Toy Talk
Volume XLIX

By Mark Patraw
Posted on 10/13/14

It's been about six weeks since the last time I did Toy Talk, so, I figured I'd better document some more of the thrift store toy "treasures" I've picked up relatively recently. To tell you the truth, I've mostly been buying dolls lately, but, as much as part of me would like to devote this entire page to nothing but that subject, variety is the spice of life.

I've also decided to change the format for Toy Talk a little bit. From now on, I'm going to list some of the basic information (manufacturer, articulation, price I paid, etc.) at the beginning of each of the five entries.

And, 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/assortment: Disney Princess
Manufacturer: Unknown.
What I paid: One of several items in a twenty-five cents "girls" grab bag I purchased on 10/10/14 from the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 10.0 cm wide (3.9") x 10.0 cm (3.9") long x 0.6 cm (0.2") deep.
Articulation: Eight sliding tiles.
Notable features: Self-contained puzzle.

Here we have one of those (not so) simple sliding tile puzzles featuring three of Disney's Princesses: Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). I pretty much hate these things. On the one hand, it's satisfying to solve one, but, on the other, they can also be maddeningly difficult and frustrating. Fortunately, this one only had eight tiles, so, it wasn't too stressful to figure out. I surprised myself and actually solved it in a few minutes; the only stumbling block was that I had to guess what the final tile configuration of the image would look like, as I didn't have a reference photo to work from. If this one looks too easy for you, rest assured, there are much more complicated samples (i.e., larger numbers of tiles) out there if you want to try giving yourself a brain aneurysm. I can remember that I had one of these sliding tile puzzles as a kid (I seem to recall that it was an Incredible Hulk themed item), but I don't believe I was ever able to solve it. Speaking of which, giving one of these to the Hulk would be a surefire way to provoke him into a rage!

I'm going to digress a bit here, but these sliding puzzles have an annoying tendency to pop up in video games too, and one in particular, found in Capcom's Playstation 2 title Onimusha (which translates to something like "Demon Warrior"), was particularly heinous. You were sealed in a room, filling with water, and you had to solve the sliding tile puzzle, to open the door, in a short amount of time, or your trapped character would drown. I died. A lot. Just thinking about that section of the game makes me never want to play it again (I had to resort to a guide in an issue of Gamepro magazine to solve it).

Shit! Shit! Shit!
You've got to get those two half circles together, to form the flower blossom, at the bottom center of the puzzle, to solve this.
Whoever it was on the development team that decided that it was a good idea
to make this a timed, life-or-death matter should have been fired on the spot.

This Disney Princess item, while very basic in design, is pretty well constructed. I wouldn't drop it on concrete or anything, but it seems like it could take some abuse from a child. The tiles can get hung up on one another a little bit from time-to-time, as you slide them, but they're pretty easy to free when that happens.

There's not a whole lot else I can think of to write about something like this. Like I said earlier, I don't care for these things, as I'm not a very patient person and I associate them with frustration, but they are a good visual and mental challenge if that's your thing. I'd never buy a sliding tile puzzle intentionally, no matter how spectacular the final image was, but, as this was an item in a random bag of toys, it's one of those things that I just ended up with whether I wanted it or not.

Toy line/assortment: Monster High
Manufacturer: Mattel (2013)
What I paid: Two dollars on 9/19/14 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 24.5 cm long (9.6") x 30.5 cm (12") tall.
Articulation: None.
Notable features: Rooted hair and removable tack.

This blue steed is Headless Headmistress Bloodgood's pet, Nightmare. Bloodgood is the daughter of the Headless Horseman, hence her equine companion. Nightmares are demonic horses in Dungeons & Dragons--I'm not sure if that's where Mattel got their inspiration from or not (it's certainly not hard to come up with Nightmare when you're trying to brainstorm a spooky name for a horse), but that's definitely the first thing that comes to my mind anytime I think of the name in connection with a steed. For comparison purposes, here's the Nightmare illustration from the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Monster Manual:

I love the Monster High animal's wonderful blue and purple color scheme, which, outside of Hasbro's My Little Pony toys, is a fairly unusual, and sinister-looking, hue arrangement for a horse. With the possible exception of being jet black, I don't think I'd find Nightmare nearly as appealing if the animal was more realistically colored.

