Monday, February 28, 2011

#0009: Scar

What’s your favourite Disney movie?

I’m guessing that the majority of people would name something from the years of 1989-1994. Some call it Disney’s golden age. Others call it a key era for commercialization and consumer monopolization. Me personally, I wouldn’t use that many ‘zations’ in one sentence, though in essence I suppose I just did.

It’s hard for me to decide on my #1 flick these days. They each have their own merits and shortcomings, and I’ve been yelled at more than once for spending hours on deep analysis of Disney films, when I could be trying to make something of myself. I guess I always just figured that somehow I was making something of myself, but realistically, comprehensive knowledge of Rajah’s character development over the course of the Aladdin trilogy isn’t quite as useful as a doctorate in physiology. My mistake.

When I was a kid though, the choice was easy. It had to be The Lion King. It gave you everything you could ever want, from endearing characters to Mr. Bean as a parrot. It was made of so much ‘yes’, you might as well have called it The Yes King.

By now you should understand that that would mean demanding a multitude of Lion King products. Toys, plushes, activity books… And yes, a sticker book, too. Those things were nightmarish money vacuums. But that’s another tale for another day.

For now, we’re going to get dark and sinister. That’s right, we’re going to take a fleeting peek at Disney’s own Claudius. He’s climbin’ in your kingdom and he’s snatchin’ your lions up, he’s Scar!

Accusations of a fetish for plastic be damned, this toy is just plain sexy. He’s wonderfully coloured, his face is full of expression, and his details are so precise… Plus, his chin is pointy as fuck. It could take your eye out, so step back. Scar is dangerous!

This particular figure has Scar sporting a particularly malicious snarl, making him battle ready, or plotting something wicked. It’s less appropriate for scenes where you’re trying to recreate his famous deception of Simba, because one look at that mug and you just know something’s up.

He also has a mane of delightfully shiny black hair. He’s a true greaser. A toy this fantastic surely created a generation of kids skulking in corners muttering about overthrowing their brothers, with horrible Jeremy Irons impersonations. Unfortunately, I never acquired an adult Simba toy to engage in fisticuffs with Scar, so combat was left in the incapable hands of his younger self, or Pumbaa, who was the only other one I had who was similarly sized. Come to think of it, Scar never did plunge off Pride Rock in my playtime. It’s seventeen years later, and Scar is still king of the ring. You’d think he’d have cracked a smile by now?

In his elder years, King Scar likes to strut the catwalk. He’s also closely involved in foreign affairs, carbon emission reduction and park preservation.

But future generations may not know of his infamous evil exploits. In fact, I worry a little bit for Scar’s well-being once he’s left my loving possession. Will the benefactors treat him with the fear and respect that he deserves? I don’t want to relegate Scar to tea parties with Barbie.

So as a test, I introduced Scar to a three-year-old with no prior knowledge of his tyrannical power and authority.

The results were a raging success. King Scar rules on, and all others tremble in his presence. After briefly sniffing him, granted, but there’s still trembling involved regardless.

So what does this toy actually do? Nothing outside of the realm of our imagination. He has no movable parts or rocket launching action, so he’s not really helping you along much with visual cues. Indeed, if you did fling his ass from the throne, he’d still just look pissed off and in a curious prone position of prowling. That alliteration did nothing to enhance that paragraph, incidentally.

Although I’ve just now discovered that you can tuck his tail in between one of his legs.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say he almost looks bashful now. As though he’s done something naughty that he’s trying to hide, or he’s come across a girl he likes. In my mind, the latter is unlikely.

He’s gay, you know.

He’s also a Chinese ambassador. I know this because his belly told me.

Don’t pretend you don’t see what it says on there. ‘Applause 4 China’. That’s right, subliminal advertisements in a child’s plaything. I don’t know if his propaganda ever got through to me, though on a completely unrelated note, this entry will henceforth consist solely of portraits of emperors from the Ming Dynasty.

Above you’ll see Zhu Yuanzhang. He established the Ming Dynasty in 1368, overthrowing the Yuan Dynasty and helping influence the growth of our proud nation tenfold. His influence was godlike.

Here we have Zhu Di, known during his reign as the Yongle Emperor. He strengthened Chinese culture through erection of monuments such as the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, as well as weeding out foreign dogs from our land.

I’m sure you already realise that this is Zhu Yijun, son of the Longqing Emperor. His reign was plagued with fiscal instability and, later, encroachment by the Manchu. Despite his faults, he is praised in Korea for his contribution towards defending the Chosun Dynasty against the Japanese.

This is Chip. His reign was brief and confusing, and consisted primarily of mass acquisition of acorns.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#0008: Duck

Kids are notorious for becoming obsessive about the latest craze and surrounding themselves with it, at the expense of their parents’ funds. These days, it’s crap like Ben 10 and Bakugan, things that I wouldn’t understand if I was given a complete thesaurus on it, but they make perfect sense to kids.

