Toy Talk
- Brief Looks at Recent Thrift Store Acquisitions -

Volume LXVI

By Mark Patraw
Published on 12/21/15

Some of you may wonder why I don't assign ratings to the toys that I write about (stars, letter grades, numerical scores, etc.) That's simple enough to answer: I've tried that in the past, but, I ultimately found making those types of evaluations to be meaningless. It's nearly impossible to fairly compare "apples and oranges" (i.e., they're both toys, but a plush animal and a board game are so different, how can I possibly judge them by the same criteria?) Nowadays, at most, when I do a stand-alone review, I employ a simple "pros/cons" summary at the end. I think it's pretty evident, from the words that I use, whether I like, dislike, or am indifferent, to the items that I'm writing about anyway. Everyone has different tastes, and, while I hope that my readers will find my comments and photos helpful and informative, it's ultimately up to you, not me, to decide what you do, or don't, want to purchase/collect.

Given that the month of December is coming to an end soon, unless I get super ambitious, this will probably be my last volume of Toy Talk for 2015. Since I decided to stop publishing this thing on a weekly basis, I am WAY behind on writing about all of the stuff that I've purchased this year (not to mention 2014). On the upside, at least that ensures that I have a wide variety of objects to choose from when I'm selecting material for each installment. Indeed, if, for some reason, I ended up not buying any additional toys for the next several months (fat chance of that happening!), I'd still have more than enough fodder to keep me busy with Toy Talk for all of 2016.

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: Disney Fairies.
Manufacturer: Tara Toy Corporation for Disney (2012).
What I paid: Twenty-five cents on 12/2/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 15.4 cm (6.1") wide x 27.3 cm (10.7") tall.
Articulation: None.
Notable features: Magnetic dress-up fun.

Tinker Bell is a "Tinker" Fairy (sometimes known as "Pots-and-Pans" Fairies). And they like to, well, tinker--they're always fiddling with and/or mending things and they also enjoy cobbling together new inventions, particularly with the strange assortment of human objects that they "find" and collect. In that spirit, this "Magnetic Dress-Up Activity" (granted, only the cardboard backing came from a tree, but it's still a paper doll for all intents and purposes) will allow you, or a child, to tinker with Ms. Bell's wardrobe to your heart's content.

As I've written several times in the past, I prefer magnetic dress-up dolls, like this one, over actual paper ones, as they're more durable and the clothing stays where you put it. Tinker Bell's colorful magnetic garments and accessories are pretty thin, so they have a tendency to curl up a little, but a bit of gentle bending on your part will make them lie flat again. It's also great that a storage area for the pieces is built right into the package (the transparent plastic bubble snaps on-and-off the sturdy cardback) so clean-up is a snap and you're less likely to lose any of the components.

Tara Toys provided a pretty nice assortment of 25 pieces to accessorize Tinker Bell with (and, wonder of wonders, none of them are missing in my secondhand sample!) There are five different dresses, three hats, four purses/handbags, another pair of shoes, a quartet of butterflies, and an assortment of leaves/berries. I particularly like how the artist(s) made sure that all of the elements look like they were fashioned out of natural objects like flower petals, which is typical fairy couture. I'm not sure if those leaves are intended to be earrings, hair ornamentation, environmental decorations, or something else, but, that's the beauty of a toy like this, they can be anything your imagination desires.

The cardstock is relatively thick (2.5 cm or 0.1"), so it should be able to stand up to some abuse. Likewise, the magnetic accessories are pretty flexible and durable too. Other than some small dings on the corners of the structure, and a few smudges on the Tinker Bell artwork, my sample is still in very nice shape. Unless your child is particularly rough with their stuff, I imagine that this item will last, certainly longer than a traditional paper doll would.

It's entirely possible that I've been inhaling too much of Tinker Bell's pixie dust lately . . .

For variety's sake, I would have liked to have seen another pair of footwear or two, but, other than that, this is an excellent magnetic dress-up doll of Disney's rendition of the famous Peter Pan fairy that should entertain and delight her fans. The artwork is pleasing to the eye, there are enough pieces to create a nice assortment of looks for Tink, the magnetic adhesion works well, and the ability to store everything on the cardback is good design. I'd likely purchase another one of these, whether it was another denizen of Pixie Hollow (Vidia, Rosetta, Iridessa, etc.), or a character from another Disney franchise altogether.

Toy line: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Manufacturer: Playmates for Viacom (2013).
What I paid: Fifty cents on 11/6/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 25.0 cm (9.8") wide x 42.5 cm (16.7") tall.
Articulation: None.
Notable features: Emits electronic voice/sound clips in response to physical blows.