The rooted, two-toned, purple mane and tail seem like pretty nice quality synthetic hair. I also like that the ends curl a bit. I haven't tried combing or styling it, but I can run my fingers through it pretty easily, so I don't imagine there'd be any problems. I think the tail could have stood to be an inch or two longer, but, other than that, it's all good.

Originally, this toy would have come boxed with the Headless Headmistress Bloodgood doll (and she featured a removable head, naturally). In addition to the bridle I do have, my Nightmare is missing her purple saddle, which sported large Monster High skullettes on the sides. I've considered making Nightmare a new saddle, from scratch, but, so far, I haven't been able to muster up the enthusiasm to do so. Dolls can still ride Nightmare bareback anyway.

The Headless Headmistress Bloodgood and Nightmare set was a Toys 'R' Us exclusive. We don't have any of those stores in the geographic area where I live, so, this horse must have been purchased online or been brought here from another location that does have that chain. It's kind of silly, but I always get a little thrill when I see a toy in person that I know I wouldn't have been able to find in the stores where I live. The set originally cost about $40, brand new, but I saw it on sale for $20 when I checked the TRU web site the other day, which is a pretty good deal if you're interested in acquiring a complete sample.

While the horse looks fine, Nightmare's sculpt/proportions are somewhat cartoon-y and unrealistic and she's also a bit on the small side, scale-wise. That's not inconsistent with the Monster High toy line's general art direction, but, even so, I would have preferred a slightly larger and more anatomically accurate animal (shorter neck, thicker body, etc.) The fact that Nightmare is blue, with a purple mane/tail, and red eyes, is enough to convey her monstrous nature without having to exaggerate her form. The horse is also hollow, so Nightmare weighs less than you might expect.

Nightmare has no joints whatsoever, which is very disappointing, especially considering how mobile the Monster High dolls themselves are. The horse can stand on its own, even with the added weight of a rider, although Nightmare isn't particularly stable and tips over fairly easily (probably due to the raised right front hoof). The animal's pose is all right, but it's also a pretty typical one--again, having the option to reposition the head/neck and legs would have done wonders for this toy's versatility.

There are certainly several aspects of this toy that could have been done better, but, it's not like a blue horse scaled for 11-12" dolls is something that you're going to see very often, so, I'm still glad to add this azure beast to my collection. Sadly, it's pretty rare to see Monster High toys at all in the thrift stores that I frequent (I've often wondered if, given their popularity, that maybe, whenever they do get any in, some of the employees/volunteers might take them home for their daughters/granddaughters instead of putting them out on the floor). On the doll forums/blogs I frequent, many people seem to find secondhand ones (usually for customization projects) pretty easily, but, that hasn't been my experience at all. Well, maybe I'll get lucky and find a Bloodgood to go with Nightmare someday . . .

Toy line/assortment: Hot Wheels: Go For It!
Manufacturer: Mattel (2013) for McDonald's.
What I paid: One of several items in a twenty-five cents "boys" grab bag I purchased on 10/10/14 from the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 7.6 cm long (3.0") x 4.3 cm (1.7") wide x 4.3 cm (1.7") tall.
Articulation: Wheels and engine.
Notable features: Light-up engine and headlights.

First off, I want to state that I'm not a car person. In real life, I've never even had a driver's license (I'm terrible at driving, so, trust me, the world is a safer place without me cruising the roads). When it comes to toy vehicles, unless they're transports for action figures, or something like a Transformer or Wheeled Warrior, I generally have no interest in them. Sure, I had a few Hot Wheels, and similar things, when I was a kid, and I've assembled more than one car model over the years, but they're just not something I have much interest in collecting or playing with.

