So it’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a day where hardly anybody’s going to bother going on the Internet to read anything. Yet, the PopCulteer always comes on Friday and with the bonus of knowing that not too many people are going to bother reading this, I’m going to take this week for a self-indulgent visit to my own past as a nationally published columnist.
Back in the late 1990’s, I was the action figure columnist for Toy Trader Magazine. Toy Trader was a competitor to Krause Publications’ Toy Shop and thanks to having several pages of high quality articles each month, we were rapidly eating away at Toy Shop’s readership. This came to a sudden end when Toy Trader’s parent company was aquired by Toy Shop’s parent company and our magazine was assimilated into theirs. Since Krause only paid one-tenth as much as we were getting from Toy Trader Magazine, none of the writers made the leap to the new publication. I continued covering action figures for MasterCollector.com for a few years, but then moved on to this here PopCult blog of which you should already be aware.
The column I wrote for Toy Trader was “Facts On Figures,” which I took over from John Michlig, who left to work on the Masterpiece Edition GI Joe book/reproduction set. Filling John’s shoes was a huge task, but I quickly came to enjoy babbling about my hobby for what remains the best paying gig I ever had in the hobby journalism business.
One of the features I added to the column to put my own stamp on “Facts On Figures” was “Cheesy Knockoff Of The Month.” Longtime readers of this column probably know that I’m a toy collector, but one of the things I love about the toy industry is the way small manufacturers come out of the woodwork to create slapdash imitations of hit toys. I enjoyed writing about cheesy knockoffs because I could rip into them with the snarkiest, unrestrained glee, and not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. It was so much fun that I continued that portion of the column, writing “Cheesy Toy Knockoff” for MasterCollector.com up until a few years ago.
But it’s been a while since I have unloaded a verbal barrage on a worthy, crappy toy. Luckily for you, while I haven’t written about cheesy toys for a while, I never really stopped accumulating them. So this week, I’m going to dive into the toy vault and pull out an impressive load of crap to share with you. The funny thing is, we’re going to start off with a cheesy knockoff that’s actually pretty well done. Get yer wadin’ boots ready. Here we go…
Probably the hottest toy on the market right now is Mattel’s Monster High line. These are fashion dolls with a horror angle. Monster High is the high school where the offspring of classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolfman gather during their awkward teen years. For some reason, this toy line has clicked with young girls and has even reversed a twenty year demographic trend. For a long time, girls have been abandoning fashion dolls at earlier and earlier ages. Right now, few girls above the age of nine have any interest in Barbie. However, Monster High is selling not just to young girls, but to teenagers and even college age women. Perhaps this is a side effect of Hot Topic stores becoming mainstream. I don’t know, but it’s a rare bright spot for a very troubled toy industry.
And as such, other toymakers are scrambling to imitate the success of Monster High. The makers of Bratz have created Bratzillas, which are just a direct swipe from the Monster High concept, and Novi Stars, which put an alien spin on the fashion doll concept. But our eyes were drawn to a cheap “five bucks a doll” knockoff line available only at Family Dollar stores called Midnight Magic. This line comes from the makers of Barbie’s fourth rate wannabe, Lovely Patsy.
The premise of the Midnight Magic dolls is that four high school students stayed late after school one day and drank an experimental potion left behind by a teacher, which turned their skin different colors and gave them powers and abilities and all that hooty hoo, and essentially made them look like space prostitutes.
The remarkable thing is that this is a high quality knockoff, well worth the five bucks. I guess it’s a sign of the power of the internet age that this cheesy knockoff has its own websitewhere you can learn the storyline and find out more about the characters, Adele, Mila, Kayley, and Pippa. The figures come packaged in a slightly coffin shaped box and are built along the lines of the Monster High figures, missing a couple points of articulation.
The fact that the premise of the toy line has hints of inappropriate after school behavior with a professor and drug abuse makes it all the more entertaining. The reason the line is called Midnight Magic is that the girls turn into their new personalities at midnight and then turn back at dawn. So we can also add split personalities and all night carousing to the list of behaviors which this line encourages in young ladies. As knockoffs go, this is a pretty darn good one.
Now we’ve got something really cheesy. Super Hero, which was acquired years ago from some forgotten retailer, is not a superhero. He’s a knockoff of a giant anime style robot, possibly a Gundam. His name is Super Hero because he was apparently made by people for whom English is not their primary language.
Super Hero features a mere four points of articulation, meaning his arms move at the shoulders, his legs move at the hips, but that’s it. He’s molded in gray plastic with gold paint and stickers and comes with a sword and shield which plug into holes in his fist. The figure is about a foot tall and is blister packed on a huge, full color card which is adorned with what are possibly bootleg images from anime.
