Category Archives: Film

Marvel Legends Deadpool 2 Two-Pack

Look through my various toy reviews and you’ll probably notice that I’m not much of a Marvel guy. That wasn’t always the case for me though as I was huge into Marvel Legends once upon a time. I basically stopped around the time Hasbro was awarded the Marvel license. I felt there was a dip in quality and also the character assortment stopped appealing to me. I knew what I wanted from the line and had wanted for years, but it seemed the line refused to give me what I wanted. I moved on, and it wasn’t long after the line was actually suspended for quite a few years before it made a comeback. I’ve never gone back though and that’s largely just due to my fading interest in the Marvel Universe.

Pardon the stock boxed photo, I was so eager to check this set out I forgot to snap a pic.

One figure I did review though was the Marvel Legends Deadpool. That figure was from the sixth series released by Toy Biz. I reviewed it simply because it’s the only Marvel Legends figure on display in my house. All of the rest are in bins crammed in an attic and most of the choicest figures have been sold. I liked that Deadpool a lot though when it came out so I did a little post on it. Well, when I was walking through an aisle at my local Target I happened upon one of the latest two-packs released by Hasbro in the Marvel Legends line. And that two-pack is the Deadpool and Negasonic Teenage Warhead set from the film Deadpool 2. It’s an eye-catching window box as it’s done up in red with Deadpool “effects” added to it like marker crossing out the figure’s real names and a faux Deadpool sticker placed over the X-Men logo. Since I still have a Deadpool on display in my house, I was really intrigued in having an updated version of the character to go with it. It turned into an impulse buy, so here we are.

She looks the part.

First off, let’s talk about the other figure in this set: Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who will now be referred to simply as NTW. I have little to no interest in this figure, but if I wanted a new Deadpool I had to get her. She is depicted in her Deadpool 2 costume complete with the mohawk hairstyle. She stands a tick under five and half inches to the top of her forehead, and is a bit taller when you factor in the hair. She looks the part and the face is a good likeness for actress Brianna Hildebrand. The sculpt features some nice texture work on the yellow portion of the chest as well as the sleeves and shoulders. Strangely, the pants feature no such touches and are basically just plain, black, plastic with some yellow painted on at the thighs. It would be okay if this were a figure based on a comic, but not a film. The only other aspect of the sculpt I’m not high on is how her head sits on her neck. The cut just looks odd from the side as there’s quite a gap between the back of her head and neck. I suppose the counter here is how many people are going to pose her on a shelf at a side angle? Probably few.

I don’t like that gap on the back of her neck.

NTW does come packed with quite a bit of functional articulation. Her head may look odd on her neck, but it can roll around effortlessly and she has a solid range of motion when looking up and down. The shoulders are ball-jointed and she has a bicep swivel and double-jointed elbows allowing her to bend about 90 degrees. It looks like the bottom joint should allow for movement past 90, but my figure doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. She has hinges and swivels at the wrist and an upper torso joint. It works more to pivot her side to side as she has little to no movement forward and back. The legs attach via ball-joints and can swivel. She also has a thigh cut and double-jointed knees. There’s a boot cut and her feet possess hinges as well as the ability to rock side to side. Being she’s not the most acrobatic of superheroes, this strikes me as a perfectly acceptable amount of articulation for this figure. It’s all integrated well into the sculpt and should you want to get creative I don’t think you’ll be limited too much.

Hands open.
Hands closed.

When it comes to accessories, NTW is a bit lacking, but also there’s not a ton of room to really add much. She comes with two sets of hands: fists and open style pose hands. They pop off and on easily enough and both are suitable for posing with this figure. She also has a pair of energy effects that wrap around her forearms. They’re okay, a little too flimsy for my liking, but the translucent yellow-orange plastic is a good look. That’s it though, but like I said, I’m not really sure what else would make sense for her to have.

Oh you are one sexy superhero.
And the view from behind, because the audience demands it.

The real draw of this set, for me and probably most who pick it up, is Deadpool. And to Hasbro’s credit, the company seems to be well aware of that. He comes with a lot more stuff than his boxmate and a lot more care went into his sculpt as well. First of all, this is a Deadpool 2 version of the character’s costume, though he does come with two sets of all black gloves, reflecting his appearance from the first film. I think Hasbro intends for this to be a catch-all version of the character, though the shoulder strap is clearly based on the sequel. Regardless, it’s not that important since his costume was pretty similar from one film to the next and he very much looks like Deadpool.

Home Alone face!
Sometimes a hero just needs to chill.

Deadpool stands at around six and a quarter inches and scales well with NTW. I assume he scales well with the other figures in this wave, but I also don’t have them to confirm. The sculpt is pretty involved with this guy as he has lots of seams, straps, and buckles, all over the place. The entire costume is well textured and looks like it was pulled from the film and there’s some minor battle damage on his chest as well. The belt Hasbro put on him is floating, so it doesn’t hinder his articulation to the degree one would expect. It’s also painted and sculpted quite well, at least on the front. Hasbro went cheap on the rear of the figure as the pouches are not painted to the degree the ones on the front of the belt are. Like the head on NTW, it’s something that won’t really show on a shelf, but come on, Hasbro! That’s pretty cheap. There’s also some errors here and there when comparing this costume with the film. The sculpt seems to be all there, it’s just some parts (in particular, the boot area and the collar) are either unpainted or painted black when they should be red, or vice versa. My figure also has one paint chip on the black portion of his abdomen and I’m frustrated at myself for not noticing that in the package since I had my pick from around half a dozen sets at the store.

Let’s pose!
Gun fight? Knife fight? Deadpool is always prepared.

Deadpool, essentially being a superhero ninja, is pretty well stacked when it comes to articulation. His head appears to be on a dumbbell joint giving him movement at the head and base of the neck. The collar Hasbro has on him limits the movement a bit, but it’s fine. The shoulders are on butterfly joints that give him some inward motion without marring the chest portion of the sculpt. They’re also ball-jointed and his elbows double-jointed and he can bend well past 90 degrees as he can basically do a full curl. The hands are hinged and also able to rotate, as expected. He does have an ab crunch and the way his costume is designed makes it work well with the sculpt. The waist can swivel and you can slide his belt up a bit to make it work. He’s ball-jointed at the legs with rotation there to go along with a thigh cut below it. The knees are double-jointed and his feet are hinged with rocking action. I’m a little surprised at the lack of a boot-cut or swivel down there, but it’s fine.

Let’s get messy!

The articulation Hasbro packed into this figure is plenty enough to get him into various poses, which comes in handy since he has a lot of stuff to pose with. In terms of hands, Deadpool has two all black fists and a pair of all black open, style pose, hands. His gripping hands have the back of each painted silver and his set of trigger hands are the same reflecting his appearance in Deadpool 2. I’m still not sure if this was intentional, or if the all black hands just weren’t painted by mistake. He also has an assortment of weapons including two katanas which fit neatly into the scabbards affixed to his back and a pair of handguns he can wield. They look like action guns in that the bolt appears to be set back like it’s being fired, either that or they’re some weird, made-up, pistol. He also has a pair of holstered handguns that Hasbro, for some reason, glued in place. I’ve seen some people get these out and they’re completely separate pieces, but mine are well stuck. He also has a knife which can slot into the little holster on his left ankle. You’re unlikely to pose him with the knife in hand, but I like that it’s included. Lastly, he has his stuffed unicorn and it’s pretty adorable. I actually might have to pose him with that for the sake of comedy.

Deadpool really is just a fantastic figure. I have some nitpicks with the paint, but I think the sculpt is great and I love all of the articulation Hasbro was able to work into this figure. My biggest complaint with my old Deadpool figure was with how that sculpt prioritized articulation ahead of aesthetics and some of the joints, in particular the shoulders, are kind of ugly. I have no such complaints here and really my only other complaint is with those guns Hasbro glued in. I love that Deadpool comes with lots of stuff, so it drives me a little crazy that he can’t holster the guns he’s intended to grip because his holsters are occupied by more guns!

I’d say things have improved over the last 15 or so years.

NTW is a fine figure as well. I’m disappointed that Hasbro seemed to phone it in on her lower half sculpt, but she looks the part and has all of the articulation she needs. Let’s be realistic though, if I could have bought Deadpool solo I would have. I’m not collecting Marvel Legends and I don’t plan on adding to this Deadpool collection either. Maybe Hasbro will get me to grab Cable if I run into him since I already have these two, but probably not. It’s great to see the Deadpool franchise getting some love from Hasbro though since it’s presently in limbo as far as films go. It was very successful for 20th Century Fox, but in the hands of Disney it feels like it doesn’t have a home. We know the company likely has plans for the whole X-Men Universe. I hope Deadpool is a part of those plans, but who can say? This figure sure kicks ass though!

I found this set at Target, but it’s being sold elsewhere as well. You can even pre-order it at Best Buy right now, or find it at other various online retailers. The MSRP is $49.99 so happy hunting!


NECA TMNT Super Shredder

“The last vial of ooze!”

“He must have drank all of it!”

“It’s a Super Shredder!!!”

It’s a simple, obvious, and corny introduction for a character, but as a 7-year old it felt rather impactful. The introduction of Super Shredder in the waning moments of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze answered a question I had always asked myself as a young TMNT fan: what would happen if Shredder exposed himself to mutagen?

Super Shredder appeared in the film for less than two minutes, but he left a big impression on me. Despite the fact that his appearance was anti-climactic, and the whole sequence is frustratingly bad. A large, imposing, Shredder confronts the turtles beneath a dock. Since this is the sequel film and the goal was to reduce the violence on screen, the turtles try to reason with their foe in an attempt to avoid direct conflict by literally pleading with him to “listen to reason.” Super Shredder is apparently a thoughtless baffoon though, and rather than have the turtles do battle with this ultimate version of their foe, they make some dumb jokes before Leonardo reminds them that they’re turtles and they retreat to the nearby water while Shredder continues mauling the supports of the dock they’re under until it collapses on him, killing him. Basically anyone in the turtles’ position could have felled Super Shredder as being turtles wasn’t a requisite for using water, it would have been for anyone who could swim.

For the better part of 30 years, Super Shredder has largely been forced to hide in the shadows.

