By Mark Patraw
Posted on 3/17/14
Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Go mug a leprechaun for his pot o' gold!
The toy pickings were pretty poor at the beginning of last week, but better items started to appear towards the weekend. In particular, I was tempted to buy a Playskool Star Wars Snowspeeder vehicle, that was in pretty good shape, for $1.50, but, I reasoned that craft, while not huge, would take up quite a bit of space, so, I convinced myself to leave it on the shelf in favor of smaller stuff (if I actually owned a Playskool Luke Skywalker, wearing his orange flight suit, I probably wouldn't have been able to resist). I may be wrong, but my current hypothesis is that, at this time of the year, people are gearing up to have their own spring rummage/yard sales, so, they're less likely to bring old stuff to thrift stores.
In this installment of Toy Talk, moving left-to-right, we have: a 2003 Mattel/McDonald's Masters of the Universe Skeletor (twenty-five cents "boys" grab bag on 12/26/13); a figurine of two red parakeets perched on a plant (fifty cents on 3/10/14); an Applause/Disney The Little Mermaid plush Ariel (fifty cents on 3/14/14); a couple of 2012 Hasbro/McDonald's Littlest Pet Shop animals, Minka Mark & Sunil Nevla (Minka Mark: twenty-five cents "girls" grab bag on 1/10/14; Sunil Nevla: twenty-five cents "girls" grab bag on 3/14/14); and, finally, a pair of Bluebird Toys/McDonald's Totally Toy Holiday Mighty Max playsets, 1993 and 1995 [1993 (Yeti): price, if any, and acquisition date unknown; 1995 (Iceman): twenty-five cents on 3/10/14]. I purchased everything (with the possible exception of the 1993 Mighty Max Yeti playset) from the Ishpeming St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store on the dates noted above. If anyone reading this knows more information about any of these items, that I haven't already discussed below, and would like to share, or just chat about toys, feel free to e-mail me and let me know!
Life is harsh. Having survived numerous battles against foes that would crush you or me like a bug, the mighty Skeletor has finally been brought low by a one-two sucker punch: cheap plastic and poorly-designed joints. This is a 4.2" (10.7 cm) tall 2003 McDonald's Masters of the Universe Skeletor action figure, which was part of Mattel's ill-fated attempt to reboot the popular 1980s toy line for the 2K generation. In addition to old bone face, the wave consisted of He-man, Beast Man, Ram Man, Man-at-arms, Orko, Panthor, and Battle Cat--that's five against three, no fair! I don't know if the Four Horsemen sculpted these McDonald's toys or not, like they did with the normal, full-scale MOTU action figures, but they certainly match their style--maybe they're slightly shrunken, retooled versions of the Four Horsemen's work? Anyway, Skeletor looks great; he's a lot more detailed than your typical McDonald's fare. The evil warlord could've used more paintwork to accentuate all the detail in his armor, but, given that he's a cheap fast food toy, I understand that corners had to be cut in order to stay in the black. That said, I bet this Skeletor figure would look even better with a customized paint job. Just like the classic 80s MOTU figures, Skeletor has a spring-action waist; turn his torso to either the left or right, then release it, and he'll snap back, delivering a devastating blow to anyone foolish enough to stand in the way or his inevitable conquest of Eternia . . . or, you know, you could just have him slap around that useless Beast Man a bit. The former Keldor also has rotating cut joints at the neck, shoulders (well, one functioning shoulder on mine, but I'll get to that in detail shortly), and hips. Alas, my Skeletor is missing his Havoc Staff accessory (a ram's skull on a stick for the uninitiated). The lost weapon is a shame, but Skeletor is, and always will be, cool, armed or not. If not for his trashed shoulder joint, I'd be very pleased with this toy.
I should probably invest in one, but I don't own a screwdriver, or a bit, with a triangular head on it (which is what you need to open up most fast food toys these days). So, I had to MacGyver a new tip for one of my Phillips screwdrivers in order to get inside Skeletor and investigate what was going on with his right shoulder. I simply made a wad of my "Kleenex Putty" (tissue paper and white glue mixed together), jammed that down into Skeletor's screwhole in order to make an impression of the shape of the screwhead, took it out and let it air dry for a few hours, and then attached it to the tip of the screwdriver (sort of like a socket) and used that modified tool to open him up. I wouldn't say that it worked flawlessly, but it did work, and that's all that matters.
