Toy Talk
- Brief Looks at Recent Thrift Store Acquisitions -

Volume LX

By Mark Patraw
Published on 6/1/15

Wow, volume sixty already! And, with at least five items examined in each installment, I've written about well over 300 playthings since I began doing this in August, 2013--that's a heckuva lot of toys (as all of the filled boxes, shelves, bags, and piles of them surrounding me as I type this can attest)!

As always, 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!

Toy line: Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Manufacturer: Nanco for Warner Brothers Entertainment, Incorporated (2007).
What I paid: One dollar on 5/27/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: [Excluding the ears] 55.0 cm (21.7") wide x 41.0 cm (16.0") tall.
Articulation: None.
Notable features: None.

Like Stripe before him, Mohawk was Gizmo's primary nemesis in the second Gremlins film (even if Brain was the, um, brains of the operation). However, before he became a scaly horror (and, at the conclusion of the movie, a half-arachnid nightmare), Mohawk was a cuddly, but malicious, mogwai, which is what this plush toy represents. In the first Gremlins film, all of the mogwai, including Gizmo, were brown and white, but, in the second, the designers got more creative and introduced some other colors into the mix, hence, Mohawk's fur pattern is more skunk-like in appearance, which really makes him stand out.

This Mohawk plush is gigantic; much larger than his on-screen puppet was. Sixteen inches high may not seem like much, but keep in mind that he's also sitting and wider than he is tall. I wish that this toy was half that size, or even smaller, as I have no idea where I'm going to find the room to display or store it, but this jumbo mogwai certainly makes an impression! Indeed, several women in the store made comments when they saw me walking up-and-down the aisles with this plush creature cradled between my arms, including an elderly worker who admonished me with, "Don't be scaring any little kids with that!"

The likeness is pretty good (I recognized him instantly after all), but there are some things that could use improvement. First, and most importantly, especially given his name, the mohawk should be much taller (several inches high) and puffier. A white stripe pattern, similar to the one on his tummy, is missing from his back. And Mohawk's irises are supposed to be red, not brown--he's one evil-looking little bugger in the film (the mouth is closed on this toy, but in the movie, he even had pointed teeth, which is unusual for a mogwai). I strongly suspect that the pattern for this item was originally used to make Gizmos, which probably accounts for some, but not all, of those changes.

Mohawk's ears have plastic support structures sewn inside, but, due to their size/weight, they don't stay up very well at all (the manufacturer should have employed bendable wire armatures instead). The photographs I took of him with the ears erect are actually cheats: I simply shot them with Mohawk upside down and then flipped the images 180o during the editing process.

For some reason, Mohawk has a "Gizmo" tag, with coordinating artwork, clipped to his left ear, despite obviously not being that character. And, interestingly, Mohawk's tush tag warns that the toy is not to be sold at retail, which suggests to me that this was a carnival prize. He's filled with shredded foam, rather than soft stuffing, which is typical of the type of cheap plush figures you find at such events too.

The mutated Vegetable and Lady (Greta) gremlins are my two favorite critters from Gremlins 2: The New Batch, but Mohawk ranks pretty high on that list too. If this toy were smaller, had ears that stayed erect, red irises, and a more prominent mohawk, it'd be just about perfect, but, even as-is, it's still an impressive addition to my collection of plush figures and a fun representation of the film character. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to microwave Mohawk his favorite, after-midnight snack and give him a bath . . .

Toy line: Stainless Steel Construction System.
Manufacturer: Mud Puddle, Incorporated (2014).
What I paid: Fifty cents on 5/27/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 6.8 cm (2.7") wide x 12.5 cm (4.9") long x 6.9 cm (2.7") tall.
Articulation: The wheels rotate.
Notable features: Erector-like metal and plastic building set with pull-back motor action.

I haven't put together an Erector set in ages (this one is just a "knockoff" brand though, not the "real" deal, but the quality is there and the building process is the same regardless), so I jumped at the chance when I found this small vehicle kit for a steal. While I can't say that I'm a big fan of monster trucks, neither do I hate them--I just love to build/assemble things, so the subject matter of the model(s) typically doesn't matter to me all that much, one way or the other, when it comes to construction sets.

Believe-it-or-not, this thing was brand new, in the original unopened box, with all of the pieces still sealed in plastic. An item being in that kind of pristine condition is pretty unusual for a thrift store find, although not unheard of. At least I didn't need to worry about any missing parts!

Okay, Mr. Mechanic, make yourself a monster truck out of this!