Plush toys are enjoyable as-is, but the ones that incorporate some kind of bonus play feature are often the most memorable, such as this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) "Ninja Practice Pal" Leonardo figure. Every time that you land a blow upon, or otherwise jar, his torso, the green teen will respond vocally with one of several phrases or sounds. I've seen similar plush figures that react to physical trauma in the past, typically professional wrestlers, but this is the first such item that I can recall purchasing.

Leonardo is the level-headed leader of the four terrapin brothers, and the most accomplished in the art of ninjutsu, so, it makes sense that he'd be a good sparring partner. It's not like you're going to learn anything from that slacker, Michelangelo, right? He'd rather play video games and eat pizza than teach you how to block a roundhouse kick.

The toy looks great and is a solid representation of the computer-generated Leonardo model depicted in the current, computer-animated Nickelodeon television show. The patterned fabric adds a lot of visual detail (wraps, pads, front/back of the shell, etc.) to the otherwise smooth surface of the material and the colors are both accurate and vibrant. Leo's head is a bit flat in profile (the mouth/nose should jut outwards), but he has pretty good volume otherwise. The toy is made from polyester fibers and should only be surface washed.

As mentioned, whacking Leonardo will result in him randomly spouting various phrases and sounds including:

  • "No mercy!" (Has Leo joined Karate Kid's Cobra Kai?)

  • "Prepare to dish out the mighty wrath of justice!"

  • "Turtle Power!"

  • "Is that all you got?"

  • "This is gonna be epic!"

  • "Bring it!"

  • "Oof!"

  • "Hai-yah!"

  • "Ow!"

  • "Hah!"

  • "Crash" and "whoosh" sound effects

  • The sound clips (which are produced by an internal electronic device that can be accessed via a velcro flap located on his back shell) are all loud and spoken clearly. Leo is powered by a trio of 1.5 volt AG131/LR44 button batteries, and you'll need a Phillips screwdriver to access the compartment that contains them. As usual, I'm going to complain that a larger toy, like this one, should have employed the easier to obtain, and more affordable, AAA or AA cylindrical cells instead.

    Violence is always the answer, right?

    The only potentially bad thing about this toy is that you can make the argument that it encourages children to be physically violent. Sure, with the normal TMNT action figures, a child battling it out with them is also using violence, but that's less direct in nature, as they're acting out a scene through their plastic "puppets", whereas in the case of this toy, they're beating on Leonardo with their own hands, which is much more personal and visceral. Now, I'm not a psychiatrist, and it'd be foolish to assume that every child who thrashes this Leonardo toy is going to then turn around and do the same thing to a sibling or classmate, but, regular usage could result in more aggressive play behavior that might manifest itself at inappropriate times. On the flipside, one could argue that allowing a child to vent energy on Leo, much like a punching bag, could be a good (and safe) stress reliever, and it's certainly preferable that they beat on an object specifically created to take that kind of abuse than it is to strike out at another human being (or pet). Just to be on the safe side, it might be a good idea to have a short "it's okay to hit this plush Leonardo toy, but not other things/people" discussion with the child you give him to.

    I find the voice feature neat, but other than testing it out during my purchase, and, later, while writing this review, I can't say that I have much interest in pummeling on poor Leonardo anymore, although I'm sure that kids will get a kick out of it. Even ignoring the electronics, this is a very nice plush figure that most TMNT fans would probably enjoy. While their absence is okay, considering that you're supposed to be hand-to-hand sparring with him, it would have been neat if we had also gotten a pair of plush katana (Leonardo's signature weapons) to go with him, even if they were permanently stitched to his hands or back.

    Toy line: Playstation 2.
    Manufacturer: Hypnotix for RedOctane (2006).
    What I paid: I paid two dollars for the game, and another dollar for the guitar controller, on 11/25/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
    (Game Case) 13.5 cm (5.3") wide x 19.0 cm (7.5") tall.
    (Guitar Controller, excluding strap/cable) 22.5 cm (8.9") wide x 70.5 cm (2.3') long.
    (Guitar Controller Cable) 2.5 m (8.1') long, which allows you to sit/stand a pretty good distance from your console (I prefer to stand while I'm playing guitar).
    Articulation: The guitar controller has an adjustable strap that can pivot around the two attachment knobs. It also has seven buttons (five colored frets as well as "Start" and "Select") and strum and whammy bars (said whammy pivots up/down, and spins around, so that you can adjust it to whatever position you like). While you can't see it, there's also an internal tilt sensor inside the instrument. And, of course, the DVD game spins, but that's the PS2 disc drive doing that.
    Notable features: Musical video game where you "play" songs on the unique guitar controller.

