- Brief Looks at Recent Thrift Store Acquisitions -
By Mark Patraw
Published on 8/3/15
After a two month hiatus, I'm back with another volume of Toy Talk! I've purchased piles of toys (and books) since last time, but, I've just been too busy with other things to spend much time writing about, and photographing, them until recently.
I hadn't been to the nearest Goodwill in a long time, mostly because it's located a fair distance from where I live, in a neighboring city, and there are a couple of other thrift stores that are a lot closer (and cheaper, but I'm getting ahead of myself). However, on a recent trip to Gamestop (where I picked up Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia and LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures for the Nintendo DS), I did pop in to have a look at their wares. Unfortunately, their secondhand toy prices have gotten even higher since the last time I was there. Six dollars for a random assortment of cheap fast food toys? Ten bucks for a bag of doll clothes? Two smackers for a nude Bratz girl without any feet? Ridiculous! The only desirable thing I saw that was reasonably priced was an 18" Disney Princess & Me Ariel doll, with her original clothing, for a couple of dollars, but, while I was tempted, I really wasn't in the mood to carry that not-so-little mermaid all the way home with me, so, I left her there. When it comes to secondhand stores, it really does pay to shop around.
Last Thursday (July 30th), the closest St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store had an awesome sale, offering almost all of their children's books for a mere penny-a-piece (as I'm a role model of moderation and restraint, I bought twenty-seven volumes). And, even when they're not on sale like that, most of them are only a quarter. A young mother, who was browsing through the books alongside me, groaned and lamented that she had just come from said Goodwill, where she had spent twenty-four dollars on children's books, and wondered if she could return them and get a refund. Excluding sales tax, that same amount of money would have literally bought her 2,400 books at the St. Vincent sale (not that they actually had quite that many)! An extreme example, you say? Sure, but, still, where would you rather shop?
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: Steve Irwin Wildlife Adventure Series.
Manufacturer: K & M International (2006).
What I paid: One dollar on 6/27/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 11.4 cm (4.5") wide x 22.6 cm (8.9") tall.
Articulation: Neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, shirt pocket buttons, and back switch.
Notable features: Interactive talking figure.
Australian Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin lost his life in 2006 when he was stabbed through the heart by a stingray while filming footage of the creature, but his memory, and conservationist message, lives on--in this case, immortalized in plastic action figure form! Prior to his untimely death, I watched Steve on television many times (both on his own show and as a guest on various other programs) and his almost-childlike enthusiasm for all of nature's creatures, and reptiles in particular, was always entertaining.
The figure's appearance is pretty good. While it's not exact, I think K&M did a fair job of capturing Steve's likeness in plastic. I instantly recognized him on the shelf, as did another customer who saw me holding him and the store's cashier when I paid for the toy. I also like that Mr. Irwin's build is more realistic than what you normally get on a male action figure. In other words, rather than the idealized, muscle-bound Mr. Universe type, Steve's physiology has a smoother/chunkier natural look to it. The 9" scale kind of limits what other toys he can interact with though, as most action figures clock in at either 4-7" or 12" in height, making Steve something of an odd duck. If he wasn't clearly an adult, you could have conceivably used him as a younger brother for a 12" figure/doll.
Steve's articulation could be better. Given that his torso contains the button batteries, speaker, controls, etc. for his voice feature, I didn't expect there to be waist or torso joints, but I really wish that he had bendable knees, so that he could crouch down on the ground to get closer to various critters, which is something he often did in real life. Even though they only consist of cut and pivot joints, the arms and neck have pretty good mobility (the elbows are weak/loose though, I had a devil of a time getting him to support the weight of that alligator in the first photo), but the hips only swivel about 45o, so you can't even get Steve into a proper sitting position, which is disappointing.
The switch on Steve's back lets you shut him off (to conserve battery life and protect your sanity) or choose between two operational modes. Selecting "Mode 1" will result in Mr. Irwin voicing one of these eight phrases every time that you press either of his shirt pocket buttons:
We've worked hard at saving endangered animals.
G'day, I'm Steve Irwin.
What a ripper!
Danger, danger, danger!
What a beauty!
I think it was a really clever idea to unobtrusively blend the buttons into the sculpt like that. All of the samples are clear (the speaker is also located on his back) and, if you've ever heard him on the television/radio, or maybe even in person, you'll instantly recognize that the toy's distinctive voice/accent is authentic Steve.
