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Furby's Face Brings Frowns to Warner Bros.

Toys: The rage of the season may change its looks because of similarities to Gizmo of 'Gremlins' fame.

December 24, 1998|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Furby, the hot holiday toy that looks like a cross between an owl and a gremlin, will get a face lift next year, industry sources say, following complaints from Warner Bros. that the toy bears too close a resemblance to Gizmo, a character in Warner's "Gremlins" movies.

Pawtucket, R.I.-based Hasbro Inc., which manufactures the hot-selling Furby line, did not return phone calls Wednesday. And Warner spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatto denied a Daily Variety report Wednesday that Warner had sued Hasbro over the toy. "That's incorrect," she said. "There was not a lawsuit and there's no settlement. We have a good working relationship with Hasbro."

But toy industry sources expect Hasbro to change the toy's appearance after the holiday season, as well as make a payment to Warner. One industry insider said the two companies have been talking in recent months about similarities between the two toy lines. "One could assume that Furby will change its looks in the next round and that there will be some remuneration to Warner," the insider said.

Toy industry players first noticed the resemblance between Furby dolls and Gizmo toys in February after Tiger Electronics Inc., a Hasbro subsidiary, introduced the Furby line at the American International Toy Fair in New York.

The Gizmo toy is based on a character in the 1984 movie "Gremlins" and a 1990 sequel, "Gremlins 2: The New Batch." The two movies are available on video, and the Gizmo toy still is being produced, but Warner no longer sells the Gremlin line in its Warner Bros. retail store chain. Gremlins movies featured cuddly creatures like Gizmo who, on occasion, turned into decidedly scary creatures.

It's unclear how children and collectors would react to a new look for the hot holiday toy. Early in this holiday season, toy and licensing industry experts described Furbies as a one-season hit that would fizzle after the holidays--like past hits including interactive Tamagotchis and Tickle Me Elmo dolls.

Hasbro has said it hopes to extend the shelf life of its popular line beyond the holidays. But it could be more difficult for Hasbro to market the toys if next year's batch looks substantially different.

It's equally uncertain what word of a face lift will mean for collectors who've scrambled to find the plush toys. Initially sold at retail for about $30, the hard-to-find toys took off after media coverage--including an appearance on the Today show and a favorable mention in Wired magazine--tabbed Furbies as the season's hot toy. If Hasbro does change the toys, it's possible that collectors will clamor all the more for the originals. Hasbro has shipped 2 million of the toys this holiday season.

Some consumers have paid more than $1,000 during Internet auctions for one particularly hard-to-find version of the black and white toys with big eyes, floppy ears and their own language--Furbish.

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