One of the lovely things about this knockoff is the legends printed on different parts of the card as fine print. One of them says, “SPECIFICATIONS COLOURS AND CONTENTS MAY VARY FROM ILLUSTRATIONS”, but the winner down at the bottom of the card is “ALL KINDS OF TOYS ARE SELECTED FREELY BY YOU”. Thank God that we finally have a toy that we are not forced to purchase at gunpoint!
This winner gets extra cheese points for combining an illogical name with a lame toy and goofy fine print.
Action Figures Fighters
This is a special half-assed knockoff because it’s a toy line that has been running at least ten years and can still be found occasionally at Rite Aid, among other places. It is a line of action figures called “Action Figures.” They come in all shapes and sizes, with minor variations over the years. But they all have this weird backing card with a green and orange border and a blue and yellow geometric design. This is a product of Jaru, a company that specializes in cheap “rack toys.”
This particular example is a five inch tall figure and it’s pretty clearly supposed to be Rambo. The figure itself looks like hell, with Godawful sculpting and poor articulation. This is pretty typical of the Action Figures line of action figures, though they range in size from two inches tall to eight inches tall, depending on what hot toy they’re trying to imitate. This one gets special cheese points for the generic packaging, the lousy sculpting, and the fact that it was bought at Rite Aid.
Police Force 2002
Police Force 2002 is a three and three quarter inch action figure purchased for ninety-nine cents at Big Lots. It is remarkable because it claims to be a S.W.A.T. figure playset but is in fact a knockoff of RoboCop in silver plastic, wearing a tiny gold vest. His accessories include a large, unrealistic looking gun and a police shield. So in this line we have a movie knockoff, re-purposed as a regular police S.W.A.T. figure with five points of articulation and it sold for less than a dollar.
However, the big cheese factor for this toy has nothing to do with it being swiped from RoboCop or re-purposed. The cheesiest thing about Police Force 2002 is that it was released in 2005.
Technically, this one is “Marvel Just Hero.” As you can clearly see in the photo, it’s Spider-Man. There is a button on Spider-Man’s back that lights up a red LED in his chest for no reason.
This ten inch tall action figure was purchased at the late, lamented Silver Dollar store in Barboursville, which was a treasure trove of outright crap. Sadly, it has been replaced by a Dollar Tree, with its slightly more respectable assortment of outright crap. But like Dollar Tree, everything at Silver Dollar cost a mere buck.
For a dollar, you got a ten inch action figure of Spider-Man who could only bend at the hips and shoulders. But he did have that pointless light-up feature.
The remarkable thing about this toy is the backing card. Even though it says Marvel at the top, clearly visible in the background are Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, the Power Rangers, and Ben Affleck as Daredevil, also a very large “No Turn” traffic sign. Just Hero is more a bootleg than a cheesy knockoff, but the cheese factor is just so high I had to include it.
Space Power Warrior
Sometimes you come across a cheesy toy that just makes you squeal “WTF?”
Space Power Warrior, purchased more than a decade ago at Fruth Pharmacy, is one such toy. This is very clearly a Star Wars knockoff. There’s a painting of a TIE Fighter and The Death Star on the backing card, no manufacturer is listed, the figure is eight inches tall, and is a very cheaply made knockoff of Darth Vader. He even has a light sabre.
And when I say cheaply made, I’m not exaggerating. This thing is made of very thin, blow molded plastic. The articulation is at the shoulders and hips and he has some paint and sticker details. In fact it’s not an exact knockoff of Darth Vader, as you can probably tell by the photo. You see, he does not have a cape. His boots are painted silver. Oh, and one other thing. He has Superman’s head.
I’m not talking about just any Superman’s head. He has the head from a mid 1990’s Kenner Toys Superman line where Superman had longer hair than normal. And that head is parked on top of Darth Vader’s body.
That’s pretty messed up. It’s not often that you find a knockoff that swipes the mold from a completely different action figure line and slaps it on a totally unrelated character.
What’s more bizzare is that there is a variation of this figure, with the body molded in red.
Heading back to Big Lots we find another classy ninety-nine cent item, Hunting Set, which is a knockoff of a series of popular Matchbox playsets that included exotic animals with die-cast cars. This set was apparently designed by people who had no concept of what constitutes politically correct. The backing card depicts a hunter with a rifle, along with two leopards, which are an endangered species. The set itself includes a die-cast Range Rover type vehicle, a palm tree, a sign with a lion on it that says “Wildlife Danger,” a tiny figure of a hunter with a gun, a tiny figure of an elephant, and a blue plastic rifle which, if it’s supposed to be in scale with the hunter, would be about twelve feet tall.