Despite the incompetence of Super Shredder, I still found the character fascinating. That was in part due to me missing out on TMNT II. For whatever reason, likely just a lack of desire to see the film, my parents never took me to see the sequel in theaters like they had the original. It’s not that surprising as we probably attended one or two movies a year as a family and I doubt my parents were looking forward to seeing that one. We were more of a rental family. As a result, I had to hear about Super Shredder secondhand for nearly a year and wonder what he even looked like. When Playmates released an action figure of Super Shredder, I heard about it from my cousin, who claimed his friend had one. He also claimed his friend got it at Bradlees in Woburn, Massachusetts. Bradlees was a department store not exactly known for toys, but they carried some. My cousin and I begged our mothers to take us, but they had no interest in doing so. When I told my friends at school about the existence of a Super Shredder toy, they didn’t believe me! Then one day while recess is wrapping up, a kid walks by us and drops a Super Shredder action figure on the ground. I can remember just pointing and shouting “Super Shredder!” while my friends looked on with their mouths agape in shock and surprise. The kid was a little freaked out, he was a grade or two below us, scooped up his toy and ran off.

Eventually I would see The Secret of the Ooze and even get my own version of Super Shredder, both things happening Christmas of 1991. And while I found Super Shredder’s big reveal and quick death a bit disappointing, I never once thought the character didn’t look cool. He was impressive, and any article written about the character is required to include the trivia that it was professional wrestler Kevin Nash under the helmet. Nash was billed as being six feet and ten inches tall. I don’t know how accurate that is to reality considering wrestling is never shy about boosting such numbers, but he’s a pretty big guy. And the film makes him look as big as possible in how it films him with the camera often being at a low angle or behind him. He’s never really in a full frame, and the only time another character is in frame with him it’s Leonardo and they film his feet kicking furiously above Shredder’s shins as he’s held up. He’s then shot face-to-face with his head above Shredder’s, but most of their bodies are out of frame so we don’t know where his feet were in that shot. It could be just some clever editing and positioning to make the character appear even larger, or maybe he really was just that much bigger than Leonardo.

Either way, it’s one reason why the brand new NECA action figure of Super Shredder is so much larger than what has come before. He is essentially the first deluxe figure from one of the films joining Metalhead from the cartoon line. He stands at about 9″ tall with the middle point of his crested helmet touching the 9″ mark on my tape measure. This is a far cry from the only other Super Shredder action figure based on his appearance in TMNT II, the Playmates one, which stood at a mere 5″ at his tallest part, basically making him the same size as the movie turtles from Playmates. Scale was never the strong point of the vintage line, and despite the inaccuracies I truly loved that figure as he replaced my main Shredder for me when I played. Even after I broke his left hand off, I simply replaced it with a brass hook and never looked back.

Now, I’m on record as not being much of a fan of the second TMNT movie. It’s a corn-fest full of bad jokes, limited fight choreography, and a rather uninteresting plot. However, it does contain some pretty gnarly costume designs and Super Shredder certainly qualifies. For awhile, NECA resisted calls to even look at this film since most of the folks who work there seem to share a similar opinion to mine. The line is selling too well though and there are only so many figures one can mine from that first film. Super Shredder was inevitable, but I’m happy to say NECA nailed this one.

For this release, Super Shredder comes in a package similar to NECA’s Ultimates line. The cover art is also a bit bold in that it doesn’t even feature the figure beneath. It’s the theatrical poster for the film which has the turtles looking down on a canister of ooze with the silhouettes of Tokka and Rahzar in the background. It does say “Super Shredder” at the bottom, but it is surprising to see. Though this is also in-line with most Ultimates from NECA from film as many are either a poster or VHS artwork. Plus, few people are impulse buying Super Shredder since they won’t hang out on Walmart shelves, where he’s presently exclusive to, long enough for that to happen. The sides and back do feature photography of the figure, and it’s the standard five-panel setup as the front panel is a flap and flipping it over reveals a nice, full body, shot of the figure on the left and the actual figure on the right.

Super Shredder is a behemoth, but he comes packed with a lot of the articulation one would expect of a NECA release. He features ball-joints at the head, shoulders, abdomen, waist, and thighs. He has good side-to-side motion at the head with limited up and down, but there is a joint in the neck that provides for better up and down. This is an important detail since a figure this size is probably going to have to look down a lot. There is no classic bicep swivel on Shredder, but he does have an interesting double-ball setup for his elbows. It reminds me of the cartoon April as the top joint basically serves the same purpose as a bicep swivel with the second ball placed at the top of the forearm in front of the gauntlet. This gives him double-jointed elbow range and allows his bicep to be cut-free. The knees are similar in that you get double-jointed motion without the traditional double-jointed look. The top knee joint is peg-less and swivels, replacing a more traditional boot-cut. NECA likely didn’t want the shin guards to overlap any of the joints thus why the swivel is above the knee. His hands and feet are on ball joints and can rotate, move up and down, and the feet can rock side-to-side quite a bit. His armor does hinder his articulation, but not as much as you may have expected. The shoulder pads sit nice and high so he has good rotation at the shoulders and the abdominal joint allows for a range of upper body motion I wasn’t necessarily expecting. There’s no articulation really missing, though if I have one complaint about the figure it’s that the waist joint is pretty loose. It doesn’t interfere with posing, but he will flop around a bit in your hands and you’ll have to take care when posing that everything is lined up the way you want it in regards to his chest and abs.

The sculpt-work is the real star of the show with this guy. The shape of the head looks perfect and the fact that we now have a screen accurate Super Shredder in action figure form makes it a lot easier to really take in all of the details since his lone scene in the film was so dark. He has this crazed look in his eyes which makes it seem like the ooze not only gave him a surge in strength, but also a rush of adrenaline. There’s a vented portion on his mask that I never even noticed until now as I mostly watched that film on VHS, only recently viewing it in HD. The vents are just grooves in the mask with a paint wash so you can’t see his mouth behind the visor. There’s some silver-gray accents on the helmet which really bring out the details and definitely remind me of the old toy. On his torso, there’s a lot of linework to bring out the muscles which is also in-line with the film. It looks like the costume in the film had muscles air-brushed on which is honestly a little silly, but it also works since it just makes me think of comic book heroes and villains. The purple of the costume is just the right shade and NECA added some white here and there which, again, I think is present on the film costume. It’s hard to tell because that scene is just so dark. He comes with his cape as well, something the Playmates figure omitted back in the day, and it looks nice. It’s a standard cape, like the first film figure, so if you were hoping for a wired cape you might be disappointed. Super Shredder never got the chance to have a dramatic cape in the film, so I think what we have here is perfectly fine and I prefer soft goods for capes to plastic.

Those spikes though, man are they intense! It’s Super Shredder’s defining feature and they look great. I always thought it was goofy how the ooze mutated his armor, but I never once argued with the results. The spikes on the shoulders resemble serrated knives and they’re pretty “pokey.” They do have plenty of give, but definitely don’t step on this guy with bare feet or you’ll be wishing you stepped on a Lego. The spikes on the forearms and calves also look great and are basically the same design, just a little shorter. The various blades are so fearsome that he really doesn’t need actual weapons, but NECA still saw fit to throw old Shell-head a bone.

Super Shredder in the movie is only around long enough to punch stuff, but NECA’s version does come packaged with a spear. True to the character, it’s a more intense version of pre-mutated Shredder’s spear from the first film. One end is pointed while the other has what almost looks like an axe head. The blade coming out of the center is wavy, similar to the axe from the first film, and the design has a familiar look to it. I don’t know if that’s just a credit to NECA coming up with a weapon that fits in with the style of the films, or if this was something present in the background of a scene, perhaps. It’s his signature accessory though and if you want your Super Shredder armed it definitely works.

Super Shredder comes packaged with fist hands, but he has five additional hands as well. Two are open palms while the other two are for gripping his spear. There’s also a looser gripping hand and that it’s intended to grip the canister of ooze. The canister isn’t just a re-release of what the turtles came with as this one is modeled after the TGRI canisters featured in TMNT II. It’s mostly steel and glass construction in the film so viewers could clearly see the green ooze inside of it. This all plastic one looks the same, though the top is non-removable this time around. It looks really nice though and it’s actually something I didn’t know I wanted until I had it. The hands themselves are interesting in that they have this really weathered look on account of a dark wash. They’re nice and pliable so there’s no difficulty in getting the spear or canister into his hands for posing. They’re tight enough too that he can hang onto everything just fine. The entire figure really moves well with no stuck joints or anything to speak of.

Pictured with the ultra rare Pirate Captain Super Shredder.

The Super Shredder action figure from NECA is an impressive piece of plastic and a great addition to the movie TMNT line. He’s an attention-grabber as part of any display and I’m happy these outlandish designs from the second TMNT film are receiving the action figure treatment. The sculpting, paint, and quality control are all pretty impeccable and I expect this to be on the short list for action figure of the year. And Super Shredder will only have to feel alone for a few months as NECA is set to release the Tokka and Rahzar two-pack this November for those who pre-ordered in August through the company’s online store. Tokka and Rahzar will be the first true made-to-order release for the company and if the promotional shots are any indication we’re in for something special. And if you prefer your Shredder un-super, a standard Secret of the Ooze iteration is confirmed for 2021, though the company has yet to unveil any promotional shots for him. I suspect he’ll be a re-paint of the existing movie Shredder with a new helmet. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the only Secret of the Ooze release for 2021, the film’s 30th anniversary year, as you can probably bank on updated turtles and possibly Keno. Considering this year’s convention exclusive was a Coming Out of Their Shells themed release, would it shock anyone if next year’s was also musical? Point being, Super Shredder is another release in the movie line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but he’s far from the last.

If you really want him to look bigger than the turtles…

Super Shredder is currently being sold exclusively at Walmart stores. I got my figure from NECA directly as some were made available to order in early August. The company also recently closed a week-long window where fans could pre-order a Super Shredder to be produced and delivered at a later date. For international collectors, there are still a bunch of shops based in Canada and the UK accepting pre-orders, though NECA has recently clamped down on international retailers shipping TMNT product to US-based consumers. If you missed out on the pre-order window, your best bet now is to stalk your local Walmart in hopes he shows up. You can also keep an eye on NECA as I doubt very much that the factory order will be one-to-one for pre-orders. The company might sell some stock direct to consumers when they come in, or they’ll be sent out to Walmart and international retailers. Good luck!


