25 Years of Furby

by Arch Anderson | 06 Feb 2024

Product and Book Reviews

My brother was getting his kids secured in their car seats in preparation for the drive to our family Christmas party when the mail carrier drove up with a package.


“Oh, great! I thought this Furby was gonna be late. It’ll really make my sibling’s holiday.”


“Oh? How old are they?”


“Thirty Seven.”


25 years ago Furby took the world by storm. My birthday was coming up and Mom had caught word of a toy store that had just received a shipment of the robotic plastic-and-fur wonder. We arrived to find a modest tower behind the counter built up of distinctive and brightly colored octagonal boxes, each one with a window out of which a pair of wide eyes stared blankly.


Overwhelmed by the options, I eventually settled on a black and white “tuxedo” model with brown eyes. The associate had mentioned that this was one of the more sought after colorways. This was the era of the Beanie Baby, after all - I had to spring for the “rare” one.


When we got home, I wrestled the dapper owl-like creature free from its bendy wire shackles and box. I turned it around in my hands and admired the little white Mohawk running down its back. Dad unscrewed the battery hatch and set in four AA “SCOUT” brand batteries. He chuckled as the creature yawned, stretched its bat ears, and came to life.


“Koh-Koh” and I were best friends forever for the next two weeks. I introduced him to my best human friend’s Furby. We watched them exchange infrared signals and dance at each other like territorial chickens in adjacent pens. 


Eventually I began seeing the futuristic pet as a curious marvel of machinery and programming instead. I was a little older than the bulk of Furby’s target audience, and thus the toy became the object of scientific study. I observed the patterns in its behavior and realized that it “learned” English by expanding its vocabulary on a timer. I identified the different sensors and buttons that allowed the creature to react to the world around it, giving it the illusion of life. I fell short of cracking it open to see the components for myself. 


Koh-Koh was eventually packed away as I turned my attention to different matters. I was busy; the first wave of Pokémon was about to become my entire personality and I had to walk out to the school bus stop and get bullied about it. 


I’m thankful that my family still indulges my sense of whimsy. I opened the Christmas gift from my brother and laughed. My four year old niece and toddler nephew zeroed in on the revealed box with its burst of bright colors and big cute face front-and-center. Both of these kids are wicked sharp. Sure their uncle was opening this gift but it was made for them, was it not?


I lifted the Furby out and offered it to the kids, who took turns picking it up by its Troll-haired head and curiously inspecting it. While they waited for the magic I admired the packaging. The front of the 2023 Furby box simply teases what’s inside with a fully illustrated front featuring a big Furby face, fluffy and doe-eyed, the toy’s logo, and a request (“Be my best friend?”). There’s a QR code on the front and basic feature highlights on the back just in case you encounter one of these in the wild at Target. There’s no window to see the toy itself, which is a sign of the times as manufacturers work to curate Amazon Dot Com curb appeal over turning heads on a physical store shelf. The design philosophy here seems to be the same one that dictates nearly every book cover design in recent memory.


Though previous models have featured this, Hasbro was keen to advertise that this Furby has an off button as a reassurance to Millennial parents who only knew the 1998 model that infamously did not. I flipped to the part of the printed manual with instructions on how to do this, understanding that it would be an important skill that would help all of us later.


The inside of the box features a trifold cardboard insert with an illustrated bedroom rendered in colors that Lisa Frank would have been proud of. The scene is littered with other late 90s / early aughts memorabilia - over-ear “can” headphones (complete with anachronistic cat ears for more contemporary tweens), a portable CD player, a curvy boom-box radio, a dome-topped slushie cup, a beanbag chair, a video game controller, and even a 1998 Furby staring from a background bookshelf (just like beloved Koh-Koh!). Crucially, this easy-to-pull-out insert behaves as a backdrop for content creation, a side-hustle that children are all but born into today.


Dad once again did the honors of bringing the Furby to life, this time with a set of Duracells. Surely there would be acrobatics. Mom offered a story of one time I left the Furby in the car: She’d turned onto Main Street heard an alarmed “Whooaaaa!” from the back seat. 


The kids were excited to hear the bubbly high-pitched voice, see the emotive light-up ears, and watch the thing bobble back and forth. At this point they had opened several gifts of their own, but for now this little pink (or, more accurately, “coral”) ball of fur commanded their attention.


“Furby ready to PAR-TAY!” The original Furby spoke its own language out of the box, but Furby 2023 appears to be immediately fluent in English flavored with occasional Furbish terms. Its grasp of English lets it do things like tell kids fun facts, join them in a dance party, tell their fortune, mimic phrases they say, and guide them on a meditation journey. 


The colors are beautiful. Furby’s peachy pink coral fur and light teal accents are a power combo. The gloss-glazed eyes have endearing shiny spots and stars printed onto them to ensure that the toy doesn’t fall into an unsettling dead-eyed stare. The ears take advantage of an array of LED colors that shine up through them from the main body. The Furby will gladly show you all of its light colors if you press the gem on its forehead and request a Light Show. The battery cover base is rounded to let the Furby rock itself into a delightful multi-axis bobble while its feet paddle about. The build is solid and reminiscent of a Playskool learning toy.


The 1998 model cast its owner as an adoptive parent, responsible for its growth and enrichment. Furby 2023 is more like a cool best friend. The programmed personality is less inquisitive and more informative. It probably sneaks out at night to share a box of candy cigarettes with the other cool Furby kids at the secret hangout spot that your mom forbids you to go to. The new Furby is also a bit of a memelord, parroting phrases that folks will recognize from their past year or so of internet citizenship. It proves itself a child of this precise moment in time. 


In a lot of ways Furby 2023 is a return to form. At an MSRP of $70, it’s close to the price of a 1998 Furby adjusted for inflation. Where 2012 and 2016 Furby models would ask for access to their bespoke smartphone apps, it was nice to discover that this edition is a self-contained play experience just like the original. It seems to lack some of the original’s charm, however - Furby 2023 is an excellent ventriloquist. Though you do press its tongue down to feed it just like old times, its beak is frozen in a tiny friendly smile. It doesn’t move when the Furby speaks. The eyes are also a much less complicated mechanism. The irises and eyelids are on a single rotating plastic cylinder that creates the illusion of blinking. Furby 2023 can sense when it’s being moved but it can’t sense light and dark. Without an infrared receiver it’s hard to get two of these toys to “communicate” with each other, making one of its most endearing features difficult to use.


Sometimes, as adults, we’ve got to remind ourselves that we’re not kids anymore. This isn’t the Furby I remember so fondly, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be all that to today’s kids when they grow up. All in all, Furby 2023 is a worthy celebration of this toy’s 25th anniversary, even if I’m pretty sure it steals my socks at night. 


As the Christmas party wrapped up, my brother and his wife gathered the kids and their gifts, thankful that the wobbling noisy flightless owl was not going with them. I sat back in Mom’s recliner, cradling and petting my brand new Noo-Lah like a supervillain. 


Arch Anderson is the Art and Graphic Design Manager at Cephalofair Games and a huge fan of what happens at the intersection of creativity and constraints. At this point he owns more Furbies than he cares to admit and has opinions about every single one. See what he’s up to at archxilla.com!

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