Doc Thomas Probes > Action Features (Part II)

In Part I of our feature, Doc Thomas examined “Simulated Attack” action features. And now…the exciting conclusion!

Type 2: Pure Deco

The next most prominent type of action feature is that which focuses on the look of the toy, and attempts to add more life-like or just more interesting dynamic look via an internal mechanism. A good example of this is Cortana from McFarlane “Last Hurrah” Toys’ Halo line, which in addition to being awesomely scaled to be about life size included several blue leds inside which made it light up, giving it that same luminescence that lightened our lives across the galaxy’s hardship in the excellent series of games.

A different approach to a similar end is the aforementioned Metalhead from TMNT, whose eyes glowed red when light was shined above his head to nifty effect. These kind of action features are comparable to other creative approaches to action figures to make them closer to a real life representation, like the awesome SOTA Blanka sculpted entirely in glow-in-the-dark plastic, representing Blanka in his signature electrified state, or nearly every feature in the Masterpiece Optimus Prime toy, including light-up Matrix inside his chest, and the button-operated “talking” mouth.

Led lights inside action figures can be used to spectacular effect; consider the nifty light-up alien eggs from the very first Aliens VS Predator McFarlane set, which glowed from the inside showing the creepy silhouette of the facehugger inside. Or the realistic flashing lights of the Flight Control Tardis, or even the very nifty working Bat Signal featured with Matty’s early Bat Signal Batman. These kinds of Pure Deco action features can do a lot for toys, but they’re not the only kind.

Another example is Poe’s maligned Fright Features Ghostbusters, in which the main four ‘busters (and also Janine) were sculpted including arm-activated “scared” action – their mouths opened in screams, eyes shot out, they generally looked fairly ridiculous. I loved these as a child (despite them being as durable as a house of cards) but they’re absolutely no match for the original series of characters, with their much more appropriate and fun spinning proton pack fire, another example of a great action feature well implemented to improve a toy in both displayability and playability. This ties back to what I was saying about the Playmates TMNT: there’s nothing wrong with the action features here specifically, as they’re a subsiduary toy to the better representations of the characters you want. It’s just a hideous shame that with the Real Ghostbusters, those original series figures were always in such short demand, thus many unhappy kids forced to settle just so they can own some version of the characters they love.

Pure Deco action features can be just as prone to failure as any other action feature when handled wrong; there are numerous unfortunate toys that suffer because of an action feature designed to make them look better in some way but end up reducing the sculpt and articulation as a result, and sometimes the action feature just flat-out doesn’t work. (Can’t think of any examples of this offhand, but I want to include a good example of it above…)

Type 3: Audio and Other

The third type of action feature is one of the trickier and more ignorable beasts – the sound action feature. Used occasionally to good effect, as with the above McFarlane Toys Fat Bastard, though mostly to pointless effect, as with the rest of the Austin Powers line and also the statuesque McFarlane Lost series, in which the features were kept separate from the figures and sounded basically awful, making them easily dispensible but still a waste of time. Having toys speak can be a lot of fun and a nice feature for display; Treebeard is perfectly executed and nicely loud, though suffering from the slight tinny muffle that comes from having a tiny speaker built into a toy. A better example is the aforementioned Flight Control Tardis, which features loud but clear sound captured directly from the show.

Playmates’ thoroughly excellent World of Springfield line brought the Simpsons characters to life with minor success, adding a voice feature to the playsets that sounds much better in concept than it is. Affixing any WOS characters to a playset and activating them via the button makes them say lines from the show, although they can’t really interact with each other and the placement in the playsets is often really odd and not overly dynamic. A good attempt at the concept, although I feel that a feature like this would have been better included in the actual figures themselves, leaving the playsets open to be a) bigger and more detailed, and b) significantly cheaper. The bulky, small playset environments suffered to bring us the action feature that few collectors will use, which is a shame.

Then there’s this creepy bastard, who with his booming Decepticon voice amongst his many different action features seems to be possessed. I was watching a movie when I first switched him on, only to have him yelling various things at me non-stop for about 10 minutes, completely ruining Law Abiding Citizen (though to be honest, that film was ruined enough to begin with), so I took him to pieces leaving in my bedroom while I went to make a sandwich. Whilst I spread butter on the bread he suddenly went off again, and I could hear him from all the way in the kitchen yelling threats against my person. I swear to dog I’m going to wake up and find the thing looming above me, his glowing eyes full of menace and crazy: “DECEPTICONS DESTROY!!”

