When NECA launched its line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures based on the classic cartoon series there was much rejoicing, followed by much consternation. The line was successful, some would say too successful. Product was hard to track down for collectors as only a handful of units were released to each store which meant collectors had to battle with each other and scalpers to secure the much coveted plastic. To combat this, or as a mea culpa of sorts, NECA released the much anticipated (and much celebrated) Tokka and Rahzar two-pack on its website as a made-to-order item. Collectors simply had to log on, pay up front, and then sit back and wait for NECA to deliver. The strategy must have worked well, because NECA came back in 2021 with more made-to-order items, and this time, they were for the toon line.
In the spring, NECA put up three sets of figures for pre-order. These weren’t technically made-to-order, but more like a traditional preorder. NECA let collectors pay upfront to have the company deliver later in the year, and the rest of the factory order would then go to Target like all of the other releases. Product was to be delivered in the fall, but 2021 being what it was, things got delayed. Still, two of the three solicitations made it to out in the calendar year so that isn’t too bad, and up first here is the very first solicitation from the batch: the Ultimate Pizza Monster!
The Pizza Monster appeared in the season two episode “The Case of the Killer Pizzas.” It was a memorable episode for me, and I’m not particularly sure why. Maybe it was because the plot made plenty of sense: Shredder and his cohorts sneak attack the turtles via their biggest weakness – pizza. The monster eggs looked curiously like meatballs and could be smuggled on a pie with relative ease. Once exposed to enough heat, they would hatch into little, red, terrors that when further exposed to moisture would grow into titanic, yellow, Xenomorphs. Okay, not literally since that would require some licensing agreements, but these creatures look so much like the alien from Alien that NECA would one day release a yellow Xenomorph as an homage. The title, clearly B-movie inspired, stuck in my head and it was likely aided by the episode being released on VHS. No, I did not own it, but I definitely remember seeing it often at the rental store when browsing for a movie. I may have even rented it once or twice, though my memory isn’t quite that good. Also, being a part of season two meant it was airing when the episode count for the show was pretty low. This one was likely aired and re-aired several times in the run-up to season three when the show really exploded.
Mostly though, the big, yellow, monstrosity was just a fun visual in the show and one that stuck with me over the years. When NECA’s toon line began to expand and included the larger figures in the deluxe, VHS, styled packaging I immediately began to wonder if the Pizza Monster would one day join the lineup. And sure enough, it has. Released in that same VHS box with artwork by the incredible Dan Elson, “Another One Bites the Crust” is a release I’ve been looking forward to all year.
The Pizza Monster is an imposing creature. Standing around 9″ tall, he looks up to only Chrome Dome in this line. Being that he comes from an 80s cartoon that probably didn’t have a huge budget, NECA sculptor Jon Matthews did a fantastic job of nailing down a look for this guy. The presentation within the episode can be a bit erratic, but when I look at this sculpt I see the Pizza Monster as it was supposed to be presented in every frame. The creature is obviously Xenomorph inspired with its elongated head and slender frame. I have the figure at 9″, but it’s definitely designed to be hunched over. The arms and legs are quite long which are terrific for setting up a pose. I love the almost smile expression it sports which adds a sinister quality to what was basically a mindless, rampaging, beast in the show. There’s some nice texture as well giving this creature a bug quality with ridges on the thighs and bumps on the head.
What really helps make the Pizza Monster stand out is the excellent paint job devised by the duo of Geoffrey Trapp and Mike Puzzo. Like most of the of the figures in the line, there’s a bisected quality to the paint with a bright yellow utilized as the dominant color on the front of the figure and more of a mustard on the back. That part works as well as it usually does, but what really makes this guy pop is the embellishments on the front. There’s the usual black line work to help bring out a lot of the details of the carapace and musculature, and NECA added swaths of white paint to the yellow. The inclusion of which, especially on the creature’s head, really brings out the “pizza” element of Pizza Monster. It’s not a connection I ever made with the source material, but the figure almost looks like it’s composed of melted cheese and it’s just a really neat approach. I don’t know if that’s what NECA was going for, but it’s my take-away.
The presentation of this figure is a homerun, where things are going to get a little dicey is in the articulation. First of all, this figure, despite being on the larger end, has all of the same points of articulation one would expect. It starts at the head, where the figure is on a ball peg with a second one at the base of the neck. This may be an odd thing to say, but this figure has the best head of any other figure in the line. It can look up, and way down which is crucial for a larger character, and he can swivel, tilt, and basically convey any emotion you want. The jaw is articulated so you can pose the creature screaming, biting, grinning, etc. I love it whenever NECA can get an articulated jaw into a figure and this is obviously one that benefits greatly from it. At the shoulders are the customary ball-hinges and past that are the unusual NECA double-jointed elbows with a swivel/hinge above and below the elbow and a long joiner in between. They’re very tight, but seem to work, and the unusual look of the joint works on a monster like this. At the wrists are the usual swivel and hinge combo and they too are tight. Painted joints obviously contribute to the tightness (and when the paint flakes off it leaves behind pale, yellow, plastic so that’s not an eyesore like it is with some other figures), but it also feels like they’re intentionally engineered to be tight considering this is a big figure. The diaphragm features a ball-joint that allows for some forward and back motion, but mostly works to give the character a swivel since there’s no waist twist.
