Archive | September 2013

Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 2 – The Fall of Indiana Jones

*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 1 – The Summer of Indiana Jones

The Summer of 2008 was thought by many to signal the return of one of the greatest cinematic heroes in the last 50 years: Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would reunite Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and George Lucas, as they brought Indy into the 1950’s, and the world of B-movie fare.

The toy aisles would also signal a return for Indy, as Dr Jones and his cohorts would find themselves alongside the likes of Star Wars characters in the action figure aisle, for the first time since the early 1980’s.

But by the end of that Summer, things looked different on both fronts.

Even with Crystal Skull pulling in enough money in the United States box-office to put it behind The Dark Knight and Iron Man, public opinion was that George Lucas had done to his creation, as he had done with Star Wars.  Apparently, Indy jumping out of a plane on a rubber raft, going down a mountain, through trees, and over a cliff into raging waters was acceptable…but the idea of Indy being flung from an atomic blast inside a refrigerator was considered ridiculous.

While the film slowly began to leave theaters as summer turned to fall, the one place where Indy could still be found, was in the toy aisles. Many stores had eagerly ordered plenty of stock, but by the end of the summer, very few of the toy aisle pegs had been cleared out. Of course, the general consensus is that when one line doesn’t sell well, the ordering of the next stock for that line will decrease quite a bit.

This was the case when it came to the next wave of figures, based around 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Needless to say, the honeymoon was over. While there would be acknowledgement of the fans of the film series, it seemed a given that the demand for these figures, was not on the same level as that of Star Wars. Empirical Stormtroopers in armor and strange-looking alien creatures could enthrall children, but German Stormtroopers and men in well-dressed clothing didn’t push their buttons.

When it came time for the Last Crusade to roll out in stores, it was done with as much fanfare as putting on a new pair of socks.

Unlike the 9 figures from Crystal Skull, and the 8 figures from Raiders, Last Crusade’s line-up would only number 6:

*(Left to Right): Indiana Jones, Dr Henry Jones, Elsa Schneider, Col Vogel, The Grail Knight, Young Indy*

In terms of quality, the Last Crusade line would hang somewhere between the more accurate Crystal Skull figure sculpts, and the more generic Raiders ones. Here are a few images of the figure details of this line:

In terms of Elsa’s head (upper left), the fact that they sculpted and painted a stray hair out of place on her head, was a cool sign of going above and beyond. Even the pages of Henry’s Grail Diary (second from left), they included little bookmarks, and some frayed edges on the pages. One detail that shows how times have changed, is in Col Vogel’s armband on his left arm (upper right). The picture doesn’t show it too well, but there is a faint circular area where a certain symbol should go. One has to assume that this decision to not include the character’s detail, had to have been made after the molds had been approved.

Much like the Crystal Skull line, some gigantism ran through this line. Just take a look at Henry Jones Sr, next to Henry Jones, Jr (from the Crystal Skull) line, and Henry Jones III (aka Mutt):

This size difference perplexed me quite a bit, considering how well scale and sizing had been done with the Star Wars figures. Then again, maybe Sean Connery and Shia LaBeouf  had final say of their sculpts, and felt that their heads weren’t big enough.

And, if you really wanted to have some fun times with accessories, just try keeping Henry’s glasses on his face. The fact that those glasses are incredibly small, makes them easy to lose.

Of all the figures included in this wave, I felt the biggest disappointment was The Grail Knight (left). We all know he’s supposed to be incredibly old, but the articulation job on his legs is rather sad. Unlike the other figures, he cannot stand up straight. He has no ankle articulation, and the jointing of his legs, makes him look as if he’s about to collapse from exhaustion.

Even with a semi-decent paint-job, some semi-decent detail (as seen above), and the True Grail that comes with him, he’s probably one of the weakest in the line. In fact, I think this picture gives the figure more dignity, than if you were to see him in person.

Though there are 6 figures here, only 5 tie into the quest for the Grail. The sixth gives us Indy as we saw him in a previous adventure. Portrayed by River Phoenix, we saw the action-packed (yet semi-ludicrous) story of how Indy gained his penchant for uncovering lost relics, and the action-packed way he would escape from his would-be captors.