This is "Bad Mudder" (which, in addition to being a word pun on "mother" and "mud", is obviously also a sanitized version of "Bad Motherf*cker"), one of eight vehicles in Mattel's 2013 Hot Wheels: Go For It! line of toys for McDonald's. While I like that moniker, I'm a bit surprised that Mattel/McDonald's actually had the balls to go with that name, considering how hyper politically correct American culture is. The other seven vehicles in the assortment included "Bad to the Blade" (orange Formula One race car), "Baja Truck" (green monster truck), "Canyon Carver" (white motorcycle), "Circle Tracker" (blue race car), "Drift King" (maroon dragster car), "Dune it Up" (orange dune buggy), and "Twinduction" (black hotrod car).

I'm no expert on motorized vehicles, but Bad Mudder looks likes a combination SUV and jeep to me that's been tricked out with a huge engine and wheels. The sculpt isn't overly detailed, but its decent work with a fair amount of panels, ridges, recesses, etc., and I like the dark color scheme (the red chrome on the hubcaps is wearing off a bit, but as vacuum-metallized finishes on toys are notoriously prone to wear/damage, that's no surprise). In a way, Bad Mudder reminds me of a modern take on the Munsters Munster Koach. Size-wise, this toy is a bit larger than a "real" Hot Wheels vehicle, so it might not mesh that well, in terms of scale, with those, which, while it doesn't bother me, might irritate collectors. The wheels squeak, but the vehicle rolls fine across any hard, flat surface.

When I first got this toy, I had no idea that it even lit up. Sure, the transparent red engine struck me as a little unusual, but, as there wasn't any obvious on/off switch or anything, I just thought it was a design decision intended to make the vehicle look cooler. This is another example of how it pays to research the stuff you find, because, otherwise, I never would have known that this item had a special feature. Pulling the engine upwards, with your fingers, results in the illumination of said device and the headlights; pressing it down again shuts it off. That's a simple arrangement, but effective, and I like how it's been seamlessly integrated into the toy's sculpt, rather than being an obvious switch or button. The light isn't super bright, and red is an atypical color choice for headlights (one that I, and many others, would associate with evil), but it's cool nonetheless. Maybe Satan is behind the wheel?

I don't have them, and the original owner either never applied them or they peeled off, but a complete sample should include a small sheet of stickers that you could use to spruce up Bad Mudder. The vehicle looks nice, as-is, but, after inspecting McDonald's official photos of the toy, I have to say that the decals do improve its appearance, so, if you want this item for yourself, I'd recommend obtaining Bad Mudder with the stickers if you can.

Scale comparison with a Maisto BMW 328i. I thought I had at least one "normal" Hot Wheels vehicle around
the house, somewhere, but I couldn't find any, so I used this instead, which is roughly the same size.

Bad Mudder is a pretty nice toy, and some of the other vehicles in the assortment are also attractive (Canyon Carver, Twinduction, and Drift King appeal to me the most), but I probably won't be adding them to my collection. If I happen to get another one or two in a random bag of toys, fine, but, otherwise, I'm unlikely to pick up any more individually (again, not because, I think they're bad toys or anything--Hot Wheels just aren't my thing).

Toy line/assortment: Diva Starz
Manufacturer: Mattel (2001).
What I paid: Fifty cents on 9/3/14 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 7.7 cm wide (3.0") x 29.0 cm (11.4") tall.
Articulation: Neck, shoulders, hips, and knees.
Notable features: Speaks voice clips accompanied by light-up lips.

Here we have one of Mattel's Diva Starz talking fashion dolls, Tia. The line consisted of four girls: Tia here, Alexa (blonde Caucasian), Nikki (brunette Latina), and Miranda (blonde w/pink streaks Caucasian). Miranda replaced the original Summer (redhead Caucasian) character, which I didn't like, because Miranda is too similar looking to Alexa, which diminished the visual diversity of the line in my opinion (that and I like redheads).

Mattel describes Tia as a "hip cool chick and a techno whiz". Tia is brilliant and enjoys fiddling with gadgets and creating music. Her favorite color is blue and she also had a pet dog named Hipster.