Diamond Select The Iron Giant

It was back in the spring that I decided to share the wonderful The Iron Giant with my young children. It was while watching that film with them that I remembered seeing on display at Toy Fair a brand new Iron Giant action figure. When the film was over and the kids were in bed, I jumped on my phone to look for more info on that figure and quickly found a pre-order. I placed my order that night and then proceeded to wait.

As the spring and summer months went by, so did the release date for the Diamond Select The Iron Giant action figure. No matter, I’m an adult and I don’t need to get toys right away. They come when they come and I’m just thankful when I can pre-order something. I was also busy with other figure releases so I wasn’t exactly missing this thing. Still, whenever it crossed my mind and I checked to see if there was a new shipping date, I got a little anxious, because it sure looked like a fun action figure.

My Iron Giant finally arrived this past week. It’s the first action figure from Diamond Select that I’ve purchased in probably 15 years, if not longer. Back in the early 2000s, I knew Diamond Select for its Marvel Select line of action figures. Those were generously referred to as action figures since most possessed very little articulation. They were more like inexpensive statues and set pieces. They tended to follow the Marvel Ultimate Universe, perhaps so as not to step on the Marvel Legends line put out by Toy Biz. Some of those figures were among my favorite though, especially the Ultimate Venom. Over the years, it would seem Diamond’s action figures have become more figure-like. And while I’ve never been moved to buy one until now, I was looking forward to seeing what a Diamond Select product was like in 2020.

The Iron Giant deluxe figure arrived in a blister package. Another thing I really don’t see often these days is blister packaging, unless it’s a toy for one of my kids. It’s an attractive package though with a space theme that hits on the look of the film. It’s also nice to have a box I don’t mind tossing as I’m starting to become burdened by window boxes I can’t bring myself to throw away.

The Iron Giant stands approximate 9″ tall and comes with a small assortment of accessories. He’s mostly cast in gray plastic with some paint applications applied on the abdomen and hands. He has a fair amount of articulation, and being a robot, it works rather well with the sculpt. He’s got a ball-joint at the head that allows for good rotation and some downward range as well. Unfortunately, he can’t look up really at all so no flying pose is truly possible. His jaw is on a hinge and while it feels loose, it seems to stay in place well enough when he’s being left alone. His shoulders are ball-jointed and the little overhang of the should moves with the arm so he can reach over his head. The elbow is a ball joint with a swivel and the hands all rotate and have an additional hinge. The upper body is affixed to the abdomen with a ball joint that allows for some nice pivot motion as well as rotation motion and makes up for the lack of a true waist swivel. The thighs are connected by a ball joint and the knees are on a hinge. No kneecaps means he can bend his lower leg in a 90 degree angle forward and backwards. The lower leg can swivel below the knee and the ankles are on hinges and rock side to side.

This is a rather nice amount of articulation for the big guy and there’s not a lot I find myself missing. I was hoping to get him into more of a crouching pose like when he squats in the film, but the legs aren’t really accommodating there. The head articulation is the only real bummer for me. This is a figure that doesn’t really need to be able to do too much to look good, and I like that Diamond got as much into the figure as it did.

The Iron Giant comes with some accessories, though not a ton. He doesn’t need a ton though, and one could argue he doesn’t even really need what he comes with. There are three sets of hands in total: fists, gripping hands, and open hands. The fists make for good default hands as it allows him to do the hands on hips pose he comes positioned in. The open hands are expressive and work with another accessory I’ll get to in a moment, while the gripping hands just feel like extra. He has nothing to grab onto, but I guess if you wanted to hang him from something you could make use of these. Or craft him some steel girders to snack on. Also included is an S emblem that clips onto his chest. It’s rigid plastic on plastic and I worry that repeated removal will either snap one of the clips or scrape the figure’s chest, but it does look nice and is quite appropriate. The last accessory is a little, tiny, Hogarth. He’s in a seated position so he works well with the open hands and can even fit into a gripping hand. Better yet though, he has a tiny screw in his bottom and Diamond smartly put a magnet in the Giant’s right shoulder for Hogarth to sit on. It was something I was hoping Diamond did when I saw the promotional images, but didn’t actually expect. I just wish they had done the same with the S emblem.

The main feature of the figure is the included light-up function. Flip a switch on the back of the Iron Giant and his eyes light up. The plastic his head is cast in is light and a bit thin, so more than just his eyes will light up. The effect is still pretty cool, cool enough that you’ll be tempted to turn it on every time you walk past this guy at night. It’s powered by a set of LR44 batteries which are included and should be less likely to leak vs a AAA battery, and obviously a lot easier to fit into the figure. It’s a cool feature because a lot of the film is done at night and Diamond was able to add it without taking anything away from the sculpt.

The Iron Giant moves well, has a neat light-up feature, and probably more accessories then it needs, though it’s not quite a homerun. The figure is surprisingly light in hand and the joints are a little loose for my taste. The legs in particular can be combative and he has toppled over on me a couple of times. It’s not terrible, but I worry about him becoming more loose as time moves on. Most of the parts on him are hollow as well, so he just doesn’t feel like a premium action figure. On the other hand, he’s also around 27 bucks so I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic. The looseness of the figure does mean there are no stuck joints or anything and the hands are on nice, long, pegs and are easy to swap. The forearm pieces can actually slide off too, though you probably will never have need to.

He’s not Superman, but he’s close enough.

Nitpicks aside, I do love the look of this figure. The scale looks great and the proportions are all well done. I love the magnetized Hogarth as that’s just such a wonderful touch. I’d probably have preferred a second, standing, Hogarth instead of one set of hands, but this is also pretty nice as-is. I kind of wish they could have done a premium version with maybe some die-cast legs in a 60 dollar price range, but maybe that’s not realistic too. For the price, this is a nice figure and I think fans of The Iron Giant will be pretty happy with this one.


Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

After taking a trip to the past with Rocko’s Modern Life during the spring, it seems only fitting that I also take a look at the Rocko’s Modern Life movie from 2019: Static Cling. To be fair, the term “movie” is definitely used loosely when applied to this piece of media. Static Cling was originally conceived by Nickelodeon as a one hour TV special with commercials so the running time is a tidy 45 minutes. It’s basically a double-episode, but considering Rocko’s Modern Life had never had a special before it’s easily the longest story the show ever committed to.

The special was announced in 2016 by Nickelodeon and it rejoins the original cast, alongside series creator Joe Murray, and gives fans a look at what Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), Filburt (Doug Lawrence), and the rest have been up to since. The theme of the special is change as it’s a very metta look at how audiences grapple with the loss of something from their past and seek out nostalgia binges to fill that hole left behind. The special will drive that point home quite literally by having Rocko, who has been lost in space since the events of “Future Schlock,” return to an O-Town that has long since ridden itself of his favorite cartoon: The Fatheads. Rocko is forced to confront this new O-Town and adapt to a new modern without his binky and he finds it impossible. Conversely, he has to watch his two best friends adapt just fine as Heffer and Filburt become immediately enchanted by modern technology. A clerical error by neighbor Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), whose life has apparently been bliss since Rocko and his friends were blasted off into space, causes the mega-corporation, Conglom-O, to lose all of its paper value thus plunging all of O-Town (since Conglom-O owns everything) into a depression. Rocko is able to convince the head at Conglom-O, Mr. Dupette (Adler), that a way to help the company out would be to produce a new Fatheads TV Special. The only problem is that series creator Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) hasn’t been seen or heard from in years.

Alternatively known as Static Cling: The Rocko Special.

The early bits of the special unfold in a predictable, but still entertaining, manner. Rocko and the gang are shown adjusting to modern life and the classic opening segment from the TV show is even redone with modern technology now harassing Rocko. There’s also a nice bit of the boys taking in a gritty reboot of Really Really Big Man that’s an obvious parody of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Even though the special is basically mocking those who have been begging for this show to return for the last 20 years, there’s still a ton of fan service throughout as basically every character of note returns for a cameo, at the very least.

Some of the jokes the special makes are rather easy, but they’re also the type of jokes that pretty much have to be made.

Static Cling was commissioned as a Nickelodeon TV Special initially, but the network wound up passing on it and selling the rights to Netflix. This caused a rather significant delay in getting the special in front of fans. Nickelodeon never offered up a reason why it chose to option the special to Netflix, but many speculate it has to do with the character formerly known as Ralph Bighead. A major plot device in the special is that when Rocko eventually finds Ralph, he finds that Ralph no longer identifies as male and has taken the name Rachel instead. The reaction of Rocko and his friends, and basically everyone in town, is very positive as they basically congratulate Rachel and that’s that. Rachel’s father, Ed, is the only one who has an issue with it resurrecting his line “I have no son!” from the Season Two premiere. Nickelodeon was reportedly supportive of the idea to add a transgender character, and it certainly fits the theme of change, but it’s not the best look for the network that it chose to pass on airing this. Maybe the network found it could make more by selling the distribution rights to Netflix, but how much would the pay-out have been affected if Nickelodeon chose to premiere it on its own network and then pass it off to Netflix? Probably not a lot and it’s a shame it didn’t see this as an opportunity to make a positive social statement.

The re-done opening credits gag will likely be a favorite part for many fans.

The look and sound of Static Cling is quite similar to what fans remember from the show, but also a bit different. Cartoons just aren’t made in the same manner they were back in the 90s so Static Cling doesn’t necessarily look like a 90s cartoon. It’s obviously all digital and a bit more “clean” to look at. Some of that Rocko’s Modern Life grime has been lost and this is overall a far less gross version of the show than viewers are used to. Not that Rocko’s Modern Life needed to be gross in order to be funny. The only big change I felt a bit jarring is that Rocko’s fur is a deeper shade of beige than it was before. As mentioned before, basically all of the cast returned to voice the main characters and the side ones as well. Pretty much all of them still sound the same, though Tom Kenny’s Heffer is a bit higher and is the most notable difference.

The Chokey Chicken has undergone a makeover.