There has never been a number released on just how many boxes of the Last Crusade wave were made, but it surely had to have been a very small number compared to the summer of 2008’s releases.

I searched high and low at various stores, but in the end, I only managed to find them at one store: K-Mart. But even there, my searching only found me one figure: The Grail Knight.

Even this would be a briefly-lived triumph, as once I got him home and started to pose him, his left arm, from forearm-to-hand, snapped off!

Over the course of the next few years, I would slowly hunt these figures across the internet, and various comic conventions. The younger and regular Indy figures were the ones priced decently, but when it came to Elsa and Col Vogel, that was a different story. In-package, these two would often fetch prices of $18 and up. Luckily, I was able to find a few loose ones for around $8 apiece.

I often-times try not to ‘dream of what might have been,’ but when a line like this comes out to a popular film, one can’t help but imagine a lot of the missed opportunities for figure and vehicles.

The Last Crusade line is the only one where the main villain was not made into a figure. Walter Donovan (above left) went around through much of the film wearing a nice suit, and that might have made him less of a draw for Hasbro to release him.

However, I doubt actor Julian Glover (who played Donovan) felt bad about not having a figure in the Indy line…because he had already been immortalized in plastic several times in the Star Wars line. Just in case you didn’t know, Glover played the Imperial Officer known as General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back, leading the AT-AT’s against the rebel assault on Hoth.

It seems that bad guys for the figure series were not considered, unless they had a non-normal dress-style. Like the Rene Belloq figure from the Raiders line. Though Belloq wore suits as well, a figure was only produced of him wearing the ceremonial garb from the end of that film.

The only vehicle from the film that saw release, was a German soldier on a motorcycle (right). Many have mentioned that it would have been great to have released Indy and his Dad in a motorcycle/side-car set, but there was one vehicle that many would have loved to have seen on store shelves:

Almost noone can talk about this film without mentioning the action setpiece in the desert, with the German tank. However, it can be assumed that this vehicle would have run somewhere in the $100-$120 price range. With a price-point like that, the series would have had to have been selling like gangbusters before Hasbro would have committed to making it.

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*Next Time: Indiana Jones and his cohorts managed to escape from the Temple of Doom…but would their action figures be doomed to never see the shores of the United States? Find out in Part 3 – The Winter of Indiana Jones*

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Book Review: Remembering Roy E Disney – Memories and Photos of a Storied Life

In this day and age, it can be hard to remember sometimes, that the name Disney is not some kind of corporate-created name. A friend of mine who works at a local Disney Store, was once asked by some foreign visitors, “Why Disney? Why did the company decide on a name like that?”

Of course, for those of us who know its history, the name Disney was the last name of the company’s founders: Walt Disney, and his brother, Roy O Disney. While Walt seemed the dreamer of the two, it was Roy who often found himself trying to find the funds for his younger brother’s next big dream.

After their passing, many people would come to run The Walt Disney Company, but not with the same last name. However, in the last 30 years, there was a Disney who played an important role behind-the-scenes: Roy E Disney (Walt’s nephew, and Roy O’s son).

It was Roy’s idea in the 1980’s to bring in outsiders to help revitalize the company, as many lucrative business people looked at the studio as little more than a hot commodity to sell off. After searching high and low, Roy brought in Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells. These three men, over the course of the next 10 years, would help bring about a renaissance that would elevate the status of the company into an entertainment powerhouse, that is still growing to this day.

Still, one area that many fans like myself know Roy from, is in his love and struggles to keep alive what he felt was the studio’s legacy: animation. In the early 80’s, the animation division was in danger of getting axed. Even though he didn’t have any animation experience, Roy requested to the new management, that he be given a role in helping out with this portion of the company.

One person who was also there at the time, was Dave Bossert. A graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, Dave began his career as an effects animator on The Black Cauldron, which was in production during this transitional period. Since then, Dave has worn many hats at Disney, and currently is Creative Director and Head of Special Projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Over the course of his 30 years working at the studio, Dave was able to work with Roy in several capacities, notably on numerous animated features within the company. In regards to special projects, Dave would spend 5 years working with Roy on Fantasia 2000, and then another couple of years finishing up the uncompleted Walt Disney/Salvador Dali concept, known as Destino.