Interestingly, this Tia figure is actually a "second generation" Diva Starz doll. The original ones were smaller, less mobile, and had swappable hard plastic clothing that the dolls could recognize, via metal tabs, when you changed their outfits, and their electronic comments would actually change to reflect how you had them dressed, which is a pretty slick gimmick if you ask me. In comparison, this electronically simpler Tia has fabric clothing and always says the same four things. Unfortunately, the Diva Starz line didn't last that long, but Mattel definitely had some interesting ideas going here.

These two Tia dolls aren't mine, but it's a nice comparison photo of the differences
between the original (left) and the second generation (right) Diva Starz dolls.

The first thing that really jumps out at you with the Diva Starz dolls is the tremendous size of their monstrously huge heads! They're arguably a bit creepy looking, but, over time, I've gotten used to their unique look. They also have real, rather than painted, eyelashes, which is what I prefer. Oddly, this Tia doll has no ears whatsoever, which is unusual because most fashion dolls feature swappable earrings as accessories.

I really like this doll's tresses. Tia's a dark brunette with orange and magenta streaks. She's got short bangs in the front, long hair in the back, and two ponytails knotted on the top (not sure what you'd call that style). The hair fiber is soft, and a little tangle prone, but I can comb my fingers through it without too much trouble. The rooting pattern is a bit unusual in that it's only done at the top of her head (the sides and back are completely smooth and bare), so that you can easily access the battery panel on the back of her skull. The hair looks fine from the front and back, but not so great from the sides (her lack of ears doesn't help either).

Tia's body is very Barbie-like, and that's no surprise, considering that it's Mattel we're talking about here. She is noticeably less buxom than most Barbies though. Tia has flesh-toned panties molded onto her body, to protect her modesty, and they have a circular texture sculpted onto them, in raised relief. She moves at the neck (rotating cut joint), shoulders (ball joints), hips (ball joints), and knees (internal ratchets). The hips move forwards and backwards well, but they have little side-to-side flexibility, and the knees can only bend about 40o. I've noticed on my doll, and in photos of other peoples' nude Diva Starz, that the ankles have a tendency to bend outwards a bit--my guess is that's the result of there not being enough internal support, inside the vinyl leg, in those areas.

My secondhand Tia came wearing a yellow crop top and shorts. The top is pretty large and loose on her (whatever doll it originally came with probably had a much larger bust) but it looks all right. The white trim around the top has a nice, colorful seashell pattern on it, so my guess would be that it came with some kind of beach-themed doll, maybe even a mermaid. The shorts are handmade knitted affairs--while they fit well and I can appreciate that someone put a lot of time and effort into creating them from scratch, they're just too thick and bulky to look good on a doll of this size, and, frankly, I just can't see any woman choosing to wear big, wooly knitted shorts like that in real life. If nothing else, at least the outfit matches.

A complete sample of this Tia doll should come with a bunch of stuff, including: a blue, long-sleeved shirt (with a purple butterfly graphic on the front), a full length denim skirt, blue camouflage pants, a blue and pink halter top, gray boots, blue and pink "Stackerz" shoes (with separate, stackable, multi-colored soles to give Tia a height boost), some cosmetics bottles, a black cell phone, a purple shopping bag, a bedazzled clutch purse, what I presume to be two pairs of earrings (blue stars and purple flowers, although, without any ears, I'll be damned if I can figure out how you'd get her to wear them, unless they're magnetic), a blue hair brush, and some stickers. That's quite a haul, and, of course, I have absolutely none of it--boo hoo.

Here's Tia wearing a couple of other outfits. She looks smashing in the sky blue dress on the left (it is her favorite color after all)--this garment fits her like a glove and it's what I've had her displayed in ever since I got it with a Disney Beauty & The Beast Belle doll a while back. The halter top and pants in the photo on the right came with a Mattel Super Star Brandy doll (shown, nude, further down below). Alas, just like the yellow top, this glittery white halter is also too big for Tia's modest chest, but I still think she looks nice in it.