    Believe it or not, but up until I purchased these, I had never played Guitar Hero in any form. Sure, I was well aware of its popularity, and I enjoy both music and video games, so you'd think it'd have been a no-brainer, but, despite having numerous opportunities to pick up one of the games and a guitar controller over the years, I've never done so until now. I think part of my hesitation was that, because I'm a miser, I've never been too happy with the idea of video games that require investing in additional, specialized equipment (okay, technically, you can play Guitar Hero with the normal PS2 control pad if you want to, but who does that?) I'm about a decade late for the concert, but, better late than never.

    If you've never tried it, the mechanics of Guitar Hero are relatively simple (but tricky to master, especially on the higher difficulty settings). On your television screen, colored notes come scrolling down a vertically-orientated ramp (the virtual "neck" of a guitar), and, when they reach the bottom of said conveyor, you need to correctly play them on the guitar controller. This is accomplished by pressing, and holding down, the corresponding fret button (or multiple buttons if you're playing a chord) and manipulating the strum bar either up or down. Hitting notes both correctly and on time (you can't be too early or too late) earns you points, and, if you succeed in hitting many consecutive notes in a row, you can also get bonus multipliers (up to 4x), increasing your score even more. Additionally, you'll occasionally see a sequence of special, sparkling notes that will also give you a shot of " Star Power", if you play them all correctly, which slowly fills up an energy meter, that, when cashed in (by raising your guitar controller into a vertical position, activating its internal tilt sensor, or by hitting the select button) will double the points you earn for a limited period of time (up to an 8x multiplier, if you already had the 4x bonus going when you activated it). Use of the whammy bar, to "warble" sustained notes, is completely optional, but it does increase the amount of Star Power energy that you get when you employ it, so you should take advantage of that whenever you can. Depending on how well you perform a song (it's also possible to fail altogether if you miss too many notes), you'll be given a rank of between 3-to-5 stars (and, if you're REALLY good, you'll recieve five golden stars if you don't miss any notes at all, which is no small feat).

    The shape of the guitar controller that I bought (model PSLGH) is based on a real world Gibson SG. It's a little worn (the body's surface has several scratches, as well as the remnants of various decals that the previous owner, "Billy", applied to it, in addition to his/her name), but it works beautifully and the black/dark-red color scheme is nice. Billy was probably shorter than I am, as I had to adjust the length of the shoulder strap for my height, but, other than that, I was good to go. Thus far, it's held up to many hours of play in my hands, and Lord knows how many from its previous owner(s). The instruction manual cautions that the whammy bar can break if you're overzealous, but I haven't had any problems with it. The guitar draws 3.45V (10 mA) of power from the PS2, when it's plugged in and in use.

    Guitar Hero II has four play modes. The "meat-and-potatoes" is the single-player Career mode. There, you'll slowly work your way up the ranks in the world of music (you start out by playing a set of 3-5 songs at a gig in the local high school gymnasium). As you build your reputation, and acquire better sponsors, you'll eventually find yourself playing to sold-old stadiums in more prestigious venues [cumulating in a performance at Great Britain's Stonehenge, of all places, where you'll encounter an UFO during your final song (Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird)--this is a video game after all, you have to check reality at the door]. Next is Quick Play, which is exactly what the name-on-the-tin describes: you just pick any song that you've previously unlocked/purchased, choose a difficulty, and start jamming. There is also Multiplayer co-op or competitive play (better buy another guitar, eh?) and Practice modes (including an excellent tutorial for beginners, like me). Practice has a lot of neat options to help you out. You can play an entire song, or just one particular section that you're having trouble with, and you can also slow the track way down too, if you like (just keep in mind that you're going to have to be capable of playing it at normal speed in all of the other modes).

    The game's graphics, while not mindblowing, are pretty good. I found the various venues/stages to be both colorful and creative, and the static artwork used for the various menu/status screens are the kind of fun things that you'd expect to see airbrushed on the sides of a van. The band members (there are always a singer/keyboardist, drummer, and bassist performing on stage with you, even though you never directly control them) are somewhat cartoon-ish in appearance, but, I like that art style and they animate well. Truly, this is one of those games where anyone watching you play gets to enjoy and appreciate the graphics a lot more than you do, because your eyes need to be focused on those scrolling notes to the exclusion of everything else. Indeed, any lapse of concentration on your part will likely result in mistakes, so, you really can't afford to be gawking at whatever your guitarist avatar and his/her bandmates are up to, which is a bit of a shame, as there are some really neat things to be seen, especially when you activate the Star Power meter.

