When the ‘Home Alone 2’ Talkboy Turned Into a Real-Life Toy Craze

No one was prepared for how much kids wanted the handheld recorder used by Kevin McCallister.
The Talkboy was an unexpected holiday hit.
The Talkboy was an unexpected holiday hit. / Barry King/WireImages via Getty Images (Macaulay Culkin) // Y2kcrazyjoker4, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0 (Talkboy)

Some begged. Some tried bribes. Then came the lies.

In the fall of 1993, between 300 and 500 calls a day came in to the operators answering phones at Tiger Electronics, the company behind the season’s hottest toy: The Talkboy, a handheld recording device that could change the sound of a child’s voice. It was wielded by Kevin McCallister, the kid hero of the hit sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

Most of the calls were from frantic parents looking for leads on retailers who might carry the toy. But a few were willing to go to extremes. One man offered to travel anywhere in the country so long as he could buy 10 of them. Some callers offered operators $20 if they could ship a Talkboy right away. But at least one went a step further. According to a Tiger spokesperson, one adult placed three different calls. During their final conversation, they made the dubious claim their child had a brain tumor. Couldn’t Tiger accommodate this ailing Home Alone fan?

They couldn’t: Tiger didn’t sell directly to consumers. But a bigger question loomed. Why was a major toymaker unable to satisfy the demand for the Talkboy? And why were kids so anxious for a toy that had appeared in a movie that had been released during the 1992 holiday season—a full year earlier?

Alone Again

Home Alone (1990), written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, was the kind of success studio executives dream of: It was a modestly-budgeted comedy about a kid named Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) whose parents inadvertently leave him at their house when they head to France for the holiday. With no trustworthy adults around, Kevin has to outwit burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) using booby traps and heaps of sadistic cartoon violence.

The film was a smash, taking in nearly $286 million. But 20th Century Fox came up short in one respect: There was little interest from licensees, who didn’t see much value in the premise and didn’t back its release with a lot of tie-in merchandise.

“You couldn’t sell the idea that an 8-year-old kid left at home would be appealing,” Fox Licensing and Merchandising President Al Ovadia told The Los Angeles Times in 1992.

Macaulay Culkin is pictured
Macaulay Culkin, star of 'Home Alone' and 'Home Alone 2,' but not 'Home Alone 3' and beyond. / Barry King/GettyImages

That changed for the sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which was quickly put into production for a 1992 holiday debut. This time, Fox corralled 35 licensees to make as many as 100 products, from shirts to video games to Home Alone-branded boxes of Raisin Bran. All told, the marketing push meant an additional $25 million worth of advertising for the movie in addition to revenue from the licensees—in some cases, up to 33 percent of their projected sales figures plus royalties.

But Fox was unable to come to terms with one key partner. Mattel, the toy giant behind Barbie and Masters of the Universe, was in negotiations to obtain the Home Alone license before talks fell through at the last minute. With little time left before production on the movie began, Fox aligned with Tiger Electronics. Compared to Mattel, Tiger was a smaller enterprise, known mainly for handheld games.

It was a big opportunity for Tiger, which would be taking more of an active role in the film than most tie-in product licensees. In the script, Hughes had Kevin using a device to modulate his voice so he could pretend to be an adult on the telephone, among other antics.

According to a 2022 Vanity Fair piece, Hughes didn’t want to use anything currently on the market. Kevin, he believed, should be a step ahead of trends. The three parties—Hughes, Fox, and Tiger—quickly conceptualized the Talkboy, a recording device that satisfied the needs of the script. The device could be held comfortably in one child-sized hand with a handle; a telescoping microphone added some novelty; it was finished in silver, a color popular with electronics equipment of the era. True to Hughes’s vision, it was a James Bond gadget for pre-adolescents.

The Talkboy got premium product placement in the film, appearing in the opening sequence and even providing the distraction that prompts Kevin to take the wrong airplane and wind up alone and unsupervised in New York City.

Tiger, of course, was prepared with plenty of Talkboy inventory for the 1992 holiday season to coincide with the film’s release. It seemed inevitable that a movie prop that could be purchased by kids flocking to the movie—which made a hefty $174 million—would fly off shelves.

Yet the Talkboy languished, and for one simple reason: It wasn’t really a Talkboy.

Requiem for a Talkboy

The first retail iteration of the Talkboy looked very much like the prop seen in the film. (To help create brand awareness, the camera even focuses on the device—and its Talkboy logo—just so kids knew just what to ask their parents for.) But it lacked one key feature: It wasn’t able to slow down playback, which created the voice-deepening effect that Kevin uses to mimic an adult’s speech in the movie.

Instead, the 1992 Talkboy offered little more than standard voice recording. (Kids, some perhaps peeved and others just delinquent, took to utilizing the “Try Me” button in stores to record profanity for the unsuspecting consumers who might bring it home later. When Tiger got wise to the prank, they discontinued the try-out button.)

It wasn’t until the 1993 holiday season that Tiger had implemented the voice modulation feature, dubbing the second generation the Deluxe Talkboy. It was now identical to the one featured in the movie. But that was a full year after the film’s release—an eternity in the toy world.

Tiger had a strategy. Home Alone 2 was released on VHS in the summer of 1993, which rekindled interest in the movie. It was priced for purchase at $19.98 and came with an in-box advertisement for the Deluxe Talkboy. Fox sold 10 million copies of the film, which was like selling 10 million movie-length commercials for Tiger’s product.

The plan worked—a little too well. Come the 1993 holiday gift season, demand for the improved Talkboy soared. Tiger’s customer service number was flooded with calls asking about the device, which was sold out at retail. Children wrote letters to Santa bleating about the Talkboy that were published in newspapers. Some unscrupulous retailers were charging $50, well above its $30 retail price.

The media only helped further the demand. “Video recorder can change boy’s voice into man’s,” read one headline, erroneously stating the Talkboy could both capture video and hasten puberty.

Because retailers tend to forecast what toys will be hot months in advance, few if any ordered enough Talkboy inventory to satiate demand. The product had a tepid reception in 1992 and stores didn’t have reason to think it was going to be any different in 1993. As a result, Tiger was left scrambling to greet the frenzy. Their plant in Hong Kong, a spokesperson stated, was running 24 hours a day and airlifting inventory to meet demand. They pulled advertising after Thanksgiving to try and reduce awareness.

Ultimately, the company sold hundreds of thousands of Talkboys. If their production was scaled, the number would have been closer to 2 million.

The Talkboy remained a solid performer in 1994, though it was overshadowed by the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers phenomenon. It also inspired at least one derivative toy, the Yak Bak, which recorded six seconds of audio for playback. (A second version, the Yak Bak 2, added distortion effects.) But by 1996, it had fallen out of the top 10 most popular toys. Despite newer models, including the Talkgirl (which was the Talkboy with a pink paint job) and a portable Talkboy F/X+ Pen, the brand had largely cooled off by 1999, when Hasbro, which had acquired Tiger, let the Talkboy trademark lapse. By that point, kids were obsessed with another Tiger creation: the chirping Furby.

Though the technology has largely been subsumed by the smartphone, the Talkboy remains one of the more iconic film props of recent memory. In 2017, Thrillist ranked it 38 on their top 100 screen props; Culkin himself got one at the premiere of the sequel; a Talkboy autographed by the actor netted $1100 in a 2023 auction. If you’re nostalgic but not that nostalgic, you can grab a vintage device on eBay for as little as $50.

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