"Mode 2", on the other hand, is more interesting. Pressing a shirt button starts a fairly lengthy interactive narrative by Steve involving the relocation of a troublesome crocodile. Periodically, he'll pause to ask you what choice you want to make (crossing a bridge or climbing down a cliff for example), which you then select with the appropriate button. It's kind of like an audible, and more linear, version of one of those "Choose Your Path" story books, which is mighty cool.
I was really surprised by this feature, as it's much more substantial than what you usually get on a vocal toy like this. Steve easily has the most extensive vocabulary out of all the talking playthings I currently have in my possession. On the downside, it can be more difficult to make out what Irwin is saying in Mode 2 at times, because the designer(s) opted to include some ambient background noise (footsteps, creaking bridge, running engine, etc.) which can drown out his words.
Other than his limited mobility, and the minor wear-and-tear on my sample (paint rubs and some scratches), this Steve Irwin doll is a great toy. His talking feature is really quite impressive in scope and execution. Until I had him in my hand, I never even knew that I wanted a Steve Irwin action figure, but I'm glad that I snatched him up and added him to my collection. While I do generally prefer fantasy settings/characters to reality-based ones, it's nice to get plastic renditions of real world people from time-to-time too, especially when they're no longer with us.
Toy line: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Manufacturer: Playmates for Mirage Studios (1990).
What I paid: Seventy-five cents on 6/13/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 8.2 cm (3.2") wide x 12.7 cm (5.0") tall.
Articulation: Jaw, neck, shoulders, biceps (1), wrist (1), and hips.
Notable features: None.
Scumbug was an ordinary insect exterminator until one fateful day, while attempting to remedy a pest problem at Krang's Technodrome (Baxter Stockman, perhaps?), he accidentally got oozed, transforming him into the abomination you see depicted here. Looking like that, he really didn't have too many options left in life, so he threw his lot in with Shredder and set out to eradicate the Turtles.
According to his file card, in addition to the supply of Anti-Turtle spray he lugs around on his back, Scumbug has poisonous pinchers, can chew through almost anything, possesses superhuman durability (his shell is bulletproof--cockroaches are notoriously hard to kill after all), and can telepathically control nearby insects.
Scumbug looks delightfully disgusting and the toy's sculpt is covered with fun details, like a bunch of crawling insects, if you look closely. I like that parts of his anatomy are still human-like too, implying an incomplete/botched mutation. The paint job is decent, although, given that this item is a quarter of a century old now, it's rubbed off in multiple spots, most notably on Scumbug's mandibles.
Playmates isn't known for well-articulated figures, even today, and certainly not back in 1990. I appreciate the addition of the moving jaw, but something more useful, like poseable knees, would have been better. It's also kind of odd that, rather than a symmetrical approach, one of Scumbug's arms has a rotating cut joint at the wrist while the other has it at the biceps instead.
Alas, my Scumbug is missing all of his accessories. A complete sample should include a spring green "Bug Pack" and "Turtle Exterminating Gun", three bendable grey hoses [two of them attach the backpack to his pectoral muscles (which would seem to imply that he's pumping out his own vile juices to fuel the thing), while the third connects the weapon to the pack], and five, small, orange-red cockroach minions. Other than his missing gear, my Scumbug is in pretty nice shape. Loose samples often have damaged, or absent, antennae, so, I got lucky in that regard. Speaking of which, some time ago, I ran across another Scumbug, but said feelers were ripped right off of his head, leaving nothing but a black nub, which is why I didn't buy that one.
The original late-80s/early-90s TMNT cartoon and toy line had some really memorable villain designs and Scumbug was one of the better ones in my book. Even if I had no interest in the franchise, I'd still want Scumbug because I like insect monsters so much. Neither my younger brother nor I ever had this particular TMNT figure when we were kids either. The complete lack of accessories is a bummer, but, other than that, I'm thrilled to have him.
For some reason, the thrift store has been all over the place with their pricing on TMNT figures lately too. The same day that I bought Scumbug, they also had a 2K3 Donatello, that I wasn't interested in, with a wind-up-arm action feature, for a dollar, and then, a couple of weeks later, they had a damaged original Slash (both of his purple Shredder-like claws were ripped off, leaving the torn pegs embedded in his wrists) for two dollars. I've always liked Slash, but I'm not paying two smackers for damaged goods--had he been priced significantly less (say fifty cents or so) I might have snagged him in that condition.
Toy line: Unknown, perhaps inapplicable.
Manufacturer: Unknown, but made in China (what isn't?)
What I paid: Fifty cents on 7/24/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: The size of your sculpture will vary depending on what you build, but the base measures 8.4 cm (3.3") x 8.9 cm (3.5") wide/long x 2.8 cm (1.1") high. The difference is only about 5 mm, but I was surprised to find that it wasn't a perfect square when I measured it.
