1980 - 2013: Talking Dolls

The first talking dolls were made in the late 1800s, but it wasn't until Mattel introduced a less expensive talking mechanism in 1960 that talking dolls became widely available. Some of Mattel's first talking dolls include Chatty Cathy, Bugs Bunny, Herman Munster, Woody Woodpecker, Bullwinkle and Dr. Seuss. 

Mork, 9 inch talking doll by Mattel, 1980

As mentioned on the "TV Character Dolls" page of this blog, Mattel made a Mork doll based on the TV series Mork and Mindy. Mork came with a "talking" back pack with a pull string that played eight sayings. I can't make out all of them as the recording is too muffled. A Mindy doll was also made but only Mork came with a talking backpack, which is originally from Mattel's Big Jim doll. Here are four of the eight sayings:

1) Hello I'm Mork, from Ork, Na-No, Na-No
2) Shuzbut!
3) Shuzbut, don't look at me like that.
4) (Mork's "laugh") Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!
5) Ah! That was a joke. Honk! Honk!
6) (Sometime that sounds like...) Time for doe doe, dum dum
7) ?
8) ?

Pee Wee Herman, 18 inch talking doll by Matchbox / Charan Toys, 1987

Perhaps the most popular talking doll ever is this 18 inch Pee Wee Herman made by Matchbox in 1987. I bought this doll second hand at a nostalgia store in the mid 1990's so I don't have the box, however I've noticed that this doll was originally issued in two differently illustrated boxes. What I assume would be the first box has a large picture of the back of the Pee Wee doll on the back of the box. The second version of the box shows the assortment of action figures and other large size dolls that were available. In addition to these two boxes a Non-talking version of this doll was also available at the same time in a differently illustrated box, and the back also shows the assortment of toys. A much larger 26 inch ventriloquist puppet of Pee Wee was also made at the same time. In 2000 the talking Pee Wee doll was re-issued in another differently illustrated box. This version of the talking doll was identical to the 1987 version but it had a button on his chest to press instead of a pull-string. The two black buttons on Pee Wee's jacket are also spaced much further apart on the 2000 issued doll. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to determine what company made the reissued version.

This doll has wire in the arms and legs so that it can be posed. The 18 inch dolls and the smaller series of action figures were all based on the TV show Pee Wee's Playhouse. Other characters from this program were also made by Matchbox in the larger 18 inch format. A Chairry puppet/doll was made to scale for the 18 inch Pee Wee. Chairry's mouth can be controlled like a puppet and there is a lever on the back of the chair to control the eyes. Billy Baloney and Pterri were also made as 18 inch dolls but these were not in scale with the 18 inch Pee Wee doll. Here are the six sayings from the talking Pee Wee:

1) Hello I'm Pee Wee Herman
2) (Pee Wee's laughing)
3) Hey what's that? Made you look!
4) I know you are but what am I?
5) Ahhhh!
6) I love you

Here is the 6 inch Pee Wee Herman action figure that Matchbox also produced in 1987. It has a small fabric doll jacket. Below is Pee Wee with the Chairry action figure.

The Chairry action figure was 4.5 inches tall. I saved the card packaging but not the plastic bubble section. The articulation for this figure is very limited. The only jointed sections are the arms of the chair, which do not bend, they can only be turned...with some effort.  

This is the back of the Chairry card showing the assortment of figures. There were six articulated action figures in the series: Pee Wee, Chairry, Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis, and King of Cartoons. A figure of Ricardo (wearing a black and white striped referee shirt) was also made, but is not shown with the rest of the assortment on the back of the card packaging. Small PVC figures were available in two sets: Globey and Randy is set 1, Jambi and the Puppet Land Band (four figures total) made up set 2. Wind-Up figures of Conky, Magic Screen and Pterri completed the collection. All of these figures were made to scale with each other to be used with the Pee Wee Playhouse playset. A scooter for Pee Wee was also available. Although a large size Billy Baloney doll was made, for some reason the character was not included in the smaller action figure set. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Here is the 18 inch talking Pee Wee doll next to the small 6 inch action figure. The style of this Pee Wee doll was so popular that it became the new format for talking dolls that followed, such as.....

