Toy Talk

By Mark Patraw
Posted on 9/2/14

Labor Day has come and gone, and all of the local kids are starting the new school year today, which also means less competition for thrift store toys . . . at least during school hours anyway.

Let's start in the back row today, moving left-to-right, we have Hasbro's 2009 My Little Pony: Ponyville motorized musical Ferris Wheel (fifty cents on 8/2/14) and a 2010 MGA Moxie Girlz Avery doll (fifty cents on 8/23/14). Down in the front row, again moving left-to-right, I present to you: Hasbro's 2011 G.I.JOE: 30th Anniversary Iron Grenadier (thirty-four cents on 7/14/14); three of McDonald's/Hasbro's Furby Boom! figurines, namely the Laughing, Wobbling, and Light Up Eyes Furbies (all three were in a twenty-five cents "McDonald's Firby" [sic] bag of toys on 6/21/14); and, finally, Hasbro's 1999 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Darth Sidious action figure (twenty-five cents on 8/2/14). I bought the Iron Grenadier from the Negaunee Vista Theater thrift shop; everything else came from the Ishpeming St. Vincent de Paul Society store. 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!

You must be no more than three inches tall to ride, no exceptions!

This is Hasbro's 2009 My Little Pony: Ponyville motorized musical Ferris Wheel. It would have originally come with a Pinkie Pie pony (that featured a swappable mane), but I don't have her. A nearly identical Ferris Wheel (the colors are different and it has a larger base with stairs and a little ticket booth on it) also came with the sprawling Sweet Sundae Amusement Park playset, which also featured two additional structures, a roller coaster track and a sundae-shaped snack shop. Said environment was released three times, once in its normal form, with a Sweetie Belle pony, and then twice more, as exclusives, with bonus ponies and accessories, at Toys R Us (Toola-Roola) and Walmart (Rainbow Dash & Scootaloo).

The other week, the same thrift store had another three MLP playsets (one was a teapot, and I think the second was shaped like some kind of dessert, but I can't remember what the third was), bundled together, along with a Ziploc bag with around 4-5 ponies in it, all for the very reasonable sum of six dollars. I was tempted, but, as all three structures were fairly large, and I knew that I really didn't have room for them all, I reluctantly decided it would be better to leave them there.

The Ferris Wheel itself looks pretty cool. I love that the individual basket seats are shaped like delicious frozen treats (hey, that rhymes!) and there are all sorts of little molded details and textures on the toy to discover when you inspect it more closely. I'd like to make special mention of the back of the "trunk", which sports one of those "test-your-strength" things--you know, the contraption where you strike the base with a hammer, sending a weight upwards, in an attempt to ring the bell at the top--while it didn't get any paint work, it's still evidence that the sculptors/designers put a lot of love into this piece, as that's something that could easily have been omitted, especially considering that it's located on an area that isn't even going to get looked at very much. Most of the colors come from the plastic itself, as usual with toys, but a My Little Pony sticker adorns the central hub of the wheel, while the pink outline of the star "spokes" and two of the ice cream toppings are picked out with paint.

Although it's tall and wide, the Ferris Wheel isn't very thick, so it's easier to store than a lot of playsets, which is good, because I don't have a whole lot of room to spare (I really need to start getting rid of some stuff). On the other hand, if you have the previously mentioned Sweet Sundae Amusement Park set-up, then storage/display is going to be a much trickier matter. This revolving attraction is 31.1 cm (12.2") high, 25.3 cm (10.0") wide, and 8.2 cm (3.2") deep.

