With those weirdly moving eyes and ears and strange mechanical baby talk, Furby was one of the biggest toy stories in the 1990s. And now the furry little robots are poised for a comeback, with Hasbro hoping it can tap into nostalgia to power a franchise reboot.
The toy is aimed squarely at Generation Alpha, the 13-and-under crowd who have never known a world without an iPad. But to that kids' parents, Furby will be as recognizable as Michael Jackson or Mariah Carey.
The "new" toy has more than 600 possible responses, including phrases, 10 unique songs, and lights up. Like its predecessors, it speaks mostly in unintelligible Furbish.
For now, it’s available in two colors on Amazon. Complete collections are expected to be in stores by mid-July.
The launch coincides with Furby's 25th anniversary.
"Following its craze-inducing launch in 1998, Furby has taken the world by storm, impacting every corner of the culture zeitgeist, from music to television and film," says Kristin McKay, vice president and general manager at Hasbro fashion and preschool division, in the announcement.
"We wanted to ignite the same excitement for this new generation by harnessing Furby's power of nostalgia while giving Gen Alpha everything they crave."
The company says the relaunch is based on several years of research to understand what today’s tech-jaded tykes might expect in a mechanized BFF.
The launch comes as rival Mattel gears up for the premiere of "Barbie," starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in the doll's first-ever live-action movie. And while Barbie herself is old enough to be Furby's grandma, the upcoming film is fueling a frenzy of pink tie-ins aimed at millennials.
Barbiecore merchandise is available from brands like Gap, Aldo, Forever 21, Primark, Hot Topic and MeUndies. Swoon is even making Barbie pink lemonade, available at Target.
Both Mattel and Hasbro are tapping younger consumers' seemingly insatiable thirst for anything old. Horizon Media, for example, has marked escaping into a simpler past as a key habit of Gen Z. "Nostalgia isn't new, but Gen Z employs it as an essential coping mechanism," Horizon notes in a recent study. "Arguably the first generation to have lived their entire lives with the Internet, Gen Z has grown accustomed to having unlimited access to imagery from the past.”
Recent data from GWI, the market research company, substantiates that Gen Z is the most nostalgic generation, with 15% saying they think more about the past than the future. Millennials are almost as wistful, with 14% agreeing with that sentiment. And 50% of Gen Z long for nostalgic types of media, followed by 47% of millennials.
And for reasons no one understands, the '90s are a particularly beloved decade.
Will the still-weird Furby of 2023 match the appeal of its ancestors? It's a high bar: In its first three years, it sold 40 million units.