    If you're curious, here's an alphabetical play list of all 64 songs (the ones in green you have to buy from the store, the rest you can unlock by playing through the tour mode on Normal, Hard, or Expert--you'll only get half of those on Easy, which has a shorter tour). While I don't love them all, there are plenty that I do, and, overall, Harmonix gave us a really nice selection of tunes to groove on. With the exceptions of Primus and Jane's Addiction, the "big name" songs are all (decent) covers, while the work of the lesser-known artists are master recordings. Certainly, I would have preferred that all of the songs were the products of the original performers, but licensing all that music would doubtlessly have been prohibitively expensive for RedOctane, so, the cover approach is a reasonable compromise. To appease parents, and appeal to a broader audience, the lyrical profanity has been removed, where applicable (for example, the uncensored versions of Rage Against the Machine and Lamb of God's songs have a lot of F-bombs in them). If you get the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero II, instead of the PS2 format I'm looking at here, the Xbox port has a slightly larger play list (plus the option to download some additional tracks on top of that--although you had to pay extra money for those).

    Arterial Black (Drist, 2006)
    Bad Reputation (Thin Lizzy, 1977)
    Beast and the Harlot (Avenged Sevenfold, 2006)
    Can't You Hear Me Knockin' (The Rolling Stones, 1971)
    Carry Me Home (The Living End, 2000)
    Carry on Wayward Son (Kansas, 1976)
    Cherry Pie (Warrant, 1990)
    Collide (Anarchy Club, 2006)
    Crazy on You (Heart, 1976)
    Elephant Bones (The Handsome Devil, 2006)
    Fall of Pangea (Valient Thorr, 2006)
    Free Bird (Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1973)
    Freya (The Sword, 2006)
    FTK (VAGIANT, 2006)
    Gemini (Brian Kahanek, 2004)
    Girlfriend (Matthew Sweet, 1991)
    Hangar 18 (Megadeth, 1990)
    Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana, 1993)
    Institutionalized (Suicidal Tendencies, 1983)
    Jessica (The Allman Brothers Band, 1973)
    John the Fisherman (Primus, 1990)
    Jordan (Buckethead, 2006)
    Killing in the Name (Rage Against the Machine, 1992)
    Laid to Rest (Lamb of God, 2004)
    Last Child (Aerosmith, 1976)
    Laughtrack (The Acro-Brats, 2006)
    Less Talk More Rokk (Freezepop, 2006)
    Light That Blinds, The (Shadows Fall, 2004)
    Madhouse (Anthrax, 1985)
    Mr. Fix It (The Amazing Crowns, 2000)
    Message in a Bottle (The Police, 1979)
    Misirlou (Dick Dale, 1962)
    Monkey Wrench (Foo Fighters, 1997)
    Mother (Danzig, 1988)
    New Black, The (Every Time I Die, 2006)
    One for the Road (The Breaking Wheel, 2006)
    Parasite (The Neighborhoods, 2006)
    Psychobilly Freakout (Reverend Horton Heat, 1990)
    Push Push [Lady Lightning] (Bang Camaro, 2006)
    Radium Eyes (Count Zero, 2006)
    Raw Dog (The Last Vegas, 2006)
    Red Lottery (Megasus, 2006)
    Rock This Town (Stray Cats, 1981)
    Search and Destroy (Iggy Pop and the Stooges, 1973)
    Shout at the Devil (Mötley Crüe, 1983)
    Six (All That Remains, 2006)
    Soy Bomb (Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives, 2006)
    Stop (Jane's Addiction, 1990)
    Strutter (KISS, 1974)
    Surrender (Cheap Trick, 1978)
    Sweet Child O' Mine (Guns N' Roses, 1987)
    Tattooed Love Boys (The Pretenders, 1980)
    Them Bones (Alice in Chains, 1992)
    Thunderhorse (Dethklok, 2006)
    Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight (Spinal Tap, 1984)
    Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart (Stone Temple Pilots, 1996)
    Trogdor (Strong Bad, 2003)
    War Pigs (Black Sabbath, 1970)
    Who Was in My Room Last Night? (The Butthole Surfers, 1993)
    Woman (Wolfmother, 2006)
    X-Stream (Voivod, 2006)
    Yes We Can (Made in Mexico, 2006)
    You Really Got Me (Van Halen, 1978)
    YYZ (Rush, 1981)

    The game also has a store, where you can purchase a variety of items and features with the money that you've earned from touring in Normal, Hard, or Expert. You can buy additional player characters (the skeletal Grim Ripper is my favorite), additional outfits for them to wear, new guitars and finishes for said instruments, extra songs (an additional 24 tracks, see above), and a couple of bonus "making of" videos.