Notable features: Magnetic modeling system.
I've always wanted one of these magnetic sphere desktop toys, so, when I saw this one, in good shape (there are some minor nicks-and-scratches on the base), for half-a-dollar, I snatched it right up. The basic idea here is that bored, or frazzled, desk toilers can take a break from their duties to rearrange the orbs into structured or abstract shapes, which supposedly helps you relax and reduces stress. You'd better hope that you've got an understanding boss if he/she catches you playing with this thing instead of working though . . .
Building structures with these spheres is interesting and somewhat unpredictable. Magnetic attraction/repulsion obviously has to be taken into account, but the weight of the spheres and gravity are also factors. Some things that you feel should work won't, or at least not the way you imagined that they would, and, at other times, a build that you'd think shouldn't be able to hold its shape will. In addition to using my fingers to manipulate them, I also found it fun to rearrange the spheres with another large magnet, in a wand-like fashion.
I don't know how complete my sample is, but it came with one large sphere, seven medium-sized balls, and I'd estimate around a hundred small orbs. It would have been nice to have another big one or two, but I'm content with what I got. And I imagine that you could probably use any other metal ball bearings, marbles, or even non-spherical objects, that you might have lying around. Losing the balls is almost a non-issue too, because they tend to adhere to the base rather than rolling away.
The magnet embedded in the wooden base is very strong, so take care to keep it away from your computer, smart phone, etc., as the magnetic field could potentially mess them up. That being the case, having one of these on your desk at work, with so many electronic gizmos necessary in this day-and-age, doesn't strike me as the best idea. Over the years, I'd speculate that a company or two has probably experienced minor disasters (i.e., data loss), as a direct result of an employee having one of these things and being careless with it.
On a related note, I'd like to mention that, one time, when I was taking physics in college (not my idea of fun, but my major required a year of it), my professor was lecturing about electromagnetic forces, and, to illustrate that, he passed around a set of heavy-duty, rare-earth magnets. Those things were no joke either--it was nearly impossible to pry them apart by force (at least for me, but then, I'm not a musclebound He-Man either), instead, you had to slide them past one another to separate them. Anyway, as my alma mater was an "IBM Thinkpad University" (i.e., we all had to have laptops, whether we wanted them or not), he sternly warned us to keep the rare-earth magnets away from said machines, but, of course, several of my classmates weren't listening, or simply didn't care, and screwed up their computers as a result. I had my laptop out and open, but I took his warning to heart, turned around in my chair, and placed my body between the computer and the magnets while I was handling them and didn't experience any problems.
If you want one of these things, they're relatively inexpensive, even brand new. While I was doing some research on Google, I saw similar models for five dollars. The small spheres are definitely a potential choking hazard though, so, in addition to your sensitive electronic devices, I'd also keep it away from small children and pets.
This Magnetic Sphere Sculpture set is fun to mess around with for a little while, but it's nowhere near as versatile as something like an Erector or LEGO kit. Don't get me wrong, I like it, but it's more of a novelty item than a "serious" building system.
Toy line: Pretty Girl
Manufacturer: Impag Toys (date unknown).
What I paid: Seventy-five cents on 7/28/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: [Overlay frame and tile holders in down positions] 35.5 cm wide (14.0") x 26.7 cm (10.5") high x 4.0 cm (1.6") deep.
Articulation: Pivoting overlay frame and tile holders.
Notable features: Rubbing kit that produces images of various female fashion figures.
When I was a kid, I had one of these artistic rubbing kits, but it was a monster-themed one, whereas this Fashion Designer version is intended to appeal to girls (and evidently toy-obsessed weirdoes like me). My initial impression, when I saw this thing lying on a shelf in the store, was that it must be a Barbie product, but there aren't any copyright markings on it anywhere, from Mattel or anybody else, so I had to search online to find the "official" name and who made it. The device and its components are pretty well-built; there aren't any cracks or abrasions on it anywhere and all of the joints work flawlessly. It was fairly grimy, but that was nothing a little water and elbow grease couldn't fix.
Operating this contraption is easy. All you need to do is select three of the tiles (head, torso, and legs), place them in the rubbing area, lay your paper over the tiles, and then close and lock down the overlay frame (sandwiching everything into place). Lastly, you simply rub your drawing implement over the paper's surface and the raised areas on the underlying tiles result in a line drawing of the woman you assembled "magically" appearing, which you can leave as-is, or embellish further however you like.
