Shelf Talk

Lost in the translation......
January 1, 1999

Lost in the translation…

A belch by an English Furby sounds completely different than one from an Italian Furby, so says Mark Howlett, and he should know; as an engineer at Hollywood Recording Services, an LA-based recording studio, he oversaw the translation of Furbish verbiage into five other languages. Last November, Tiger Electronics (Furby’s manufacturer) flew in reps from Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Japan to HRS headquarters to provide input on how Furby’s unique noises, as well as the inflection of each phrase should sound in their native tongues.

‘[Furby's] farts and his eating noises were different for each version,’ says Howlett, who adds that ‘everybody there had an idea as to what [sorts of bodily function sounds] would be acceptable in their own countries.’

Cultural interpretations of intestinal gas expulsions notwithstanding, by far the most difficult aspect was trying to get the Furby technology to accommodate the different tonalities and syntax of each language. Spoken French, for example, is very nasal in tone, which forced HRC and its colleagues on the project (speech technologists Cimarusti & Associates) to make adjustments to the talking furball. At the heart of the Furby circuitry is what’s called an LPC (Linear Predictive Coding) chip, which allows Furby to communicate verbally. If the pitch of speech is too high or too low, however, the LPC chip (which is found in answering machines and most talking toys) won’t be able to read it, says Howlett.

HRS et al. faced another hurdle in trying to inject some levity into the tone of the German language translation. ‘Because German is all very guttural, it’s hard to make it sound happy and loving and cuddly like the English Furby does,’ says Howlett. In total, each Furby translation took two days to record and nearly a month of post production to complete. HRS should be getting quicker at the translation game, though; the company has already done a French translation of Equity Toys’ Talking Babe Plush, and has also recorded original English dialogue for Microsoft Actimates’ line of talking Barney, Arthur and DW dolls.

Target gets Henson

in a bear hug

Beginning in February, Target will launch a Bear in the Big Blue House promotion in all 851 of its stores. The promotion will use in-store signage to highlight various Bear merchandise, including new infant and toddler apparel (Happy Kids), videos (Columbia TriStar Home Video), books (Simon Spotlight) and Bear toys exclusive to Target, among other products. Bear master toy licensee Mattel will

have its toys featured on endcaps. Additional promotions will include in-store appearances from the Big Blue One and giveaways of Bear-themed magnetic frames with the purchase of select Bear items. Details of the Bear promotion will be available to consumers via Target’s Web site (

A production of The Jim Henson Company, Bear in the Big Blue House is a half-hour show for preschoolers that is currently airing on the Disney Channel.


pay day

Do kids care about the coming of the new millennium? And if they do, will they want to buy product that commemorates the occasion? With less than 12 shopping months left until Y2K, these are questions apparel manufacturer Elegant Headwear is hoping retailers answer in the affirmative. The New York-based company has created a line of baseball caps that feature LCD display clocks on the front, allowing kids and adults alike to monitor, second-by-second, the countdown to the year 2000.

The Countdown 2000 hats-as they are named-will hit retail this month, ranging in price from US$9.99 to US$19.99. In February, EH is releasing a licensed Looney Toons version of the caps. The company has also licensed Glasgow and Sons to manufacture boys and girls Countdown 2000 T-shirts and sweatshirts, which will be available at stores in the spring. On December 31st 1999 at 11:59 p.m.-one minute before the penultimate moment-the LCD displays on the Countdown 2000 hats and apparel will start beeping and flashing, and will eventually flash the phrase ‘Happy 2000′ once the millenium has been ushered in.

The Smiley Licensing Corporation is another company that’s hoping to cash in on millennial mania. Starting this month, under the moniker of ‘Have a Nice 2000 Millennium,’ SMC will use its namesake character to market separate brands of toys, apparel and accessories for kids at mass and specialty retailers. For more information about Smiley products, contact SMC at 212-521-4166.

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