    While I think that the store is a great idea, there are a couple of aspects about how it was implemented that I don't like. The first is that you can't earn any money at all in Easy mode, which I don't feel is fair. Everybody isn't going to have the reflexes or skill to play this game on the harder difficulty settings, so, if you can't hack Normal, you will literally never be able to buy anything in the game at all! The other thing that I don't like is that each song can only pay out once, on each difficulty setting (excluding Easy, as I just mentioned), at each star ranking. Thus, once you get good enough to earn five stars on a song in Normal, you'll never make any cash off it again, except at a higher difficulty setting. While I understand why they did this (to give you incentive to play the harder tours) I think that Harmonix should have allowed you to continue to earn additional money, on previously-beaten songs, over-and-over, because, again, not everybody is going to be able to handle Hard or Expert. As things stand, if you hope to purchase everything the store has to offer, you're going to have to come to grips (pun intended) with the tougher challenges.

    And, man-oh-man, are Hard and Expert brutal. The notes and chords come fast-and-furious, and you also have to use all five fret buttons (Easy only employs three, and Normal four). Thus far, I've successfully completed both the Easy and Normal tours, but, as of this writing, I've only managed to finish a measly three songs on Hard. I may persevere with practice (and more than a little luck), but it's tough stuff!

    Naturally, all of that strumming and fret-work can take a serious toll on your hands and arms (especially on the harder settings!) I can tell you that my appendages get fairly sore and stiff after playing this game for an hour or two, so you definitely want to give your poor fingers a rest every now and then (I wouldn't recommend playing that guitar every day for an extended period of time either--I think it's a good idea to take a day or two off, between play sessions, to give your hands a chance to recuperate). Of course, which songs you're trying to perform has a lot to do with the wear-and-tear on your body too. Speed metal, like Anthrax's Madhouse, is really murder on the hands and wrists!

    I'll also address the elephant in the room, and the most common criticism of the Guitar Hero franchise: Why don't you just learn to play a real guitar instead? Over two decades ago, when I was in sixth grade, we had to learn to play Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode on an acoustic guitar in music class, but, all these years later, I don't remember a single thing about how to do it (I also played the French horn in band at the time, but that didn't last long either). Sure, it'd be cool to be able to play a real guitar, but, as I don't currently own one, and I'm not terribly musically inclined anyway (not to mention lazy), Guitar Hero is good enough for me.

    This Guitar Hero II game is a lot of fun, and I definitely cheated myself out of years of enjoyment by waiting so long to give the product a try. To be honest, while challenging yourself to do better is fine, and I am (slowly) working towards mastering Hard, I prefer the game on the Easy setting, because it's a lot less stressful and more relaxing/enjoyable to "just play" without having to worry too much about my performance.

    I'll almost certainly pick up some more of the Guitar Hero PS2 games in the future (I might get the Nintendo DS versions too, which require a special plug-in fret board peripheral in lieu of a guitar controller), just to have a larger variety of songs at my fingertips. The thrift store also had a copy of the sequel, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, the day that I bought this game (for the same price too) and the guitar controller, but the DVD was so scratched up, I seriously doubted that it would work properly, and, even if it had, the songs would have surely skipped, so, I left that one on the shelf for someone else to buy. They've had multiple copies of that particular title in the past too, as such, chances are very good that I'll run across another one (hopefully in better shape) in the future.

    Toy line: McFarlane's Dragons (Series 3).
    Manufacturer: McFarlane Toys (2006).
    What I paid: Three dollars on 11/6/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
    Size: 15.1 cm (5.9") wide (at the base) x 29.0 cm (11.4") long (tail fully extended) x 13.7 cm (5.4") tall (including the height of the base).
    Articulation: Neck, biceps, bendable tail, and (nonfunctional on my sample) wrists.
    Notable features: None.

    Nowadays, McFarlane Toys is a shadow of its former self and is probably best known for their professional sports, Halo, and Walking Dead collectibles, but, years ago, when they were still in their prime, and arguably leading the action figure toy industry in the 6-7" scale, they produced a much more diverse range of products. Like Spawn, McFarlane's Dragons was one of their successful in-house properties (i.e., because he, and his staff, created it, Todd McFarlane didn't have to pay licensing fees to anybody). Each wave of figures featured a representative from one of several fictional dragon clans (the first five assortments focused on the Water, Fire, Eternal, Berserker, Sorcerer, and Komodo families, but, starting with the sixth generation, new groups were introduced). This particular figure is from the third set, and belongs to the Komodo Dragon Clan (sadly, the creatures didn't get individual names).

    According to the line's fiction, these particular beasts are swift runners/climbers and exceptionally ravenous hunters, with humans being their favorite prey. Komodo Dragons like to live underground or in caves and their burrowing can sometimes cause earthquakes. Bogs, savannahs, swamps, islands, and marshes are their favorite habitats. The three presumably-human skulls sculpted onto this figure's base give you a sense of the scale here--if my calculations are correct, in "real" life, this Komodo Dragon would be approximately 6.6 meters, or 21.7 feet, tall (in the toy's crouched position, and even higher if it stood fully erect) and 11.1 meters, or 36.3 feet, long. While that's smaller than some of the largest dinosaurs, you'd still probably drop a load in your pants if you saw a reptile that big coming at you.