Because she's a Mattel product, a lot of Barbie clothing will fit Tia relatively well, however, as she's got larger, flatter feet, they can't share footwear, which is a shame. As such, like many of my secondhand dolls, Tia will be going around with bare feet for the forseeable future.

So, that's all well and good, now how about her electronic talking feature?

Pressing the button on the top of Tia's head, concealed underneath her hair, will result in her cycling through one of the following four phrases. And, to add to the fun, her lips light up and pulse red as she speaks!

  • "I've got the fashion 4-1-1!"
  • "Let's hit the mall, 'cuz I'm walking tall!"
  • "This outfit puts the "hip" in hip hop!"
  • "Stacked boots are the thing for kickin' it cool!"

  • The voice clips are clear and easy to understand, but I think Mattel was trying a little too hard to make her sound like a stereotypical sassy black woman, both with the inflection/accent of the delivery and the word/sentence structure. The speaker is on the bottom of her head, by the neck joint, which is kind of an odd spot, but it does conceal it well. If you need to change the button batteries, they can be accessed via a panel, that you have to unscrew, on the back of her head.

    The store actually had two Diva Starz dolls the day that I bought Tia. However, the voice function on the other figure, Miranda, the Caucasian girl that has blonde hair with pink streaks, didn't work (the batteries were probably just dead, but it's possible that she was also broken), and Miranda was also pretty grimy, so I left her there (Miranda's gone now, so somebody took her home). Even if Miranda had worked fine and had been spotless, I still would have chosen Tia over her anyway (although I might have purchased both), as she's the more attractive looking doll in my opinion. Besides, Miranda's the reason redheaded Summer got axed from the Diva Starz line, so that's another demerit against her.

    Here's a comparison photo of several of my female African American dolls in the 11-14" scale.
    Left-to-right: MGA Moxie Teenz Arizona, Mattel Diva Starz Tia, Mattel Super Star Brandy, Mattel Barbie Fashionistas Swappin' Styles Artsy, and Spin Master Liv Alexis. Tia has, by far, the darkest skin tone out of the bunch, which I'm happy to see, as the toy companies that produce fashion dolls have a noticeable tendency to skew their African American figures' skin color much closer to the lighter end of the spectrum instead of giving a more realistic range of shades.

    The Diva Starz unusual heads are admittedly kind of polarizing, but I ended up liking Tia quite a bit (I still think she needs some ears though). Like many fashion play dolls, her poseability would really benefit from the addition of more, and better designed, joints. So long as her voice feature worked, and she was in decent condition, I'd probably buy another Diva Starz doll, although none of the others look nearly as nice as Tia in my opinion. Actually, I'd rather acquire one of the first generation dolls, that can recognize what they're wearing, than another second generation doll like this one, because that feature sounds like a lot of fun and I'd like to try it out.

    Toy line/assortment: Star Wars: Clone Wars (Shadow of the Dark Side assortment)
    Manufacturer: Hasbro (2011).
    What I paid: Twenty-five cents on 10/10/14 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
    Size: 4.2 cm wide (1.7") x 11.3 cm (4.4") tall.
    Articulation: Neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, and knees.
    Notable features: Projectile-firing weapon and tabletop battle game accessories (none of which I have).

    Savage Opress (probably as in oppression) was an evil, Force-sensitive Zabrak, and Darth Maul's yellow-skinned brother, who was introduced in the Clone Wars computer animated television series. I love Star Wars, but I have to admit that I've only caught snippets of that show. It didn't strike me as terrible or anything, but I also didn't find it very compelling. The short version: Opress was the thrall/apprentice of both Nightsister Asajj Ventress and Sith Lord Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus, clashed with, and slew, several Jedi, reunited with his brother Maul (who somehow survived being cut in half by a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode I: The Phantom Menace and had his lower body replaced with cybernetic parts), and was ultimately slain by Darth Sidious (Senator Palpatine). Savage Opress was basically a "bruiser"; while not unskilled in combat, he relied more on his physical strength and rage than technique or wits when fighting.

