When I was little, I grew up on stories of Teddy Ruxpin. He was a teddy bear with his own world and stories of quests for crystals and fights against evil. Thanks to YouTube, you can see him again [or for the first time, if you weren't a child of the late 80s].
Teddy wasn't just a show. He's not a distant animated character on a TV screen. Teddy was a robotic bear. His lips moved when he told me stories. His eyes opened and closed. It doesn't sound like much now, but to me it was as good as him being alive. I cycled through story tape after story tape, reading along in the little picture books and imagining rainbow waterfalls and magical airships across fantastical lands.
But one day, Teddy stopped talking to me. It wasn't just his battery: he was dead. My parents couldn't afford to replace him. I cried over a teddy bear that wouldn't talk to me anymore. For years he sat up on the shelf, looking down with open, still eyes. He wasn't even very huggable now that his life had drained: the bulky plastic cassette mechanism stuck out of his back and the padded clothing over it couldn't disguise the harsh edges.
Teddy Ruxpin is back for the current generation: his newest incarnation is hopefully more durable. Doesn't look likely--he only comes with a 90 day warranty. I'm tempted to bring him home and see if a talking bear can still bring to life a peaceful world--but I suppose it's too late for me. When I was growing up, a talking bear was a revelation. Now Furby has brought to life the "emo-tronic" friend who learns its name and thrives on attention. Giga pets forced school children to interrupt their class schedule to remember to feed and care for their tiny on screen friends. Catz and Dogz inhabit the desktop.
In A.I, a robotic child is the new generation of the emo-tronic pet: he carries around the old style, a teddy who can only walk about stiffly and speak in a halting voice. Each older generation of animatronic companion is discarded as we ask for more features, more responsiveness, more love. I'd settle for my old Teddy Ruxpin back, and perhaps a bit of that childish joy that allowed him to be, for me, real.