Rocko’s Modern Life was able to garner itself a reputation for adult humor during its life as it sometimes found itself censored after airing. Fans hoping for something as titillating as “Leap Frogs” or the infamous moo-milker gag might be a little let down by Static Cling. The Chokey Chicken does get to have its original name restored (it’s mascot has also been slimmed down as it’s become health conscious in this new modern setting) and Really Really Big Man’s magic nipples get some screen time as well. The only borderline lewdness I picked up on was just an emphasis on Mrs. Bighead’s ample bosom. There’s a scene where a fence divides her and Rocko and her breasts hang over it right in Rocko’s face, though he doesn’t seem to notice. She even reaches into her cleavage to pull out an object, though that’s the kind of gag I feel like the original show could have got away with anyway (and maybe did).

Static Cling does an excellent job of giving these characters a reason to exist in the 2010s. The foundation is solid, though I found the last fifteen minutes or so started to drag for me. A lot of the best humor and gags occur early in the special and it doesn’t help that the Rachel Bighead plot feels very similar to Ralph’s debut in “I Have No Son.” It was both disappointing and predictable to see Ed Bighead serves as the conflict once again for Rachel and the character just re-learns the lesson he had already learned back in that old episode. Maybe it could have been more interesting if the opposite had occurred and it was Bev Bighead that took issue with Rachel? Anything to make it feel less redundant would have likely helped, though maybe it didn’t feel redundant to someone who hasn’t seen that episode in 20 years.

It shouldn’t be glossed over that the inclusion of Rachel is a pretty eventful change, and one that should be celebrated.

Ultimately, Static Cling does have something to say and it’s a worthwhile message. It’s examination of modern fandom and nostalgia is pretty on point, and the overall message that change is necessary is a statement worth saying. The fact that it also contains a positive portrayal of a transgender character is also great as that’s a minority that is still under-represented. It never stoops to cheap trans jokes too, which is a plus, as the production did seek input from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) during production. It’s also hard not to enjoy Static Cling for the reason it seems to not want the viewer to enjoy it for and that’s just the pure nostalgia trip one gets from interacting with these characters once again. I have no doubt that because of it’s approach to comically infuse cartoon characters into a modern society that Rocko’s Modern Life could make a full comeback and be just as funny in 2020 as it was in 1995. It’s perhaps the cartoon from that era that has aged the best. It doesn’t seem like Joe Murray is interested in a full-blown comeback, but at least we got a little taste of what life would be like for Rocko in the 2010s.


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

In 1995 the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were at the height of their powers. The show had premiered on Fox Kids in the summer of 1993 and was basically an instant hit. Saban Entertainment churned out 60 episodes for that first season followed by a 52 episode second season which finished airing in early 1995. When it comes to successful children’s properties, most executives want to strike while the property is burning bright so a movie was fast-tracked for summer 1995. It would be a whole different kind of production as the television show was a mash-up of three separate shows. The Power Rangers as teens was all shot in California, while the majority of the action was taken from Super Sentai, a long-running Japanese action-adventure television series. To make things more complicated, the White Ranger was introduced in Season Two even though he was featured in an entirely different season of Sentai which is how you end up with three distinct source productions.

For the movie, 20th Century Fox stepped in and took over for the notoriously cheap Saban Entertainment. Saban was so cheap that by the time the second season ended three actors had been replaced with new ones. Austin St. John, Walter Emanuel Jones, and Thuy Tran had been replaced as the red, black, and yellow rangers when the three tried forming a union to request better wages. The actors reportedly were making $600 per week and we’re being asked to do their own stunts as well. For a hugely successful show, one would think they were justified in requesting a raise. Saban though is run by Haim Saban, the same executive who reasoned that the writers for the wildly successful X-Men cartoon should take a pay cut for the second season because now that the show was a hit, writers should be banging down on his door to write for it. The three original Rangers were replaced by Steve Cardenas, Johnny Yong Bosch, and Karan Ashley while the other three who declined not to unionize (Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, and David Yost) remained.

The Power Rangers leap onto the big screen with new, armored, costumes.

It’s for that reason that it feels like Fox was just a few months late with the movie. Had the more memorable, and frankly better, characters made it to the big screen it probably would have had more of an impact. Then again, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers isn’t really a film that asks much of its heroes, save for them to mostly look cool and jump around. There’s one memorable line from the Rangers in the entire film, so basically anyone could have played these parts.

With Fox on board it meant someone else got to foot the bill other than Saban. It’s not uncommon for a movie based on a television property to look much better than its small screen counterpart, but for this film it was clear that Fox really wanted to make that point. The Power Rangers have their recognizable costumes, but they’re now padded with armor plating. The villainous Lord Zedd’s (Mark Ginther) exposed brain now throbs with every line of dialogue and his right hand monster, Goldar (Kerry Casey), gets to sport glowing red eyes and re-worked face. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag for the characters we’re familiar with. Zedd looks quite menacing, while the Power Rangers look more like motocross participants and Goldar is actually less menacing than he was on television.

Ivan Ooze is the true star of this one.

What does work is the film’s new lead villain. The basic story is a strange artifact shows up at a dig site that contains the ancient evil Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman). He apparently caused some trouble many years ago and an older version of the Power Rangers, together with their leader Zordon (Nicholas Bell), defeated him and sealed him away. Zedd is aware of the discovery and sees an opportunity to enlist Ooze’s help to defeat the Power Rangers and take over the world, but Ooze has other ideas. He traps Zedd and his bride, Rita Repulsa (Julia Cortez), in a snowglobe and takes over his operations with his own goal for global domination. He attacks Zordon and lays waste to the command center of the Power Rangers sapping them of their powers. The Rangers are then forced to use the last of their powers to warp to a distant planet to find a greater power in the hope that it will allow them to save Zordon and defeat Ivan Ooze for good.

The film marks the theatrical debut for director Bryan Spicer who worked with John Kamps and Arne Olsen to craft the story and script for the film. It’s a very basic story of a bad guy stripping a hero of their power and forcing them to find a new source to train, power-up, and return. It’s actually very similar to the plot of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in which the heroes lose their surrogate father and have to leave for a period only to come back and save the day. The film is only an hour and thirty-five minutes, but it’s a long hour and thirty-five minutes as there’s a lot of padding to be found. The film begins with a lengthy, and pointless, sky-diving sequence which gives way to an extended roller-blading outing for the Rangers. I guess the idea was to make the heroes look cool while also hitting that magic 90 minute running-time, but there’s a lot of pointless stuff going on.

The Power Rangers also have new, ninja, outfits to show off which means Bandai has more toys it can sell.

The acting presented here is about what you would expect. The Rangers themselves are rather wooden, but they’re also given some of the worst lines to work with. Tommy, played by Jason David Frank, is perhaps miscast as the leader of the bunch since he struggles with basically every line except for “It’s morphin’ time!” I say “perhaps miscast” because I am not sure any of the others really demonstrate anything better. Amy Jo Johnson, who plays Kimberly the Pink Ranger, is probably the best of the bunch, but even she isn’t given a whole lot. Worse is that she and Aisha, the Yellow Ranger, seem to constantly find themselves in peril calling out for help from the male Rangers in virtually every conflict. This is a departure from the show where the girls are freely allowed to kick some ass and even bail out their male comrades. There’s also a romance angle shoe-horned into the relationship of Tommy and Kimberly, but there’s absolutely no chemistry to be found between the two actors.

As is the case with the television show, the real stars of the film are the villains. Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa are a fun odd-couple pairing, for the brief time they’re around. They make me smile when they’re on screen, and I would have been very disappointed with how they’re written out if not for the presence of Paul Freeman’s Ivan Ooze. Ooze is a ridiculous looking villain, which is perfect for a film like this one that has a bit of a B-movie vibe going for it. He’s funny, flamboyant, and the pile of prosthetics Freeman is forced to wear do not cover-up his face so he’s free to emote and use his facial expressions to further enhance the character. He’s easily the best part of the film and it’s almost a shame he had to endure so many hours in a makeup chair for such a picture.

My children found movie Zordon frightening.

Where the film really takes a turn for the worse is in its desire to elevate the product above the television show. The show is formulaic and repetetive, but it’s not without its charm. The cheap effects are endearing, and the bad rock music soundtrack has a way of worming its way into your ear. Note that I don’t consider the main theme song, “Go, Go, Power Rangers!” as among the bad. That song is perfect for what it is. For the film, licensed music is brought in as is often the case for summer blockbusters. There are songs from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Van Halen to go along with the techno-rock score that just isn’t nearly as fun as the television soundtrack. It causes the property to have a sense of being in over its head, like it doesn’t belong, when in reality the soundtrack was aiming to do the opposite.

“Mega” is not the way I would describe this Megazord.

Worse than the soundtrack though, are the effects. There are a great many instances of practical effects in this film, which is what is appropriate for the franchise. Some of them get a little silly, like the White Ranger doing a comical amount of flips through the air. His deployment of his sentient sword, Saba, is also awesomely bad. What can’t be forgiven though is the CG finale. The film only had a budget of roughly $20 million so no one would expect Jurassic Park CG, but where the films errs is in its attempt to make the zords, giant robots piloted by the Power Rangers, entirely CG. Same with the evolved form of Ooze which features a frozen face completely removing the character’s strength. The zords are just brutal to look at and it’s a real shame that the studio didn’t just pour money into making awesome costumes for the stunt performers. The Rangers even get new, more powerful, zords, but kids were likely left underwhelmed at the end result. They do show up in the TV show in a manner fans were accustomed to, and they look light years ahead of what’s presented here.

You would probably believe me if I said this was from a PlayStation game, not a major Hollywood blockbuster.

I decided to watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie largely because my kids have been watching the original show and it’s been a fun trip down memory lane for me. I honestly can’t remember if I had ever sat down and watched this movie beforehand, but if I did I can see why it wasn’t very memorable. I was hoping for more camp and plenty of humor, some intentional and some unintentional, but the film really doesn’t deliver. The only redeeming part of it for me was Ivan Ooze, and when he’s not on screen I’m just not entertained, save for one line by Johnny Yong Bosch when he finds out he’s receiving the powers of a frog. The film was a hit as it reportedly made over $60 million at the box office plus it probably made a bunch more in merchandising. Despite that though, there was no Mighty Morphin sequel. Instead, we got Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie in 1997 which bombed at the box office. The franchise was also rebooted in 2017 as simply Power Rangers, but it didn’t perform well enough to warrant a sequel and rumor has it the film franchise is destined for another reboot. The show is still going though and it seems like the type of series that will last forever at this point. It’s just a shame that its best era received such a dismal feature.


