Have you finished your holiday shopping yet? Nineteen years ago, consumers were lining up for Furby—the furry, talkative doll that brought in big bucks for Hasbro as the must-have toy of the 1998 Christmas season. Reception to the toy in some corners was … more mixed, to say the least. Find out more with these 10 facts.
1. IT WAS BANNED AT A US SPY BASE.
One group that didn’t go gaga over Furby was the NSA, which banned the popular toy at their Maryland base. Per a 1999 CNN story, the concern was that Furbies would record and possibly repeat confidential material. (In Furbish, perhaps.)
2. YOU CAN SAY OVER 100 WORDS IN FURBY-SPEAK.
Furbish, of course, is the Furby’s native language; it starts out speaking only Furbish and then begins integrating English into its vocabulary as its owner speaks to it more. A 2005 English-to-Furbish dictionary included 121 words, including “diamond” (“ay-koo”), “monster” (“moh-moh”), and “whassup?” (“doo-oo-tye?”). Hey, it was the ‘90s.
3. DESIGNERS WERE CONCERNED IT WOULD BE TOO “GIRLY.”
Though the Furby was primarily targeted at young girls, designers at Tiger Electronics, which invented the toy, wanted it to appeal to boys as well. The solution? Give Furbies the ability to burp and fart.
4. THERE WAS A CONCERTED EFFORT TO HACK IT.
In 1999, engineer Peter van der Linden issued the “Hack Furby” challenge, which offered $250 to the first person who could make a Furby reprogrammable. The engineers at Tiger Electronics had intentionally made this difficult by encasing the relevant components in an epoxy shell. This was in part to avoid the fate of Playskool’s Talking Barney toy, which was relatively easy to hack so that it would say curse words.
5. CONCERNS OVER FURBY’S SECURITY AREN’T JUST A THING OF THE ‘90S.
Late last year, Hasbro released the Furby Connect, which uses an Internet-connected mobile app to interact with the world around it. UK consumer group Which?, working with security consulting firm Context, warned that a lack of robust security measures made it possible to hack into the toy and use it as a surveillance device.
6. THEY STILL SELL FOR A LOT OF MONEY ONLINE.
Do you happen to be sitting on a Furby with a misprinted label? Get yourself to eBay, where special edition Furbies with misprinted labels have been known to sell for as much as $500.
7. THERE ARE LOTS OF SPECIAL TYPES OF FURBIES.
Hasbro wasn’t content to stop at regular old Furbies. Oh, no. Among special Furbies put out between 1998 and 2002 were Wizard Furby, Santa Furby, Jester Furby, President Furby, Kid Cuisine Furby, and Hi-C Furby. In 2015, Hasbro released an $80 Star Wars tie-in called “Furbacca.”
8. HASBRO WAS SUED OVER FURBY’S RESEMBLANCE TO A MOGWAI.
Designers at Tiger Electronics intentionally shrunk the Furby’s ears following its 1998 Toy Fair debut, hoping to downplay its resemblance to the Mogwai from Warner Bros.’ Gremlins movies. But they didn’t go far enough to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit from Warner Bros., which sued Hasbro for trademark infringement in late 1998. Hasbro settled, paying Warner Bros. a reported seven figures and agreeing to redesign the doll.
9. AT ONE POINT, THERE WAS A FURBY MOVIE IN DEVELOPMENT.
And that point wasn’t 1998, but 2016, when Bob Weinstein announced at the American Film Market that The Weinstein Company was working on a live-action/CGI hybrid about the furry little creatures. “We think that this can resonate as a four-quadrant film. It can’t just be a 90-minute commercial,” said Hasbro executive Stephen Davis.
10. THERE’S ALREADY A MADE-FOR-TV FURBY MOVIE.
If you just can’t wait for The Weinstein Company’s Furby movie, you can whet your appetite with Furby Island, a 45-minute TV special about a girl and her family who venture to Furby Island and must save its inhabitants from the villainous “Doctor Conquest.” (The graphics are slightly terrifying.)