When I started assembly, I was all, "I don't need any tools, this is easy!", and was threading the tiny nuts onto the bolts with nothing but my fingers. Eventually, that resulted in some wear-and-tear on my poor thumbs, and, as the model neared completion, there wasn't enough space to get my digits into the little spaces anymore. So, I finally gave in and used the included screwdriver and wrench, both of which worked great.

As far as Erector-style kits go, this monster truck model is relatively simple and so the pictoral instructions are fairly brief as well (just one small sheet of paper). I didn't have any difficulties until the final assembly, where it was kind of tricky to tell what the best order was for attaching all of the smaller components made in the previous seven steps, but, I eventually figured everything out with some trial-and-error. I think it would have helped if the manufacturer had broken the last diagram down into two or three smaller steps, to make it less confusing. I'd say it took me around twenty minutes to successfully put the monster truck together.


The pull-back friction motor on this vehicle works pretty well too, provided you use it on a smooth, level surface. The monster truck doesn't go very fast (likely due to the weight of the metal), but I'm impressed that the feature was even included at all, especially on a cheaper model like this. I appreciate that added playability, but I would have been just as happy with a monster truck that you pushed by hand too.

Not bad, but those wheels are kind of small for a monster truck!

Erector-type building sets are more "involved" than something like Lego or Mega Bloks because you're assembling objects in a manner similar to how you would do it in real-life, instead of just joining pre-shaped bricks to one another. Repeatedly screwing in bolts and threading on nuts can be tedious, but you truly get a feeling of, "Wow, I really built something!" when you put one of these things together. Taking them apart again is fairly time-consuming too, so, I'm probably going to just leave this thing assembled for a while until I work up the ambition to break it down in order to try making something else out of the pieces, in combination with the parts from another model (a hot rod) that I picked up a while ago.

The manufacturer recommends this kit for children ages 11-and-up, which is an assessment that I can agree with. While it's fun and challenging if you can handle it, I could see this type of thing easily frustrating younger kids (even I had some difficulties towards the end, and I'm well past eleven-years-old).

Toy line: Nintendo.
Manufacturer: [Nintendo DS Lites] Nintendo (2006).
[Paws & Claws: Pampered Pets] THQ (2009).
What I paid: Ten dollars (whoa, big spender!) on 5/29/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: [DS Lites, closed] 13.3 cm (5.2") wide x 7.3 cm (2.9") high x 2.2 cm (0.9") thick.
Articulation: [DS Lites] Cover hinge, control pad, eight buttons, and power/volume switches.
Notable features: [DS Lites] Dual-display portable gaming console. Both screens are back lit (with four levels of brightness) and the lower one is touch-sensitive. Wireless connectivity (including installed "Pictochat" messenger). Built-in microphone and stereo speakers with adjustable volume control. Internal clock, calendar, and personal settings. Backwards-compatible with Gameboy Advance games, and said bottom cartridge slot also serves as an expansion port for other peripherals. Powered by rechargeable lithium-ion battery and/or AC adaptor.
[Paws & Claws: Pampered Pets] Run, maintain, and improve your animal care facility. Pet, groom, feed, treat, and play with various virtual cats and dogs. Make custom collars and pet food blends. Collect photos of your clients and their pets. Battery backup saves game progress.

I've been wanting a Nintendo DS for the longest time, but they were always more than I could afford until now. Imagine my delight when I walked into the thrift store and saw not one, but two, of these beauties for a mere ten dollars! They're both metallic pink, which certainly wouldn't be my first color choice, but beggars can't be choosers!

The Nintendo DS (which stands for both "Developers' System" and "Dual Screen") was the company's 2004 replacement for the aging, but highly-successful and popular, Gameboy Advance (I've also got one of those, but I bought that brand new). The NDS' two screens, the lower of which is touch-sensitive, was the system's main selling point. Said double display design is also a homage to Nintendo's vintage black-and-white LCD Game & Watch handheld gaming units.

The 2006 Nintendo DS Lite, which is what we have here, is a smaller and lighter (7.7 ounces, two less than the original's weight of 9.7) revision of the first Nintendo DS model. The other differences are that it features four selectable brightness levels (its predecessor simply had the option of turning the backlight on or off) and a longer battery life (15-19 hours on the lowest brightness setting, compared to the 6-9 hours of power that the original had). While I would have been happy with either, considering its enhancements, I do feel that the DS Lite is the superior version.

They're a bit scuffed up, so they must have seen a lot of action.