Pressing the yellow star, on the front of the purple base, activates the Ferris Wheel (I don't have any way to capture audio/video, otherwise I'd show it to you in action). The switch, on the back of the wheel's "trunk" has three settings: "ON", "OFF", and "DEMO". If you choose "demo", then the device plays the opening segment of the MLP theme song (no lyrics, just the music) and only spins for a short time. On the other hand, if you select "on", the wheel revolves much longer and plays an extended version of the song, which is the only way to go in my book (the demo setting was probably intended for the "try me" feature, when the item was still new, in the package, to conserve battery life--I've seen that on numerous other electronic toys as well). The notes for the opening part of the song have a whimsical, carnival-like flair, and that's entirely appropriate, considering the subject matter, while the beats of the extended portion hit harder, and sound almost heavy metal-ish, which is awesome. The My Little Pony theme has always been catchy and the speaker, located on the surface of the purple base, projects the sample loudly and clearly. The wheel itself rotates slowly but smoothly--you wouldn't want it to go too fast or the seats' occupants might come flying out (and nobody wants to see Pinkie Pie get sued for the reckless endangerment of her fellow ponies)! All-in-all, the motorized musical action of this Ferris Wheel works beautifully--the only possible improvement I could think of would be to have it play multiple MLP tunes instead of just one.

Curiously, the thrift store staff had this item marked with a piece of tape that read "as-is", which is their tactful way of saying that an electronic item probably doesn't work. However, I tested it out in the store (the three required AA batteries were already installed), and it performed flawlessly, so, I have no idea why they were uncertain about its functionality. I've played with this Ferris Wheel many times since then, and have had no problems with it whatsoever. Sure, eventually the batteries will get low and need to be replaced, but that's to be expected.

Basket occupants, clockwise, from the top-left: McDonald's Winx Club Flora triplets (I keep getting extra copies of her), a Disney Epcott Center Chip action figure in an Oriental outfit, a teddy bear figurine of unknown origin, a Strawberry Shortcake Lemon Meringue action figure, and a Barbie Mini Pets pink poodle bobblehead figurine. And, down on the ground, are MLP: Friendship is Magic Twilight Sparkle (left) and Pinkie Pie (right) figures.

Sadly, while I have a bunch of MLP horses, none of them are really the right size for this playset (the Ponyville figures were relatively small). The only Ponyville toys that I do have are the McDonald's ones, and they have circular bases attached to their hooves which prevent them from fitting inside the Ferris Wheel's baskets. Of course, there's nothing stopping me from letting my other toys enjoy this amusement park attraction. Eventually, I'm sure I'll stumble across some "normal" Ponyville ponies, so, in time, the Ferris Wheel should get some proper equine occupants.

I've had this thing for weeks now and I still haven't tired of seeing and hearing it in action. If you can find one in good, working condition, then I'd definitely recommend this Ferris Wheel. Even if you don't like the MLP franchise, it's still a great interactive environment to use with any number of smaller toy lines, or you can even just enjoy it all by itself.

Argh! My knee! I trashed my knee! It hurts!

This blonde lass is a MGA (Micro-Games America) 2010 Moxie Girlz Avery doll. I believe that this particular one is from a "basic" assortment of figures, but, as the character has been produced so many times, it's difficult for me to say with certainty. According to MGA, Avery is athletic (she enjoys a variety of sports and other physical activities), but she also loves reading, writing, and music. While she's always busy doing something, Avery never fails to make time for her good friends. Personality-wise, she's strong, determined, energetic, and a natural leader.

After a District Court ruled against MGA, in 2008, during their legal battle with Mattel over the rights to the Bratz doll brand (Mattel contended that the creator of Bratz, Carter Bryant, had still been employed by them when he came up with the Bratz concept, therefore, he had violated the exclusivity clause of his contract by designing a product for a competitor), the company needed a replacement line of toys for the store shelves and thus the Moxie Girlz were born in 2009. Eventually, that original court decision was reversed on appeal, and MGA was once again allowed to produce and sell its Bratz dolls in 2010, however, the Moxie Girlz had proven popular in the interim, so, MGA decided to keep churning them out too. The Moxie Girlz are very similar to the Bratz dolls in general design/construction, although different enough so as not to violate the court's initial prohibition against making/selling additional Bratz dolls. They're also generally regarded as looking and dressing more "wholesome" than the often controversial Bratz.

Avery has a pretty face, but I find her expression to be somewhat bland and vacant. Moxie Girlz features just don't have the personality of their sister Bratz dolls which typically sport heavier makeup, large puckered "fish" lips, and eyes looking coyly off to the side.

