Ken Forsse created
Teddy Ruxpin in the
late ’80s and thinks
people are ready for
the toy’s return.
Bear in mind
Creator brings toy
out of hibernation
By J. Rentilly
TWENTY YEARS AGO, Teddy Ruxpin, the
endearing animatronics children’s toy who
could sing, snuggle and tell stories, was the
world’s bestselling toy. Then—through a
series of foul twists and bedeviling turns that
could easily have been doled out by the
Monsters and Villains Organization, the fictional guild of evil within the Ruxpin universe—he went into a near-total hibernation.
Today, thanks to the persistence of his creator, pioneering artist/designer/inventor Ken
Forsse, and Backpack Toys, an upstart Hong
Kong–financed company, Ruxpin is emerging
from the cave of pop-culture obscurity. A new,
digitally based doll is set for launch this month,
followed by a new series of books, a new animated show and an ambitious theme park.
This month, Costco will stock thousands of
the newly redesigned Ruxpins, blazing the
trail for the beloved toy’s return.
“The Costco deal really thrills me,” says
the affable Forsse, who lives in a lush beach-front home in Dana Point, California, its
shelves lined with thousands of collectible
BACKPACK TOYS INC.
The Costco Connection
Teddy Ruxpin is available in most Costco
warehouses and on costco.com. He comes
with two books and one cartridge.
wind-up toys, exquisite pop-up storybooks
and surrealistic fine art. “I think people will
see Teddy there and know that he’s back—in
a big, big way.”
Originally conceived by Forsse in the
1960s, as the protagonist for a television puppet show, Ruxpin benefited from a long gestation as his creator logged critical and formative
years in animation, model building and technical innovation. Forsse worked with Walt
Disney Pictures, helping to animate films such
as Sleeping Beauty; WED, the Disney company
responsible for developing theme park attractions (Forsse helped design Disneyland’s
Haunted Mansion, Small World and Jungle
Cruise, among others); and the production
company of Sid and Marty Krofft, creators of
phantasmagoric puppet adventures H.R.
Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monster.
“I look back at my life and career now,
and it seems like I must have had a plan,”
Forsse tells The Connection with a laugh.
“Truth is, I’ve been lucky enough to always
have a job I like and smart enough to learn
everything I could from wherever I’ve been.”
By the early 1980s, Forsse was ready to
formally unleash Ruxpin on the world, prepping the toy and a television salvo simultaneously. Though Forsse admits to being a
middling, disinterested student, he picked up
a pen to draft a comprehensive universe in
which Ruxpin’s adventures would unfurl. He
wrote the storybooks Ruxpin reads aloud
five dozen episodes of an animated Ruxpin
series. He also wrote 80 songs for the show,
despite being unable to play any instruments.
“I never dreamed I couldn”t write, so I did,”
Forsse says. “I love the creative process. Telling
the stories just seemed another part of
building things to me.”
Launchedin 1985, Teddy Ruxpinquickly
became the world”s bestselling toy, moving
millions of units around the world. “We put
him out in September, and by December
things had become successful beyond our
dreams,” says Forsse. “People really responded
The stratospheric success was, however,
short-lived when the company hawking
Ruxpin, following the 1987 stock market
crash, filed for bankruptcy. Forsse,
whose own company
had grown to 200 staff
members to handle
the myriad creative
demands of Ruxpin
and his ancillary projects, was devastated.
He was forced to cut his
company to five staff members. Attempts to relaunch
Ruxpin followed, but none
The new Teddy is “largely
the same” as the old one, according to
Forsse, but instead of playing stories and songs
on analog cassette tapes, all content is on digital cartridges. The initial Teddy push will make
available a dozen stories, with two dozen more
waiting in the wings.
Forsse is eager for a new generation of children to enjoy his creation. “I believe in storytelling and in keeping in touch with that sense
of wonder we have when we’re children,” he
says. “Hopefully Teddy will offer that to people
today, no matter how old they are.” C
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based journalist
who writes about film, music and literature.