Thursday, June 9, 2011

All Time Top Five Action FIgure Playsets!

This post is a little nerdier than most are willing to get. But I’m living life on the edge…taking chances. Namin names. So I’m sure you’re wondering based on the title of the entry…what in the hell is a playset? Well just in case you have grown up completely and all knowledge of your childhood has left you, a playset is like a giant house/castle/environment or diorama of sorts that exists as part of an action figure toy line to enhance kids playtime scenarios (or adult collector’s dioramas). That’s pretty much the worst sentence I ever wrote, and I think that I might as well castrate myself now. Let's just say it's like a doll house for young men. So now I’m going to recount my top five playsets of all time. Before you go complaining that the massive-as-fuck GI Joe U.S.S. Flagg is not on the list (and believe me I toss and turn at night and have nightmares about passing on the thing at a comic shop that went out of business), every playset that makes this list has to be one that I had or still have at some point in my life or played with at a friend's house counting down to number one…THE MOST ENJOYABLE ACTION FIGURE ENVIRONMENT OF ALL TIME!!!

5. Star Wars Droid Factory –Kenner-1980

and on the third day the Jawas made the three legged R2 and it was good.

Boy did I play with this one a lot, even though there isn’t a WHOLE lot to it. Basically you start with a blank slate, a fresh creativity pallet: a motif of robots and sci fi and working interlocking parts stands before you cast in bright orange plastic (though mine was a bit more dull than kids who got it a decade before I did) just waiting for you to go to work on it. There’s these molded grooves in the shape of droid parts, and various parts are included with the set including tiny connectors, arms, antennae, legs, bodies, and even a chrome R2 D2 top. The idea is you have the parts here; if you have the stamina and moxy to connect 5 interlocking pieces to form R2-D2. Interestingly enough, this was the only R2 with a middle/third leg in the basic kenner line. I find it odd that in later versions of R2 they could figure out how to tool him with a sensorscope that comes up or a pop out lightsaber, but not a third leg which he has in just about every shot of the film. Also included in the Droid Factory set is a large brownish/reddish crane piece with a sliding adjustable hook to spin droids around on. Fun shit.

Because kenner loved to repaint and reuse vehicles and larger sets thinking kids wouldn’t notice (and in later lines than Star Wars, figures too), the Droid Factory was repainted and rereleased sans the droid parts as Jabba’s Dungeon in 1984 or 1985 exclusive to Sears. You’d think that if they took out the droid parts that would kind of defeat the purpose but no…one of these two sets was ten times better than the Droid Factory. One of them just came with three common action figures…but the OTHER included three rare figures from the final vintage line of star wars characters. Growing up, the acquisition of some of these “final 17” was impossible for me and in my head, they have an almost mythical status. For these reasons I think my childhood self would have traded a kidney to have owned Jabba’s Dungeon with BARADA, EV9D9 and AMANAMAN from 1985.

4. The GhostBuster’s Fire House Headquarters-Kenner-1984


Boy kenner was full of good ideas in the 80’s weren’t they? They pretty much created the existence of every action figure collector on the planet with the Star Wars line, so we owe a lot to them today. I’m sure that if time machines are invented eventually, and given the rising cost of action figures, some proactive parents are going to go back in time ala the T-800 and kill off the kenner toy people to safe them money in the future. That took a dark turn.

At any rate, kids always have use for a big old apartment building headquarters. Sure it was Ghostbusters and it had the classic logo, but any creative kid could conveniently ignore that and it could become an evil headquarters or a battle ground. You could spin the busters down the fire poll like the village people if you were so inclined, or you could trap a tiny orange ghost using the trap. I have fond memories using this playset with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures, before I discovered that there was just something fundamentally wrong with pizza-eating turtles that lived in a sewer and battled evil ninjas. Tell me if that ain’t the trippiest thing you ever heard? Also, this great playset had double doors for vehicles to park in. You couldn’t exactly fit the Millennium Falcon, but it was a good place to park a Batmobile. In regards to playsets, size DID matter, and the fact that this thing was a couple feet tall really helped its case.

3. Jurassic Park Command Compound-Kenner-1993

Watch out Jeff Goldblum, there's a gigantic terrifying child on the other side of the fence...don't let it in!

I’m now realizing that this list is made up of my five favorite kenner brand playsets. It wasn’t clear to me at first (as the choices came to me while writing except the top two) but now I’m seeing that one great company gave me so much fun over the years.