    Back in the day, I can recall that some of my fellow collectors really didn't like this particular figure because it didn't have any wings (the Komodo Clan Dragons from the previous two waves did), which they argued made it look more like a giant lizard man rather than a dragon. While I can understand where they were coming from, there's no law that says all dragons have to be winged or walk on all fours. Ultimately, said criticism might have been right on the mark though, because I can also distinctly remember that this Komodo Dragon Clan 3 figure sold poorly, in comparison to the others in that wave. Even clearanced, several copies of this critter hung around on the pegs at my local Walmart for some time after the other dragons were gone (and it's not like I bought one either, although I did consider it a few times).

    Various reasons are cited for what caused McFarlane Toys' decline, but his decision to focus on producing detailed, but nearly-immobile statues, instead of the highly-articulated action figures that many collectors wanted, is the one that gets bandied around the most. And, unfortunately, this Komodo Dragon figure is a textbook example of that. The creature only has a spinning neck, rotating biceps (and, supposedly, wrists, but they won't budge at all on mine), and a bendable tail. However, the tail is so thick that you can't get the wire inside to move too much without applying significant force. You'd better like the pre-posed crouch that this dragon is sculpted in, because you won't be changing it much. Due to how far the creature is leaning forward, and the fact that the pegs are located on the bottoms of the dragon's feet, instead of the base, the figure will never be able to stand erect without that support structure. Speaking of which, this poor scaly critter is suffering from some serious wilting; brand new, the Komodo Dragon would have stood straighter, instead of being stooped over and staring at the ground like mine. Over time, while sitting on a shelf, some toys can start to lean/bend like that if the material that they're molded from can't handle the weight of the figure's anatomy [a hot environment (i.e., summer weather and/or prolonged exposure to direct sunlight), which can also soften plastic, tends to hasten the process].

    The Komodo Dragon Clan 3's sculpt is exceptional and incredibly detailed, which is one area where McFarlane Toys' artists almost never failed. I like the addition of the bits of armor on the body, especially the horned skull helmet on the head and spiked turtle shell on the back, as that really gives the creature some personality and makes the dragon look like a warrior that you wouldn't want to mess with. The base, while okay, isn't nearly the same quality as the figure, which leads me to strongly suspect that it's the work of another sculptor (it's not unusual for multiple artists to work on different parts of a toy like that). I also appreciate that the manufacturer chose to mold some of the more fragile parts, like the many protruding spikes, out of a rubbery material, which makes them far more durable than rigid plastic (McFarlane Toys figures have a reputation for breaking--indeed, I own several "mint" ones that have suffered damage even though they've never even been removed from their original packaging!) The paint work is also above average and really helps sell the reptilian look. Komodo Dragon 3 is mostly done up in earth tones, but there's enough variation in color and pattern to make the creature visually interesting and lifelike.

    In the store, when I was examining the dragon, I failed to see that a couple of the toe nails had their tips broken off, but I immediately noticed that the dragon couldn't be removed from its base, which I knew, from prior experience, was very wrong. As I mentioned, I could remember seeing this toy in Walmart, back in 2006, when it was brand new, and the base was packaged separately in the plastic clamshell, behind the figure (plus the other two McFarlane Dragons I currently own both have removable bases too). So, in short, I knew that I was buying damaged goods, and yet, for some foolish reason, I went ahead and did it anyway. And, later, when I was doing more research on the toy, I learned that the Komodo Dragon 3 is supposed to have rotating wrist joints too, but they won't budge at all on my sample. Either they broke and were super-glued back into place by a previous owner (most likely, given the situation with the base) or the factory paint gummed them up to the point that they're immobile (also a possibility).

    Because it bothered me so much, I ultimately chose to rip/cut the dragon off of the base, shearing the peg off the bottom of its foot in the process, which, as I suspected, had been permanently crazy-glued into place (I also had to scrape/gouge the remnants of the embedded peg out of the corresponding hole in the base with metal tools). I don't know if the previous owner was trying to counter the wilting process with their glue job or what, but my other McFarlane Dragons toys stay on their respective bases just fine without any adhesives. My forceful separation of the two components arguably made things worse, but, in my mind, the figure was already ruined anyway, and I wanted the dragon to come off of its stand like it's supposed to, so, to me, that was the only solution. While it's not as stable as two of them would be, the remaining peg still keeps the creature adequately anchored to its base, and someday, if I'm ever feeling ambitious enough, I can fabricate a new peg for the other foot relatively easily, as it's just a simple cylindrical shape.

