It probably comes as no surprise that the author of The Nostalgia Spot has a real soft spot for the toys from his youth. One of my favorites was my Teddy Ruxpin story-telling bear and his companion Grubby the octopede. I don’t remember receiving him, but I know it was a Christmas gift and I was terrified of him when he was first powered on, as I assume was the case for many kids in the 1980’s. Today it’s not hard to find a stuffed animal that talks, sings, and moves to pre-recorded material. I even purchased my son a talking Elmo last year that knows his name and interacts with him. In 1986 though, this was cutting edge stuff and kids just weren’t used to their toys simulating life in this manner, hence why it could be terrifying.
I warmed up to Teddy, as did my sister, and using him was a treat. It wasn’t an every day thing, since he was limited by how many stories he had and by how quickly he devoured batteries. I would eventually receive Grubby as a birthday present necessitating even more batteries each time we wanted to hear a story. It’s not that each session would kill the batteries, but Teddy could be a little greedy when it came to power. As I mentioned in the lead-in, Teddy was pretty sophisticated in 1986, but by today’s standards he’s actually pretty basic. Teddy Ruxpin was essentially a stuffed bear with a cassette player in his body. As a result, he was pretty bulky, and kind of heavy. He wasn’t the type of teddy bear you would sleep with. His head housed some basic animatronics. His mouth opened and closed to simulate speech and his eyes would blink too. Connecting him via a special cable to Grubby enabled Grubby’s eyes and mouth to function as well. Grubby also had his own internal speaker, like Teddy, so it really sounded like he was talking with Teddy. Other voices in the stories would emanate from Teddy’s speaker and Grubby and Teddy would just sit stoically while they spoke, occasionally blinking their eyes.
Teddy came with one book and one cassette tape and various other book and tape combinations could be purchased at retail. The books had some nice artwork and were fairly conventional children’s tales. Owners could also buy costumes to dress Teddy in, like a rain coat or a Santa Claus suit to pair with his Christmas story. Teddy was a pretty big hit and one of the first Christmas toys parents were seemingly willing to kill for. He was the main property for toy company Worlds of Wonder, but the company would eventually go belly-up in the 90s. Teddy was re-released in various forms throughout the decade, getting updates to the original model and also receiving a new “backpack” version that used something like 8-tracks instead of cassettes. He had a companion animated series that had a full syndication order, but apparently it wasn’t enough to sustain Worlds of Wonder.
Now in 2017, Wicked Cool Toys has brought Teddy Ruxpin back for a new audience. Unlike prior attempts to revive him, this Teddy is entirely different. Sure he’s still a bear, has brown fur, and tells stories, but he no longer is saddled with a cumbersome playback device. He’s noticeably smaller, and more cuddly than his predecessor. He’s also not designed to utilize a line of books but rather a companion app available for tablets and cell phones that substitute for an actual book. He likely has some sort of internal flash memory for storing stories and comes pre-loaded with three tales with more available for purchase through the aforementioned app. He’s basically what you would expect Teddy Ruxpin to be in 2017.
Wicked Cool Toys either hired the same actors who played Teddy (Phil Baron) and Grubby (Will Ryan) back in the day or they found individuals who sound just like them. Or everything is old material. All of the stories are recycled from the original run, as best as I can tell, so Wicked Cool Toys not only acquired the Teddy Ruxpin license, but the back catalogue as well. “The Airship,” which I believe is the original story that came with Teddy, is included and it’s kind of a trip to revisit it. The stories I remember most from my childhood, “Uncle Grubby” and “Winter Adventure,” so far are not available but it wouldn’t surprise me if they show up eventually. This means if you still have any of your old books you can basically use them with this new Teddy. I’d love to find my old copy of “The Airship” just to see if any new dialogue was added.
