My fiancee (a.k.a. Mrs. Ghostal-To-Be–MG2B for now) got me an early Christmas present this week. It was early by request; I find that Christmas-themed gifts are best enjoyed during the actual Christmas season. Nothing’s more anticlimactic than, say, receiving the most awesome Christmas ornament ever on the very day you don’t really need it anymore. But we’ll get to that in a moment…
While I’ve collected action figures me entire life, it was only when I became too old enough to do so without having to call myself a “collector” that the industry started making the action figures I wanted as a kid. True, I did get the Kenner Robocop and the Mattel Simpsons lines in 1988 and 1990, respectively, but it wasn’t until 1992 that the first mainstream Alien and Predator figures hit stores. Later years would bring Freddy, Jason, Ash from Army of Darkness, Cthulhu, the Lord of the Rings and even the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into figure form. I could fill up several entries with my comments on this phenomenon, whereby any and all things I loved as a child have been turned into toys. But nowhere have I been more surprised than by the wealth of Christmas-themed action figures we have been blessed with.
I grew up on all those Rankin-Bass Christmas specials. About ten years ago, a company called Memory Lane put out action figures based on the best of them all, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The figures were quite good, and have since become perennial sellers thanks to the special’s long-lived popularity. That Rudolph could get toys wasn’t in and of itself so surprising; kids of every generation since the 1960s have loved it.
But action figures of the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus? Action figures from Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, including my all-time favorite Rankin-Bass character, the Winter Warlock? Figures of the main cast from A Christmas Story, including a 5″ Ralphie with his Daisy Rider rifle?
Most of the Rankin-Bass figures have been produced as part of a line called Memory Lane, which has passed through several companies’ hands at this point and now seems to be under the control of Round 2, who don’t seem to have a website as far as I can google. However, the Year Without a Santa Claus and Christmas Story figures were released by NECA (though I think the YWSC figures were created by some other company the first time around and then re-released by NECA last year…can’t remember for sure).
The latest addition my Rankin-Bass action figure collection is Frosty, who arrives courtesy of the aforementioned Round 2. I’ll be reviewing Frosty for OAFE soon, so I’ll skip a lengthy discussion of him and move on to the other Snowman action figure I got this year–the Snowman from McFarlane Toys’ Twisted Xmas line.
While my interest in most of McFarlane Toys’ product waned in the early 2000s when they stopped making action figures with any real articulation (thus making them just “figures” really), occasionally they still manage to grab my attention with something. I was pretty excited when I first heard about the Twisted Xmas concept–monstrous versions of classic Christmas characters sounded like a great contrast to all the cute Rankin-Bass Christmas toys that had flooded the market.
Unfortunately, I think the final results are a bit lacking in imagination. The squat, masked Santa looks an awful lot like Todd McFarlane’s own “Clown” character from the Spawn comic, and he’s also similar to the Wizard from the earlier Twisted Land of Oz series. The bipedal Rudolph monster is very odd-looking, the Elves are uncomfortably grotesque, and Jack Frost is annoyingly out-of-scale (he’s the same size as the rest of the figures, but the little houses on the display base suggest he’s supposed to be Godzilla-sized).
The Mrs. Claus figure, while being yet another example of the sexism rampant in the comic book and action figure industry, looks quite good and will probably be the most popular figure in the line, since it will probably get picked up by many people who don’t usually buy action figures (I can see it in a lot of Yankee swaps).
But the only figure that really interested me was the Snowman. Now this is the kind of figure I’d envisioned for this line: a hideous perversion of a Christmas staple that sticks to the traditional elements of said character, but exaggerates them into the grotesque. For example, the Snowman has the familiar top-hat, carrot-nose, and two eyes made out of coal; but the hat is ragged and twisted (no doubt a product of the Buddy Ebsen Hat Distressing Corporation), the carrot is bent and the coal eyes are glaring with hate and rage. Then there are the arms–six wretched branches ending in clawed fingers.
When it comes to sculpting and paint applications, few companies can beat McFarlane, and the Snowman is yet another example of McToys’s fine work. The arms have a sculpt, texture and paint that makes them look and feel like real branches; the hat is filthy, and the carrot has just the right touch of orange. Unlike the Rudolph figure, the gigantic mouth makes sense here–he’s made from snow, after all, and so one can expect a certain degree of viscous mutability. The rows upon rows of icicle-teeth are a nice touch, too.
This is one of Calvin’s snow goons come to horrific life.
But my favorite part has to be the fact that the Snowman appears to have been made entirely from snow that’s been piled up in one corner of a mall parking lot for weeks, turning black as it’s covered with layer after layer of soot, exhaust, and grime.
The one major misstep with the figure is that it’s molded from a kind of translucent white plastic, making it seem a little too much like a toy. I think it would have been wiser to go with a dirty white color and then shade from there, but the translucence does lend a sense of “iciness” to the sculpt.
While the Rankin-Bass action figures are great, it’s refreshing to get such a creepy take on an old Christmas standby. McFarlane Toys has set up an entire Web site devoted to the line, featuring wallpapers, paper ornament templates, e-cards and even stories about the characters. I like the way the Web site (and the packaging) contrasts the traditional cutesy view of these characters to their McFarlanized counterparts.
The best thing about the Snowman is that unlike most of the figures in the line, he’s not necessarily Christmas-specific–meaning he can sit out on my shelves throughout the winter without seeming out-of-place.
You can read reviews of the other Twisted Xmas figures over at OAFE or Michael Crawford’s site.
Now, what I’d love to see next from McFarlane is a Monsters line based around A Christmas Carol. In a later post, I’ll describe what I think such a line might look like.