After Roy’s passing from stomach cancer in December of 2009, Dave had a small talk with Don Hahn (a producer at the Disney Studios), and they began to share their remembrances and stories about Roy. Dave felt there were so many things to say about this man, and Don recommended that Dave write them in a book.

Dave then began a 2 year journey, in which he would consult with members of Roy’s family (such as his wife Leslie, and his son, Roy Pat), and several others at the studio. The results of his work now occupy over 209 pages, in the latest release from Disney Publishing.

When starting to read this book, it is important to know that Dave is not here to tell you Roy’s life story. Moreso, it is his, and many others recounting a man who seemed elevated in status because of his famous name, but was something much more than that. One can see Roy E Disney walking down from that lofty pinnacle and asking us, ‘now, why did you put me up there in the first place? It’s much more comfortable down here.”

Dave’s recollections tell of a man so down-to-earth, that one of his favorite things, was eating a hot dog at his local Costco! That was one thing that Roy seemed to inherit from the Disney family: the ability to not let fame and celebrity status get the better of you. Roy wanted to be known on a first-name basis (much like how Walt would not let you call him “Mr Disney”), and he even had no qualms about driving his own car.

And, also like his Uncle Walt, he was not going to let some things just be ‘good enough.’ When a law required an art piece be added to the Burbank property Roy’s company (Shamrock Holdings) would occupy, a budget of only $25,000 was allocated. The first concept was shown to Roy by his business partner, Stanley Gold. Roy didn’t care for what was being considered, and told Stanley he’d handle things.

In the end, the art piece ended up being made by a member of Walt Disney Imagineering. It depicted a man behind an old-fashioned hand-crank film camera. Now, Stanley said their budget was $25,000. The final cost for the statue? $225,000. Of course, that extra $200,000 came right out of Roy’s pocket.

“That was his attitude,” Stanley was quoted as saying. “He didn’t know how much it cost. It’s typical of Roy. He would like to do it right, and he didn’t know, nor did he care how much it would cost.”

The book also gives an insight into one of Roy’s great passions: sailing. Dave gives a whole chapter over to telling of Roy’s love of sailing his boat, the Pyewacket, in the Transpac, a race from Newport, CA, to Honolulu, HI.

Much of the book is filled with pictures, the majority of which are in black-and-white. They cover everything from early family photos, all the way to the final months of Roy’s life. At times, it almost feels like the book overwhelms us with pictures,  but they seem to act like a cocoon, keeping us enfolded in these remembrances.

Though I had heard Roy’s name mentioned many times through the years, his face really came into the public’s eye, when he set out to continue one of his favorite films, Fantasia. After a limited VHS release of the film in 1991 resulted in large sales numbers, Roy made a request to Michael Eisner to follow Walt Disney’s original idea of making another Fantasia. The result would be Fantasia 2000, and in the months leading up to its release, I remember I was rabid for any news I could find on it. I even provided information for a piece on the film in my hometown newspaper, The Waterloo Courier, when it came out in regular theaters in June of 2000.

That summer would also be the closest I would ever get to talking to Roy E Disney. During an online Q&A session about Fantasia 2000, I asked Roy if there were any plans for another Fantasia. At the time, Roy claimed they were working on pieces to include in a Fantasia that was being considered for release in 2004, or 2006. Sadly, this next iteration would not come to pass, as management at The Walt Disney Company would (at that time) begin to ‘streamline’ the company’s animation divisions. Of the proposed Fantasia pieces, only four would be completed, but find their way into other areas of the studio’s home video offerings.

It was around this time, that Roy began to grow upset with how the company was being handled. In a shocking move, he resigned from the Board of Directors at Disney, and started a campaign called Save Disney. With his business partner Stanley Gold, Roy set out to voice their opinions, that new leadership was needed, and that the Disney name at the time was being severely tarnished.

Roy’s second attempt (the first being in 1984) to save his family’s company succeeded, and with the appointment of Bob Iger as the company’s new CEO, Roy returned to the company, albeit as a consultant this time.