    Left-to-right, Komodo Dragon Clan 3, Water Dragon Clan 3, and Water Dragon Clan 4.

    Even if this Komodo Dragon figure had been in flawless condition, three bucks was still too much and I should have left it on the shelf. Sure, in the greater scheme of things, that isn't a huge amount of money, but consider that I paid the exact same price for the Guitar Hero II game and controller on this page, which is a tremendous value in comparison. In 2006, brand new, this reptilian creature cost about $10 (and I know that for a fact, because $9.76, at Walmart, is exactly what I paid for the Water Dragon Clan 3 figure, from the same assortment of McFarlane's Dragons toys), while the original price of that guitar and game bundle was in the neighborhood of $60-70. See what I'm saying? I guess my only defense is that I was desperate because I hadn't found, or purchased, a McFarlane Toys product in such a long time. I've got a soft spot for them, because, when I began to seriously collect toys again, Todd's stuff was pretty much the only thing that I was buying at the time (and I've still got dozens of his action figures, mint-in-package, hanging from my walls).

    Negatives aside, this is still a very cool and intimidating-looking monster, but the flaws are always going to leave a sour taste in my mouth. However, that probably won't stop me from purchasing additional McFarlane's Dragons figures in the future (I'll just be more cautious is all). Getting burned like this once in a while is arguably a good thing too, as it reinforces the notion that I have to be more discriminating and not let my emotions get the better of me when it's obvious that there's something wrong with the toys that I'm examining. The money that customers spend at St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift stores goes towards helping local individuals/families in need too, so, even though this Komodo Dragon Clan 3 figure was a disappointment for me, at least I can get some peace of mind knowing that the cash I shelled out for it ultimately went towards a higher cause.

    Okay, that's enough whining about dragons; it's dolly time!

    Toy line: Barbie Pop Culture Collection (Pink Label).
    Manufacturer: Mattel & Sanrio collaboration (2007).
    What I paid: Two dollars on 7/11/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
    Size: 10.3 cm (4.1") wide x 30.5 cm (12.0") tall.
    Articulation: Neck, shoulders, and hips.
    Notable features: None.

    Do you like Barbies? Do you also enjoy Hello Kitty? Then, this is the doll for you! As part of Mattel's "Pop Culture Collection", they collaborated with the Japanese Sanrio company to combine their two world famous mascots into one product.

    She's a "Pink Label" doll, which is at the lower end of the spectrum for collectible Barbies. Mattel classifies Pink Label figures as "Keepsake dolls at quality retailers." My translation: they're a little nicer than "normal" Barbies but still affordable and relatively easy to find as they're produced in large quantities. In comparison, Mattel's "Silver", "Gold", and "Platinum" Label Barbie dolls [limited to no more than 50,000 (silver), 25,000 (gold), and 1,000 (platinum) pieces worldwide] are pricier and tend to be a little harder to get (many of those are only sold through specific retailers and/or the Barbie Collector web site or mail order catalog). In other words, it's unlikely that you're going to find a Platinum Label Barbie sitting on the shelf at your local Walmart store and you'll probably be paying at least three figures for it.

    Hello Kitty Barbie sports an older head sculpt (it's dated 1971), but she still looks as lovely as ever. I really like that they went with two-toned blonde and brunette tresses on this doll too, as that's more visually interesting than a single shade. Since she is a collector's doll, this Barbie got a little more paint work than usual; in addition to her eyes and lips, she also features pink nail polish on both her finger and toe nails (those are typically left unpainted on mass market lines). The hat was originally stitched into place on the head, but one side had come undone on this secondhand sample, so, I didn't see any reason not to cut it free altogether (it's generally better to leave items stitched onto dolls in place though, as sometimes you can never get them to look right again after you remove them, plus, it can decrease the value of your doll).

    This Hello Kitty Barbie uses Mattel's "Model Muse" body (with a 2003 copyright date molded on it). While said willowy form is shapely, it's also even less articulated that a standard Barbie. There are no knee joints at all, not even internal clicky ones, and the hips are simple swivels instead of ball joints. Due to its pre-posed shape, the Model Muse only looks good standing in a handful of configurations, as such, it's not very versatile at all. The permanently bent right arm is really irksome when you want to change her clothes too--this doll's jacket was very difficult to get on-and-off (indeed, now that I've gotten all of the photos that I needed for this review, it's unlikely that I'll ever undress her again). In short, it's an okay body for display purposes, but I wouldn't recommend it for play.