Operating Teddy is pretty simple. He runs off of AA batteries (not included) and is powered on with a switch on his back. He has two volume settings, and additional controls in both paws and beneath the emblem of his vest. The right paw activates Teddy and can cycle through the stories while the left paw is a pause/unpause button. The button in his chest advances the page. There’s a blue tooth connection button located near the power button. To sync with a phone, you simply open the app and then press the button and follow the onscreen prompts. There’s also a factory reset button if he ever starts acting weird. I have yet to purchase additional stories so I don’t know exactly how that works, but you do it through the app. I assume it must “unlock” the story which is already stored in the bear. He does have a micro USB port, but as of right now, there’s really no need to utilize it that I’m aware of.
When Teddy powers on his eyes light up and his mouth starts flapping and the familiar “Come dream with me tonight,” still introduces each story. The motors are a lot quieter than the old ones and Teddy should seem less intimidating, so long as the eyes don’t freak you out. They take a little getting used to. Instead of animatronics, Wicked Cool Toys opted for LCD screens that display Teddy’s eyes and animate them as well. This means his eyes are capable of a much wider array of expressions, including cartoonish ones like heart-shaped eyes and stars, but at the cost of looking kind of fake. They also glow, and when Teddy is turned off they go completely black. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to stare into the blank void that is Teddy’s eyes.
When Teddy is not in use, he has a little sleeping mask he can wear to protect his eyes and hide the creepiness. The standard Teddy has an orange shirt that isn’t removable with a tan vest that goes over it. He sports some fashionable jeans to finish off the ensemble and it’s a rather “hip” update to his old onesie and vest combo. If you’re really nostalgic for that look, Target sells a special edition Teddy that features his classic outfit. I haven’t heard plans for additional outfits, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they become a thing if this toy is a hit.
Naturally, I’m a man in my 30s so I didn’t purchase a Teddy Ruxpin for myself. I bought it for my one-year old daughter and it’s become her favorite toy. She practically explodes with giddiness every time I turn him on and sometimes we have to hide him when we’re sick of listening to him otherwise she’ll just keep gesturing for us to turn him on. Since she’s only one, she mostly likes the songs and the fact that he talks, but my older son likes to watch the companion stories on my phone, when he’s in the right mood to be sitting still. I do plan on adding some additional stories, especially the Christmas one, in the not too distant future. I expect the experience will be seamless, but if I have any issues I’ll update this post.
I have so far encountered one issue with Teddy and that’s the pause button in his left paw (paws button?) has stopped working. It’s troublesome for me because my daughter likes pausing and unpausing him because she seems to get a kick out his expression freezing in mid sentence. Now that it isn’t working, she gets frustrated with it quickly which is unfortunate because it partly ruins her enjoyment of the bear. I contacted Wicked Cool Toys via email and they got back to me within an hour and offered to replace my unit with a new one at no cost to me . I’ve been quite impressed with their customer service as a result. These things happen, so as long as companies stand behind their product I find it hard to get angry or discouraged when something malfunctions.
Teddy Ruxpin is looking like he’s going to be a pretty tough find this holiday season, which is partly why I’m making this post. At least in my house, he’s a home run and my kids really like him. They are kids, so it’s impossible to say how long they’ll stick with something, but for now they’re pretty happy. The prospect of adding new stories should help keep him fresh, and I even think they’ll only enjoy him more as they get a little older and can interact with the stories on a higher level. I do not know what the future has in store for Teddy Ruxpin, if this is it or if his buddy Grubby is in development, but it’s pretty neat to see him back in the spotlight after more than 30 years. Teddy retails for about $100, but most of the major retailers have him marked down to $90. He’s been going in and out of stock since he was released in August, and it might only get more challenging to find as Christmas draws near. If you’re after the Target exclusive, you’ll probably have a harder time tracking him down. I casually looked for one to get my nephew, but I wasn’t having any luck so he’s getting the standard version. It’s possible Wicked Cool Toys has been withholding stock for the holiday rush and he’ll start becoming easier to find. There should be plenty to go around, so don’t cave and resort to the secondary market. And if you do opt to get one for your kid this Christmas, hopefully he or she enjoys Teddy as much as my kids do.