Do you remember a toy called Teddy Ruxpin? You may not if you weren’t born before 1980. Teddy Ruxpin is an animatronics talking bear which was first produced in 1985. Ruxpin would move his mouth and eyes as he read stories via an audio cassette tape deck hidden in his back.
Not only was Teddy Ruxpin the hottest Christmas gift of the mid-1980s, but he even had his own Saturday morning cartoon. Ruxpin was adored by both boys and girls. Seriously, what child wouldn’t want an animated Teddy bear that could read books?
But that was decades ago. Since 1985, the license to produce the Teddy Ruxpin toy line has been passed from company to company and his future has been shaky at best. But things are looking up for Teddy Ruxpin. He has a new home at toy manufacturer Backpack Toys and they’ve revamped this classic toy.
How does the new Teddy Ruxpin compare to the original? Is Teddy Ruxpin ready to WOW a whole new generation of children everywhere? Let’s find out.
A Smaller Teddy Ruxpin
The new Teddy Ruxpin looks exactly the same as his 20-year-old counterpart, but now he’s slightly smaller. The original toy was big and bulky because he had to conceal a giant audio cassette player in his back. But the new Teddy Ruxpin uses small digital cartridges to tell his stories to kids. These cartridges require less machinery, don’t have any moving parts, and allow Ruxpin to be smaller, and honestly, much more appropriately sized for little kids.
Animation Cartridges vs. Cassette Tapes
Teddy Ruxpin’s biggest draw was also his biggest flaw. Ruxpin came to life and was able to talk to kids because of the analog cassette tape in his back. But one of the biggest problems with the original Teddy Ruxpin was the cassette tapes coming unwound. This was usually due to issues with the playback heads in Ruxpin’s cassette deck. But we’re sure the unpredictable nature of a 3-year-old contributed to quite a few broken cassette tapes. To replace the broken tapes, parents would have to shell out another $20 for a replacement copy of the same cassettes tape and companion book. But the new and improved Teddy Ruxpin uses ‘kid friendly’ cartridges just like the original Nintendo and Atari game consoles. This means no more broken or unwound tapes. And no more rewinding or flipping the tape over to listen to it again! You can jump from one story to another using the playback controls on Teddy’s back.
Not only are the animation cartridges more durable, but they’re cheaper and sound better too. Back in the 1980s, you had to pay $20 for one Teddy Ruxpin book and cassette tape set. Nowadays, you can get a double book/cartridge set for under $20.
Teddy Ruxpin also sounds better. The audio is all digital now and advancements in speaker technology mean Ruxpin sounds much better than he did 20 years ago. No more cassette hiss or fuzzy audio. Ruxpin’s new digital stories are loud and clear.
NERD NOTE: Teddy Ruxpin was invented by Ken Forsse, a former creator of the animatronics characters used on the television show Welcome to Pooh Corner.
Teddy Ruxpin History
Worlds Of Wonder, the original creators of the Teddy Ruxpin line of toys, not only made a name for themselves in the toy industry but they also made a fortune. Teddy Ruxpin was a home run. Unfortunately, several questionable stock trades by company’s top officers spooked investors. This left the company on shaky ground and unable to survive the 1987 stock market crash. Four years later, Worlds of Wonder‘s remaining assets were liquidated.
Between 1991 and 1998, Hasbro, Playskool and Yes! Entertainment all tried to bring Teddy Ruxpin back. But between financial reorganizations and manufacturing difficulties, neither company were able to adequately produce and market Teddy Ruxpin. Especially absent, was the marketing magic behind Worlds of Wonder’s original Teddy Ruxpin TV commercials.
Then in 2005, Backpack Toys announced the 4th version of Teddy Ruxpin and made several major changes. They replaced the clunky audio cassette tapes with digital cartridges and made Teddy Ruxpin smaller and more durable. The Backpack Toys version of Teddy Ruxpin is currently available via retailers and online retail channels like Amazon.com.
How did the original Teddy Ruxpin talk?
What made the original Teddy Ruxpin so special was people we’re sure how he worked? Part of the reason parents bought Teddy Ruxpin was out of curiosity. Sure you popped a cassette deck in his back and we heard his voice, but how did they make his head and face move?
Teddy Ruxpin’s secret was in the cassette tape. The special Teddy Ruxpin cassettes used the two tracks (left and right) of a standard audio cassette tape differently: the left track contains the audio, while the right track encodes the toy’s movements.
How does the toy know the difference between a Teddy Ruxpin cassette and a normal cassette? A special hole in the top of the Teddy Ruxpin cassettes tells the teddy bear that the right track contains movement data. If the notch isn’t present, the player then assumes that a normal cassette was being played, and it avoids interpreting the right track as movement queues.
Teddy Ruxpin movement data is encoded as a series of rapid pulse groups known as pulse-position modulation. If the cassette is played in a normal cassette player, one would hear both the program recorded on it, as well as a buzzing noise – this “buzzing” is the pulse-position modulation. The data track contains continuous groups of nine pulses separated by silence. The spacing between pulses varies, and the length of each space determines the following characteristics (each of which is assigned to one of the “time slots” between two of the pulses): position of Teddy’s eyes, upper jaw, lower jaw, and (if Grubby is attached) the position of Grubby’s eyes, upper jaw and lower jaw.
One of the slots is also assigned as a switch to route the audio through Grubby instead of Teddy and is activated during Grubby’s parts of the dialogue. If Grubby is not attached, then the audio plays through Teddy.
NERD NOTE: When he was first produced in the 1980s, Teddy Ruxpin also had a companion toy named Grubby which connected to Teddy via a cable; this allowed the twosome (minimal) interaction. As well, there were several other animatronics companion toys and characters such as the bird-like Fobs, a hand puppet with a sock-like, extendable neck, the larger Wooly Whatsit hand puppet, a Tweeg puppet, and an L.B. Bounder puppet.
Over the years, there were many other incarnations of Teddy Ruxpin. But, with the exception of the original Worlds of Wonder phenomenon, none have come close to capturing this character’s endearing charm… until now. Advancements in technology the past 20 years have made Teddy Ruxpin a better toy both on the inside and outside. The new and improved Teddy Ruxpin is smaller, more durable, better sounding, and more affordable. Depending on the retailer, Teddy Ruxpin can cost between $50 – $70. A lot of parents will think twice before spending that much for a Teddy bear, but keep in mind that the original toy from the 1980s cost about $100 and wasn’t as durable or well-made compared the new version.
If you’re looking for a gift that will enthrall a child and give the parents nostalgic memories of their childhoods, then Ruxpin is your man. He teaches lessons in exciting ways, surrounding kids with stories that matter to them, not because they are learning, but because they’re having fun. The whole idea is to teach kids in a way that doesn’t put them “below” Teddy like he’s preaching to them. Teddy discovers things WITH children, not FOR them. Kids always feel like they’ve been taken along on some adventure with Teddy Ruxpin. And if they just happen to learn something along the way, then that’s what learning should be, fun.
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Frank Wilson is a retired teacher with over 30 years of combined experience in the education, small business technology, and real estate business. He now blogs as a hobby and spends most days tinkering with old computers. Wilson is passionate about tech, enjoys fishing, and loves drinking beer.