This doll's hair isn't the best. Her golden tresses are long and shiny, but the fibers are coarse, tangle-prone, and have frizzy ends. I couldn't get a comb or brush through it, as-is, so, I had to give it a good soak in boiling water to get it straightened out. It's a lot better now than it was, but the individual strands still have a tendency to stick together, especially at the ends, so, eventually, it's likely to become an unmanageable mess again. There were also a few short threads still tied in her hair (that would have anchored her locks to the cardboard background of her original packaging), which Avery's previous owner(s) never bothered to remove, but I did.

Unfortunately, MGA really didn't do much to improve on the Bratz articulation model with the Moxie Girlz design. Avery has a ball -jointed neck; pin-and-disk ball-jointed shoulders and hips; internal ratchet knees; and rotating cut joints at the ankles where the feet clip onto the legs. In addition to what she does have, I wish that Avery possessed elbow, wrist, waist, and "real" knee joints. Her poseability isn't horrible, but it is relatively limited.

When I got home and undressed Avery, I made the unpleasant discovery that she had a small hole in the vinyl on the side of her left knee that partially exposes the internal ratchet joint when the leg is bent (needless to say, continuing to flex that limb would not be wise). I don't know if it's just a manufacturing error or something that her previous owner(s) did to her, but this is the first time that I've ever gotten a doll with that kind of problem. I didn't notice the damage in the store because Avery was wearing jeans. Yeah, I should have checked before I bought her, but there is simply no graceful way for a grown man to undress a female doll in public without looking like some kind of pervert, so, that's not a realistic option for me. Avery was only fifty cents, and gorgeous otherwise, so, I figure I can just look at the damage as a knee injury that she got from falling off of her bike or something (and you can't see it will full length pants on anyway), or, as I told the doll, "Don't feel bad, my body's got defects too!"

My Avery sample came wearing a pair of dark blue denim jeans, with gold stitching, a baggy orange short-sleeved sweater, adorned with three buttons, one pink stud earring, and a pair of white and pink sneakers. Like most play dolls, Avery also has panties painted onto her body for the sake of modesty. I very much doubt that the orange top is Moxie Girlz clothing--it's too big and probably originated from another larger doll line (it almost looks homemade too, but I don't think that's the case either). The collar is starting to come undone in the front, but, other than that, it's in pretty good shape. The sweater opens-and-closes, in the back, with a velcro strip, and, while it's big on her, Avery doesn't look terrible in it. On the other hand, the pants and shoes are official Moxie Girlz articles, and, not only that, they actually come with the 2010 basic Avery doll if you buy her new (if you're wondering, that toy sports a white, long-sleeved shirt with a black and pink plaid vest on top). Like the sweater, the pants have a velcro closure (which is starting to come unstitched on mine), while the shoes simply pop on-and-off the ends of Avery's legs (just like Bratz, Moxie Girlz dolls don't have true feet). Alas, Bratz ankle pegs are thicker than the ones found on Moxie Girlz, so they can't share footwear. And, as Bratz have smaller bodies, many of their clothes are also too tight on the Moxie Girlz. That was all probably intentional though, so as not to provoke any more legal problems with Mattel (you'd have a hard time convincing a judge that you're not still making Bratz dolls under a different name if all of the Bratz clothing and accessories still fit your supposedly new model).

Below are some side-by-side comparison photos with one of my blonde Bratz dolls, so that you can see the differences and similarities between the two brands for yourself:

Body comparison. Bratz are shorter, have more petite bodies, and their hip joints are simple swivels.
Moxie Girlz have more realistic proportions and facial features.

Ankle peg comparison. Bratz have shorter and thicker pegs.

Feet comparison. Bratz have larger feet with wider peg holes.

Here are another couple of photos of Avery with some different looks. I tried to give her a bun and braids, but I'm terrible at styling hair, so I had to settle for ponytails.

Below is a MGA dolls scale comparison photograph, to give you a sense of the range of products that they've produced in recent years. I passed on buying a full-sized MGA Lalaoopsy doll, with two pets and a complete outfit, for $1.50 last week, which I kind of regret from the standpoint that I would have liked to have had it for this image. That said, a little while after I put it back on the shelf, I witnessed a young girl, and her mother, discover and enthusiastically purchase that same Lalaoopsy doll, along with a Hello Kitty figurine "for the bathtub", which made me glad that I didn't buy it, as I'm certain that she'll appreciate and get more enjoyment out of that toy than I ever would.

