My kid got a Teddy Ruxpin for Christmas, which made me go into a weird rabbithole of Teddy Ruxpin “research.” You know how it is. One day you’re a normal human being, the next day, you’ve spent approximately three hours on the Internet reading about an animatronic bear. I now must share the information I’ve learned with you, like a bubonic plague.
I only ever knew of Teddy Ruxpin as the mythical toy I wanted so badly in the 1980s. I never got one, which became something of its own myth. This fact is the reason I became a disgruntled adult — at least if you ask my family. It’s the reason my sister jumped at the opportunity to buy the heralded 2017 return of Ruxpin for my three-year-old son.
So yes, Teddy Ruxpin is back. Again. But like anything that haunts us, he never really left. His original production ran from 1985 to 1988, when the original company went bankrupt. After Worlds of Wonder sold the rights, Hasbro resurrected him in 1991 until 1996. Two more companies took another swing at producing the bear in 1998 and 2006, respectively. And now, after a decade absence, we have the latest and greatest to arrive on scene, looking fresh in an updated vest and jorts:
He retails for $99.99.
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SERIOUS IT COST THAT MUCH? (This is basically my wife’s reaction.)
Well, now you know why I didn’t get one when I was a kid. He cost the equivalent of $170 in 1985. For all the whining I’ve ever done, I am now fully okay with my parents not purchasing me a nearly-$200 cassette player wrapped in bear fur.
I also would have been fully okay with my sister not dropping a benjamin on a millenial version of wrapped in bear fur nonsense for my son. But at this point, it’s no longer just a toy. It’s a life journey come full circle.
I wanted a Teddy Ruxpin on a level of deeper yearning. It was a bear that talked. In 1985, that sort of technology was only available at Disney World. I was in awe, along with the rest of America. The bear sold over $90 million worth of toys in its first year. There were nearly 40 cassette storybooks available, 10 additional outfits you could change him into, a sidekick Grubby doll, a cartoon series, the requisite 1980s bed sheet set, and even a telephone you could call him on.
Teddy Ruxpin had three servo motors operating the eyelids, nose, and lower jaw, a circuit board, a full size cassette player and speaker, and four hefty D batteries. He was unlike anything else on the toy shelves.
But I never had one. Have you gotten that part yet? My own personal fascination with Teddy ends somewhere in 1987, when I took up an interest in a new cartoon featuring four humanoid turtles who do ninja moves…
And yet Ruxpin endured on — through multiple licenses, relaunches, geek robot hobbyists, and internet fan forums. Of course, there are internet fan forums. There’s even Teddy Ruxpin fan fiction. And in my research, I’ve read it, and now I’m going to tell you what it’s like.
I can’t. I didn’t. I couldn’t make it past the first paragraph of Chapter One of the Great Grundo Rescue Pt. 1. There only appears to be four active members on the Teddy Ruxpin Online Fan Fic Forum, if that helps you sleep at night.
Which brings us to Teddy Ruxpin 2017, with his spiffy LCD eyes and OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE EYES
When the toy is off, and there are no hypnotic glow-screen eyes to stare into like an endless river, there are just these dead empty globes. The toy even comes with a little sleep mask that you can put on Teddy to cover the dread.
God help us, we’ve already lost that bastard little mask, and every night my son asks me “where’s Teddy’s sleep mask” and I’m just like I DON’T KNOW SON. I DON’T KNOW.
Not that it’s much better when the eyes are on:
Today, Teddy is a lot softer, smaller, and weighs in at a little under three pounds. What shocked me most is he’s still telling us the same stories. It’s the exact same 1980s material, digitized. Thirty years later, this bear is still blathering on about mudblurps, the land of Grundo, saving Princess Arunzia, and so on.
It has been said that “Teddy’s epic fantasy adventure story has been described by some as “Lord of the Rings with fur.” I wrote all of that in passive voice because I don’t believe that any human being has ever stated that out loud, but I did copy that verbatim from the author of Teddy Ruxpin Online, who is quite possibly one of the four fan fic writers.
Which brings me to the question, do you think kids today really care about listening to some old ass stories about Grundo?
I will answer it. No. Of course not. Absolutely not.
That’s why they did this:
ONSCREEN ANIMATION EYES.
My kid thinks it’s cool as hell. “Look, he got diamonds,” he says hypnotized.
“Okay, welp, time for bed — no, let’s not take Teddy to bed…uhhh, he talks too much.”
And I don’t want him to steal your soul while you’re sleeping, is all.
Ruxpin comes with roughly 45 minutes of content pre-installed on board, and naturally you can download 7 additional stories through the app. Wicked Cool Toys threatens that if the toy becomes exceedingly popular, they will release more of the original material, and perhaps even create new stories and songs for the new generation.
(Spoiler alert: this will never, ever happen. I’m already seeing Ruxpin being clearanced out for under $50 at Walmart and Target.)
And so, at the end of our journey, what we’re left with is my kid being one of the few owners of this weird, strange toy. Make no mistake, it’s always been a weird, strange toy — which is no doubt how it has endured multiple incarnations, decades, and childhoods.
Except mine, you know, because I didn’t have one.