I was no different. I was on the Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z bandwagons a decade ago, and they came and went just like all the others. The price of admission to an Anthony birthday in 1995 was Street Sharx. One year later, everyone was going nuts about Space Jam toys. Or maybe I was the only one. Point is; I had legions of those damn things.

If you delve earlier though, past Sonic the Hedgehog and the Ninja Turtles, you’ll find my simplest, earliest fascinations. It was basically things that roll when you push them. First off, it was generic cars. And who didn’t love cars as a kid? You’d give your stationary toys a shove, and they’d tumble over and crumple like wusses. But cars? Man, you push them around, and they roll with it. They were like us. They understood us.

Then, it came to branded products. Hot Wheels didn’t quite catch on with me for some reason, even though it would have been the natural progression. Instead, I aspired to collect the things I saw on the television; I wanted myself an assload of Thomas the Tank Engine goods.

Today, we shall premiere this beloved series, with help from my good friend, Duck the Great Western Engine.

Ahh, Thomas. Just hearing the opening tune makes me feel giddy and nostalgic.

For a kids show, it certainly had an odd way of teaching us morals. In every episode, one engine would be our protagonist, and one of two things happened; either he was an arrogant prick who would get taught a lesson, or he was being picked on by other trains and had to show them who’s boss.

And seriously, there was very little in the way of character consistency. It didn’t matter who it was, every train was a dick at one point. Even the titular character was known to tease that little tosser Percy every now and then.

So it certainly didn’t instill any feelings of trust amongst our peers. Through avid watching of Thomas, we learnt to fend for ourselves, to pull our heads in or else face the wrath of God, and that trains are mean fucks.

Who is this Duck, then? I remember the episode when he premiered, one of the other trains (typically) made fun of him for being called Duck. Apparently his real name is actually Montague, and he’s called Duck because he… waddles. I don’t know. I don’t know why being called Duck because you act like a duck is any nicer than actually being named Duck, but if that’s what Duck wants then that’s what Duck gets.

(Eight instances of ‘duck’ in that last paragraph. I tried to slip that many in my Turtlecycle review as well, but it didn’t quite pan out)

Duck featured the unfortunate fate of being a later addition to the series (albeit the second season, but later all the same). Kids had already chosen all of their favourites, and about 95% of us had based our favourites on our most beloved colour. I was a James kid, because he was red and red was awesome.

In Duck’s case, he was a pompous little train of green. Oops! Kids had already hitched their wagons on Henry or Percy, and it’s not like Duck was much more endearing than either of those two.

He was an outsider. A misfit. A dog of the house of Montague!

Had it not been for my obsessive collecting tendencies back in the day, I doubt I would have acquired Duck for any merits of his own. I don’t remember him getting any playtime, and even if he did, he would have been getting rescued by James. James would have also had all of the superpowers, the witty one-liners and sex appeal. I projected everything I wished to be on that train, by god.

Forgive the nonconformist’s dirty face; he was a garage acquisition after all. The very first Thomas toys had stickers as faces instead of being modeled into the toy, and they would inevitably peel away after years of play and bath time fun, revealing the horrific truth that, under the façade of a grinning mug, they were indeed mere trains.

In Duck’s case, he was a fancy-schmancy edition with a real live face (well, not real real, of course. That’d be fucking creepy), and as such, other than some faded paint in places, a host of chipped flesh and filth ingrained within his being, he’s fared better than most.

I never understood what ‘GWR’ meant as a child. A quick squiz at Wikipedia reveals it as being an acronym for ‘Great Western Railway’, and in a few brief moments I have solved a mystery that plagued me for years of my youth. It was almost as infuriating as how Knuckles’ name was abbreviated to ‘K.T.E.’ in early Sonic games. Made him sound like a goddamn robot.

I’m sure that that very first episode I mentioned would have told us the origins of GWR, but I was a dumb kid who was probably waiting for something funny to happen, or for James to do something cool, or for Ringo Starr to say ‘toot toot’. Clearly my attention span wasn’t at the level required for a sophisticated program about trains.

There isn’t really much more to be said here, because we all know Thomas. He’s been done before. It’s not like I can form a lore about him, and my fanfic would be very blasé and uneventful (and likely jam-packed with James action).

So instead, let’s ponder on something I never quite fathomed. Why were the trains always looking… somewhere to the side? Were they manufactured with the intention of sitting next to one another, smirking a creepy, knowing smile at each other? Were you indeed supposed to navigate them in that direction, thereby condemning them to an eternity of moving in circles?

I’m looking at Duck and looking at him hard, but he’s not telling me anything. All I know is I feel unsafe about the concept of getting into a train that refuses to watch where he’s going. …But really, would I board a talking, self-conscious train who’s often up to mischief and occasionally crashing into things? I suppose not.

You know what else I’ve only noticed from taking these photos? Those faces are damned scary. How were we not terrified by these trains as kids? The way they’d smile, and their eyes would dart around suspiciously? It’s quite eerie. It’s shit like that that got Mulligrubs canceled.

Unfortunately for Thomas the Tank Engine toys, because of their necessary length, they were smaller than our other usual toys. I always hated height inconsistency, particularly when people were larger than passenger vehicles. If this were Zoolander, I would slam the display to the floor in fury.