BFC Ink Addison is wearing a dish towel "dress", clothespinned behind her back--I still don't have any clothes for her.

Moxie Girlz are nice enough dolls, but, as far as MGA product goes, I still prefer the Bratz over them as they have more expressive faces and I favor their trendier and edgier fashions. Likewise, I feel that the larger Moxie Teenz are better than their smaller cousins, because they have more articulated bodies, swappable wigs, and lovelier faces (inset eyes, real eyelashes, etc.) I may purchase some additional Moxie Girlz in the future, just for more footwear options, if nothing else, but, they don't appeal to me as strongly as some of the other fashion play doll lines.

War and unrest increase sales, so, if you're an arms dealer, like Destro, than what better way to ensure the brisk movement of your inventory than by sending in your own private army to provoke and inflame further conflict amongst your customers?

This is Hasbro's 2011 G.I.JOE: 30th Anniversary Iron Grenadier (which is the 8th toy version of the character) elite trooper. The exact same figure was also released earlier in that year, with a slightly different appearance (namely a gray and white camouflage pattern on its uniform that this one lacks), as part of the fourth Pursuit of Cobra assortment.

The Iron Grenadiers fill the ranks of Destro's private army and they also frequently collaborate with the Cobra terrorist organization. The very first Iron Grenadier toy appeared way back in 1988, and sported a predominately black uniform with gold and red accents. I don't have it anymore, but that figure was part of my childhood G.I.JOE collection and I fondly remember it as one of the better, and more sinister, looking bad guys (almost Darth Vader-esque). The only part of this Iron Grenadier that strongly matches the original design is the helmet and facemask--this particular incarnation of the character was styled as a member of a Heavy Weapons Support Team, which is why he sports beefier armor and weaponry than normal.

The Iron Grenadier doesn't have a lot of paint operations, but the sculpt is pretty detailed, featuring the usual assortment of pockets, straps, folds/wrinkles, etc. Color-wise, the helmet and facemask don't coordinate with the rest of the figure very well--I think he'd look better if one of them had been done in matching brick red. He also looks fairly plain without his flak vest on, as there's nothing to break up all that gray, although the underlying body does feature a lot of neat armored plates that you wouldn't be able to see otherwise (unless you had armor-piercing bullets, I don't think shooting this guy in the torso would be terribly effective). He stands 10.7 cm (4.2") tall and measures 4.2 cm (1.7") wide.

Like most modern G.I.JOE figures, the Iron Grenadier is very mobile. He's got a ball-jointed neck, mid-torso, and hips; pin-and-disk ball-jointed shoulders, elbows, and ankles; double pin-jointed knees; and rotating cut wrists. Unfortunately, my sample's hips are pretty loose, which makes it difficult to get him to stand on his own (lugging around that huge heavy assault rifle must have blown them out--I hope Destro offers good medical insurance). One leg is slightly longer than the other too, which doesn't help either. The armor plates on his arms and the shape of his helmet/mask also limit the range of motion of the shoulder and neck joints a bit, and, likewise, the flak vest restricts things even further (the neck and mid-torso lose a lot of mobility with it on). All that said, he can still take a lot of different poses and is fairly versatile.

This Iron Grenadier action figure would have originally come with a ton of accessories, but all I have is his removable flak vest. A complete sample should also include: two shinpads, a shoulder guard, two different backpacks, a huge heavy assault rifle, an ammo belt, a rifle with removable stock and bipod, and a display stand (given how much extra weight he'd be bearing, fully kitted out, I imagine you'd probably need it). The flak vest opens-and-closes, at the right hip, with a peg/hole interface, but you also have to pop the Iron Grenadier's head off (ouch) of its ball joint in order to slip the vest off of the body. His neck post is pretty thick, so I don't think there's any danger of it breaking, although I suppose the neck joint itself might eventually become loose if you pop the head off-and-on again too often.