Here's Skeletor's torso disassembled. Whomever owned this previously must have played with him in the bathtub, or left him outside in the rain/snow, because there was a lot or rust inside. You can't see it though, because I had already cleaned it all out before I shot this photo.
Here's a closer look at the arms. You can clearly see the huge tear in the shoulder peg on the right arm, which is a direct result of the relatively soft PVC ripping when the stuck shoulder peg wouldn't budge as the limb was turned. You have to be on the lookout for that with stubborn joints and flexible plastics--it may seem like the piece is moving properly, but, you're really just twisting the thing right off! The peg on Skeletor's arm is only still attached by the proverbial thread--it's a wonder it didn't just rip free completely when I was rotating it. McDonald's/Mattel really should have just made the peg ends entirely cylindrical, rather than hexagonal, as these toys just aren't sturdy enough for the resulting structural strain that results from ratcheting joints. Even though the left arm is fine, internally, there are stress fractures in the plastic "walls" of the body that house the peg, and the seam between the torso halves gaps open every time you turn the arms, neither of which gives me much optimism for the long term survival of this figure. Don't get me wrong, ratcheting joints can be useful, but they're typically found on large, heavy figures, constructed from rigid plastics, not small, cheap fast food toys like Skeletor. Until now, I can't remember ever seeing a ratcheting joint on any toy that was designed like a hexagon (they're usually more like many-toothed clock gears in shape) and I dare say that the reason why is because they simply don't work very well (it's possible that an octagon, which has more facets, making them more cylindrical in shape, would have rotated more smoothly and resulted in less stress on the materials). If you own, or plan on purchasing, any of these Masters of the Universe McDonald's toys, I strongly recommend just leaving the arms alone. I've had two He-man figures from this assortment for several years, and they have exactly the same kind of shoulder joints, which don't want to budge, and I'm afraid to even attempt freeing them up after what happened to poor Skeletor.
Hey guys, let's just let bygones be bygones, eh?
I really don't want to be the meat in a He-man sandwich, you know?
Ouch! Mercy! Lay off, I've got osteoporosis!
Skeletor's life is already hard enough as it is (try getting your butt kicked by the He-man twins everyday and see how well you hold up) without a bum arm making it worse. And, yeah, I know I often say that the bad guys always win at my house, but being a broken toy is worse than having leprosy around here, you're branded an outcast and the normal rules of engagement no longer apply.
I'm no expert on birds, but I'm skeptical that the color/patterning depicted here actually exists on real parakeets. To me, it seems like the painter decided to try to make them look like some other, more colorful, species. That said, parakeets are technically parrots, and there are lots of different species of those in the world, in a wide variety of colors, so, perhaps my impressions are wrong. Regardless, I think that the red, gold, and black plumage (which is what attracted me to it in the first place) looks spectacular.
The modeling on this piece is wonderful. There's tons of micro texture work everywhere (maybe even too much, if that makes any sense) and even the tiny, individual feathers on the birds' bodies are clearly defined. The paintwork is solid, but, upon closer inspection, it's also a bit on the sloppy side. For example, red from the birds has spilled over onto their wooden perch in several spots. This item stands 5.5" (14 cm) tall, at the top of the higher budgerigar's head. I can't find any copyright marks molded anywhere on it, so I have no idea who produced this piece or when (it's possible that there are some markings underneath the felt on the bottom, but I'm not going to try to peel that off, possibly damaging it, just to satisfy my curiosity).