Ghostbusters Plasma Series: Venkman

Bill Murray is the greatest actor of all time. If you want to disagree with me, that’s fine, just know that you’re wrong. Because of my love of toys and Mr. Murray, I’ve always wanted a Bill Murray action figure. It might sound like a weird want to most people, but to a toy enthusiast it probably isn’t. If one were to aspire to own Bill Murray in plastic though, then the easy franchise to look to is Ghostbusters.

The Real Ghostbusters is the toyline that made me an action figure fan for life. I loved that series from Kenner as I had the firehouse, the Ghostbusters, numerous vehicles, and some ghosts. That franchise is based on the cartoon though, and the actual Ghostbusters did not resemble their real-life counterparts even in the slightest. That is almost certainly due to money, as if you’re going to make a cartoon that uses the likeness of actors like Murray and Harold Ramis then it stands to reason that those individuals need to be compensated.

Nostalgia has taken over the toy collecting world though, and actual toys based on the original 1984 hit Ghostbusters have been trickling out for years. There have been some high end ones, and some more mass market friendly releases. I’ve always intended to purchase a Peter Venkman from one of those many lines to satisfy my Murray obsession, but I just never did. For one reason or another, I just either wasn’t enthused with the product or I didn’t like the price. Well, today on a trip to Target for some essentials, I made an impulse buy when I stopped by the toy section as staring at me right in the face was a Peter Venkman from Hasbro’s new Plasma Series of toys.

Hasbro is the latest license holder to acquire Ghostbusters. Previously, Mattel held the license and I believe Diamond Select also had it at one point. Hasbro is a well known toy creator as it currently holds many of pop culture’s biggest licenses such as Marvel and Star Wars. Once upon a time, I was a Marvel enthusiast and was way deep into the Marvel Legends line, but when Hasbro acquired the license from Toy Biz I wasn’t impressed. I left that line around 2006 and I haven’t purchased a Hasbro toy since. For that reason, this purchase was a bit like a homecoming for me. I have nothing against Hasbro as a company, I just don’t have much interest in the licenses they hold. This was the first release that had appealed to me in quite some time, so I was curious to see how Hasbro’s action figures stand up in 2020.

The Ghostbusters Plasma Line all come packaged in an attractive window box display. One side panel features a bit of stylized art of the four Ghostbusters and the rear dispalys the rest of the line. There’s also a brief blurb on the character. For Venkman, the box reads: “The man with the mouth: Peter can convince (almost) anybody of (almost) anything.” Short and to the point, it described the character well enough. Each figure comes with a few accessories as well as a piece of Vince Clortho in demon-dog form. For Peter, it’s the left, front, leg. The other figures in the line include the other three Ghostbusters, Dana in her Zuul attire, and Gozer. The retail at Target was $19.99 so if you want to build your own demonic canine it will cost you around $140. Hopefully you don’t want two.

Peter Venkman comes clad in his traditional Ghostbusters outfit from the first film. It’s the khaki one with the logo on the right shoulder complete with black boots and gloves. He stands right around 6″ and possesses a great deal of articulation. His head sits on a ball joint with great range of motion. The shoulders are ball-jointed and there’s a hint of a butterfly joint in there as well for turning the shoulders into the body. It doesn’t do much though. He has a biceps swivel which is a little tight out of the box and double-jointed elbows. At the wrist he has a swivel and a hinge joint to tilt the hands up and down. His torso is on a ball-joint so he has some good motion there that doesn’t detract as much from the sculpt as an ab crunch would, though he lacks traditional waist articulation. The legs are attached via ball-joints with thigh swivels and double-jointed knees. The ankles are on swivels, but with an odd pitch to them so they sort of turn out and up instead of on a straight plane. The feet also rock side to side.

What I understand to be typical of Hasbro is fairly true here in that most of the figure is colored plastic. There’s not a ton of paint work aside from a yellow cable on his belt and the logo on his arm. The face is a solid likeness for Murray, as good as one would expect at this price point. I’ve seen more expensive Venkman figures with lesser face sculpts. He has a cocky smirk which is befitting of the character, though I wish he had a five-o-clock shadow. The uniform looks great and even features the screen accurate detail of Venkman’s pants not being tucked into his boots. He has his walkie talkie affixed to his belt, though it’s non-removable, and the belt itself is a floating piece of plastic which adds a little depth to the look of the figure. The hands are in trigger-finger positions as opposed to a more generic grip. I’m not sure this really adds anything to the figure as the proton pack doesn’t feature a trigger, but the plastic is soft enough that he can hold his accessories with only a little bit of fuss. The lack of paint means he’s fairly glossy to look at. A wash over the uniform might have done some good, and his eyes are particularly shiny, but it’s an attractive enough piece.

For accessories, Venkman comes with his proton pack and a ghost trap. The proton pack is a really nice sculpt with some paint highlights as well. It’s attached to a harness that features two shoulder straps, a belt, and a peg to fit into Peter’s back. The belt of the proton pack detaches on the left side and it was more than a little troublesome out of the box. It almost looks like it was glued in place which had me doubting myself if I was supposed to even go this route in order to get this thing onto Venkman. I did manage to unfasten it, but I was scared the whole time that the peg would come off with it. It definitely could have been done better and isn’t something that would probably hold up well to repeated removals. The actual blaster portion can be holstered on the side of the pack or held by the figure. It’s on a soft piece of plastic and seems reasonably durable. Venkman has enough articulation that he can hold the end of it in a casual manner, ready across his chest, or point it to bust some ghosts. The other accessory, the trap, looks the part, though it doesn’t do anything. Venkman can hold it, but there isn’t an easy way to clip it onto his belt or anything like that. It also doesn’t have the activation pedal. The only other accessory is the build-a-figure piece which I suppose looks fine, though I’m not about to judge that figure based on one leg.

Positioning and posing Venkman is pretty rewarding. There isn’t much he can’t do that you would want him to do based on what the character does in the film. His feet are a bit small, so he’s a little harder to stand than I expected he would be. The proton pack also adds some weight to the figure, but not enough to make standing him impossible. For the price, he’s as good as expected. The only real shortcoming with the figure is the lack of extra hands as he pretty much needs to be holding his proton blaster to not look stupid. A screaming second head would have also been cool, but not expected or really necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hasbro does a slimed variant in the future.

The Plasma Series Venkman is an action figure that gets the job done. I wanted a Bill Murray toy, and was happy to take him in his Ghostbusters attire, and this fit the bill. It’s about what one would expect of a mass market action figure at the $20 price point, but it also doesn’t exactly leave me feeling like Hasbro went above and beyond like NECA often does with its products. It also didn’t leave me with a compulsion to buy the rest of the line, so Peter is going to have to get used to hanging out with the Lego versions of the other Ghostbusters. Maybe if they ever hit clearance I’d revisit it, but probably not. For Ghostbusters enthusiasts, I suspect they’re happy to have an improvement on what Mattel did in the past and at an affordable price point.


NECA TMNT Casey Jones and Raphael (In Disguise)

“The class is Pain 101. Your instructor’s Casey Jones.”

There may not be a more quotable scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than the encounter between Casey Jones and Raphael. Raphael, after taking in a movie he appeared unimpressed by, stops a purse-snatching and scares the kids off with a simple gesture to his sai. The kids take shelter in Central Park, where they have a chance encounter with the vigilante Casey Jones. Jones witnessed the attempted thievery, but he’s not as forgiving as Raph. Before he can really lay into the teens with an assortment of sports equipment turned weapons, Raph breaks it up which brings about the memorable encounter.

It was a trip for me as a kid to see my favorite green heroes on the big screen, and it was almost equally as entertaining to see Casey Jones. Played by Elias Koteas, Jones basically leapt from the comics and cartoon and took to live-action effortlessly. His attire was simple: sweatpants, t-shirt, vest, and that trademarked hockey mask. It should have been easy to translate to a film, but the performance of Koteas throughout the film should not be dismissed so easily. He’s an entertaining and even endearing character. There was probably so much more that could have been done with him, but in an effort to tone down the violence from the first film the Casey Jones character was written out of the sequel, I suppose in favor of the much less-celebrated Keno. He did return for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, but the less said about that film the better.

As has probably been noted in every one of my reviews of NECA’s movie-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line of action figures, this is a notable release because it’s the first of its kind. The movie was not expected to perform well, so Playmates did not support it with any toys. When it did prove a surprise hit, the company went straight to producing toys based on the sequel. That meant the Turtles themselves at least received figures as well as many others, but the characters and designs unique to the first film never did. And it doesn’t look like Casey received a figure for the third film, which is a bit surprising. Fans of Casey Jones have had to wait 30 years for a proper figure, but he’s finally here and fans are left to determine if he was worth the wait.

Not to be ignored though, is the fact that Casey Jones is part of the first movie two-pack released by NECA exclusively through Walmart. Along for the ride is Raphael in disguise sporting his trench coat and hat. This Raph is a scaled-down version of the quarter-scale figure, which is also just the regular movie Raphael, but with a coat and hat. It’s a fairly iconic look for the character that deserves a proper action figure and bundling him with Casey Jones makes perfect sense. I suppose there are some out there who would have preferred he come with another all-new sculpt, (April? Tatsu?) but I can’t say I feel cheated or anything.