So, I was holding the Nintendo DS that was labeled $10 and "works good" (that particular establishment almost always attaches a note to their electronics, letting you know whether they're functional or not, which is mighty helpful and appreciated), while I was examining some of the other merchandise in the glass case, when the supervisor of the thrift store came up behind me and informed me that both the other "as-is, has issues" NDS and the Pampered Pets game were included in that $10 price tag as a package deal--she had just forgotten to tape them all up together when she put them on display. Now, I thought finding a single NDS for ten smackers was an incredible stroke of good fortune, but two of them plus a game? Shut up and take my money!

I'm sure you're curious--what was wrong with the "as-is" one? Well, at first, it wouldn't play DS cards at all, only GBA cartridges (which, in itself wouldn't have been that bad, as it was still usable), so, I shined a high-powered, mini flashlight beam into the DS card slot to see what was up and saw that some of the copper connections were bent out of alignment (probably from a previous owner sticking foreign objects in there). I got out a tiny screwdriver, carefully pushed said metal strips back into position, and, "Bam!", problem solved--DS cards boot up and work fine again, hooray! Alas, the machine still isn't in perfect working order though, as the lower touch screen is sort of messed up too--it's usable, but it doesn't register stylus input as precisely as it should, even after I recalibrated it twice, and, worse, it doesn't seem to detect pressure on some areas of the screen very well at all, particularly the far right, which, depending on what you're playing, could be either a non-issue or a catastrophic problem (in Pampered Pets, that flaw prevents you from using the scroll bar and arrows on some of the game's menus, but you can still do just about everything else). Well, just as long as one of them functions properly, that's good enough for me. As I've already noted, I would have been over the moon with just one NDS for that bargain price; anything above and beyond that is just gravy.

Main menu, Pictochat, and setting whether you want Gameboy Advance games to appear on the top or bottom screen.

Incidentally, this pair of Nintendo handhelds used to belong to two girls/women, Rhea and Lana. How do I know that? Because a NDS lets you register your name and birthday, and that data was still on the units when I turned them on and adjusted the time, date, and other settings, to my liking (you really should delete or change personal information like that before you donate or sell your electronics). I permanently replaced the two ladies' details with my own, so, their data is gone forever now anyway. The single AC adaptor (originally, they would have each come with their own power source, but one is enough for me) has a "R" written on it in black permanent marker too, which leads me to believe that it was probably Rhea's as well. And, if you must know, the messed-up unit was Lana's (maybe she's not the one that wrecked it though).

I'm the one that added the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash decals to their covers (and it took some serious restraint on my part to limit the decorating to only one pony each). Even I have to admit that it's kind of counter-productive to spend a fair amount of time cleaning off the residue from the store's price tags only to affix new stickers onto their surfaces again! Aside from liking the characters, my main reason for doing so is that I wanted to be able to tell, at a glance, which was the "good" one (Rainbow Dash) and which wasn't (Twilight Sparkle). Besides, they're already metallic pink anyway, so I might as well go for broke with the stereotypical feminine look. Something tells me that Rhea and Lana would have approved.

Unfortunately, neither Nintendo DS came with its' stylus (they're supposed to be stored in a slot on the back of the unit), so, until I get around to buying a proper one, I've been using one of the jackhammer bits from my Power Team Elite: World Peacekeepers Combat Engineer figure instead. It works surprisingly well as a stylus, and it looks like a black pencil anyway. You can also just use your fingertip when precision isn't an issue (i.e., pushing large buttons/icons on the screen).

Toy Headquarter's (THQ) 2009 Paws & Claws: Pampered Pets is a combination virtual pet and strategy/simulation video game. You take the role of a young woman trying to run a successful pet resort. Virtual money is earned by caring for and playing with your clients' furry friends, which you can then reinvest in supplies and/or new buildings for your facility. Man, do I ever wish I had this woman's position and patrons in real life, because the pay is extremely generous--for example, provided you do a good job (which isn't hard at all), a client typically gives you $50 for exercising their cat or dog outdoors for just a few minutes, and a $100 tip on top of that! You can easily pull in several thousand dollars a week. At the start of the game, you have nothing but your house, a reception building, and an exercise yard, but, eventually, with the accumulation of enough wealth, you'll be able to add seven themed bungalows (for animals that stay overnight), a beauty parlor, a workshop/storage area (where you can create custom jeweled animal collars and make your own unique pet food blends), and a health spa. I like animals, especially kitties, so this kind of virtual pet nonsense appeals to me, but it's also extremely repetitive. "Petting" a cat or dog with the stylus on the touch screen, to fill up its affection meter, is fun and amusing the first several times, but, it soon becomes an unwelcome chore when you have to do it over-and-over again, ad nauseam. All-in-all, Pampered Pets is a decent game, but it does wear pretty thin after a while. I think more variety in tasks/activities would have helped break the tedium and, likewise, some random events/disasters might have added some excitement. I don't know, maybe the pets could have occasionally escaped (a chase and/or hide-and-seek mini game) or gotten sick/injured (necessitating a trip to the vet and/or the application of medicine/bandages on your part).

