Tape Talkers: So Many 1980s Talking Dolls…
Teddy Ruxpin may have been the first of the tape deck talking dolls, but the legion following in his storytelling lead is an amazing tale in itself. It is a tale of the literal video tape, stored in the archives of our VHS collections.
Shall we take a journey through this land of talking dolls?
(Special thanks to Retroist reader Sailor Brite for her request, which inspired this follow up to my previous article on Cricket’s instruction tape!)
“You’re My Friend…”
1980s talking dolls were a world of amazingness. Ask any talking doll owner/watcher of You Tube archives.
Though technologically dated by today’s harsh standards, talking dolls were the thing of marvel in the mid 1980s. Pop in a tape/cartridge, press a button, and a whole world unfolds. In 20 minutes, you’ll hear a few songs, laugh at a few jokes, or be lulled into sleep by a bedtime story or song. We dressed them, colored with them, and probably wanted to feed them our peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For a young child of the 1980s, a talking doll was a first friend, even if most of them couldn’t talk back, they were still company.
There were also several “squeeze to talk” dolls mixed in with the tape (audio cassette) talkers. These didn’t tell stories, but they did ask you to do stuff…like kill family members…
Talky Tina, how did you get a hold of my keyboard?!
And once you brush off the creepiness of time, these dolls (even the creepy-looking ones) really start to look amazing all over again.
Dated, but amazing.
Worlds of Wonders (And Playmates Abound!)
Worlds of Wonder and Playmates dominated the 1980s talking doll market. They were at the forefront of the cassette tape-controlled talkers. You’ve likely heard of both companies and the their other toys (and if you like this kind of history, you know what happened to Worlds of Wonder). While Ideal and Coleco also made a minor dent at the time, the dominance truly belonged to Playmates and Worlds of Wonder.
The trend took off in 1985 with Worlds of Wonder’s Teddy Ruxpin, and while he was the first, he had some amazing company. Also in good company? The amount of nostalgic ’80s kids with massive archives of amazing commercials, and the select few who take to YouTube to actually show us their still-working dolls in action.
How about we take a look at some of these marvels of robotic technology?
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Teddy Ruxpin launched the “tape talkers” trend, and the very definition of a “first friend.” Launched in 1985, Teddy had a world of storybook-and-tape stories, clothes, a cartoon, and even an octopede named Grubby as a friend.
Uploaded by Jen Wolford
He was the “best friend” for your “best friend,” but you had to own Teddy in order to operate him. I didn’t have Grubby (just Teddy), but I love watching videos of them interacting. The 1980s just feel like a whole other time when this was what we played with.
“Come dream with me tonight…let’s go to far off places…”
(By the way, I wrote about the horrifying side of Teddy Ruxpin over on my blog.)
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No lie – I’ve had this song stuck in my head since I worked on my Cricket instruction tape article (“You and me, me and you!”).
Picture it: New Jersey, sometime in 1986. I saw a deceptively-advertised Cricket skipping along a path, I knew I wanted her for Christmas. And in December, it happened. My four-year-old heart was in love immediately. She was my “first friend” of choice, and her stories were always fun to listen and interact with. I’m not above admitting my full-out, undivided, hardcore partcipation in anything Cricket commanded.
Cricket was loads of fun until an unfortunate “traumatic event” that involved leaving the Yellow Fast Forward Button pressed overnight and this motor noise (perhaps I needed an instructional tape refresher?) that terrified my seven-year-old self. I have since hated noises that sound like the low hummings of a motor, but it may have been moreso the sound of her voice when it was obvious the batteries were drained that scared me.
Let’s just say Cricket wasn’t “Talkin’ to me” for awhile.
I did eventually play with and grew to love her all over again, but by the time I was ten years old, she was more fun for hair styling than anything (don’t worry, her hair never got cut!). She eventually went to the donation bins with other toys when I was fourteen, and I really wish I kept her.
Oh, and that “skipping” commercial? It was found, but someone butchered it…
Uploaded (and horrifyingly dubbed over!) by Jon Runnfeldt
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Ah Cricket’s little brother, one of those Good Guys dolls…
I’m just kidding, this is not Chucky. But that is the “child” voice for the “Tommy” doll that would become Chucky.
Corky was the “spin off” off Cricket, a little brother who couldn’t interact with Cricket the way Grubby could with Teddy Ruxpin. But that was ok, because he had stories and adventures all his own.
My cousin (and I think one of my friends from hgh school) had both Cricket and Corky, so I had some interaction with him in the 1980s and beyond. I see lots of You Tube comments discussing his creepiness, but he’s actually kind of cute. He would have been a welcome addition in my house.
We’ll file him under “first boyfriend” material.
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“Hi, my name is Jill. And I’m alot like you, alot like you!”
Yeah, I’m the blonde equivalent of a Chucky doll, with weird moving arms and head action that scream “I’m a cuddly android”, responding to simple “yes” and “no” commands and making her “story different,” like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book on crack.
You, my friend, are NOT alot like me.
Jill was the “older sister” of Cricket and Corky (though she didn’t have any kind of connection to them in the cannon of storytelling). Also a cassette talker type (but instead with cartridges), Julie had voice recognition capabilities, and your answer had her scroll through the catridge for the appropriate answer, changing the outcome of the “story” she told.