Judging from the weight/feel, I'm guessing that this sculpture is made from some kind of resin. That being the case, if I ever dropped it, this item would surely shatter into several pieces. Speaking of which, I was very careful to inspect it for damage in the store, because, often times, a thrift shop's resin/ceramic knickknacks have chunks/pieces broken off, chipping, or other undesirable defects. Case in point: I recently saw a really nice Native American piece, with a man, in tribal dress, seated on the ground, in front of a decorative plate, and an eagle hovering above him, but, the outstretched tips on both of the eagle's wings were snapped clean off. Had it been intact, I would have bought that thing in a heartbeat, as I really liked it, but, in that tragically defaced condition, I just couldn't do it (while it's true that I have the modeling skills to replace/fix such damage, it also takes time/effort to do, and I'm not in the habit of buying "fixer-uppers"). As I mentioned earlier, the bottom of the plant base has a piece of felt glued to it, to prevent the sculpture from scratching whatever surface you choose to display it upon. Mine has a couple of small bumps, underneath that felt (I'm guessing artifacts from the casting process), so the figurine doesn't quite sit flat, but it's not in danger of tipping over or anything like that.
We had parakeets as pets (green/yellow and white/blue ones if I'm remembering correctly) in the house when I was a child, and later, zebra finches, but I've never really been much of a bird person. Now that I'm an adult, I think it's cruel to keep any bird in a cage, (they should be free to fly wherever they want, just like nature intended, in my opinion), so, it's highly unlikely that I'll ever own a live parakeet again--artistic representations, like this piece, will have to do instead. The only local bird that's even remotely as colorful as this pair is the male Northern Cardinal, but I don't see those too often.
This is a well-designed and attractive piece that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the subject matter depicted. The paintwork is a bit sloppy, but, other than that, I have no complaints. By the way, if anyone reading this happens to have the same sculpture, but with the birds painted a different color, I'd be interested in seeing a photo of it (my e-mail address is up at the top of the page, at the end of the introduction).
Fishy Missy is going to have to stay above the waves, because her cleaning instructions say surface wash only! This is a 10.6" (27 cm) long Applause/Disney The Little Mermaid Ariel plush doll. There's no date anywhere on it, but the animated movie was released in 1989, so, it can't be older than that. She's made out of synthetic fibers and her fish tail and abdomen are stuffed with plastic pellets. The quality of the stitching and materials looks good to my eyes and she seems pretty durable. Alas, Ariel's got no less that three tush tags sticking out of her rump, one of them quite large, which was definitely overkill.
I don't have a Flounder toy, so I substituted my rather large stuffed clownfish instead.
Ariel's hair is made out of red yarn, which is very soft to the touch and looks really nice. Yarn tresses always makes me think of the Cabbage Patch Kids. The only bad thing about her locks is that they attract cat hairs like a magnet. I spent quite a bit of time picking those out, before I shot these photos, and I still didn't get them all (as I sit here, typing this, with Ariel in my lap, I can see that she's already accumulated some more).
Here's a group photo of all the Ariel toys I currently own.
Left-to-right: Applause plush, McDonald's Treasure Keeper (which is missing its' base), and Mattel Polly Pocket.
Overall, I think Applause did a nice job of translating the cartoon character into plush form. The only two things that I'm not crazy about are: (1) her face and bosom are too flat, when viewed from the sides (which is probably why her goofy expression just doesn't look quite right to me), and (2) the hands aren't up to the same level of quality as the rest of the figure (they're not stuffed, just two pieces of fabric, sewn together at the "finger" seams, leaving the edges of the hand open). In the store, I was on the fence about whether or not I should buy Ariel, but, all things considered, I think I made the right choice in taking her home with me.
Here's a couple more of the 2012 Hasbro/McDonald's Littlest Pet Shop toys, Minka Mark (pink spider monkey) and Sunil Nevla (blue banded mongoose). The characters come from the current Littlest Pet Shop cartoon that airs on the Hub television network. The plot of the show revolves around Blythe Baxter, a teenage girl that can talk to, and understand, animals, and the seven critters that live in the pet shop below her apartment. In addition to this furry pair, the wave also included Zoe Trent (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel), Pepper Clark (skunk), Penny Ling (giant panda), and Russell Ferguson (European hedgehog, previously covered in Toy Talk Vol. XIX). Oddly, McDonald's chose not to round off the cast by including figures of Blythe or Vinnie Terrio (gecko). Eight-figure assortments are not at all uncommon for Happy Meal promotions, so, I'm at a loss to explain why they didn't do it.
