The original Furby, released in 1998, had the head of an owl, the beak of a chicken, the feet of a cat, the ears of a pig, the fur of a rabbit, the mohawk of a tufted titmouse and the eyes of a robot, which it was — a robot that whirred, clacked, spoke a made-up language called Furbish and, famously, never turned off (unless its batteries were removed).
Not long after Furby’s release, the F.A.A. urged against using the toy on flights during takeoff and landing because there were concerns it would interfere with planes’ computer systems. In 1999, the National Security Agency banned Furby at its headquarters to prevent the toy, which could record and repeat audio, from capturing state secrets.
Kim Boyd, the head of toy at Hasbro, which manufactures the animatronic gadget, said that in the late ’90s, as technology was starting to play more of a role in people’s lives, people wanted machines to feel more human. “But people thought that Furby was weird because it encroached on being human,” Ms. Boyd said.
Though the toy may have been unsettling to some, it found an audience: According to Hasbro, some 58 million Furbys have been sold since its release.
This summer, after conducting research with children and parents, Hasbro reintroduced Furby, as the company celebrates 100 years in business and as Furby turns 25. Jennifer Caveza, the chair of the toy design department at Otis College of Art and Design, said that tapping into nostalgia is a strategy used by toy companies to attract new generations of customers. “Parents who once played with Furby may now buy Furby for their own kids,” she said.
The latest Furby has several new features. Among them: a heart-shaped jewel on its head that, when pressed three times, turns the toy off. (While the jewel is new, versions of the toy have had an on-off function since 2005.)
“The off component of the Furby came up many, many, many times,” Ms. Boyd said.
Furby has also received some cosmetic enhancements. Its fur colors have gone from lifelike (black, brown, white) to Surrealist (purple tinged with blue, coral tinged with orange). Its shabby mohawk has been styled into an elegant tuft. Its body has morphed from a boxy gumdrop shape into a cute rounded bubble — or an “inverted teardrop,” as Chris Byrne, a toy consultant and analyst, put it.
“Before it looked like a hairy chicken cat,” Mr. Byrne said. “This new one, it’s just really sweet.”
Nicole Daddona, an artist in Brooklyn whose work has been inspired by Furby, described its new look with a word that others have used: “Yassified.”
“It’s like the Furby’s hot grandchild or something,” Ms. Daddona, 33, said. “I’m not a huge fan of the modern design.”
“The charm of the original Furby was that it was a little terrifying,” she added. “It looks cute, but also there’s something not right about it.”
Kassidy Autumn, a tattoo artist in Cincinnati, said she has done at least four Furby tattoos within the last few years. The people who request them have often claimed to have had unsettling experiences with the toys, she added, like Furby blinking or talking without batteries in it. (Richard Levy, an inventor of the toy, said such claims are among the “peculiar urban legends that arose back in the day of the first generation of Furby.”)
Ms. Autumn, 28, said she isn’t very impressed with Furby’s new glow-up, and nor are some of her customers. “It doesn’t have that creepy edge,” Ms. Autumn said. “It looks too innocent.”
Jessie Barry, a manufacturing scientist in Dublin who has a pink Furby tattoo on her thigh, also described the latest version as looking innocent, particularly because of its perky eyes. “The original eyes were drowsy, which gave it that creepiness weirdness,” Ms. Barry, 31, said.
“The new design is too cute to be a Furby, in my opinion,” she said. “But maybe kids these days would be too scared of the original.”