The thrift store had some other NDS games for sale too, at three dollars a piece (Wheel of Fortune, Littlest Pet Shop, a Disney Princesses adventure of some sort, and one other game intended for younger children whose title I can't remember), but those didn't appeal to me all that much (says the guy with a bunch of LPS and Disney Princess toys/dolls), and I only needed one game to test the NDS units with, so I was content to leave with just Pampered Pets. Methinks a visit to the local Gamestop is in my future though . . .

Various screenshots. (Top, left-to-right) Treating tension on a cat's body in the spa, the interior of your house, and outside the workshop.
(Bottom, left-to-right) Talking to a client, mixing up a new batch of pet food (yummy!), and giving a Chihuahua a haircut.

These three items collectively represent the best deal I've ever gotten at a thrift store in my entire life (and for someone who's boughten as much stuff from them as I have, that's saying something). Granted, one has some issues with its' touch screen, and they're both older Nintendo DS Lite models, which are obsolete now, but, when those handheld gaming units debuted, they retailed for $130 a piece, and I would guess that the Pampered Pets game was at least $30. Thus, I got roughly $290 worth of stuff for $10--that's just insane! I'm still pinching myself to prove that I'm not dreaming.

Now, if I can just get my hands on copies of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia for the NDS, I will be one happy little monkey indeed . . .

Toy line: Transformers: Generations.
Manufacturer: Hasbro (2014).
What I paid: Twenty-five cents on 5/7/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: [Robot Mode] 9.9 cm (3.9") wide x 12.7 cm (5.0") tall.
[Vehicle Mode] 13.0 cm (5.1") long x 7.0 cm (2.8") wide x 5.2 cm (2.0") tall.
Articulation: Wheels, shovel assembly, head, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, thighs, hips, knees, and feet.
Notable features: Changes from robot-to-vehicle and back again. Light-piped eyes. I don't have them, but his two gun accessories also transform into Nebulan humanoids.

Autobot Scoop was first introduced in 1988, as part of the "Double Targetmasters" assortment of Transformers Generation One (G1) toys. Like Headmasters and Powermasters, they were special Transformers robots that had small, Nebulan sidekicks who could change into something that aided their big robotic buddies, namely firearms in the case of the Targetmasters. I never had any of them, but I can recall that my younger brother did have Quickmix (a cement mixer), who was one of Scoop's comrades.

This 2014 update looks and functions substantially better than the old toy did, but then, would you expect anything less twenty-six years later? Scoop's mechanical sculpt (even the hollow areas) is elaborately detailed, and his vibrant color scheme is pleasing to the eyes. On the original version, the shovel was yellow, not orange, but that doesn't bother me, as I think it makes Scoop's front-end loader form look more cohesive. Both the robot and vehicle configurations are well-articulated, with joints just about everywhere that you'd want them. Amusingly, just like the '88 version, Scoop's head goes inside the driver's cab when he transforms, but, because this toy uses transparent plastic for the windows, his robotic visage is still visible inside when he's in front-end loader mode--apparently Scoop always needs to keep an eye on things!

It's always a shame when you don't get a toy's accessories, but, in Scoop's case, that's particularly bad, because his guns are actual characters, not just weapons: Caliburst (originally named Tracer back in '88) and Holepunch. Like Scoop, they transform too; the pair go from humanoid form to guns and back again. As weapons, you can plug them into Scoop's hands, forearms, and lower legs, plus, the duo can also be attached to one another, creating a double-decker super gun. I doubt I'll ever find them loose, but I'd certainly snap Caliburst and Holepunch up if I did. Oh yeah, a complete sample of this figure should also include a reprint of an IDW Transformers comic book (Dark Cybertron Chapter Two).

This is an outstanding update of the vintage G1 toy. Scoop is well-articulated and looks excellent in both robot and vehicle modes. The only downer is that I didn't get either of his Targetmaster allies, but, even without them, Scoop is still a quality figure and another great addition to my Transformers collection.