“Come on, you lot!” whistled Duck cheekily, roaring into the station hours ahead of time. If the Fat Controller found out about this, he would be very cross.

“Come aboard, come aboard!” shouted Duck to the passengers at the station, “We’ve got a long way to go yet.”

“How am I supposed to get on this train?” pondered Dracula Don aloud, shrugging in dismay, “I paid ninety quid for this ticket. Fuck that shit.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

#0007: Fi-Do

Back in the 90’s, Beanie Babies were hot property. I don’t seem to recall any sort of favouritsm among most collectors; it didn’t matter if it was a frog, a bear or an elephant, if it was retired, it was considered golden.

Me personally, I was a cat collector. I went to great lengths to collect every single variation of cat (in the early stages, they all looked the same other than fur colour, which made my multitude of purchases even sadder), until it struck me: those bigwigs at Ty Inc. would never stop producing them.

Where I would once feel glorious pride for finally nabbing that elusive white Flip, I would later feel cheated and bewildered how quickly a Bently or Frisco would hit the market. It was like a zombie movie; no matter how many I picked off, four more would surface in their place.

That being said, if I had to choose between fending off hoards of zombies or collecting stuffed animals, I would much prefer the latter. So really, I lucked out, I suppose.

There was an inexplicable excitement whenever you saw that a store stocked Beanie Babies. You’d run over to them (well no, you’d walk, but running sounds more animated) and sift through them for a goodie, inspecting each thoroughly for authenticity.

Could the same be said for 1997’s Teenie Weenie Beanie Meanies? Would you hoist a flatulent Bart elephant to the air with the same elation you would had you found the legendary dragon Magic?

…The short answer is no. The reasons are plentiful, and let’s explore some with my friend, Fi-Do the Dalmutation.

In case it isn’t strikingly obvious yet, Meanies were an attempt to cash in on Ty’s stuffed craze by creating their own line of gross, unusual toys. They would theoretically become collectibles like the Babies, each model going out of production like their prolific cousin, but tragically, it seems as though the whole line drying up in 2000 has done nothing to increase their value.

I can’t remember where it was that I got my first and only Meanie, but I do remember being faced with a decision that day: Which one would I choose? I could only get one, and I had narrowed the contenders down to either Fi-Do, or Boris the Mucousaurus. Two-headed dog or dinosaur with a runny nose? If only all choices in my life were so simple and inconsequential. If only all choices on Earth were as mundane. World problems, solved on a basis of which stupid stuffed toy you would buy.

In the end, I went with Fi-Do for the reason that he was less gross. Perhaps then, I really needn’t have gotten a Meanie at all. When one of the product features is of its being ‘Totally gross!’, you have to realise that its ability to be repugnant might be of mild importance. The significance of Meanies was clearly lost on me that day.

Retrospectively, I made the right choice. Boris looked like shit; at least Fi-Do was aesthetically pleasing. He’s a two-headed dog with his eyes and ears all mixed up. Hehe he’s fun.

But really, Fi-Do offers little else other than some jumbled features. He’s just a sad little sack of beans, and I can’t picture him making anyone’s day. Just imagine the look of chagrin on a little girl’s face when she unwraps her present, and out comes Fi-Do?

Christ, I’m disappointed for her, and she doesn’t even exist.

Look, the Meanies idea is nothing that hasn’t been done before, and done much better. Remember the Garbage Pail Kids? Originally Cabbage Patch-esque collectible cards (before copyright infringement opted them to decrease the similarity) with grotesque qualities. Pimply Acne Amy, multi-eyed Starin’ Darren, Max Axe the executor, or my personal favourite, Adam Bomb, who simply exploded.

These characters were legitimately disgusting, or in some cases even frightening. I mean, shit, Brady Back Ribs was a baby that was eating his own ribs. People bitch about Ricky Gervais praising his atheism, when we once had a self-cannibalising toddler appearing as stickers on children’s textbooks. If it helps raise your concern at all, I’m fairly sure Brady is an atheist, too.

By comparison, Meanies are just mildly quirky. Boris is nothing more than a dinosaur with some glue on its nostrils. Snake Eyes Jake is a snake with a pair of dice for eyes. Otis Octopunk on the other hand, he looked pretty cool. They should have just released a shitload of Otises. I’d be down with that.

Without having really done a lot to describe the toy itself, I feel as though I’ve limited your scope of appreciation for Fi-Do. The only thing I can really offer is that he’s proportionately awkward. Which seems like a really obvious statement to make on a two-headed dog, but like, his body is so tiny, but his legs are remarkably long.

Why for, Fi-Do? Doth thy seek’st a lengthy trek? This is an appropriate thing, because I fear as though he will change hands many more times from here on before he finds a good home. Let’s put it this way; if this doggie went to the pound, I wouldn’t like his chances.

Also worth mentioning is that there is a section of Ty Inc’s website called ‘Ty Girlz’.

…I certainly hope they’re not retired…