    I have none of them, but a complete sample of this Savage Opress figure should come with numerous goodies. These included:

  • Two black and silver battle pikes, once of which could fire a silver missile.
  • A silver stand.
  • A blue six-sided die.
  • A playing card.

  • The die and card are for use in a simple battle game. Each facet of the die represents one of six attributes (force ability, battle skills, intelligence, mechanical skill, leadership, and luck) and the card has corresponding values, and bonuses, for each attribute. So, in a nutshell, you would pit your figure(s) against someone else's, one of you would roll the die, then you would compare the indicated scores on your respective figure's cards, and whomever had the highest value defeated their opponent's character. While I think tying toys into a tabletop game is a cool and worthwhile idea, I think this one could have used a lot more depth than that (knocking over each other's toys by shooting rubber bands at them would probably be more entertaining than rolling a die and comparing numbers).

    Savage is fairly mobile, but a little bit lacking in comparison to some of the other modern Star Wars figures in my collection. The range of motion in his upper body is respectable, with a ball-jointed neck, pin-and-disc ball-jointed shoulders/elbows, and rotating cuts at the wrists and waist. Opress' skirt has slits up the sides, so it doesn't impede his leg movement too much, which was wise, but he only has simple pivoting hips, and, due to the way that they're designed, the range of motion in his pin-and-disc ball-jointed knees isn't that great. Sadly, he has no ankle articulation whatsoever, as such, it's tricky to get him to stay erect, unassisted, in anything but a very basic standing pose, without the use of external support. So, in summary, the upper mobility is very good, but the lower body needed more, and better-designed, joints.

    Darth Maul was never quite the same after his defeat at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

    In my opinion, Darth Maul is one of the few good things to come out of George Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy, and, as his brother Savage Opress is almost an exact copy (in Mortal Kombat terms, he's the Cyrax to Maul's Sektor), he's automatically cool by extension. Maul definitely has the better color scheme, as red is more sinister, and satanic-looking, than yellow, but the latter hue, accented by black, suggests bees and wasps to me, so it has a similarly dangerous vibe to it. If Maul didn't exist, Opress would definitely be more impressive, but, because he does, you can't shake the feeling that Savage is just a pale imitation of the real deal. The Clone War toys are, sculpturally, a bit simpler and less detailed than "normal" Star Wars figures, due to the computer animated nature of the show, but, even so, I think Opress fits in fine with the standard line.

    He didn't fancy ketchup (Maul), and it turned out that Darth Sidious doesn't like mustard (Opress) either . . .
    Palpatine is a picky guy.

    Savage Opress' leg articulation was a bit disappointing, compared to other Star Wars figures, but, other than that, he's a pretty cool toy. The idea of Maul having a nearly-identical, yellow-skinned brother wasn't terribly imaginative, but I'm not going to hold that against him. If you like the character, I say go for it.

    Dishonorable Mention

    In the same grab bag that contained the Bad Mudder Hot Wheels vehicle, I also got this, amongst other things: a broken bootleg Transformers Decepticon Vortex figure. He's missing both of his arms and two of the helicopter blades have been snapped off of his back. This damaged Vortex is almost completely useless as either a robot or a helicopter, but, you could still employ him as an arm or leg for the Bruticus gestalt if you were desperate enough, as all of the required attachment holes/pegs are still present. I already have this toy anyway (it comes in a boxed set along with the other Combaticons), which I bought off of eBay many years ago, but, still, why do thrift stores persist in trying to sell broken crap like this? On the front door of the building, regarding donations, there's a sign that says something to the effect of "salable items only", or, in other words, no broken or ruined stuff, and yet, the store's staff regularly tries to unload that kind of garbage on their customers (this particular item sat in the twenty-five cents toy bin for weeks until I had the misfortune of getting it). I'm just glad some poor kid didn't end up with this mangled, incomplete toy.

    Robot Mode.

    Helicopter Mode (Kaman Aerospace SH-2G Super Seasprite).

    Vortex can form any limb of the super robot, Bruticus.

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