So the best dinosaur movie ever (Sorry Tree of Life) Jurassic Park had a pretty legendary toy line in its day as well. Not only were there big rubbery dinos with JP stamped on their asses and removable hunks of meat that you could pull out of their sides, but there were vehicles and human characters to beleaguer them with as well. At the center of it all was the (((ELECTRONIC))) Command Compound. So you had the iconic gate which connected to fences which surrounded the thing like a fort or some kind of battle arena and you also had TURRETS to watch over the place. It even threw down a net, if you were so inclined to catch tiny dinos or need an instant picnic set up for your Jeff Goldblum figures. You know what else I liked about this establishment? It was always open. The torches were always lit. Come right in…unless you were a big ass T Rex. Or Newman.

At the center of it was this awesome like gazebo type structure which was actually pretty good sized where your action figures could hide out, conduct their evil plans, take hostages, etc. If I recall correctly the only action figures worthy of having hideouts when I was a kid were the villains. But a good exception to the rule might be …

2. The Batcave Command Center-1992-Kenner

yet another ugly child intruding on this somber vision of Batman.

NEW YORKS HOTTEST PLAYSET IS THE BATCAVE/WAYNE MANOR…and THIS ONE HAS EVERYTHING. Garage Doors. MIDGETS. Spinning chairs. COMPUTER SCREENS. RAILINGS. But perhaps I shouldn’t imitate Stefon of SNL and denegrate this manliest of caves any further.

Planned out as part of the Kenner Dark Knight Collection in 1990 or 1991, this playset featured the stately front of the Wayne house as based on it’s appearance in Batman 89’ which folded open to reveal…THE BATCAVE on one side, and on another side a garage door interior. The best part to me was the chemical factory which also meant it could be a villain playset. It was sculpted to be Axis Chemicals from 89’ but since this toy never panned out in that film, it became Arctic World/The Penguin’s Sewer from Batman Returns. Pretty cool. It had a lot of features. Let me describe them in great detail as you read on bored or skip ahead.

So you unlocked the beast and then you could let figures fall clumsily through the sklights, swing batman on a string across the place, or even make Bruce become Batman or vice versa but spinning him around in this magic “Vault” chamber where you’d strap him in and he’d change into the Batsuit. Pretty cool. It had a good parking garage for Batmobiles, but when you had the whole ensemble closed up, this was pretty pointless. On the arctic world side, there was a falling trap door, and a vat which you could detach which was intended to be the spot where the Joker was created in 89. Now it might just be a very modern, minimalist cereal bowl.
The Batcave Command center made up for missing its release for 89 by being the most rereleased playset of all time. It was repainted with purple stripes for Batman The Animated Series, garish green for Batman Forever, Hideous blue for Batman and Robin and twice more for The New Batman Adventures in pretty normal colorings. By far the best bat cave toy…better than the toybiz one that DID come out for 89 and the other kenner one which took up half of a room for Batman Forever.

1. Ewok Village-Kenner-1983

Five identical Chief Chirpa figures on this box means that's how many I want.

Here it is, my favorite playset of all time. And I still have this one too, which is something I can only say for 3/5ths of this list. So it’s big. Check. It’s geared towards star wars. Check. It’s nature-y. Check. It’s Return of the Jedi themed. Double Check. It’s intended for use with ewoks. I’m pretty sure the Kenner gods made this specifically for me. And just about every other fanboy who was ewok crazy. We’re talking hours of enjoyment on this thing. Why climb a try and risk breaking an arm when you can send your ewoks up into their lavish tree fort via an elevator pully system? Don’t like that stupid fuckin tauntaun? Throw a net over it’s head, raise it up and then roast it on a spit. (Yeah seriously you can roast shit on spits in this). This played into kids more animalistic sides of their imagination. There was a chute where you could dispose of naysayers of the religion of C3PO, and even a chair for them to hoist threepio up and hail him as a god. I particularly liked the look out towers on top of the giant trees where you could perch ewoks and have them taunt stormtroopers like the Frenchmen in Monty Python.

Kenner repainted this playset as Sherwood Forest for their Robin Hood Prince of Thieves line with big ugly bursts of green flame which I assume were intended as the tops of broccoli stalks on top. Combine this with the refurbished Ewok Battle Wagon from the Power of the Force Line and the Gamorrean Guard lending his fat assed body to the friar tuck figure, and the Robin Hood line really looks like some half assed shit.

Well there ya have it. Shame I never had the USS Flagg or that awesome Well of Souls playset from the kenner indy line. Maybe someday when I’ve unlocked the infinite money cheat and I don’t have to be embarrassed screaming commands at ewoks while sitting Indian style in my backyard.

1 comment:

  1. great article. The Batman Returns batcave tops my personal list, even though I never actually owned one as a kid. :( my parents refused to spend $40 bucks on the thing back when it first came out. I keep hoping I'll run across one at a yard sale or something.