Let’s talk about Raph first before getting to the main event, of sorts. Raphael is the exact same figure released previously as part of a four-pack of Turtles as a San Diego Comic Con exclusive and also released as a single-pack through GameStop last year. NECA has taken the movie line from GameStop to Walmart, in case you were wondering, and the previously released figures should start showing up any day now in two-packs as well. In comparing the figure with my SDCC edition, his face looks a touch lighter to me with a little more yellow mixed-in with the green. The eyes on my original Raph were kind of screwy as well, but this new one looks fine. It might have been neat if he could have had a new head, perhaps one with more teeth such as when he rescues April in the subway, but this is a good likeness of the character. His default mask “tails” is a new piece that diverts the tails around his neck instead of off to one side. He comes with the other two pieces, one going left and one going right, should you wish to swap it out, but I think the default one looks best. The coat is a soft goods coat and it looks really sharp. There’s one loose string on my Raph’s left shoulder, but otherwise the cut looks great. The buttons are non-functioning, but the belt and pockets are real. His hat is soft plastic and there’s a little hole for the knot of his mask. You could, if you wanted, pop out the tail piece and re-insert it through the hat to possibly get it stay on better, but he looks good no matter what you choose to do there. He also has his backpack, which is made of more soft plastic. It’s the biggest hindrance to getting the coat off and I suspect you would either need to cut the straps or pop his arms off to do so, but why would you?

Underneath that coat everything appears to be the same. All of the spots and battle-damage on Raph’s shell all look to be there. This also means all of the articulation is still in place as well. Raph will be restricted by his coat to some degree, though the cloth nature of it means it’s not as restricting as you may have expected. Raphael features a nice, tight, ball-joint at the neck. The default mask tails restricts his mobility a bit, but that’s what the other parts are for. He has ball-joints at the shoulders and elbows, plus hinges at both as well. There’s a forearm swivel and wrist swivel plus a hinge at the hand. Underneath the shell is a torso ball-joint that provides a little movement, but the shell (and coat) don’t allow for this joint to do much. He has ball and hinge joints at the thigh to go along with double-jointed knees. His feet are on a hinge, but there isn’t much movement there. It can also rock side-to-side a bit. This was plenty for the standard release, though for this version I wish the feet had more range of motion as the added bulk of the backpack makes him a challenge to stand. I can get him to stand in some poses, but ultimately I think I’ll use a stand when I place him on a shelf.

As far as accessories go, Raph seems a bit light compared with his box-mate. That’s fine since Raph really doesn’t need much aside from his outfit and trusty sai. That outfit is the star, of course, since it looks and feels fantastic. Despite not featuring a wire inside it, I found the coat easy to move and position. It can be bunched up in places to gain more range of motion at the arms, or allowed to conceal as much of this big turtle in a trench coat as possible. I was even able to get him to properly hold a baseball bat without much hassle. Raph also comes with both sai, even though he was down to one when he met Casey. He comes with gripping hands affixed to his arms, and optional open palms and finger-pointing/optional sai grips as well, just like the standard figure. NECA also tossed in a slice of pizza for good measure since I guess you can never have too many of those, though I kind of wish they had stuck a hole in the middle for his sai even though he didn’t do that until the second film. Or maybe a chewed up apple would have been fun.

Raphael is pretty sweet, but he’s also a variant of a two-year old figure. What collectors are really excited for is Casey Jones! Casey stands at about seven inches making him roughly half an inch taller than Raph, which feels about right. He’s in his first-appearance attire which includes a non-removable hockey mask. Underneath the mask is indeed a face that vaguely resembles Elias Koteas (you’ll have to search online to see for yourself), but the only way to get it off is to chisel it since it’s glued on. The mask also features pegs, and the straps are part of the sculpt, so your figure will look pretty stupid without a mask. NECA was unable to secure an agreement with Koteas to use his likeness, which is why there’s no unmasked head included. Though let’s be honest, basically everyone is displaying this guy with the mask on anyways, even if he only wears it for a small part of the film. Koteas confirmed on Instagram recently that he has actually given his blessing to NECA to go ahead and do a figure with his face on it, so don’t be surprised if we get an unmasked variant down the road (or a quarter-scale version with a removable mask) as part of another two-pack.

Sounds like we can expect a variant of Casey in the future.

Casey’s sculpt looks to be pretty damn accurate to the screen version. He has a white t-shirt with a vest over it that’s actually a shirt with cut-off sleeves. Both the shirt and vest are a soft plastic, though the sleeves on his arms are sculpted. He’s got his gray sweatpants on and black high-tops to go along with fingerless gloves for added bad-assness. The mask is the star of the show though as it looks great. It’s a thick plastic with a glossy paint-job that looks great. The decision to sculpt it separately with a face underneath also means his eyes looks menacing and the slits over the mouth could be actual cuts in the plastic rather than painted lines. If anything appears to be a touch off, it’s the hair which looks heavy as opposed to the more frizzy appearance it had on film. Hair is notoriously difficult to sculpt though so this barely registers as even a nit-pick. The knees also a look a tad odd, but again, that’s because NECA is trying to recreate a soft cloth like sweatpants in plastic form. NECA opted to make the plastic of the thigh go over the lower leg rather than do a kneecap. It’s tough to say what would look better and I bet the sculptors were left wishing the character had sported knee pads in the film. I’m curious if the expected quarter-scale version will experiment with soft goods for the sweatpants or stick with plastic.

Casey is pretty well loaded with articulation like his little, green, buddy. His head is on a ball-joint and partially restricted by the hair, but nothing that should cause issue. He has ball-jointed shoulders and double-jointed elbows to go along with a forearm swivel and the same swivel-hinge articulation at the wrist enjoyed by Raph. What I can’t determine is if he has any kind of ab crunch as the t-shirt prevents me from figuring that out. He has some waist articulation, but the shirt again prevents much of the movement. His thighs are on ball joints, but he features just a simple hinge at the knee. The ankles can swivel freely and there’s a hinge joint as well that’s quite restrictive. He’s a bit tough to stand as well, especially with the golf bag on, so he’s likely going to end up with a stand as well. He would likely need bigger feet to stand better, but that obviously wouldn’t be screen-accurate. More leg/torso articulation could have possibly helped as well, but then you’re cutting up those sweatpants and shirt even more which would have been less aesthetically pleasing.

The paint job on Casey is simple and effective. The clothing is done with a matte finish, but the shoes have a bit of a shine to him. His laces are painted black as well, which is probably screen-accurate, but I’ve never tried to stare at the character’s shoes. The t-shirt has an understated dark wash applied to it giving it a grimey look which is a nice touch. Casey doesn’t seem like the type who stayed up doing laundry. The only negative with the paint is the hinge piece of the shoulders was left unpainted, so if Casey’s arms are up it will look a bit ugly.

That’s a full bag.

As expected, Casey comes with a lot of goodies. He has his golf bag to store everything in which fits easily over his head and arm. It’s soft plastic so it’s fairly light, but once it’s full of stuff it’s no longer quite so light. The strap is rather thin and doesn’t disconnect so you’ll want to handle with care to not snap it at one end. For weapons, Casey comes with a pair of baseball bats (sadly, no Jose Canseco signature spotted on either), a hockey stick (left-handed, interestingly), a goalie stick, golf club (wood), and of course the infamous cricket bat. The weapons all look great with a paint-wash applied to nearly all of them to give them a weathered look. Most feature athletic tape, and the only one that looks brand new is the golf club. And it should, since that’s from the end of the film when Casey uses it to finish off Tatsu (“I’ll never call golf a dull game again.”) and is a nice touch since NECA could have chosen to omit it given the set is so scene specific. You can also fit everything into the golf bag with some effort, though the giant goalie stick looks a bit ridiculous sticking out of the bag. In the film, he only ever needed room for the two bats and the cricket bat so being able to fit them all wasn’t even a realistic goal, but they pulled it off. Not much to complain about either in terms of screen accuracy. I noted that the hockey stick is left-handed, but it looks like a righty stick on screen. And Casey certainly swings that cricket bat right-handed. The bats also probably could have been lighter in color, but I can’t say either thing is something that bothers me. These weapons are a lot of fun and I’m glad to see that Casey has a full assortment.

Look at all of that stuff!

Casey is going to need some hands to wield those weapons, and he has a bunch. His default hands are simple fists for when he wants to get his hands dirty. He also has two sets of gripping hands. I can’t really tell what’s different about them, the gripping opening might be just a touch larger on one set versus the other, but it’s pretty light. The goalie stick does require a bit more room to wield properly, but I seem to have little trouble regardless. His gripping hands are also really soft so you can bend the fingers around whatever he’s holding. Maybe the extras are just in case of ware and tare? He also has a pointing right hand and a more relaxed open left hand to rest a hockey stick or bat in. It’s a nice assortment and the long pegs and soft nature of the plastic makes swapping them pretty effortless.

Casey Jones is a more than worthy addition to what is perhaps the most impressive line NECA has ever produced. The likeness all of the figures from the first TMNT movie have been incredible, and Casey is no exception. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fine work of sculptors Trevor Zammit, Kyle Windrix, and Trevor Grove. And no one should be snoozing on the Raphael in this set either. I was a bit on the fence with him and questioned whether or not I would have purchased a single-carded version of the character in disguise, but now that I have him I’m pretty happy to say that I do. My collection would have been lacking if I had a Casey Jones with no Raph to go along with him. As much as I identify Casey with April, a two-pack of them on a porch swing is certainly not nearly as exciting as the confrontation between mutant hero and vigilante.

If you want to add this two-pack to your movie collection, it can be found exclusively at Walmart for $49.99. It just started showing up last week and is still shipping to stores as I type this. Some areas will just start to receive it this week. It was also offered for purchase online, but basically sold out in seconds as NECA’s TMNT product remains extremely hot. Because of that, this set is not the easiest in the world to find, but it can be done. I’m just a blogger so my toys come from the store just like everyone else and I was able to find a set, so don’t despair if you don’t find one right away. And NECA is certain to keep producing these and I definitely expect at least a Casey re-release some day now that Elias Koteas is onboard. And above all, network with folks, make friends in the collecting community, and don’t feed the scalpers! Good luck!


Donald Duck Turns 86!

It’s June 9, and that means I can’t let the day go by without acknowledging that it is the birthday of my favorite animated character: Donald Duck. Donald Duck debuted in the 1934 short The Wise Little Hen and it wasn’t long before he joined Mickey and the gang becoming one of the most popular characters in the world. The past few years, I’ve marked the occasion with a post about one of the four Walt Disney Treasures releases of The Chronological Donald Duck. Well, I’ve run out of them! I’ve shared my thoughts on all four volumes now, so this year I’m giving you a quick post about some of the Donald Duck merchandise I’ve acquired over the past year.