(Left) To approximate what he'd look like if I had his weaponry, here's the Iron Grenadier armed
with a Playmates Terminator: Salvation T-600's chain gun, ammo belt, and backpack.
(Right) Comparison with the much larger G.I.JOE Sigma 6 Iron Grenadier.

The super loose hip joints make posing this fellow frustrating, but, other than that, he's another nice addition to my G.I.JOE collection. I still prefer the original's predominately black costume design, but this is an interesting variation--it makes sense that Iron Grenadiers serving in various combat roles would wear different kinds of gear.

Drowning . . . in Furbies . . . need . . . help!

Well, here we go again with those 2013 Hasbro/McDonald's Furby Boom! figures. It'll also be the last time, as I finally have the full set. I bought a blind bag of six McDonald's Furbies (which was misspelt "Firby"; whomever labeled it must have been thinking of coniferous trees) and I lucked out and just happened to get the last three that I needed (plus duplicates, of course).

Hasbro's "real" Furby Boom! toys are substantially larger, and more expensive, interactive plush robots (they talk, have motorized ear and facial movement, LCD eyes, etc.) We've got a couple of the older Furby electronic animals around the house, in storage, somewhere, but I don't have any of the new and improved Furby Boom! models.

We'll start with the white one, Laughing Furby. Rapidly shaking the creature up-and-down results in an internal mechanism (some kind of sliding affair) emitting a sound that mimics laughter. It's not the most exciting thing is the world, but it works okay and does a fair job of making the creature sound like it's yucking it up. I've got at least one other McDonald's toy with the exact same action feature (one of those Minions from Despicable Me 2). I would have preferred an electronic sound chip instead, but at least you never have to worry about the batteries dying. Surprisingly, unlike many of the others, this Furby Boom! toy doesn't have lenticular eyes; its peepers are just simple decals (that laughing mechanism must have ate up all the budget I guess). Even though its sound-producing feature didn't do much for me, I still like Laughing Furby's color scheme--without the ears, that hue arrangement makes it look a lot like a rooster or hen in my eyes. This critter is 7.9 cm (3.1") tall and 8.2 cm (3.2") wide.

Next, let's have a look at the aquamarine animal, Wobbling Furby. This creature's base isn't flat, instead sporting curved rockers, which allows it to do exactly what its title implies. Curiously, Wobbling Furby also has pivoting ears, making it the only articulated one out of the entire set. Said projections are weighted; the ears always stick up straight, when the Furby is erect, but tilt to the sides when you lean the Furby far to the left/right or hold it upside down. Like several of the others in this assortment, this creature does have neat lenticular eyes--in other words, it's peepers change expression as you view them from different angles, which works particularly well in conjunction with its rocking feature. I wish that McDonald's has chosen another primary hue for Wobbling Furby though, or, alternatively, the sky blue Googly Eyes Furby, as the bodies of those two are too close in color. I feel that the nice feather pattern on its chest is arguably the most appropriate, as that design goes well, thematically, with the whole owl-like thing that the Furby toys have going on. Wobbling Furby is a bit taller and thinner than the rest of its buddies, clocking in at 9.0 cm (3.5") in height and 7.4 cm (2.9") in width.

Finishing up the trio is the purple specimen, Light Up Furby. Three guesses what this one does and the first two don't count! That's right, pressing the button on its back, that's cleverly disguised as its tail tuft, results in the Furby's peepers, and the surrounding green plastic, lighting up. It isn't very bright in a well-lit room, but they shine nicely under gloomier conditions. When they're not illuminated, the eyes appear very dark, which is a bit odd when compared to the other five Furbies from this assortment. There's an on-and-off switch too, between the back of the ears, to help conserve battery life. The color scheme on this one is all right, and the rows of alternating hearts printed on its chest look neat. Just like Laughing Furby, this critter measures 7.9 cm (3.1") tall and 8.2 cm (3.2") wide, at the tips of its big ears.

The full set of six.
(Top row, left-to-right) Googly Eyes, Playful Eyes, and Laughing.
(Bottom row, left-to-right) Wild Hair, Wobbling, and Light Up Eyes.