Ed Grimley, 17 inch talking doll by Tyco, 1988

This doll is hilarious I must say! Here's a  doll of Martin Short's character Ed Grimley who was seen on SCTV and Saturday Night Live during the 1970s and 1980s. In the late 1980's a cartoon series featuring the character was produced by Hanna Barbera, which is what this talking doll is based on. This doll measures 16 inches tall, but with his hair spike it's 17 inches. I like that Tyco added wire in the arms and legs as this allows the doll to be posed in Ed Grimley's classic stance.

I found this doll on a trip to the US with my parents when I was a teenager. We had stopped at some department store just randomly to get something, and so naturally I went to check out the toy department. This doll was just lying on a shelf on top of a bunch of stuffed toys, without a box or a price tag. I looked around for another one in the box, but this was the last one! I recall it took the staff quite awhile to find a price for it once we got up to the checkout. In the end they sold it to me for $7.99, which I thought was quite a good deal.

Here is the back view showing the pull string. Ed Grimley says quite a few funny things:

1) I'm going completely mental I must say!
2) This is my luckiest of lucky days!
3) Oh gimme a break!
4) I'm doomed as doomed can be you know!
5) Ah! Now that's a pain that's going to linger.
6) This is like a joke I must say!

Recently when I took the doll out of storage I noticed it had a black spot on his face, which really sucks! I think this happened because it was touching some fabric on another doll that I had packed in the same box. The colour die from the fabric must have transferred to the plastic. If anyone knows a way to remove this type of colour stain on plastic I would be glad to know. This is totally a bummer I must say!

Here is Martin Short in character as Ed Grimley

Beetlejuice, 18 inch talking doll by Kenner, 1989

This is a very funny talking doll based on the Bettlejuice movie. In addition to being a talking doll, the doll's head spins around. You have to turn the head around several times to wind up the mechanism, and it clicks when it's completely wound. There is a small button on the back of the doll's neck to release the head spinning action, and the doll makes a sort of buzzing noise when the head spins. The fun fur hair poofs out as the head spins too, which is quite funny. This doll's body is stuffed without any wire inside the arms and legs. The ring on the pull string is shaped like a snake. This Beetlejuice talking doll says these phrases:

1) Whoa! Nearly lost my head!
2) Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice
3) Can I be scary or what?
4) I'm the ghost with the most!
5) It's really dead around here
6) It's showtime! 

Here is actor Michael Keaton in character as Beetlejuice from the Tim Burton movie.

Ernest, 18 inch talking doll by Kenner, 1989

This Ernest talking doll is based on actor Jim Varney's character which had become quite popular in the late 1980s. Ernest was featured in a series of TV commercials, several movies and finaly a TV series of his own, all of which were very, very silly which is why I like Ernest. My brother bought this doll for me when he was on a high school class trip to the United States, and brought it home with him on the tour bus. The box is quite large, so it's awesome that my brother did that for me! This Ernest doll's face is actually quite ugly, but in a comical way. His plastic ball cap is removeable, as shown below, and his T-shirt says "Ernest" on it. I like how Kenner gave this doll sculpted plastic arms instead of trying to make them out of fabric. The arms are also jointed at the shoulder and can be posed (shown below). The legs are just stuffed without any wire inside, but I think this suits the doll and makes it even funnier. As goofy as this doll is, I think it's quite well made and a very cool talking doll. Here is what Ernest says:

1) Are we having fun or what?
2) Knowhutimean Vern, knowhutimean?
3) I love you!
4) Eeeooo! (Eww!)
5) Hey Vern, it's Ernest!
6) Are you kiddin' me?

Here's a funny picture from the side of the box showing Jim Varney in character as Ernest.

Baby Sinclair, talking doll by Hasbro, 1990

In 1990 the Jim Henson Creature Shop produced a sit-com style TV series that was simply called "Dinosaurs". Baby Sinclair quickly became the fan favourite character from the show. He was performed and voiced by puppeteer Kevin Clash, the same puppeteer behind Sesame Street's Elmo. Hasbro produced a series of Dinosaurs action figures and also made this large pull-string talking doll of Baby Sinclair. I'm a fanatic Muppet and Jim Henson fan, so I kept the box even though it's really kinda huge! These pictures are from my Muppet Memorabilia blog, which is why the yellow text is on them. Below is the back view of the box.