Now it should be said, the best way to celebrate Donald Duck these days is via Disney+. Not to sound like a commercial, but Disney+ is the most convenient way to get your Donald fix as there are a handful of classic shorts, movies that feature Donald, episodes of Disneyland also featuring Donald, and even an exclusive series definitely worth watching called Legend of the Three Caballeros. To celebrate Donald’s birthday, Disney even added a Donald Duck section to Disney+ to make it easier to find stuff featuring everyone’s favorite waterfowl. It was long overdue too, as finding Donald shorts was a pain on the platform.

Everyone in my family knows I’m nuts for that duck, so Donald themed gifts are an easy way to my heart. The only challenge is getting to them before I do. This clock I keep on my nightstand is something I bought for me, and I actually bought it nearly 10 years ago so unlike everything else this one is not from the past year. I just felt it was worth sharing. It’s a sculpture featuring the classic black and white Donald from 1934 alongside a more modern Donald. It was commissioned to celebrate his 65th birthday and the actual clock is a pocket watch which is removable. It even came with a thick, gold colored, chain if you wish to sport it as a traditional pocket watch. I have only done so on one such occasion: my wedding. You’re damn right I was repping Donald on my wedding day.

This key-shaped ornament is something I acquired a year to the day. It was an item sold on Donald’s birthday last year in celebration of his 85th birthday. Some other merch was available too, like pins, but I’ve resisted the temptation to become a Disney pin collector. These keys are something the Disney Store turns to often to get people into the store. Basically, they’re first come, first serve and you have to buy them. I don’t remember what it cost, but apparently Disney collectors love them as there was a huge line before opening the day these came out by me. I was almost in trouble too as my kids had seen the advertisement for this thing ahead of time and I told them, “Sure, we’ll go get the special Donald key.” When we arrived to see that line I had to start preparing them for the possibility we might get shut out. We were fortunate though and managed to receive one of the last ones and it’s hung on my wall ever since.

These slippers were a Christmas gift from my wife and kids last year. They’re by a company called Happy Feet, and I liked them so much that I got my wife some for Valentine’s Day (Santa also brought some for my kids). Happy Feet makes two styles of slippers: big, puffy, character head ones like these, and also a zipper slipper that’s a more conventional slipper shape, but has a removable toe section. They’re called Zlipperz and they’re pretty neat. They do have Donald ones and I may have to grab a pair of those eventually to pair with these. These ones are super comfortable, though with the weather heating up I’m wearing them less and less. I’m sure they’ll wait patiently for me to turn to them this Fall when the weather cools.

Lastly, how about some Christmas in July June? These are some ornaments that were released for Christmas 2019 and if you read this blog regularly you know how I feel about Christmas. The one on the left is a traditional globe-styled ornament in a heavy-duty box. The ornament features redrawn images from the classic Christmas short Toy Tinkers starring Donald Duck alongside Chip and Dale. The middle ornament is a tin lunchbox with artwork from the latest edition of DuckTales adorning it. It opens to reveal a tiny thermos as well. Donald is featured on both the lunch box and the thermos and both also have a little eyelet to attach a hook to hang from a tree. It has yet to hang from one of my trees though as I actually got this after the holidays when it was on sale (FYI – right now is prime Christmas ornament buying season as Hallmark makes room for the coming year). And on the right, we have another commemorative ornament celebrating Donald’s 85th birthday. It’s double-sided with one side featuring a sculpture of a black and white Donald and the other featuring a modern interpretation. A circular medallion featuring the number 85 is affixed to the string from which it’s supposed to hang. Beware though, this sucker is pretty heavy for an ornament and can tumble easily from a Christmas tree.

That’s but a small piece of the Donald Duck collection in my home. It’s a collection I’m always looking to add to so hopefully 2020 brings more Donald my way. The next big year for Donald will probably be 2024 when he turns 90 and I expect there to be a whole bunch of new items then. And at that point we can begin the countdown to Donald’s 100th. I’m already saving now as I need to be at a Disney park for that one!


The Iron Giant (1999)

220px-The_Iron_Giant_posterDirector Brad Bird has become quite a name in the world of film. He is most commonly associated with Pixar where he directed much celebrated films like Ratatouille and both entries in The Incredibles. Prior to that, he was mostly known for his work as an animator and director on The Simpsons. His directorial debut with the long-running franchise was the Season One highlight “Krusty Gets Busted” and he also contributed to the much loved “22 Short Films About Springfield.” It was his work as an animator with Klasky Csupo that got him his gig with both The Simpsons and The Tracey Ullman Show, where The Simpsons originated. And he probably ended up there largely because of  his work with Disney where he was a promising young animator in the 80s seemingly destined for great things with the company.

That did not happen, and perhaps it’s for the better considering all of the quality television and films we received as a result. And while those works are much celebrated, there are still many who feel Brad Bird’s finest contribution to the world of cinema is the 1999 box-office flop The Iron Giant.

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The Iron Giant is the film directorial debut for Brad Bird.

The Iron Giant originated in a short story by poet Ted Hughes, who unfortunately passed away before the film was completed. It was a tale that captivated many who encountered it and even attracted the attention of famed musician Pete Townshend who crafted an entire concept album about the character. As a result, the story was ticketed for a musical release much in the style of many animated 90s projects, but when Brad Bird was hired to oversee it things changed. It was Bird who reimagined the story as one about a gun with a soul that decides it doesn’t actually want to be an instrument of death. This was partly the result of Bird’s sister Susan tragically being murdered during the film’s production. Warner Bros. also brought in Tim McCanlies to co-author the screenplay and the musical components were eventually dropped, though Townshend still received an executive producer credit.

The Iron Giant is a traditionally animated film which also features some CG elements, most notably the giant itself. The film is about a young boy named Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) who lives alone with his mother in a small coastal town in the state of Maine during the 1950s. Cold War paranoia is sweeping the country and is the framing device for the film. When a mysterious, 100-foot tall, robot crash lands nearby, it’s Hogarth who first finds him and befriends him. Through Hogarth, this massive robot (Vin Diesel) learns empathy and also receives a primer on life and death. The somewhat lonely Hogarth views the giant like an ultimate toy, but also comes to view the behemoth as a friend as well.

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It’s the tale of a boy and his big ass robot.

Now, 100-foot tall robots naturally attract attention. When the giant first arrives on Earth, it inadvertently causes a ship to crash and the captain of that ship alerts the FBI. The government dispatches agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) to investigate and he is able to follow a series of clues, as well as some coincidence, to the home of the Hughes. It’s there Kent realizes Hogarth knows something, and he rents a room from Hogarth’s mother (Jennifer Aniston) to keep an eye on the lad while also hoping to earn his trust and in turn uncover the truth about this giant being that’s eating the community’s metal. In turn, Hogarth has to try and keep the secret of the giant hidden and he turns to a local beatnik artist named Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.) for help since he happens to run the local scrap metal yard.

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Mansley is so obsessed with his job that it allows him to be more of a comedic element early on in the film, but he eventually turns quite sinister.

The film contains plenty of elements of comedy and drama as the tale unfolds. Hogarth and the giant have to learn how to communicate with each other since the giant doesn’t understand English initially. There’s also a lot of physical comedy bits between Hogarth and Kent as Hogarth tries to keep his friend hidden and finds creative ways to get Kent off his back. Probably the best piece of comedy occurs when the giant’s hand, having been separated from the robot via a collision with a train, stumbles into Hogarth’s home during dinner in search of the rest of his body. Hogarth is then forced to go to great lengths to keep the mechanical monstrosity from his mother, and eventually Kent, before rejoining it with the rest of the giant.

The latter part of the film loses the comedy in favor of more dramatic story-telling. The central theme of the film is you are what you choose to be, and it’s an important thing for the giant to learn as the robot is equipped with some serious firepower. This is discovered when Hogarth accidentally trips an automated defense mechanism in the robot, and it’s further exacerbated when the army eventually learns about the robot’s existence (because it has to). It’s a rather simple message, but one that easily resonates with an audience which is partly why the film is so beloved. The pairing of a kid with a being not of this world will naturally draw comparisons to E.T. and it’s an apt comparison. The only thing really separating the character of E.T. from the giant is that E.T. largely remains a passivist during his story while the giant most certainly does not.

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It’s a real joy to watch the film play with scale. Here, the giant has to literally squat down to fit in the same frame as Hogarth.

What the film chooses to leave out is the giant’s backstory. We don’t know why he’s here, or where he came from. Both are questions viewers are likely to ponder, but in the grand scheme they mean little just as it didn’t matter why E.T. was on Earth. We also don’t know much about Hogarth and how his life was before the events of the film, save for the fact that he appears to be a good student and a latchkey kid with few friends. And like the giant, it doesn’t matter and Bird was wise to ignore these details because it keeps the film at a quite tidy 87 minutes. Perhaps my biggest criticism of The Incredibles and its sequel is that they’re both just too damn long, so it’s nice to watch a Brad Bird feature that’s under 90 minutes.

The film is set in 1950s Maine partly to invoke images of Norman Rockwell. The choice is an excellent one as the town of Rockwell presented here is quite idyllic and cozy. The woodland scenery is especially gorgeous and lush and the human characters have a style to them that is not derivative of past Warner films or Disney. The giant is animated in CG largely because it was an easy way to keep his steel frame natural and consistent. He has a simple design to him and the texture work is kept fairly simple as well which helps to blend the giant with the hand-drawn visuals that surround it. He doesn’t stand out in an unnatural way, at least he doesn’t as much as a 100-foot tall robot can, and the choice to render the being this way appears to be a sound one as a result.

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The film’s central message is you are what you choose to be. For the giant, that’s Superman.

Michael Kamen is responsible for the film’s score and it’s scope is quite grand and appropriate. When the giant takes to the sky for the first time it’s exuberant and triumphant, and when it needs to be a bit melancholy it strikes the right tone. The film completely discarded its musical origins, save for an in-universe PSA about the duck and cover advice you’ve probably heard about that existed back in the 50s. The voice cast is tremendous and Eli Marienthal as Hogarth is especially deserving of praise given his young age at the time of recording. Aniston and Connick Jr. are perfectly capable in their roles, while McDonald toes the line of obsessive detective and parody rather adeptly in his portrayal of Kent Mansley. Diesel isn’t asked to do much as the giant, similar to his eventual role as Groot for Guardians of the Galaxy, but he does a good job when the scenes later in the film ask more of him. If your eyes don’t well up a bit when you hear him say “Superman” during the film’s climax then you have no soul.