Thankfully, my sample came with a complete selection of all 24 double-sided tiles. There are six each of the head (A1-A6), torso (B1-B6), and leg tiles (C1-C6), as well as six texture tiles. After you finish a woman rubbing, you just lift up the paper, replace one of the body tiles with a texture tile, and go over the coordinating clothing area again if you want to add some pizzazz (and we know that Phyllis Gabor always approves of that).
I tried doing the rubbings with graphite pencil, colored pencil, marker, and wax crayon. As I expected, from my childhood memories, crayons work the best, followed by markers, while the results from the pencils weren't as good in comparison. The monster one I had as a kid came with a little plastic holder that your crayons clipped into, lengthwise, which allowed you to apply more-or-less even pressure over a wider area. Mine's missing, but a complete sample of this kit should include one of those too (white, with a heart-shaped handle), as well as four crayons, ten colored pencils, and ten sheets of paper (there are storage spaces, underneath the frame overlay, to hold your supplies.) Said tool isn't really necessary though, as grasping your drawing implement with just your fingers works fine. You'll want to use thin paper too, as I found thicker stuff didn't produce good rubbings at all. All of my pictured samples were done on newsprint or lined notebook pages.
The rubbings I did with just wax crayons weren't all that impressive, so, I began to elaborate and experiment. After several tests, I found that I got the best results when I used a light-colored crayon to do the rubbing, went over that with an ink pen, and then enhanced the figure with other media. Maybe I should revisit using graphite pencil again, as then I could erase all of my rubbing marks after I ink it, giving me a clean outline to work with. But, then again, the color "aura" surrounding the figures does look kind of neat.
A part of me is dubious about accepting a rubbing/tracing as "real" art, in comparison to a traditional, freehand drawing, because you're just making a copy of someone else's work, but, that said, I can still appreciate the appeal that an item like this has and can see the creative possibilities in altering the original template. As a boy, it was magic to see those weird monsters appear almost instantly before my eyes as I ran my crayon over the paper, and I still got the same kind of gratification bringing these ladies to life. I had only planned to make a handful of quick, one-color rubbings for this review, but I ended up becoming quite engrossed with the item and lost track of time creating--if that isn't a solid recommendation, then I don't know what is.
Toy line: My Little Pony: Equestria Girls.
Manufacturer: Hasbro (2013).
What I paid: Two dollars on 7/15/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 7.1 cm wide (2.8") x 22.8 cm (9.0") tall.
Articulation: Neck, shoulders, and hips.
Notable features: "Humanized" version of a My Little Pony horse.
Equestria Girls is a spinoff of the Generation 4 (G4) My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic franchise, where most of the main characters have human-like counterparts, in an alternate universe, that attend, or work at, Canterlot High School. In alicorn form (a unicorn pegasus), Princess Celestia is the wise and kind ruler of all of Equestria, while in Canterlot, her human counterpart serves in a similarly authoritative role, that of the school's principal.
Not that you'd ever know it by looking at this doll.
My biggest quibble with the toy is that Celestia is dressed like a tween, not a principal. In the cartoon, she wears slacks and a blazer, that look, you know, professional. I can't imagine a real principal being caught dead going to work in this pink-and-yellow dress and go-go boots. Maybe some of your students would think that you looked cool (more likely, they'd find your appearance hilarious and/or pathetic), but you certainly wouldn't come off as very respectable to their parents or your colleagues/employees. This outfit would be fine on, say, Fluttershy, but it's just not right for a more mature character like Celestia.
Celestia's face is pretty, but her eyes weren't applied to the vinyl symmetrically (her left peeper is shifted too far to the side). The paintwork is excellent otherwise. Putting the pony's cutie mark (a blazing sun in Princess Celestia's case), which is normally located on the horse's flank, on the doll's cheek was a practical and welcome choice for the doll line. Normally, the Equestria Girls characters don't have horse ears on the cartoon (they only appear under special circumstances), but it's nice that the toys all have them, as it sets them apart from similar fare, and it's the only obvious visual clue to their equine origins if you're not familiar with the source material. Celestia's three-toned hair (mostly pink and blue, with a little bit of purple) looks stellar and combs out well, although it could have been rooted more densely, especially around the ears. The longer lock of pink strands, that reaches down to the ground, is meant to suggest a horse's tail, which is another subtle, but neat, bit of design work that I like.