    Hello Kitty Barbie's outfit is fairly simple, but striking. It's primarily black and white with a dash of pink here-and-there for variety (and I appreciate that Mattel used some restraint in that respect--all too often, they go overboard with that hue). The black cap, with "Hello Kitty" repeated all over it, fits well and stays in place, even after I cut the threads that attached it to her head. The white vinyl jacket is arguably the most impressive-looking piece. It sports faux zippers and pockets, the interior (with the exception of the arms) is lined with a satin-like Hello Kitty print pattern, and the exterior left breast also features the cat's likeness. Due to the thickness and stiffness of the material, it does restrict the doll's movement somewhat (not that she can do much to begin with). I like the zebra-pattern stripes on the crop top, because that design is a visual tribute to Barbie's vintage one-piece swimsuit look. I believe that the bust line was originally secured to the doll with an adhesive (probably to prevent wardrobe malfunctions), because her breasts had an unsightly and sticky residue on them that I had to wash off. The black denim pants aren't particularly noteworthy, but they do have working front and back pockets, which is a nice attention to detail. The white, high-heeled boots, with pointed toes, have a simple sculpt, and the heels are a bit warped, but they pop on-and-off without too much trouble (thanks to the slits in their backs) and look sharp. Finally, the functional purse is an awesome-looking accessory. The Hello Kitty patterned material contrasts nicely with the shiny black vinyl. The flap has a working snap closure, there's room inside to store small items, and it sports an adorable dangling metal Hello Kitty clip-on accent. A complete sample of this doll should also include a pink belt and sunglasses, which, alas, mine lacks. I don't care about the glasses all that much, but I would have liked to own the belt as that added some color to the waist area. All things considered, for a secondhand doll, I'm lucky that the outfit was as complete as it was, and I'm especially thankful that the excellent purse was included, as that'd be the easiest thing to lose.

    Barbie is also bedazzled with an assortment of jewelry. There's a simple striped bracelet/bangle, on her left wrist, that coordinates with her ensemble and is easy to pop on-and-off. The metal Hello Kitty necklace is cute, and, while it's removable, I decided it'd be better not to mess with it (other than cutting off the transparent elastic band that was holding it in place), as I'd probably have a devil of a time getting that tiny ball bead back into the clasp afterwards. And, yeah, I know I could just pop her head off and remove it that way too, but that's also more trouble than I want to go through. The hoop earrings, on the other hand, can't be taken out of the ears (I tugged pretty hard, but didn't go overboard, lest I break it). Notice that I used "it" and not "them". When I bought the doll, she only had one earring (in her right ear), the other was snapped off and missing (you can still hear the broken peg rattling around inside her hollow skull too). As they're just simple metallic hoops, it was easy to make a replacement. I just got out a paperclip, needlenose pliers, and wire cutters, used said tools to shape the paperclip into a circle (using the shaft of a permanent marker, of roughly the same diameter as the existing earring, as my form), bent an ear peg at one end of the loop, at a 90o angle, and clipped the excess metal off of the other end. Voila! Barbie's got a matching set of earrings again! I'll still have to be careful with the original, as it's just vacuum-metallized plastic, and relatively fragile as a result, but I need never worry about breaking the full metal partner I made for it.

    Here's Barbie with several different looks. For the first photo, on the top left, I just removed her jacket, hat, and bracelet to give her a simpler, but still beautiful, appearance. Next, I tried out an outfit from a Disney Princess Jasmine doll (also made by Mattel). It looks/fits okay, but doesn't feel right for her to me. Unfortunately, the Model Muse body has differently shaped feet than standard Barbies, so swapping footwear is problematic, which is why she kept her boots for all of these shots. Next, I switched outfits with one of my highly-articulated Barbie: Fashionistas. I really like how the Hello Kitty ensemble looks on that more poseable doll (the Fashionista Barbie's hips are wider though, so while I got the pants on, I wasn't able to close the velcro flap in the back) and her simple pink print dress looks pretty nice on the Model Muse body too. As it was sleeveless, I didn't have any problems getting it on-and-off her either, which is more than I can say for the blue garment in the final picture (another Fashionista dress, this time stolen from Raquelle). I feel that her hair looks great pulled up into a bun like that, as you get more of the contrasting brown that way, plus you can see the hoop earrings a lot better. If you restrict yourself to using sleeveless tops and dresses, the Model Muse body is definitely much more enjoyable to work with.

    While I'm not crazy about the limitations of the Model Muse body, I really like this rendition of Barbie. I kind of wish that Mattel had also given her a little stuffed Hello Kitty accessory figurine, or something similar, so that Sanrio's popular feline had more of a visible presence, but, other than that, I think they did a great job on the design of this doll.

    How much Hello Kitty is too much?

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