Minka Mark is a spider monkey, and a rather "girly-girl" looking one at that. She's the artistic one out of the bunch and also very excitable. Rolling Minka's base (which resembles a small, circular stage) across a hard, flat surface will cause her to spin around-and-around, in a ballerina-like fashion. The mechanism works okay, but it's nothing I haven't seen dozens of times before. Minka's appearance is pretty much on model, but, for whatever reason, they neglected to paint the ties holding her pigtails. This toy is 3.9" (9.9 cm) tall.
Sunil Nevla is a banded mongoose. He's also an amateur magician and likes to perform magic tricks. Sunil tends to be the paranoid type and has many phobias (which the worrisome look sculpted on this toy's face captures pretty well). He clocks in at 2.8" (7.2 cm) in height.
Unlike the other two toys from this wave that I own, Sunil's action feature is incorporated into the figure itself, rather than the base. Sliding the lever on the back of his head back-and-forth makes his eyes shift left-and-right. He also has a single point of articulation; his tail has a rotating cut joint where it joins his body. Sunil's base appears to be a chunk of wet pavement. If you look closely, you can see several of his pawprints in the cement, not to mention the protruding sign forbidding doing just that (I like how the design tells a story). How's Blythe going to get him out of this predicament, and, can she do it before he succumbs to an anxiety attack?
Here's a group shot of the McDonald's toys with a LPS Blythe mini doll.
I've got two copies of Russell Ferguson now too (toys know when you don't like them and turn up in duplicate just to spite you).
This is another one of those fast food toy lines, that, while I'm not terribly interested in it, I'll probably end up acquiring a complete set anyway, whether I want to or not, simply because the figures are often found in the random bags of toys that I buy. I still feel that these LPS figures would have been better without the bases and action gimmicks (well, Sunil's shifting eyes would be all right, because they're well-integrated), but, that said, they're okay for what they are. Out of the three that I have, I think Sunil Nevla is the best, I'd rank Minka Mark in the middle, and I don't care much for Russell Ferguson (the animal itself isn't bad, but I really don't like how they designed his skateboard and tied it to his bobbing head action feature).
The whole idea behind the Mighty Max line was transforming Bluebird Toys' popular Polly Pocket concept (tiny dolls and play sets) into something that would be appealing to boys. So, instead of cute little girls and doll house environments, you end up with Max confronting a variety of monsters in exotic locations. And, yes, that's a textbook example of society grooming boys and girls to fill stereotypical gender-centric roles, or, in other words, the old "girls like to play house" and "boys like violence" approach.
While I recognized that both of these items were Mighty Max fast food toys, identifying them was trickier than I expected. My initial assumption was that there was a Mighty Max themed Happy Meal promotion, but, that turned out to be wrong, as no such thing ever existed. What actually happened was that several franchises were lumped together into Totally Toy Holiday assortments, one in 1993, the other in 1995. So, as it turns out, I actually have a complete "set" of Mighty Max McDonald's toys, because only two were ever made (one for each year).
We'll start with 1993's offering. So far as I can tell, this Mighty Max item didn't have a unique title, so, I'm just going to refer to it as "Yeti", for obvious reasons. The sculpted face on the lid is really fearsome looking, with lots of detail in the fur--it would have really popped with a light blue wash on the hair and fully painted teeth, but, alas, it's cast completely in white plastic (the yellow eyes are actually elements from the playset's interior). Closed, it measures 3.4" (8.7 cm) long, and, open, 4" (10.2 cm) high. Besides this toy, the assortment also included Nursery Magic (boy or girl), Attack Pack, Polly Pocket, Sally Secrets (Caucasian or African American), Key Force (car or truck), Tattoo Machine, Gator Car w/Blue Ramp, and Li'l Miss Candistripes. There was also a Barbie snowdome, but that item was recalled over safety concerns (which, as a result, means it's more valuable and difficult to find than the others).
