The audio-animatronic toy craze of the mid-1980s is all but forgotten now. The servos have stilled, the batteries have died, and the robotic eyelids have frozen in a half-opened position that makes it look like Teddy Ruxpin has been hitting the sauce. But for a few years, America’s children decided they wanted portable Chuck E. Cheese toys they could carry around with them, and the market obliged. Or, more accurately, the market decided America’s children wanted portable Chuck E. Cheese toys, and America’s children ended up with a lifelong fear of robotic bears. World of Wonder’s Teddy Ruxpin was the most famous example, and the only one that’s maintained any cultural currency, but he didn’t arrive alone. Here are just a few of the Teddy Ruxpin knockoffs that flooded the market in the late 1980s, ranked from worst to worst.
Smarty Bear, Galoob’s Teddy Ruxpin competitor, wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Unlike Mr. Ruxpin, Mr. Bear could talk without an audio tape, ostensibly responding to children’s questions. But with only a few stock phrases, one of which was “Better ask again later,” he never really moved beyond the Magic 8 Ball stage. Smarty could also be connected to a VCR with the Smarty Bear Interactive Video System, which was the only way to get his eyebrows to work. But it was the advertising campaign that made Smarty Bear the worst Teddy Ruxpin knock off of all. What kind of crime or scandal has inspired the police and journalists to storm Smarty Bear’s home? Who let them into the house? Did Smarty Bear murder someone? And if he did, why is he being so folksy about it? The worst.
Hasbro ended up buying the rights to Teddy Ruxpin in 1991, but in 1986, they weren’t above a negative ad campaign to promote their Ruxpin knockoff, Bingo Bear. Bingo’s mouth moved via puppetry, not robotics, something the commercial only makes clear through a text disclaimer, and Hasbro’s claim that children “could have a real conversation” with Bingo relied on a pretty generous definition of “conversation.” It’s possible that Bingo Bear—or Monkgomery Monkey, the other half of Hasbro’s Yakity Yak toy line—would have been chosen as the worst Teddy Ruxpin knockoff on the basis of his limited vocabulary and dead-eyed stare alone. But it’s the misleading attack ads that guarantee Bingo Bear his place as the worst Teddy Ruxpin knockoff in history.
Wrinkles the Talking Dog
Rich Little did the ads for Coleco’s entry into the “hand puppet with a speech synthesizer” race that Bingo Bear had kicked off. If you need any more evidence that Wrinkles the Talking Dog was the worst Teddy Ruxpin knockoff ever made, let me repeat: Rich Little did the ads.
Not only were they using Rich Little’s Nixon impression to sell children’s toys, it was apparently supposed to be a selling point that Richard Nixon believes that Wrinkles the Talking Dog would have gotten him through Watergate. The absolute worst.
What is it saying? What is it saying? WHAT IS IT SAYING? The worst by far.
Technically, Grubby is not a Teddy Ruxpin knockoff—he was a Teddy Ruxpin accessory.
But Grubby, who had to be connected to a Teddy Ruxpin doll before he’d do anything, wasn’t just a cash grab from Words of Wonder. He was also a talking grub. A grub! A maggot! An insect larva! This disgusting decision in toy robot design is what makes Grubby the worst Teddy Ruxpin knockoff of all.