Where do we start with this set? First, you’ve got the out of scale rifle. Second, you’ve got a palm tree, which I don’t believe you will find many of in the African plains. There’s the sign, which is the type of sign you would find at a wildlife preserve, and there’s the fact that hunting elephants is pretty much illegal worldwide. And this particular elephant must be a baby because it’s only slightly bigger than the hunter.
You gotta admire the anonymous toymaker behind this set for providing so many wrong things for under a dollar.
Goozilla. What more can I say about this monstrosity? It’s blow molded, the parts don’t fit together well, and it’s just a complete mess. I had to have it in my collection.
In the wake of the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, stores were flooded with tons of generic pirate toys. One of the most interesting toys with one of the least interesting names was The Pirates. This was a poly bagged dollar store item that I picked up at a novelty store in Madison, WV a few years ago.
The figure cost a dollar and you get what you pay for. Basically, this is a twelve inch doll with a blow molded Ken knockoff body, articulated at the hips and shoulders and neck. Atop this body sits a crudely sculpted, yet charming pirate head. There were several different styles.
The figure is wearing clothing made of a bizzare, thin, nylon type material that almost seems like Tyvek, only less durable. Closures are cheap, velcro style and his boots are left over GI Joe knockoff boots that won’t even stay upon his dainty feets. He also comes with a hard plastic pirate hat, a flintlock pistol, and a sword which is molded into the scabbard. Not having gripping hands, he can’t hold the sword or the pistol.
Still, this is a knockoff with a lot of potential. The head can be transplanted to other twelve inch bodies and some of the accessories are salvageable. Plus, let’s face it–it’s not that hard to put together a scurvy pirate outfit.
The cheese factor on this one is the overall chintziness of just about everything but the head sculpt and the generic name. I will say it was well worth a dollar.
This one’s been in my collection for a long time. God only knows why. Bubbly Chubbies is a knockoff of Teletubbies. The figures look essentially like Teletubbies with more human faces, the TV sets removed from their stomachs, and their head appendages taken away, perhaps with the use of a rusty hacksaw.
The Teletubbies were nightmarish and horriffic enough on their own, but the cheesy knockoffs, with their eyes that follow you everywhere and the odd artwork on the packaging, elevate the creepiness level even higher. It’s appropriate that something this perverted looking shares its name with a euphamism for an erection.
Special Section GI Joe Knockoffs
Longtime readers of this column are probably aware that I collect twelve inch action figures like Captain Action, Johnny West, and the grandaddy of them all, GI Joe. As such, I have a large assortment of cheesy knockoffs of the twelve inch GI Joe and his accessories. We’re going to take a quick look at four of those right here.
First up, going all the way back to the 1960’s for Combat Man’s Equipment Case. Combat Man was a cheesy knockoff of GI Joe that was offered in the Sears and JC Penney’s Christmas catalogs, among other places. The figure itself is unremarkable, but this one accessory brings cheesiness to a new level. For the parent who was too cheap to buy their kid a Jeep for their twelve inch military figures, Combat Man’s Equipment Case came to the rescue.
Combat Man’s Equipment Case was a rather typical carrying case of the day, constructed of cardboard covered with vinyl, with metal clasps. But this carrying case had a difference. Printed on each side of the carrying case was a painting of a jeep. In the middle of the case, on each side, was a transparent, vinyl window. And inside the case, there was a little shelf where you could seat your action figure.
Imagine being the kid who showed up with the other neighborhood kids to play with their GI Joes and while they had official jeeps, fire rescue vehicles, or amphicats, you got to push a box around. But it wasn’t just any box. It was a box with a drawing of a jeep on the side. I’ll bet a few kids who got this for Christmas eventually wound up in the bell tower with a sniper rifle.
In the mid 1990’s, there was a revival of the twelve inch action figure and that meant there was a revival of the inexpensive twelve inch action figure knockoff. I literally have a small mountain of these. So I just picked one at random and unfortunately for you, it’s a pretty good figure. I can’t really go off on Action Team Action Figure because, aside from the generic name, it gave you a pretty good bang for your buck.
This figure was five bucks at either Dollar General or Family Dollar (I forget which) and for your money, you got a very nicely made, well-articulated action figure with a good head sculpt, a decent cloth uniform, a decent rifle, a cool but weird looking beret, and a bandolier where his belt ought to be. There’s really nothing much to complain about with this figure. He’s comparable to the GI Joe Classic Collection figures that were coming out around the same time.
Sorry for picking such a decent figure out of the pile. They can’t all be losers.
We wrap up our GI Joe section with two carded uniform accessory sets. Both of these came from Dollar Tree and both of these share the distinction of looking like a really good value…until you open them.