The action feature on this item is self-contained and pretty simplistic. Turning the dial, on the bottom of the play set, causes Max to revolve around the yeti. It works fine, but, I don't see the point. What is Max trying to do, make the creature dizzy? Max can't get away, only run circles around his foe, so what's to stop the yeti from just waiting for him to get tired, or, simply reaching out and crushing the boy like a grape? There are also a couple more creatures, as well as some treasure (which is presumably what Max is after), sculpted and painted on the back "wall" of the opened play set. I wish that the figures were removable, but they're all permanently attached--on the upside, you never have to worry about losing them.
The Yeti playset opens, and stays put, at a roughly 90o angle, just like many of the real Mighty Max toys, which I appreciate. The paintwork is decent, but somewhat sloppy. Some of the green from Max's cap got on his face and the 'M' on his shirt looks like someone drew it there with a pen (which, for all I know, they did).
I'm afraid that I don't recall, how, or where, I got this Yeti item, but I do know that I obtained it secondhand, not new. Either I bought it before I started keeping detailed records of my purchases or it was given to me for free. All I can say is that I've had it for many years.
Next, let's look at the 1995 toy. Again, there doesn't seem to be an official name, so, let's call it "Iceman". The entire scary-faced lid is molded from transparent blue plastic, which does an outstanding job of making it look like frozen water. I like how both McDonald's Mighty Max toys have an arctic theme, as that ties them together, even though they were released two years apart. Open, this one measures 6.6" (16.8 cm) long and 3.5" (8.8 cm) closed. Unlike the Yeti, Iceman isn't designed to stay open at a 90o angle (probably because there isn't any interior sculpted detail on the lid to serve as a backdrop), instead, it pivots a full 180o. And, yes, if you're wondering, this is the same Mighty Max toy that I mentioned leaving on the shelf last week--the more I thought about it, the more I wished that I had bought it, and, thankfully, it was still there when I returned to the store last Monday afternoon.
Anyway, besides Iceman, the McDonald's Totally Toy Holiday 2 assortment also included Holiday Barbie, '57 Chevy w/Blue Ramp, Polly Pocket, Cabbage Patch Kid w/Rocking Horse, North Pole Explorer Vehicle, Fisher Price Once Upon a Dream Princess, and Fisher Price Great Adventures Knight w/Green Dragon. Additionally, the 1993 Magic Nursery (boy or girl) dolls and red Key Force car were available once again, but as alternative "3-and-under" toys for younger children.
As expected, all the elements of this play set are self-contained, so you needn't worry about losing anything. With Iceman, the object is to guide Max through a zigzagging path, between two spinning guardians, using the small knob on the back. Accomplishing this feat is surprisingly tougher than it looks. There really isn't enough clearance for Max to just sail smoothly between his two frozen adversaries, so you have to finesse his passage by using Max's body to rotate the creature's limbs out of the way (the transparent plastic ice window prevents you from "cheating" by helping the boy with your fingers). On the one hand, I like that they didn't make it too easy, but, on the other, I found it pretty frustrating and not much fun. Apparently, the villains are a bunch of no-good Christmas present thieves too, because the background artwork depicts a couple of them throwing gifts down the hole, and, at the bottom of the pit, is a big pile of toys (including an unauthorized cameo of what I believe is the B-9 robot from Lost in Space!)
Believe it or not, a woman stopped and tried to strike up a conversation with me about Iceman, when she saw me crouched down on the store's floor playing around with it, but I gave her the silent treatment until she gave up and walked away. Incredibly rude on my part, yes, but I dislike engaging in spontaneous face-to-face conversations with complete strangers.
Note that Iceman's lid won't stay up like this at a 90 o angle without some kind of support.
While neither one of these McDonald's toys is as good as a "real" Mighty Max playset, I think that the fast food giant did an admirable job of capturing the essence of the franchise. I would have preferred removable mini figures to permanently attached ones, but I suspect that the potential choking hazard was a concern. It's hard to pick a favorite, as I like both, but I'm going to give the Yeti item the nod, because it sports more sculpted details and I think it comes closer to replicating the Mighty Max look and feel.
« Return to my Toy Review Index