The doll's anatomy is fairly basic. She has a rotating neck and ball-jointed shoulders/hips. That's pretty standard, but it also doesn't provide a lot of posing options. That said, some of the Equestria Girls dolls do have more articulated bodies, adding moving elbows and knees to the mix (Hasbro should have made them all that way). Celestia's legs are straight and rigid, but her arms are rubbery. That helps with putting on and removing garments, but it also feels cheap. Panties and a camisole top are permanently molded onto her body, so, even "nude", Celestia's never really unclad. If you're wondering, the hole in her back is where you'd plug in Celestia's wings, if I had them.
Due to their similarly short stature and lack of actual feet (they just have rounded pegs that the footwear pops on-and-off of) the Equestria Girls seem like an uninspired attempt by Hasbro to copy MGA's Bratz and Moxie Girlz doll lines. Speaking of which, here's a photo of Celestia wearing Bratz clothing and shoes. The blouse and skirt are a bit big/loose on her, and the shoes are tight, but they work. This more reserved ensemble is more along the lines of how I feel that the Celestia doll should have been attired to separate her from the schoolgirls and reflect her position. On the other hand, Celestia's dress is too small/tight to ever fit the Bratz doll (Jade), but her boots do go onto the legs okay, although they don't snap into place.
Young lady, that outfit is not appropriate classroom attire.
You march back to your room, change into something less revealing, or I'll see you in detention!
In the comments section of another toy reviewer's blog, I once read that Ohio Art's Betty Spaghetty doll shoes would fit Equestria Girls, so I dug mine out to test that, and sure enough, they do. (The rest of Celestia's outfit is Bratz attire again.) Alas, I don't have enough parts to complete my (Hannah?) Betty Spaghetty doll, but Celestia's boots do fit onto her one bendy leg. I bought Hannah last year, disassembled, in a Ziplock bag, along with a McDonald's Betty Spaghetty doll, for fifty cents, and, at the time, it appeared that there were enough pieces in there to make a complete figure, but, when I got home and inspected my purchase, I was disappointed to find out that there wasn't. Hopefully, I'll run across another one someday, ideally with enough extra parts to complete Hannah too.
I was fortunate enough to get Celestia's dress and boots (I most definitely would not have paid two dollars for her without footwear), but I'm still missing a lot of what she originally came with. First, and most importantly, I don't have the smaller Princess Celestia alicorn pony figure that came packaged with the doll--they didn't do it with all of them, but pairing the Equestria Girls with a toy of their horse counterparts was a great idea on Hasbro's part. I'm also missing her previously mentioned wings, hairbrush, purse, and sun cutie mark accent for said handbag/pony (it can plug into either). I'd like to find the horse and wings someday, but the purse isn't terribly important to me. I didn't take a photo of it for this review (you can see it here though, bristles-side up, in the final picture at the bottom of the page), but I already have a powder blue Equestria Girls brush (probably Rainbow Dash's; Celestia's should be white), that I got in a random bag of girls' toys a little over a year ago, and that's good enough for me. (I've written before that sometimes I get lucky and find missing accessories/figures that I want in those grab bags.)
G4 Pony Madness!!!
Celestia is cute, and she's a decent doll, but I can't say that I'm all that impressed with the Equestria Girls either. They're simultaneously different and derivative. I don't feel that Hasbro achieved the level of quality/creativity that they could have with this line. I might buy some more (especially if I run across the humanoid version of my favorite G4 filly, Rainbow Dash), but, ultimately, I think My Little Pony toys work better as, well, ponies, not people. Had I been in charge of designing Equestria Girls, I would have made them all kentaurides (female centaurs) instead, like Mattel's Monster High Avea Trotter doll, rather than rainbow-hued, "normal" girls with horse ears, as I feel that would have been more unique and truer to the equine spirit of the franchise (plus centaurs are awesome).
And, here's a final extra story, seeing as how I'm writing about ponies anyway:
One afternoon, I was standing in the craft aisle of the thrift store, with several toys piled up in my arms, including two My Little Ponies (a McDonald's Equestria Girls Princess Twilight Sparkle alicorn and a larger Rainbow Power Styling Strands Fashion Pony Fluttershy pegasus), when a young girl passed by, craned her neck up to see what I had, and then gravely informed me that, "There's still another unicorn in the box." (Referring to a McDonald's G3 Sweetie Belle, that I had already examined, but didn't want, and had left in the bin that contained all of the store's current assortment of horse toys.) So, I replied, "Yeah, I know." I guess that wasn't the answer she wanted (I imagine that she thought she was helping me, and, at that young age, probably couldn't fathom how anyone buying ponies wouldn't be interested in two unicorns instead of one), because she then yelled, "Twilight Sparkle!" at me and skipped away. That girl definitely got the last word, I'll give her that.
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