Toy line: Loving Family: Sweet Streets.
Manufacturer: Mattel, under their Fisher Price label (2001).
What I paid: One dollar on 4/28/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: [Building, closed] 13.1 cm (5.2") wide x 21.8 cm (8.6") tall x 21.0 cm (8.3") deep.
[Building, open] 24.4 cm (9.6") wide x 21.8 cm (8.6") tall x 10.5 cm (4.1") deep.
[Dolls] 2.5-3.1 cm (~1.0") wide x 7.3-7.6 cm (~3.0") tall.
Articulation: [Building] Hinge between the two shops and their respective doors.
[Dolls] Neck, shoulders, and hips.
[Furniture] Base and backrest on the reclining chair and the parrot perch on the pet shop counter.
Notable features: Two-shops-in-one doll house environment.

As I mentioned when I bought the Candy Shop and Dance Studio, the thrift store also had this Sweet Streets Pet Shop and Beauty Salon set, but I decided not to buy it, because it didn't contain any dolls and only had one piece of furniture (the styling station). Fast forward several months, and I ran across another sample, except this one had ALL of its parts, except for the hair comb (which is no great loss), plus it also included a bonus male doll that isn't even part of the original set! That's one of the maddening dilemmas of secondhand toy collecting: do you buy something damaged or incomplete, out of fear that you'll never see another one, or do you hold out, hoping to find the same item again in better condition? This time, the latter strategy paid off handsomely!

The two-in-one structure looks pretty good, with a fair amount of detail, particularly on the exterior architecture. Most things are just the color of the plastic they were molded from, but there are enough paint and sticker embellishments to bring the environment to life. Sure, it would have been great if more of the 3-dimensional objects sculpted in raised relief were picked out with paint, but that would surely have broken the budget for the price point Mattel wanted to sell these at.

My building was fairly grimy when I purchased it, but, after a scrubbing session, it looks a lot better now (there are still some bits of grime hiding out in some of the crevasses that I missed though). While I was fixing it up, I can remember remarking, "Instead of paying a dollar for this, I should be getting paid for cleaning it!" I blame the former owner(s) for its dirty condition, not the thrift store's staff, who can't be expected to wash every item that comes through their doors. Seriously people, when you're going to donate something, if it's filthy, clean it first!

The female doll's hair is pretty wild and untamable, although I imagine that strapping it down with a rubber band for several days would get it to lie flat again (that's what I should have done prior to shooting these photos, but I'm never sure which particular items I'm going to be putting into Toy Talk until I actually sit down to do it). To my knowledge, she's the only Sweet Streets doll with rooted hair too, all the others I've ever seen, in person or online, have rigid, sculpted tresses. Considering the theme of the beauty salon, I suppose Mattel felt compelled to give her locks that you could style, which brings us to the one item my sample is missing: her purple comb. I'll take an extra doll (the man) over a comb any day of the week, as would any other rational human being. I'm always getting loose hair combs/brushes in bags of girls toys anyway, so, I have no shortage of them, and it's quite possible that I might end up acquiring the absent comb from this set that way someday.

A pet shop needs animals and this set delivers. The trio of puppies (St. Bernhards from the look of them) and pair of kittens (orange tabbies, although I can't say that I've ever seen a two-toned cat with a completely white face like these two have--they're kind of creepy looking) are permanently connected to their litter mates. That was probably wise, as they'd just get easily lost if they were small, separate figurines (not to mention being a choking hazard). There's also a yellow and green parrot, permanently attached to a rotating white stand that plugs into the shop's blue countertop.

The set doesn't include a lot of furniture, but the selection is decent and facilitates roleplaying. The pink beauty station has a mirror and a removable blow dryer, which is tied to the structure with a string so that it won't wander off. The reclining chair rotates, at the base, and the back support can be pivoted downwards, to facilitate washing/shampooing the doll's hair in the sink on the beauty station. Naturally, the main draw of the pet shop's blue counter is the previously mentioned bird, but it also has a cash register, leashes, and other appropriate details sculpted onto it.

I feel that this is a great playset, but, if I had all of its missing parts, I think I'd still prefer the Candy Shop and Dance Studio over this environment. That said, as this Pet Shop and Beauty Salon is nearly complete, it's the one that I'd choose to keep if I had to decide between the two. Regardless, they're both fun, compact doll houses, and I'm definitely interested in adding even more buildings and dolls to my Sweet Streets collection.

You really need at least two of these things, open and sitting side-by-side, to get a good street effect going, but, once you do, it's so worth it!

On that note, I've seen the Sweet Streets Country House at least three times now, and I want it, but I seldom run across one with any of its' original furnishings or dolls. And, for some reason, the mailbox on the front is always broken too (it's entirely possible that I just keep finding the same sample, in progressively worse condition, over-and-over again). You might be surprised at how often a single toy keeps reappearing at the same thrift shop as someone buys it, grows tired of it for whatever reason, and then donates it back again.

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