You can see in the word bubbles what the talking doll says, but here's the list anyways:

1) I'm the baby
2) I'm hungery, feed my mouth!
3) Hello fat boy!
4) I'm gonna bite you now.
5) Gotta love me!
6) Not the Mama!

The Baby Sinclair doll has a plastic head and the rest of the doll is stuffed. It's actually a very squishy doll. Soft-sculpting was used to shape his hands, feet and tail. Below is a back view showing his tail. It's quite remarkable that there is so much soft-scultpitng on this doll, especially as it was mass produced. This type of detail has to be done completely by hand. Could you imagine soft-sculpting hundreds of these dolls all day? That's impressive work!  Hasbro also made a hand puppet using the same plastic head from this doll. The puppet is much less common to find and is very basic in design. It doesn't have a stuffed body, or legs or a tail.

The end of the pull-string talking doll

From the early 1990s onward talking dolls were no longer made with pull strings. Instead they are all now made with a button to press either on the front or back of the doll. For plush toys the button is often hidden inside the doll, and for plastic dolls the button is visible. Some kind of digital recording plays the sound. This is quite remarkable toy technology, but I find the original pull-string toys were quite ingenious. First made in the 1960s, pull-string dolls actually have a small plastic record inside of them. Each of the groves on the record plays a different recording. The pull string is attached to a wind up type of mechanism (a long thin piece of metal wrapped around itself into a tight circle -similar to a roll of tape- to create a flat, round spring). When the string is pulled it stretches the coil spring. As the mechanism rewinds (or as the spring recoils) it turns the record to play the sound while also recoiling the string. A small needle randomly jumps to one of the groves in the record each time the string is pulled, and an actual mini speaker inside the doll amplifies the sound. The unfortunate thing about this system though is that to keep production costs low the parts used are made very cheaply, and the spring /coil looses it's tension after awhile from being uncoiled so often. This causes the recording to play back at a faster speed. So if you ever come across a pull-string talking doll that still plays the sound correctly, as strange at it may be, it's best to avoid pulling the string.

Kermit the Frog, talking plush toy by Applause, 1990s

Here is a talking Kermit the Frog push toy made by Applause in the mid to late 1990s, and sold as part of the "Kermit Collection". It is very similar to the non-talking Eden Gift Kermit dolls made in the early 1990s. Kermit has three sayings:

1) Has anyone seen Miss Piggy?
2) Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog here.
3) I'm feeling a little green today.

Pinocchio, 14 inch talking doll made by Equity Toys, 1996

This is the Pinocchio talking doll that is based on the 1996 movie "The Adventures of Pinocchio" by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Jonathan Taylor Thomas does the voice for Pinocchio and appears at the end of the movie when Pinocchio turns into a real boy. An 11 X 17 poster of Jonathan comes with the doll.
The back of the box shows the other toys that were available, including a plush Pepe the Cricket and an 8 inch doll of Pinocchio that came with an inflatable whale. Not shown on the box is the marionette version of this doll. Here is what this talking Pinocchio says:

1) I love being a star
2) Yahoo, I'm going to be a real boy!
3) Papa!

Here is the 8 inch doll of Pinocchio shown next to the larger 14 inch talking doll. I've shown more photos of the 8 inch doll on the Other Dolls page of this blog:

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was just a kid when he did the Pinocchio movie back in 1996. Now, 17 plus years later, he's all grown up and into his early 30s. Here are some pictures of him in his late 20s. He's become quite a handsome guy. If I ever had millions of dollars to do a movie with I would want him to be in it, though apparently these days he's taking a break from acting. I think he would be perfect for playing a young Han Solo in one of the future Star Wars films. In these photos he reminds me of a young Harrison Ford. I bet he could even pull off doing Indiana Jones.