A less common action feature in action figures, though reasonably prevalent in girl’s toys, is that of a delightful (or not so much in MOTU Stinkor’s case) scent that the toy emits pretty much forever. (Owners of Stinkor can attest to this.) Then there are all the other uncommon action features, such as the cool blood-sucking MOTU Mosquitor, and the trash-collecting Mo from WALL-E, and everything else that either adds or subtracts from the toy, for better or for worse.

Concluding Remarks

There’s a lot to be said for action figures, and I’ve already said a lot, but I want to draw your attention to the above figure, who I feel is the ultimate argument in favor of action features – good action features – and one that is very appropriate right now. The Thinkway Buzz Lightyear is an AWESOME action figure, one that does everything that it does in the amazing movies, combining all of the above types into one superb toy. It absolutely benefits for having light, sound, spring-loaded wings, everything you know and love from the movies, and it’s still a great figure, not encumbered in any way. It’s perfect for both collectors and children, and is representative of what good can come from having smart, creative design in a toy for maximum sculpt, articulation, poseability and playability. (The green even glows in the dark, for dog’s sake!) Remember this one, for the next time anyone looks down on you or considers you childish for collecting toys, punch them in the face for me.

Comments now closed (7)

  • I enjoy these broader looks at the world of toys, not least because you cite many toys I had forgotten, or never knew about.

    Also, I have never seen a single episode of Dr. Who, but I am desperate to procure that Tardis set.

  • The worst/best action features were the ones during the last couple of years of Toy Biz Marvel before everything switched to Legends. The figures, like In the Spider-Man "Flip & Trap" wave would come with huge, seemingly random hunks of plastic with a spring involved. Even when set up, it was hard to tell what was supposed to be going on. It's only a good feature since the sculpting was really good on the figures at the time and the action feature was kept separate.

    McFarlane Toy's attempts were typically disastrous of course. They rarely interfered with the toy, but it was never surprising that toys known for breaking wouldn't have tiny springs that lasted more than a day. That Interlink 6 series looked nifty but took an hour or more to build if nothing broke along the way.

  • I too, hated the Ghostbusters with "fright action". Sadly, they were the only ones I could get. Well, those, and the ones that revealed "slime" when you got them wet. What a stupid feature THAT was!

    Glad to see you mention the Flight Control TARDIS. I think it's one of the best electrical toys ever.

  • Are you talking about the Cortana with a base from the first wave of Halo 3 figures? Her LEDs weren't inside the figure, but on the base. The effect was the same, however.

  • I second Bill's comment on the TARDIS, it's a kick ass toy, I've ended up owning three of the damn things!

  • Its funny you mention the translucent eyes in Metal Head. A lot of Transformers have had this "feature", and it’s always been pretty neat. I didn't realize how much I liked it until I got the War for Cybertron Bumblebee and Optimus Prime, neither of which have the effect.

    For Audi-OH, Battle Armor He-Man and Skeletor from the millennium line are fun. If you turn them at their waist they make a metal clashing sound, and they've got buttons on their side and speak, He-Man says "I have the Power" and Skeletor (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer) says "Eternia will be mine".

    I think the original MOTU line had some of the best features ever seen in a toy line. While the original figures all shared a lot of the same parts, towards the end a lot of them had their own unique sculpts and features. Blast-Attack was a favorite of mine, since he literally split in two. As was Dragstor who, when you pull the rip-cord, would tear up your living room floor. Another favorite was Rio Blast, this hybrid of Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris was armed to the teeth with lazers in his chest, arms, legs, and a huge gun backpack…

  • For "pure deco", the only figure that really springs to mind was the light-up (but still tremendously articulated) Human Torch from the first series of Fantastic Four movie action figures. BUT I only appreciated the light-up feature because it didn't interfere with the articulation.

    The new TRON figures with the light-up faces also have the potential of being very cool purely from the technology perspective.

    As for "audio", I love it on my Thinkway "collection" versions of Woody and Buzz because it is true to their "toy forms". I don't recall being that impressed with it on any other action figure in the past, unless the Snake Mountain microphone counts? I'm definitely not that keen on the "audio" features of the Thinkway "collection" versions of Bullseye and Rex since their "toy forms" don't have that feature. But, at least in the case of Rex it is pretty cool (and funny).