I have a confession to make. I don’t get excited about much in the toy world these days. Even though I think this is a fantastic age of innovation and risk taking, I keep seeing the same titles and the same molds over and over again. There’s been very little new product or properties in the past few years that I’ve looked forward to or felt the urge to snatch up. But with the release of the new TRON Legacy merchandise, I’m afraid that’s all about to change. My nostalgia for 1982 is peaking again, and so far, everything I’ve seen from the film hasn’t let me down. In fact, this entry is going to defend this newest toy world of TRON, because I just read something that kind of pissed me off.
Without naming names, there’s a site out there that regularly posts reviews of action figures and statues with such excruciating detail that you’d think you’d stumbled upon an issue of Consumer Reports. Recently, this site posted a “review” of the Deluxe Sam Flynn action figure by Spinmaster that’s just now hitting the shelves. To say I found the review disappointing is an understatement, but more than that, it made me angry. Whether this makes me more enemies or not, I felt compelled to write about it.
Part of my reasoning is selfish. We’ve had to develop a thick skin over the years when people have bashed our products. But that’s part of the territory. We always knew we weren’t going to please everyone. Buy it don’t buy it, it’s your choice. We won’t get approval from all action figure collectors. And I’m certainly guilty of criticizing companies and items out there that I think come up short. But this latest critique of a super cool new toy kind of blew me away.
I’ve had an eye on Spinmaster for a while now, and I’ve been increasingly impressed with their licensed toy work. When I first read that they’d gotten the TRON Legacy license I was optimistic. The more I read and saw, the more excited I got. It all culminated with their display at SDCC 2010. Two different ranges of action figures, both with light up features. Vehicles with sound and light, Identity Discs, a Recognizer carrying case, and a bunch of nifty die casts that looked like they jumped right out of the trailer. (Not to mention the TRON retro figure in old school video game packaging- coolest exclusive of the con). But the standouts have always been the ‘deluxe’ figures of Clu and Sam Flynn. Standing at close to 8 inches tall with around 10 points of articulation, at the touch of a button the chest areas light up and a moving ‘hologram’ of the character’s face pops up behind the mask and speaks lines of dialogue from the film. They’re just about the coolest action figures I’ve ever seen.
When TRON came out in 1982, Tomy (best known for electronic games, go figure) grabbed the license and made a small range of toys: four action figures, two different colored light cycles and a hand held electronic game. I grabbed them all, and still have them in pristine condition. Boy, I loved those things. They were like all the other action figures I’d had at that point, but to try and emulate the look of the characters in the movie, they were made of clear colored plastic with details painted on. OK, so it wasn’t quite logical, but to my 11-year-old brain it worked and those figures looked like they did in the film. Best of all, their accessories glowed in the dark, and the identity discs fit onto the figures backs. Getting an action figure to ‘holster’ or snap on it’s accessory was an extreme rarity, so the Tomy TRON stuff always seemed to me a cut above. In the years since, we’ve also had merchandise from Medicom in the form of Kubricks and some beautiful lightcycles with Microman styled figures, and of course Reel Toys did some figures for the Tron 2.0 video game a few years back.
Now, to the latest batch. These ‘deluxe’ figures take that world of 1982 and the mind-blowing visuals we’ve seen for the sequel, and push toy technology in the right direction. Unless I’m very much mistaken, they even use the actual voices of the actors in the film, which makes putting Clu back down on the table that much more difficult when you hear “Flynn Lives” come out of him for the first time. They also come with several accessories each, and again, just like nearly 30 years ago, their identity discs snap into place on their backs. Man, Spinmaster did not disappoint.
The 3 ¾” figures are great too. They have loads of articulation and accessories, and all fit into and with the various vehicles that are getting released. Being overly familiar with the man’s features, my one quibble would be the likeness of Jeff Bridges on the small Flynn action figure. It doesn’t look like Jeff, or Beau, or any member of the Bridges clan that I can think of. But so far that’d be my only complaint about what Spinmaster has put together.
So, back to the “review” on that website. Someone help me out here, but when did we start reviewing action figures with such vigor, with categories like Packaging and Paint specifically taken to task? This entry basically gives between 2 and 4 stars across the categories for the Deluxe Sam Flynn, which is fine. It’s when you delve further into it that the smoke starts to come out of my ears. ‘Lack of posability’, ‘basic sculpting’, ‘nothing will wow you about the packaging’, etc., all written by someone that clearly doesn’t have an understanding or appreciation for the effort it takes to bring something like this to market. (I say this not to pick a fight, but because I zero in on his complaint that the lighting on the front of the deluxe figures doesn’t run down the figures’ legs as it did when shown at SDCC 2010. Ten points of articulation, accessories, a talking feature and holographic face at around a $16.00 price point isn’t value enough???). This movie is supposed to appeal to a broad selection in the audience: the adults who loved it way back, their kids, people who have no idea who the hell Tron or Flynn are, or what an MCP is. And I’m looking at this toy line thinking, that’s exactly what Spinmaster are trying to do as well. I WAS knocked out by the packaging; it’s dark and nearly glowing and has an ominous feel to it reminiscent of the trailers we’ve seen so far. I AM astounded by the detail they’ve chosen to include with these sculpts, and the paint apps are great, particularly on the teeny tiny accessories. I DID get giddy when I came across the whole line finally out in plain view, and didn’t know where to look first. And best of all, I am thrilled they chose NOT to include spring loaded weapons or ridiculous action features that are useless and ruin all the good work that came before.
The on line community of nit pickers has harshed my mellow on so much over the years, that half the time I avoid delving too deep on any geek subject, lest some anonymous ‘expert’ take the fun out of what little there is left to get excited about any more. I’m reminded of the fan uproar over Watchmen last year. For over twenty years every fanboy pissed and moaned that whoever did bring the graphic novel to life would make a mess of it and be unfaithful, or worse, cast movie stars instead of the right people for the jobs. Then it comes out and is slavishly true to spirit, and still it wasn’t good enough. When that happens, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Have we become so proprietary of the things we love and spoiled by the world becoming more geek-friendly right now that we can’t embrace the efforts made? I’ve said it before, I never in my life thought I’d get a Rorschach action figure, and even if I’d hated the film (far from it), I’d have to be thankful for that.
What’s my point? I don’t know, maybe that we’re all taking this shit WAY TOO SERIOUSLY?? I think we can all agree when someone gets it horribly wrong in the genre world, whether it’s toys, TV, or film. But when did we start picking on the guys who get it right? Or just not notice when it’s done well? Are those souls ever going to be happy? Bif Bang Pow! is about to make an announcement about a new license acquisition, something I’ve been working on for a long time. Since I was about ten years old, to be precise. And we’re going to think outside the box, and we’re going to go the extra mile, and we’re going to make something very special. And I’m sure there’ll be someone out there that will rip us to shreds when we show the prototypes. So maybe in closing, I’ll ask you all now to try and think back to the last time you got really excited by something in the toy world. Not impressed, not , like, “wow, they did it again, that’s another awesome looking sculpt of Mer-Man or whoever”, but truly buzzing in that “Sears catalog item circling” way when you see something new and different in the action figure realm. I’ll bet it’s been a while. So check out the new TRON Legacy line, and if your eyes are open wide enough, you’ll find something very cool to connect with again. And if I’m wrong and you don’t, do us all a favor, don’t spend too much energy complaining about it. That’s getting old.
Oh, and P.S. to Spinmaster, if you’re reading this, please give us Daft Punk TRON Legacy action figures. With lights and music, ‘natch.