Darth Vader, 15 inch talking doll by Hasbro, 1998

Several dolls of Darth Vader have been made since the 1970s however my favourite is this 15 inch talking doll made by Hasbro in 1. There are two buttons on the back for playing sounds. One button makes the lightsaber sound effects and the other plays dialogue from the film. As if that wasn't awesome enough, Hasbro also made Darth Vader's helmet removable in two pieces to reveal Anakin Skywalker! The costume is also perfect with lots of detail. I especially like the sculpting of the gloves which are attached as the doll's hands, but can swivel to allow some different poses. I've shown photos of the helmet being removed and Anakin's face on the "Hasbro Star Wars Dolls, Part 2" page of this blog. Here are the sayings:

Left button:
1) You don't know the power of the Dark Side! (breathing)
2) Help me take this mask off. (breathing)
3) Let me look at you with my own eyes.
4) Now go my son.

Right button:
1) Lightsaber opens and hums
2) Lightsaber battle
3) Lightsaber closing

Thunderbirds, 12 inch talking doll by Vivid Imaginations Ltd., 1999

Here is an awesome talking doll of Alan Tracy based on the 1960s TV series Thunderbirds. This is only one of five dolls that were made for this series of 12 inch talking dolls. Virgil Tracy and Scott Tracy were also made in 1999 with Alan Tracy. Two more dolls, the Hood and Brains, were later added to the set. All five dolls appear to have the same doll body. Although I never removed this doll from the package it looks to be a really well made doll, which comes with some additional accessories. As these are battery operated dolls, unopened dolls like this one will likely no longer "talk" as the batteries die over time even if the toy is not used. The back of the box shows the assortment of Thunderbird toys that were available.

The Thunderbirds TV series is originally from the 1960's but became quite popular again in the late 1990s when it was re-broadcast (in Canada it was played on YTV). This resulted with a wide range of toys being marketed based on the series, including this awesome series of dolls, as well as smaller 3 inch action figures and die cast vehicles. A live action film also appeared in theatres but was poorly received...they should have used puppets instead!

Here is what this doll says:

1) We're on our way
2) FAB
3) Thunderbirds are go
4) Thunderbird 3 to base
5) Calling International Rescue

The Crow, 18 inch talking doll by Spencer Gifts, 2001

I have several 18" talking dolls. My favourite is The Crow in the likeness of Brandon Lee. It was made by Spencer Gifts (a Universal Studios Company) in 2001 and is awesome! I can't believe what a great job they did on this one. I consider this doll to be a work of art. It has very cool detailing in the sculpting (face, hands, boots) as well as the costume.  I think the rooted hair is perfect for it too! The face painting is amazing and the sculpting looks exactly like Brandon Lee. He even has tape wrapped around his waist and leg just like in the movie. It's easily the coolest of the 18" talking dolls that I've ever seen. Often, when I talk about my collection I'll say "this is one of my favourites", but this is one is my favourite! I'm so happy that this doll was made, I keep it out on display always!

This Crow doll was sold as a limited numbered series of 30,000 which to me doesn't seem very limited though I suppose if they are distributed world wide they would become a challenge to find. I do see this doll on e-bay from time to time, which is how I got one. This specific doll is number 401 so its from the early run of the production. The talking feature is activated by pressing the doll's chest, and plays three different sound clips from the film...

1) Brandon Lee's actual dialogue saying "It can't rain all the time"
2) Brandon Lee's sinister laughter (and rather creepy too!)
3)The sound of a crow cawing

Here are some larger pictures to show the detail....

Without the jacket you can see how they cut "bullet holes" in his shirt, added actual tape around the waist and leg, and added silver buttons to the front of the pants.

Here's the back view with his long hair. They did the hair for this doll perfectly!

Here's a closer view of his face and costume from the front.

A side view of his face shows what an awesome job they did with the sculpting and the painting. It's perfect!

The hands are very detailed too. Here is the front and back view of the left hand. The right hand was sculpted differently rather than just making a mirror copy and the bandages are different. Rather than paint the black sections onto skin tone plastic, the skin tone is painted onto black plastic. 

Most dolls only have one boot that is copied to make a pair, but the amazingly talented and awesome people who made this doll took the extra step to make two different boots!

The Crow 18 inch talking doll is the best doll in my collection! It's awesome!

