I first came across Dwaltrip‘s incredible Christmas action figure display last year on the FANtastic Forum and was blown away. I like to make a little display around my Christmas toys, but Dwaltrip makes me look like an amateur. I decided I had to quiz him about it and he graciously agreed to an interview.
Codename: Brian S
Specialty: Toy collecting, Rankin-Bass fan, Christmas lover.
Base of Operations: Metro-Detroit, Michigan
History: Rudolph and Christmas time in general have always held a special place in my heart. I’m currently 30 years old, and no matter how bad of a mood I am in, the sound of Christmas music, the glow of a well decorated house, or the even the sight of a Salvation Army Bell Ringer as you walk into a grocery store is enough to bring a smile to my face. This holds true with coming across the yearly broadcast of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” on the TV. It takes me back to a time as a child when things were simpler and of great family memories. Instead of being a scrooge at Christmas, it seems so much easier to be happy and enjoy the season for what it is all about.
I think Fred Astaire said it best in Rankin-Bass’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” when he said….
“But there still are some, poor misguided folks, that miss the whole point. Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so….but doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear crying on a Saturday? Not much maybe…but what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa, and learn to give, as only he can give, of ourselves, out talents, our love, and our hearts. Maybe if we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson, maybe there would finally be peace on earth, and good will toward men.”
Your Christmas display is amazing. What gave you the idea to make it?
I had already been collecting Rudolph merchandise for a few years when Memory Lane unveiled their first wave of figures in what I think was 2001. When those came out, I had to have them. But it wasn’t until they came out with the “Santa’s Castle Playset” and “Rudolph’s Red Nose Express Train” that I knew I had to come up with a new way to display the figures where the castle could be the center piece and the train could go around it. That’s when the obsession really started to take off.
Now that everything is built, the entire set-up makes for a great Christmas display. We have family and friends bring over their kids every year to see our Rudolph Christmas Town setup. And this is the main reason that I set this up every year. I hope that this creates the same holiday childhood memories that I had growing up.
What is it made of, and how did you make it? How long did it take?
The process of building this has evolved throughout the years and has been a fun Christmas project every year for my Dad and me. It was originally only a circular display that was the diameter of the train track. The base of this was made by gluing 2″ thick styrofoam board insulation sheets together. As they stacked up, we would carve out the shape we were looking for with an electric turkey carving knife.
As each year went by, more and more waves of figures came out. It wasn’t until the “Santa’s Sleigh and Reindeer Team Playset” came out that I knew this would be the next big piece to take the display to the next level with. We decided that we need an angled “runway” for Santa and his sleigh team, a cave, and obviously an island for the Misfit toys. So we took the original base, and started to add more to it. Before we knew it, the base had grown to 8′ long, 5′ wide, and almost 3′ tall. Because of its new size, the brittle foam began to chip a lot more because of the awkwardness of the base when trying to move it. To resolve this, we began the process of applying paper mache to the entire base to make it stronger.
A few gallons of Elmer’s glue, many yards of construction paper, and a lot of time later, and we had a giant brown base. We finished off the base by drilling holes out for electrical and trees, then applied a coat of “snow” white paint to finish the winter look. Besides small yearly additions, this was the last major renovation of the base.
What happens to the display and figures during the rest of the year?
While this display is fun during the holidays, I had never really put much thought into how it would be stored every year. I originally built this when I was younger and still living at my Dad’s (much larger) house. So when I got married and we bought our smaller house, I had to come up with a new system of storage.
Once all the pieces are taken apart and put into their boxes, the base moves back into the basement, which is an exact science in itself. Once in the basement, it stands on its side on a low shelf that I built off a wall in my workshop. Then to protect it from debris from other year round projects, I built a curved curtain track that goes around it. The rest of the boxes (approximately 20) either go in the basement or in the attic.
Surprisingly, taking down the display only take a few hours, while it takes a few nights to put up. Honestly, I never look forward to setting the display up or taking it down…it’s all about the few weeks of enjoyment in between.
What are your favorite Christmas action figures?
Obviously Memory Lane/Round 2’s Rudolph figures are at the top of my list. But there has been so many other great holiday lines out that are really done well. Enesco has done an entire series of Rudolph figurines, Palisades Toys did a line for “A Year Without a Santa Claus,” and there was even a short-lived set for “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”
One of my favorites was the line that Memory Lane came out with for the Rankin-Bass classic “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” Great sculpts, good articulation, and fun accessories. They were only a K-mart/specialty shop exclusive, so the line didn’t do very well at retail, but it is a must have for any Christmas figure collection.
There have also been many different Charlie Brown/Peanuts figures for the holidays. Again, these are great figures and have done very well at retail through the years. In fact, Round 2 acquired the license for them and they have come out with some new figures and accessories in recent years. You can check them out, as well as their “Frosty the Snowman” line at www.foreverfun.com
Are there any Rankin-Bass characters you’d like to see as action figures who haven’t been made yet?
As all of us collectors know, there will always be characters that we want to see in plastic form that will probably never happen. Fortunately for me, just about every single Rudolph character has been made. Besides the occasional “secondary” misfit toy (scooter, fire engine, etc), there really isn’t any figure that they haven’t produced, and believe me, I have checked.
As far as other properties, I would love to see Round 2 get the rights for the original “Frosty the Snowman” [special]. This way we will finally get the likes of Professor Hinkle, Karen, and Hocus Pocus to name a few. Right now, the Frosty toys they came out with are based on the sequel to the movie “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland.”
I think the toy line that I would like to see more than anything would be the 1969 Rankin-Bass Halloween feature “Mad Monster Party.” There was an Uncle Boris statue, as well as a vinyl figure line, but still nothing in the way of articulated figures. Although the possibilities of this line are endless with how many unique characters there are, I would imagine a full line would never be a viable option. This film struggled theatrically and never got the strong cult following as many other Rankin-Bass classics, but one can dream, right?