It's been three decades since audiences first celebrated the birth of Jesus by watching a spoiled rich kid repeatedly attempt to murder two impoverished ex-plumbers. Yup, Home Alone turned 30 this past week. Those of us who were kids at the time remember, not just the movie, but the paint can-like onslaught of unnecessary merchandise that flooded the marketplace following the film's surprise success. There were Home Alone board games, dolls, and a video game in which you could mow down the wet bandits with a hot coal gun.
But that was nothing compared to the sequel. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York continuously highlighted Kevin McCallister's cool new toy: the "Talkboy." It was basically just a handheld tape recorder that allowed him to, say, record his uncle's unnecessarily loud bathing rituals. It also had the ability to playback recordings at a slower speed, which is how Kevin was able to masquerade as his father and book a luxury suite at the Plaza (the fact that he totally sounded like Buffalo Bill on Demerol somehow wasn't an issue).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that the filmmakers came up with the idea of Kevin owning an awesome toy every kid would want and worked backward from there. Screenwriter John Hughes reportedly met with toymakers Tiger Electronics before the script was even done. Insanely, Hughes' original idea involved Kevin wielding some kind of gun, until the folks at Tiger pointed out that (even in the '90s), "You can't have a gun at the airport. It just doesn't fly at O'Hare." Presumably, after realizing that watching a small child being detained by airport security for two hours would be kind of a drag, they came up with the Talkboy -- a non-existent toy designed just for the movie.
Eventually, Tiger decided to make the Talkboy for real that Christmas, anticipating that kids everywhere would ask Santa to deliver the tool of deception that would allow them to escape their parents' clutches and handily scam a five-star hotel. The only problem was the retail Talkboy didn't have the voice modification setting that made credit card fraud such a snap in the movie, meaning that the Talkboy's sales "weren't very good because the product couldn't do everything it did in the film."
But the following year, Home Alone 2 hit VHS and featured various advertisements -- including, oddly, for American Airlines, the company that carelessly transported an unaccompanied nine-year-old to New York City. They also featured an insert pimping the new "Talkboy Deluxe," which did come with a puberty-like voice changer. The toy was an unexpected hit, selling more units than the company could produce. Demand was so high, Tiger had to pull its own advertising in advance of the holidays. That advertising, incidentally, featured a kid using his Talkboy to repeatedly block his sister from healthily exploring her own sexuality.
It was the best selling toy of Christmas 1993, and Tiger was "unable to meet the overwhelming consumer response," fielding hundreds of calls a day from desperate customers. Stores (and by extension Santa Claus) were forced to hand out rainchecks. There were even fights over remaining Talkboys between parents who seemingly loved their children more than, you know, the McCallisters did.
Top Image: 20th Century Studios