The Crow, 12 inch talking doll by Real Toys/NECA, 2002

This talking 12" Crow doll was made by Real Toys in 2002. Its okay for a crow doll, but not amazing. I find the face doesn't look at all like Brandon Lee who is quite dominantly featured on the cover and sides of the box. This suggests that the doll is intended to be based on the film. In fact the face is quite bad (and very unevenly sculpted) which is a shame as the costume is well done. If only they took a little more time to get the face right this could have been a very cool 12" doll. The doll's body is also not very well put together, though on the plus side it has many points of articulation.  
This doll also comes with a crow (bird) figure. The button to make the "talking" recordings play is on the doll's back. There are four different captions.

I have this doll packed away for now so I'll list the talking captions later on sometime... eventually!

Here's a picture of Brandon Lee as The Crow.

The Wiggles, 15 inch talking doll by Spin Master, 2003
Here is a talking doll that I found at a thift store. It's Greg from the popular British children's TV show, The Wiggles, made by Spin Master in 2003. Jeff is one of 5 talking dolls in this collection. The others are Murray in a red shirt, Anthony in a blue shirt, Jeff in a purple shirt, and Captain Feathersword. The Wiggles also did an extensive world tour in North America and Europe for several years. A second less common series of similar 15 inch Wiggles dolls were also made with the four Wiggles dressed as cowboys. These dolls all have small plush banannas in thier holsters instead of guns and come with a removable plastic cowboy hat. These Wiggle dolls are very well made. They don't have any wire in the arms and legs, so the limbs are floppy but this suits the dolls well. The shirt and pants are separate doll clothes that can be removed.

Here is the back view showing the velcro opening on the back of the shirt. I tried replacing the batteries, but unfortunately this doll's talking feature doesn't work anymore, so I have no idea what this doll says.

Monsters University, 9 inch talking doll by Spin Master, 2013

This is a funny plush toy of Mike Wazowski from the Monsters University movie (the sequel to Monsters Inc.). It has a talking mechanism inside. When the toy is squeezed, bumped or dropped one of eight recordings will play. The downside to this type of talking toy is that once the batteries inside the toy run out there is no way to replace them, and therefore the talking feature is lost.

1) Ahhh ah ah ah ah ah (laughing)
2) Mike Wazowski, scary major!
3) I'm catching a (? - inaudible)
4) I'm going to scare circles around you this year.
5) Rarrrr! (short roar)
6) Remember, we can do anything we want if we never give up!
7) Ahhhh! (yell)
8) Raarrrrrrrr! (longer roar)

The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon 18 inch talking doll by Wonderland Toys, 2013

This is an awesome 18 inch talking doll and very well made. Unfortunately this style of talking doll is not as popular as it used to be, so it was a nice surprise to see this one being produced by Wonderland Toys in 2013. (To my knowledge the Crow doll shown above from 2001 is the last time this type of doll was made! Spin Master's Wiggles dolls from 2003 -also shown above- are similar as well, but they were 3 inches shorter, did not have wire in the arms and legs, and were sculpted to be more cartoon-like than realistic, so to me they don't seem to match with these 18 inch dolls.)

The face is very nicely sculpted and quite handsome.

The sides of the box show the different sayings and the back has a photo of Sheldon from the TV show, played by actor Jim Parsons.

Here are his different sayings:

1) I'm doctor Sheldon Cooper, BS, MS, MA, PhD, and ScD...OMG, right?
2) A neutron walks into a bar and asks "How much for a drink?"
The bartender says "For you, no charge."
3) Why did the chicken cross the Mobius strip? To get to the same side. Bazinga!
4)Bazinga (Said in a different tone than number 8)
5) I'm not insane, my mother had me tested.
6) That is my spot.
7) There is a fine line between wrong and visionary, unfortunately
you have to be a visionary to see it.
8) Bazinga (Said in a different tone from number 4)
9) Was that Sarcasm?

Just for fun, here are all of the 18 inch talking dolls that I have with the original boxes!!! I also have Pee Wee Herman and Ed Grimly as shown above, but without the boxes.

All text © Mike Artelle, 2011, 2013
Photos of dolls © Mike Artelle, 2011, 2013

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