All ten of my McDonald's Furby Boom! figures (I've got four duplicates).

I mentioned in the past that the Googly Eyes Furby was, by far, the most common in my geographic area, and I wasn't exaggerating!

It's always a nice, if somewhat anticlimactic, feeling to successfully collect a full set of toys. Out of the six, I'm still going to go with Wild Hair Furby, the first one that I bought, as my favorite, as I think it has the best color scheme and I like the tuft of hot pink Treasure Troll hair erupting out of the top of its head like a volcano. Now that I've got a fairly substantial army of mutant owl mogwai, what on Earth am I going to do with them?

What could a harmless old man like me do to you? It's not like I'm going to electrocute you with Force lightning from my fingertips or anything, right?

What we have here is Hasbro's 1999 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Darth Sidious action figure. A master manipulator and politician, Palpatine masqueraded as a charming Senator of the Galactic Republic while concealing his true, evil self, that of the Sith Lord, Darth Sidious. As anyone familiar with Star Wars already knows, eventually, Palpatine becomes the Emperor of the entire galaxy, but, in Episode I, the schemes that will ultimately result in his universal domination are still very much a work-in-progress.

As this is the Phantom Menace incarnation of the character, Palpatine's face still looks normal (it didn't get all messed up until his battle with Mace Windu in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith). It's a pretty good likeness of Ian McDiarmid (the actor that played him) too. The draping folds of the robe are also sculpted well, and there's a crosshatch texture pattern all over it which adds to the realism. Said garment is highlighted with blue airbrushed paint--that was a good choice, as pure black would probably have looked too flat.

The basic Phantom Menace figures all came with "Commtech" electronic chips that played voice clips of the characters' dialogue from the film, when used with the corresponding player (sold separately, of course). As my Sidious is loose, I don't have his chip, but, as I also don't own the device they interact with, it's not like it'd do me any good anyway. It would have been nice if Hasbro had given Sidious a lightsaber, cane, and/or Force lightning accessories (his right hand is obviously molded to hold objects), but, all this particular version of the character came with was that Commtech chip.

The Sith Lord has a reasonable amount of flexibility, given his design. The neck rotates, but, as the folds of the hood drape over his shoulders and back, you can't really get it to move much, or at least it's probably not safe to do so, as I'm fearful of tearing, or ripping off, the peg that attaches the head to the body by forcing it. The arms have rotating cut joints at the shoulders, biceps, and wrists. They're the most mobile parts of his body, however, because the sleeves are sculpted hanging downwards, they don't really look "right" in any other position (you'd need a lot of starch in your clothes to get your sleeves to stick out at a 90o angle when you raise your arms into the air!) The best part is that their design allows you to position his limbs so that they're folded in front of his chest, with the hands clasped together underneath the sleeves, which is definitely the figure's best look for display purposes. Underneath the robe, Palpatine also has rotating cut joints at the waist and hips, but they're severely restricted by the shape of the molded clothing. The garment is rubbery, so it has some give to it, and there are slits in the sides of the torso (although my guess is that those are there more for assembly purposes than to aid mobility), but, even so, pivoting his legs or turning his waist isn't going to have any external effect. A fabric robe would have provided much better mobility, but it also wouldn't have looked as nice. Darth Sidious doesn't stand very well, which surprised me, as you'd think that the robe, where it pools around his feet, would make him more stable, but, it doesn't. Palpatine is 9.7 cm (3.8") tall and measures 4.5 cm (1.8") wide at the elbows.

Altogether, this is a great-looking figure of the Sith Lord, even if the articulation is somewhat lacking and he has some difficulty standing. While the face technically isn't decrepit enough to be accurate, this would still work as a Return of the Jedi Emperor for display purposes, which is how I'm going to use him. Darth Sidious is another figure that I feel would work in any number of 3-3/4" scaled toy lines, besides Star Wars itself, because an ominous, darkly-robed figure is something that shows up in fiction pretty regularly (for example, I think he'd make a nifty necromancer in a Dungeons & Dragons-like setting).

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