Saturday, September 26, 2015

Teddy Defies the Odds

The minute I saw him on the store shelf during the 1986 Christmas season, I knew I was a goner.

Never mind that this was the most impractical Christmas gift ever for a four-year-old child. Never mind that it cost way too much. The minute Teddy batted those huge animatronic eyes and crooned, "Come dream with me tonight . . . ," I was ready to hop in the airship myself and fly away.

Manufactured by Worlds of Wonder, Teddy Ruxpin was an animated teddy bear who was activated by cassette tapes inserted under his tunic. Once the tapes began (I never understood why they ran backwards, by the way), Teddy's eyes would blink open and shut and his mouth would move in sync with the stories and music they contained.

Each tape came with a storybook, and an audible signal would inform children when to turn the pages. Through Teddy, we all met a delightful cast of characters that included the Woolly Whats-It, along with Teddy's best bud, Grubby the octopede, and their scientist friend, the aptly named Newton Gimmick.

Although Teddy's popularity skyrocketed in the mid-1980s, that fame fizzled out just about as fast, mostly due to the unfortunate timing of his arrival on the toy scene. Even early on, Teddy  bounced from company to company as he struggled to rise above a plummeting stock market.

He also had the misfortune of being a tape-playing machine arriving on the cusp of the compact disc era, and therefore was doomed before he could get a good paw-hold. Adding to the problems were the facts that his four C batteries tended to deplete rapidly, making upkeep even more expensive, and his mechanism was especially sensitive to damage.

Furthermore, consider the way four-year-olds generally treat their teddy bears. Is it really a good idea to give them an expensive piece of sensitive machinery and hope for any kind of good outcome? Think about it.

Although daughter Cookie was pretty careful with Teddy, he still went through batteries like a herd of cows through small bales of hay in the dead of winter. (It didn't help that his switch often got left in the "on" position.) Then, eventually, his animated features stopped working, forcing him to tell his stories like a ventriloquist with his eyes shut. But even then I couldn't stand the thought of getting rid of him, so he found a home for many years on a shelf in the bedroom closet.

That is, until just this past summer. To my delight, it seems that Bootsie, four years old herself, took a shining to Teddy, who, despite the fact that his eyes and mouth are frozen shut, still tells a story as well as ever. During the week that Bootsie stayed with me in July, this was a common sight:

An so, with nearly thirty years under his tunic, Teddy lives to entertain another generation of children in my house. That is pretty amazing, and I am so glad I didn't give up on him.

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