Talkboy is a line of handheld voice recorder and sound novelty toys manufactured by Tiger Electronics (now owned by Hasbro) in the 1990s. The Talkboy was originally conceived as a cassette recorder and player prop for the 1992 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. At the request of director John Hughes and 20th Century Fox, Tiger designed and built the prop, and was given permission by the movie studio to sell a retail version of the toy. Two cassette recorders modeled after the film prop were released in 1992 and 1993, respectively. The original model did not have the variable-speed voice changer of the film version and sold only moderately during the 1992 holiday shopping season. In April 1993, Tiger released the Deluxe model, which added the voice-changing feature. Following the release of Home Alone 2 on home video in July with an insert advertising the Deluxe Talkboy, interest in the toy spiked. Retailers had severely underestimated demand, and as a result the Deluxe Talkboy was one of the most highly sought-after toys during the 1993 holiday shopping season, selling out of stores across the United States. A pink version of the cassette recorder called "Deluxe Talkgirl" was released in 1995. The success of the Talkboy cassette recorders spawned a product line of electronic toys. Tiger transitioned to digital recorders for subsequent devices, using solid-state storage and adding sound effects, beginning with "Talkboy/Talkgirl F/X+" pens in 1995, which sold more than a million units in 45 days.
The original Talkboy model was a cassette player and recorder that was conceived as a prop for the 1992 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. In the film, the main character Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin) uses the Talkboy to outsmart adults, successfully making a reservation at the Plaza Hotel by slowing his voice down with the toy's variable-speed voice changer and later recording incriminating statements by the burglars Marv and Harry. The film's director John Hughes and the movie studio 20th Century Fox wanted a device that was realistic yet appeared cutting edge. Nancy Overfield-Delmar, the vice president of marketing for 20th Century Fox licensing and merchandising, said: "It was important to John that Kevin not use something already out in the marketplace. Kevin has to be one step ahead of other kids."
The manufacture the prop, Hughes and 20th Century Fox turned to toy licensee Tiger Electronics. The studio made an introduction between Hughes and Roger Shiffman, Tiger's co-founder and executive vice president, and the two met at Shiffman's office several times to develop the prop. Hughes's original concept in the script was for Kevin "to have a gun", but Shiffman thought it was impractical since the character would need to travel with it through O'Hare International Airport in the movie. Shiffman told Hughes to let him work on the idea, and his team at Tiger subsequently built a prototype in three weeks. The ensuing design for the Talkboy featured a handle that would allow the device to slide onto a hand and a retracting microphone so it would look "more lifelike". Tiger was given permission by 20th Century Fox to sell Talkboy in retail stores, with Shiffman negotiating a "modest royalty" to build the brand.
The original retail Talkboy model requires 4 AA batteries and uses a standard cassette tape. However, it does not feature the voice changer of the film prop. The toy was previewed at the American International Toy Fair in New York in February 1992, and was released to market for that year's holiday shopping season, coinciding with the release of Home Alone 2. Tiger spokeswoman Robin Plous said, "sales weren't very good because the product couldn't do everything it did in the film".
The Deluxe Talkboy model added the variable-speed voice changer. It was released in April 1993 for US$29.99, and was available at 11 retailers: Caldor, FAO Schwarz, Fingerhut, Hills, Kay Bee Toys, Kmart, Musicland, Service Merchandise, Target, Toys "R" Us, and Wal-Mart. It was a sleeper hit, catching many retailers off-guard with its popularity during the 1993 holiday shopping season. Tiger spokesman Marc J. Rosenberg said that retailers at the American International Toy Fair earlier that February had not predicted such high consumer demand, placing orders that were 300 to 400 percent below what demand actually turned out to be; only Toys "R" Us had placed sufficient orders, according to Shiffman. The company did not anticipate high demand for a second-season product, and manufactured only as many units as retailers had ordered. Interest in Talkboy surged after the July 27 release of Home Alone 2 on home video, which included an advertising insert that confirmed the toy was a real product; 10 million copies of the movie sold by December.
Tiger relied on the Home Alone 2 movie tie-in and the advertising insert in home copies to promote the toy. Once demand surged, the company could not produce enough units to keep it in stock, forcing them to pull all television commercials for the toy after Thanksgiving. Rosenberg said this was done "because [they] didn't want to deceive anyone" about the product's availability. Exact sales figures were not released, but Tiger spokespeople said in December that it had sold "hundreds of thousands" of Talkboys while facing demand for around 2 million units. By mid-December, the company's switchboard was handling more than 500 phone calls per day regarding the toy. Target reportedly ceased issuing rain checks for it after receiving more than 20,000 requests from customers. By mid-December, the retailer had been out of stock of Talkboys for a "couple of weeks" and confirmed any additional shipments would not go onto store shelves due to their commitment to fulfill rain checks. Eighteen days before Christmas, one Toys "R" Us store in Clinton Township, Michigan, had a waiting list of more than 500 people for the Talkboy. Rosenberg said that special security agents were required to meet each of Tiger's air shipments arriving from Asia for protection. The company's manufacturing plants in Hong Kong were running 24 hours a day to produce Talkboys in an attempt to keep up with demand, and daily air shipments were being delivered overnight across the United States. Only three stores – Toys "R" Us, Kmart, and Wal-Mart – were scheduled to receive shipments the week before Christmas. Tiger said it would continue shipping Talkboys through New Year's Day. Rosenberg blamed the frenzied demand for Talkboys on retailers shifting away from the inventory practice of stockpiling, while the St. Petersburg Times faulted the burgeoning "just-in-time" delivery model through which stores used computer-based delivery systems to handle advance ordering.
The Deluxe Talkboy was popular once again during the 1994 holiday shopping season. Tiger said it expected the toy to sell out for a second consecutive year. Kmart and Target stores reported swift sales around Thanksgiving, while Wal-Mart indicated in mid-December that it was experiencing extended shortages of the toy.
In 1995, Tiger released the Deluxe Talkgirl, a pink-colored Deluxe Talkboy that was marketed toward girls. Shiffman said, "We think the [Talkboy] name may have prevented us from reaching the full market".
The Talkboy cassette recorders continued to sell well into the 1997 holiday shopping season, according to The Morning Call. Speaking about the toy's staying power, Chris Byrne, editor of Market Focus: Toys, said that it sold "phenomenally well because it's a good toy".
The success of the Talkboy cassette recorders spawned a product line of electronic toys. Products included:
Tiger Electronics abandoned the trademark for Talkboy in 1999.
Several media outlets acknowledged the Talkboy on lists of the most popular holiday toys and past toy crazes, including Metro, Statesman Journal, Livingly.com, Rakuten, SILive.com, and CNN.com. Talkboy was ranked by Thrillist as the 38th-greatest movie prop of all time. Complex ranked it 75th on its list of the 90 best gadgets of the 1990s, while ABC News included it on a similar list of tech toys from the decade.