From what I’ve seen of Jill, she’s a motormouth. She’s a (stereo)typical teenager, but wow, she was interesting. The videos of her in action are a tad creepy, but I would have had alot of fun with this doll if I had her.
And like Cricket and Teddy Ruxpin, you’ll never get her theme song unstuck from your consciousness. You can hope for it not to enter your subconscious mind, but I’ve been woken up at 3 am because that part of my brain doesn’t shutup.
But it is so catchy!
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Julie was Worlds of Wonder’s equivalent of Jill. Likely younger in represented age, Julie also used cartridges and responded to voices, but also to light changes, and had a sensor in her finger that allowed her to respond to her books by touch. She seemed ahead of her time, and decidedly less creepy than Jill.
It had to be the voice.
These Worlds of Wonder commercials had such a whimsical flair (must be the narrator, he did all of these Worlds of Wonder commercials), but this one had such a “Greatest Creation Ever” flair. This doll felt like God to the guy who wanted to scream her creation from the rooftops! Just let the little girl have her!
That guy should be aware of how God Complexes start…
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Wow, Snoopy can talk!
I had no clue a Talking Snoopy was a thing until about 10 years ago. I would have expected Charlie Brown, but Worlds of Wonder really knew how to think out of the box. Snoopy’s voice conveys an infectious energy for what he usually only thinks about.
Someone buy me a Snoopy, this is too freakin’ cute!
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“Come along and join the club that’s made for you and me…”
You know the song, so why bother finishing it?
Worlds of Wonder continues on their out-of-the-box thinking by creating a talking Mickey that is more than just squeezing a tummy or hand. He tells stories and connects to Goofy with the “animation cord” that Grubby and Charlie Brown also utilized.
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I almost owned one of these!
My mom had mentioned one time that considered buying me Mother Goose, but decided not to. I’m wondering if this was before Iexpressed interest in Cricket. Given the choice, I would rather have Cricket for the variety of games and stories she had.
I did eventually have the opportunity to play with Mother Goose when I was in kindergarten – one of my childhood friends from my dance class owned one, and yes, she was quite impressive. Not being much of a nursery rhyme/fairy tale type probably was a bigger factor in why this was probably not the best fit for me. Looking back, I would have loved this doll, but Cricket was much more my personality.
On some level, she still is.
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Ideal tried its hand at creating a tape talker with everyone’s favorite yellow bird. My friend from high school (who also had Cricket and Corky) told me she used to hold this while watching Follow That Bird. I love this commercial and how engaged the kids playing are. I know they’re paid for their enthusiasm, but I’m sure this toy could spark that in real life too.
Wisecracking ALF told the lucky children who squeezed his tummy a one-liner from his repertoire. He didn’t need tapes or cartridges, just batteries and a kid to squeeze his tummy.
I’m sure having a cat around didn’t hurt either. :-)
Coleco also manufactured this equally short-lived “tape talker” version…
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I could watch his ears move all day!
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Baby Heather, much like Wisecracking ALF, was a “squeeze to talk doll.” Made by Mattel, she needed her hand squeezed, and she said all the usual baby things that only a fake baby could. No deciphering cries, no screaming to find out what was wrong with the doll, just her addressing her needs to you.
So realistic, you know. As realistic as talking Alien Life Forms from Melmac.
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This is one of those commercials that I always remembered, but could never figure out the name. I am convinced my one cousin (who had Cricket and Corky) had this one too. Baby Talk is a “squeeze to talk” baby, and like Baby Heather, can tell you exactly what it needs. I distinctly remember this doll would say that she was sleepy, and close her eyes, only to completely shut off after a short time. And she was one of those dolls that you didn’t have to keep pushing the hand – she would just talk until she was sick of you and wanted to “sleep.”
This was Galoob’s effort at a talker, but I’ve never seen any “tape talkers” among their efforts.
“Your Friend, What I’d Like To Be!”
I realize there’s alot of ground covered here, but when I was focusing on the main players of the the 1980s talking doll world, it was hard to figure out who the “main players” were. It’s obvious that there was some dominance of the “cassette talker” world, but some clearly held more ground than others.
I still find it amazing that dolls like Jill and Julie exist, and that Snoopy actually had a voice! My mom told me one time that she wanted to get me Mother Goose (and looking at it from a nostalgic point of view, that would have been so cool!). I hate that I was ever afraid of Cricket when I left her in Fast Forward button limbo, because she was such a fun doll. I’d also love to have her so I can listen to her silly stories (seriously, people of You Tube, allow me to live vicariously through you and put up some of those stories!).
As for the “Squeeze” talkers, these are classics. Lower tech in nature, but still loveable in large doses, these got plenty of attention from the happy children who got to play with them.
The advancements in technology make toys like this look silly and dated by the high standards of today’s children (so nitpicky!), but for us, they truly were a world of wonder.
I’ll be talkin’ to ya…about this again. Not this, but something similar to this.
“I’m alot like you, alot like you…”
Make Jill the Demon stop!!!!!!
She can be found at allisonveneziowrites.com.You can follow her blog on Facebook (facebook.com/allisonswrittenwords), Instagram @allisonswrittenwords, and on Twitter @AllisonGeeksOut.
(Her fiancee is supportive of the whole Chris Hemsworth and Kenny Loggins love thing.)