Rescue Team is a ski outfit. It comes with a jumpsuit, two skis, two ski poles, a rifle, and a pair of boots. Sounds great for a dollar, doesn’t it? However, the material used on the ski suit is that same weird, thin nylon that I told you about on the pirate figure. When placed on an action figure, it looks sort of like he’s wearing clothing made of garbage bags.
So the jumpsuit, which looks good in the package, is crap. The skis are about an inch too short and only work with the included boots. The included boots are made of very hard plastic and will not fit the feet of most twelve inch action figures. They are so rigid that in order to put them on any figure, you have to pry them apart because each boot is molded in two pieces. Also, the ski poles are warped and the rifle is way too small, not being the proper scale. But aside from that, it only cost a dollar.
Also a dollar is the Soldier Military Uniform Playset. Back for an encore performance in this set is a thin nylon jumpsuit, this time in camoflauge, and the rigid two piece boots. This is advertised as a twelve piece set and to get that number up, they include a belt which will not fit the figure, an M-16 which is so tiny that in real life it would be about fourteen inches long, a Western revolver, a hard plastic helmet, a walkie-talkie, watch, flashlight, pouch, and canteen, none of which are particularly well made. Also, there’s no way to attach any of the accessories to the belt that’s included with the jumpsuit. And yet, like the Rescue Team set, at least it was only a dollar.
Cars Life 2
I will apologize in advance if you were not previously aware of our final knockoff. I hope the knowledge of its existence does not leave you permanently emotionally scarred. We’re going to leave the realm of toys and venture into the world of cheesy knockoff DVD’s. “Cars Life 2” is a cheesy knockoff of Pixar’s “Cars 2.”
Let me explain that “Cars” and its sequel are my least favorite Pixar movies. Yet they were merchandising powerhouses. You can’t really blame somebody for trying to get a piece of that action. You can, however, blame the producers of this direct to DVD animated feature for creating what may well be one of the worst movies ever made.
I’m not talking about a movie that’s “so bad that it’s good.” This is a movie that is so bad that it goes beyond having any entertainment value whatsoever and enters into a realm of awfulness comparable to the lower levels of Dante’s depiction of Hell.
Lest you think I’m being a little harsh, you should be aware that the reanimated corpse of Ed Wood, Jr. could very well claw his way out of his grave, hunt down the producers, and murder them with a hatchet for making the worst movie in the world and not a single person would be surprised.
“Cars Life 2,” and yes, it’s a sequel to an almost equally bad movie, sports animation that is not quite good enough to be used in local cable television commercials. The ineptitutde in the character design and animation leaves the viewer wondering if this is actually a comedy bit where people were hired to do something this horrible on purpose. If that’s the case, this is the type of wretched art that can only be produced by misguided performance art.
We know that’s not the case, though. This is a cynical attempt to cash in on Pixar’s “Cars 2” by producers determined to spend as little money as possible. There is one absolutely entertaining and hysterical feature of this movie, but it’s not actually in the movie. The slogan for Engine 15 Media Group, LLC and Sparkplug Entertainment, the people responsible for this crime against humanity is, “The Entertainment Alternative for What the World Wants to See.”
Let that sink in for a moment. The world wants to see something? Here, look at this instead! If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at the trailer…
Are you traumatized yet? Do you want to know how worthless this DVD is? I only got a copy because when I found it at Drug Emporium, usually a source of grand cinema, it was shrink wrapped with a three disc set of cool public domain cartoons. So for five bucks, I got three DVD’s of Popeye, Betty Boop, and classic cartoons directed by Ray Harryhausen and Ub Iwerks. Plus, I got “Cars Life 2.”
The three DVD set alone was easily worth five dollars. “Cars Life 2,” due to its excretionary wretchedness, is worth at least a negative twenty dollars. So I’m basically out fifteen bucks on the deal.
And if you don’t believe me about the worthlessness of this horrrid film, which could possibly be used to drive demons out of possessed children, consider this: the ENTIRE MOVIE is posted on YouTube by someone who does not own the rights and loudly proclaims that he’s only posting it to show how awful it is. The producers of the movie have yet to file any complaints with YouTube.
Still don’t believe me?
So I saved the worst for last. If you actually watched any of that horrible thing, I need to take a moment to remind you that the phrase “bleaching my eyes” is only figurative and should never be done literally, no matter how much you feel it’s necessary.
Thank you for indulging me as I backslid into my role as the purveyor of cheesy knockoffs. I hope that you were more amused than traumatized, but I can’t guarantee that.
I have made a late decision to delay the next Radio Free Charleston for one week, but you can still check PopCult for our regular features and get ready, because we will be gearing up the PopCult Gift Guide very soon.