacy, and we believe the team at Wicked Cool Toys has just the right experience o bring this friend-for-life franchise back to life for a whole new generation of kids.” This latest incarnation — Ruxpin’s fifth — was scheduled to arrive during the fall of 2017, and, well… here we are.
The original Teddy Ruxpin operated via cassette tapes, with the left track of each tape producing the audio and the right track controlling the toy’s robotic movements. While this technology was quite advanced for the time — it falls under the heading of “Things We Thought Were So High Tech Back Then” — it’s obviously fallen out of use in the years since (raise your hand if you are one of the few people who still own both cassettes and the means to play them); naturally, then, the new version of the toy uses the kind of technology that the current generation reveres as advanced: Apps. Teddy is now equipped with Bluetooth technology, and as young readers page through his stories on a smartphone or tablet, he reads along. (He comes preloaded with three stories; more are also available for purchase.) You control him by squeezing his paws or pressing on his chest. His eyes are also now LCD screens capable of displaying much more emotion than his previous mechanical version was.
My, how the times do change!
Gizmodo reviewed the toy this past August, while BuzzFeed followed suit just last week. Gizmodo noted that the new Ruxpin hasn’t really learned enough new tricks to compete with other similar toys on the market; wrote Andrew Liszewski, “Its dated functionality — basically reading stories and singing songs — means fewer kids will be interested. Nostalgic parents who grew up with the original might be the new Teddy Ruxpin’s most interested demographic, but in another 32 years the original Teddy Ruxpin will still be the one those retired ‘80s kids will be hunting for on eBay.” However, Rhianon Hoffman of Brooklyn Boy Mom, who reviewed Ruxpin for BuzzFeed, noted that the toy appealed greatly to all of her kids: “He’s intended for ages 2 and up, and I can attest to the fact that all of my kids enjoy playing with him (read: fighting over him) for different reasons,” she wrote. “My younger boys love being told the stories, while my older two will actively read along.”
Perhaps worth noting, though, is that both outlets also drew attention to the fact that Ruxpin’s eyes are… a little creep-tastic when the bear is turned off. Hoffman called them “hollow,” while Liszewski at Gizmodo described them, variously, as “a little creepy” and “dead.” (That actually appears to be why the new Ruxpin comes with an eye mask you can slip on him when he’s not in use — it cuts down a bit on the spook factor.)
Teddy Ruxpin is far from the only ‘80s or ‘90s toy to get rebooted in recent years; indeed, he’s not even the only robotic ‘80s or ‘90s toy to come back into style. Just last year, Furby was relaunched as Furby Connect — and the toy actually has a lot of similarities to the new Teddy Ruxpin: Like Teddy, it uses Bluetooth technology (this time to connect to other nearby Furbies and interact with them), and its eyes are LCD screens capable of displaying more than 150 animated expressions. The Tamagotchi, too, has seen a comeback recently, although I think it’s interesting that this re-release, which arrived at the beginning of November, isn't a high-tech update: It was a relaunch of the very first Tamagotchi, which was originally released in Japan in 1996 and globally in 1997.
The most fascinating thing about all these ‘80s and ‘90s toy revamps, though, is something that Jeremy Padawer commented on in a piece by CNET tracing the history of Teddy Ruxpin: The parents of today who will be buying these toys for their kids would have played with the older versions of those very toys when they were kids. Said Padawer, “It is the perfect storm to bring back a brand where there’s this multigenerational commonality.”
One thing’s for sure: High tech toys never go out of style; the technology just changes a little with time.