We all know there can never be another Walt Disney, and as Remembering Roy E Disney tells us, Roy himself was one-of-a-kind as well. Dave Bossert didn’t set out to change the world with his book, but to show the world, that there were several unknown sides to this person he considered a close and personal friend. In the end, it feels he truly has shed a little more light on a man some simply knew as, “Walt’s nephew.”

On September 13, 2013, I attended a book signing of “Remembering Roy E Disney,” at Anderson’s Bookstore, in Downer’s Grove, IL. Dave Bossert (left) and Roy P Disney (right) were in attendance, and graciously signed copies of Dave’s book, and took time to answer our questions and thoughts about Roy, and the Walt Disney Company.

Comic Review: My Little Pony – Micro-Series, Issue #7

Oftentimes with a successful television series, 21st century companies will try to find some way to keep its audiences ‘faithful’ during the show’s down-time, until a new season of episodes starts. In the case of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the dry-spell has been relieved, with the release of several comics through IDW Publishing. While a regular series has covered multi-part stories with numerous cast members, IDW also has created a micro-series. Each of the micro-series issues is meant to focus on a certain character, or group of characters.

Issue #7 marks the first issue that doesn’t deal with the “Mane 6” characters of the series, and focuses on a trio of little fillies: Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo. The three comprise a small club called The Cutie Mark Crusaders, and it is their intent that together, they intend to earn their cutie marks (aka a symbol on a pony’s flank, that tells what their ‘destiny’ is to be).

As the issue starts, the three have spent a week trying all sorts of things to find what their special talents are, but have gotten no cutie marks to show for it. When Applebloom mentions they’ve tried everything in Ponyville, Scootaloo recommends they go searching the nearby Everfree Forest for something that might help.

Their journey leads them to an underground cavern, and the discovery of a large gem. However, upon taking it back to Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle claims that the girls have not found a gem, but a creature known as a Mimicker. It can take on the form of anything, except ponies. And since the one the girls found is not an adult, it can copy many things, as it attempts to find one form it will settle on upon becoming an adult.

Hearing that the Mimicker is just a young creature also trying to find one thing that defines it, the girls eagerly adopt it into their club, and attempt to help it. However, their good intentions quickly start to stray.

The story deals a little with ‘selfishness,’ and at times, ‘using others.’ That’s the best I can say without giving too much of the story away. Suffice it to say, I’m sure many will remember back to their own youthful days, and probably draw their conclusions there.

Writer Ted Anderson and Artist Ben Bates last collaborated on Micro-Series issue #5, which dealt with a story based on the character of Pinkie Pie. Issue #5 felt a little too manic (then again, it was a Pinkie Pie story), but issue #7 is probably my second-favorite story of the entire micro-series so far. It’s structured well, and flows in a way that makes it quite a page-turner.

To me, one sign of good writing is when the comic I’m reading, feels like it could meld perfectly into the television series/movie/etc it’s based off of. It does feel that given several more pages, the story could become a proper 20+ minute television episode (maybe even containing a song as the girls try to help the Mimicker find a proper form).

The Mimicker (dubbed “Imp” when the girls find it hard to call it by its scientific name, “Globulus Improbulus”), is also a nicely-added character to the comic’s canon. Imp’s forms are defined by its blue eyes, and word balloons containing musical notes. Also of note, is that Imp’s transformations are usually accompanied by a ‘Ploip’ sound effect, which helps give it some character. Imp’s eyes become a crucial element in helping us understand its feelings, and that comes into play several times over the course of the story.

Ben Bates’ art style this time around, is much looser and ‘sketchier’ than his last outing. The rough pencil-like lines, along with digital coloring, helps give the story of the young crusaders a more child-like quality. The style definitely helps enhance the story regarding these young characters. One has to figure that if the artist had had more time, the coloration could have been rendered with watercolor and ink.

Overall, Micro-comic #7 is an enjoyable read, but just don’t expect a lot of laughs. I found it a bit more of a serious story, with a few chuckles here and there. But, don’t let that stop you from picking up one of the Micro-series’ best releases yet.

*One thing most of the series’ writers/artists are known for, is putting little pop-cultural ‘Easter Eggs’ in their issues. This ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’-styled dress Applebloom is modeling, did give me quite a chuckle. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle’s reactions help complete the scene perfectly.*