All of that is fine, where things go south is below the belt. First of all, we have a tail which, like many tailed figures in the line, comes unassembled in the box. Attaching the tail was fairly painless, and it’s probably the best tail we’ve seen in the line. It’s just a ball joint so the range isn’t tremendous, but NECA made the tail a wired one so you can bend it and position it as you deem fit. It’s much thicker than a rat tail or the whip accessory we saw with the Punk Frogs so there’s really no worry about the wire eventually breaking through. I wish Leatherhead had the same. At the hips are the now standard ball-joints we’ve been seeing for over a year now. These have a tendency to be loose on some figures, and on the Pizza Monster they’re okay. Not as bad as the frogs, but they could stand to be tighter as the figure can be a challenge to pose as the weight of it wants to force the figure to do a split. At the knee is a double-joint and it’s fine with appropriate tolerance.
The hips are a disappointment, but the real issue comes last: the ankles. These ankles have already acquired a bit of a reputation in collector circles. I know I’ve seen a few who broke the ankle on their figure trying to break the joint in. The joint itself is a hinge with ankle rocker or pivot. Twitter user Uncle J took the joint apart to have a look and see what was the issue if you’re interested, but what it boils down to is you have a painted joint, short peg, and there’s apparently a ratchet added as well. Ratchet joints are like regular joints, but with added grooves or teeth to improve tolerance. This is often used with large, heavy, figures so they can hold a pose without the weight of it dragging it down. The problem here is the ankle rocker is so tight that it’s not even obvious the figure has one. I personally sought out reviews, which I never do on a product I plan to review myself, to make sure the figure actually had them. And what I found is a lot of the same problems.
First of all, the hinge is fine. It’s tight, but I was able to get it moving without resorting to heat. For the rocker, I went to my standby which is hot water. The problem with heating a joint is it makes the plastic soft and malleable. With this particular joint, you can heat it up and move it, but you don’t know if you’re moving the joint as intended or just bending the plastic and it’s very easy to go too far and shear the peg off, with or without heat. I tried clamping down where the peg meets the ankle, but after a few attempts I only got the joint to work a little. I wasn’t willing to really push it because I don’t want a broken toy. Unfortunately, heating the feet up to get this amount of range had a drawback. With the joint loose, now the figure is even more likely to fall down. It starts with those hips, but now the ankles don’t make up for that at all as the hinge is looser than it was before. Prior to heating it up, I had a figure that stood easily, but just couldn’t do anything dynamic with the feet. Now I have a figure with more range, but the looseness in the legs limits how I can pose it. I could get a stand, and if you look at my pictures you may be able to tell I’m using the combination of the figure’s tail and the windows of the diorama to prop it up, but it’s a blemish on what was shaping up to be a contender for best figure in the line.
The Pizza Monster is an excellent looking figure let down by some flawed engineering. It’s also a figure that doesn’t really bring much to the table in terms of accessories. I suppose a monster doesn’t need much, but it’s a little uncharacteristic with these deluxe, or ultimate, releases to see so few accessories in the box. For starters, we have the hatching Pizza Monster which previously came with the April set. It’s small, red-orange, and looks fine. There’s very little paint on it and no articulation, but it doesn’t require much. It would have been fun to get a new pose, but NECA obviously had to factor in costs and the tooling on the figure itself probably has little or no reuse possibilities down the road. There’s also a pizza, because you can’t have a pizza monster without pizza! It’s a yellow, UFO, box and NECA finally added a hinge! This can actually open and close and the pizza inside is removable. It’s a fairly basic looking pizza so no peanut butter or jelly beans to be found. Lastly, we have some tracking device used by Donatello. NECA’s Trevor Zammit, who oversees this line, recently conducted an interview with The Fwoosh where he talked about how there are a million different such devices in the show and they basically try to squeeze them in whenever possible. I’m a bit surprised they went this route here, as Baxter uses a similar, handheld, device to control the Pizza Monsters which could have been included, but I definitely like how NECA tries to sneak Easter Eggs into their releases like this.
NECA’s take on the Pizza Monster is nearly a homerun. Call it a triple, I suppose. It looks awesome and is a lot of fun to mess around with (save for the scary ankles) and I definitely appreciate NECA making it so easy to obtain. There are issues though. It’s light on accessories (other than Kerma, I think this is the only figure without extra hands) and the ankles are a problem. They’re a big enough problem that some don’t even have the luxury of breaking out of the box. I actually ordered two of these figures, but you only see one in my pictures because the other one arrived with a foot already broken off in the package. I reached out to NECA and within a half hour I had a prepaid shipping label to send it back for an exchange. NECA received it on the 30th of December and I have yet to receive a shipping notice for the exchange. I’ll update this accordingly later on.
Even with the issues, I still think this is a figure worth owning, and if you’re really into screen accuracy I suppose you need two additional ones. I think I’ll be happy with two as it’s already challenging to find room for all of these releases. If you missed out on the preorder, the figure should be hitting Target in the coming weeks where I assume it won’t be a huge challenge to find given how the past few releases have gone. The price on NECA’s website was $35, but it’s possible it could retail a little above that as there have been price increases since April. Good luck to all who are on the hunt!
UPDATE: I received my replacement pizza monster, as promised, from NECA on the 13th of January, exactly 2 weeks after receiving the broken one. It took a little longer than promised, but it got here, and that’s all that matters. And to my surprise, it didn’t arrive alone. There must have been a mix-up at the warehouse, as rather than send me one replacement they re-sent my order of 2 so I got an extra pizza monster out of it. Now, I did alert NECA’s customer service to the error, but it’s been a week and they never responded so I guess I’m good to keep it. Now I’ll have a toon accurate trio of pizza monsters, so if all it took was an extra 2 week delay, then I’d say that’s more than a fair trade-off.