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The film finally received a Blu Ray release in 2016 which also included two minutes of new footage. It was dubbed The Signature Edition.

The Iron Giant is a heartwarming tale about an outcast finding its purpose in life all on its own, even if that purpose strays from what others had earmarked it for. It’s also a tale of friendship and empathy, of right and wrong, and one about being mindful and trusting where appropriate. It’s easy to react to a creature such as the giant with fear, but maybe it’s best to give others a chance first and allow them to give one a reason to fear them beyond simply appearance. It’s also a gorgeously animated film and one of the last of its kind as it wasn’t long after the release of The Iron Giant that the majority of animated features switched over entirely to 3D, CG, animated stories. Most acknowledge now that the reason this film failed at the box office was due to Warner Bros. not marketing it well. Even though it seems many agree with that assessment, it didn’t stop studios like Warner from using commercial failures like The Iron Giant as justification for moving away from traditionally animated films. It’s unfortunate as I fear we as a society will soon lose the ability to create such wonders simply because Hollywood isn’t providing a reason for those to learn these skills. If that’s the case, at least we’ll always have wonders like The Iron Giant to look back on.


Onward (2020)

onward_tease2020 is probably going to be remembered for a lot of things, as most years are, but it’s hard to imagine it being more remembered for anything other than Covid-19, aka coronavirus. The global pandemic has shuttered businesses, cost people their jobs (and lives), while turning us all into hermits. Social distancing is a phrase we’ve all learned and are unlikely to forget. And as we move beyond this era which will hopefully end in a return to normalcy, there will be things forever associated with this period in time and one of those items forever linked to Covid-19 is the Pixar animated feature Onward.

Onward was wide-released on March 6, 2020. Roughly two weeks later, the film industry came to a screeching halt. Even when the film opened, some were already staying away from crowded places before many states in the US started forcing closures of non-essential businesses. As a result, Onward became Pixar’s lowest grossing movie through no fault of its own. As of this writing, it’s estimated to have earned a little over 100 million dollars. With no end in sight to the current climate, Disney saw no reason to keep it in theaters. Disney decided to make the best of the current situation and quickly pivoted Onward to digital using it as a lure to get more subscribers to its relatively new streaming service Disney+. Patrons could pay to rent the film digitally on March 20, or wait for it to arrive on Disney+ on April 4, less than a month after its theatrical release. Because it’s so new and people are forced to stay at home, it’s possible more eyeballs will be trained on this film than some other recent Pixar fare because it’s quite a novelty to have a brand new Pixar feature so readily available.

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Brothers and Ian and Barely are going on a quest to resurrect their father and maybe learn a thing or two about each other.

Onward is a buddy comedy starring two brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), who embark on a “quest” to restore their late father to life for one day. The hook of the feature is that it’s set in a modern-day fantasy world. The premise is essentially what would a classic fantasy world have evolved into once things like electricity were discovered? The answer seems to be that magic was largely abandoned in favor of modern technology which advanced largely in step with our world. The main difference is that elves and orcs live side-by-side and some never found better housing than hollowed out giant mushrooms. The film was conceived by director Dan Scanlon who shares a similar backstory to the central characters here in that he and his brother lost their dad at a young age. Jason Headley and Keith Bunin were brought on to refine the screenplay and the story centers on the brother protagonists and explores their relationship with each other.

Ian is the more central figure of the story. He’s about to turn 16 and is a shy individual with few friends. Barley, his older brother, is more boisterous and in-love with the world’s fantastical history. He’s also a bit of an activist, as he sometimes clashes with their mother’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) police officer boyfriend (a centaur voiced by Mel Rodriguez) when he stands in the way of demolition crews looking to tare down old world relics. When their mother was pregnant with Ian, and Barely was quite young, their father passed away after suffering an illness. With Ian coming to age though, their mother presents them with a gift their father left for them and it turns out to be a magic staff with instructions how to bring their father back for one day. Ian sees this as a way to finally meet the man he only knows through pictures and an audio recording. When the spell goes wrong though, the boys are forced to seek out a new source of magic which takes them on a road trip. Barley, being a history buff, is excited to embark on what he considers a quest while Ian just wants to get it done and over with as quickly as possible so they have the maximum amount of time available to them to spend with their dad.

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An early, quiet, moment where Ian listens to a recording of his dad he’s probably played a thousand times.

The film is largely a comedy with some fantastic set pieces and visual moments. The humor is derived from both physical comedy and conventional gags. The film mostly puts the visual gags of introducing fantasy creatures into suburbia upfront freeing it to be more creative as the film rolls along. It’s genuinely funny, though like the best Pixar features it relies more on heart and characters. Barley, being the excitable one, is often impulsive which clashes with Ian’s cautious approach. Barley would rather follow his gut while Ian wants to stick to a map the two find early on. The two need each other though, for it turns out Ian has an aptitude for magic and is able to make use of their father’s staff and the spells in Barley’s possession normally relegated to a Dungeons & Dragons type of game. And Ian needs Barley’s help because he can do practical things like drive. There are natural moments of conflict that can arise from this situation, and it’s easy to see these moments coming as Ian largely keeps quiet and defers to Barley, but you know he’s simmering on the inside at times. The film is a bit of a disguised film about what it means to be brothers. It seems to want viewers to think of it as a father-son pic at the onset, before pivoting to this brotherhood theme.

As someone who grew up reading lots of fantasy books, I welcome this setting and premise of Onward. Ian’s magical staff starts off rather neat, but it does threaten to become a crutch in order to advance the plot. The boys often run into an obstacle with the answer to such being a new spell for Ian to try out that Barley suggests. The film does at least utilize this arrangement to force the characters to learn how to work together. Initially, Barely’s suggestions on spells will be met with doubt from Ian with the miscasts even affecting Barley in a negative fashion. Ian will have to learn to trust his brother’s knowledge of the arcane, as well as his own abilities, in order to actually wield it effectively. It still ends up functioning as a deus ex machina, for the most part, but at least there’s the added goal of bringing the two characters closer.

ONWARD

Barley’s enthusiasm for history, which for this world is basically Dungeons & Dragons, is a source of embarrassment for brother Ian.

Because the film does deal with death in some way, it naturally lends itself to comparisons to Coco (and I suspect the upcoming film Soul will as well). It’s a bit unfortunate as Coco is quite possibly the best film Pixar has ever produced, it’s certainly my favorite. And it’s a wonderful film that Onward really can’t match. The plot beats here are pretty easy to see coming and it’s basically accepted at the outset that this is a film that will try to make you cry come the end. It’s at least more sincere and focused than a similar Pixar flick The Good Dinosaur. Where that film felt manipulative at times, this one does a better job of being sincere and earning its watery moments. Some viewers might feel conflicted about the ending, but it’s at least the one moment where the film does wander off the formula a touch. It’s accepted that things won’t go perfectly for Ian and Barley in their quest to be reunited with their father, but that also won’t stop viewers from yearning for that outcome.

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Corey and Laurel could have been an interesting pair for the film’s B-plot, but it doesn’t really find anything unique for them to do.

Ian and Barley’s adventure is the main focus of the film, and it’s smart to do so. There are some solid side characters, but they have a hard time taking our focus away from Ian and Barley. The main side plot involves their mother , Laurel, who pairs up with a manticore named Corey (Octavia Spencer), who happens to know where the brothers are heading and, more importantly, knows they’re about to unleash a curse upon the world. The two are in a race to stop them, but we mostly know how that will play out based on similar stories. The brothers also have a couple of brushes with the law, but that’s mostly resolved fairly quickly before the film can get all Smokey and the Bandit on us. Mostly when the film was away from the brothers I just wanted to get back to them. I understand it needs to show us what’s happening elsewhere so the eventual meet-up between all of the characters is earned, but it wasn’t as fun as it could have been. Which is a shame, because the characters of Laurel and Corey have chemistry together and I think there was room for them in the film, but they just weren’t able to find it.

Mychael and Jeff Danna handled the film’s score and it’s not afraid to lean into that fantasy setting vibe. There’s also an original song over the ending credits performed by Brandi Carlile. The score is mostly fine, though I was disappointed with it in some areas. It doesn’t take many chances to meld the fantasy with modern sounds. When it goes for a gag in which Barley selects some questing music it also falls flat. Maybe they originally intended to license something, but instead it’s just bland synth-rock when I was looking for something bombastic akin to Rhapsody of Fire.

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There’s magic to be found in this world, but the film doesn’t rely on it for visual spectacles too much.

Onward is a film rescued by its heart. It has a solid premise for a story and finds a way to arrive at a clever conclusion, even if the plot beats to get there feel very familiar. I think it could have done more with its setting. The idea is there, and some of the gags are well-played, but the whole thing feels surprisingly underplayed both visually and in the score. The actual technical abilities of the film also are not wow-inducing. Pixar is somewhat harmed by its own legacy in that respect since we’re so used to the studio raising the bar, but instead Onward is just comfortably fine. It does save its best piece of technical art for the end, which is a logical move, but it’s also not the type of visual you’ll walk away from saying “You have got to see this!” The relationship of brothers Ian and Barely though is what makes the film, and it’s not afraid to lean on the two. Pratt and Holland are both charismatic and believable in their roles and the characters are handled with grace. It’s hard for the audience to side with one over the other. They’re both right in some places, and weak in others. It’s easy to relate to both and thus hard to even pick a favorite.

It should also go without saying that the focus of the film on loss is easy to relate to. We either are that someone or know someone who has lost their father. Many can even relate to Ian as someone who never knew a parent due to tragedy. It’s a very compelling plot device to ask an audience what they would do in order to have one more day with someone they love. As a result, it’s almost impossible to separate this film from real world examples. If the film dwelled on that too much it would have felt manipulative, but instead it presents the premise and then lets it mostly simmer on the back burner. Because that sense of loss is such a personal thing, I suspect this movie will appeal more to people willing to allow themselves to “go there” and be vulnerable for 100 minutes or so. I would say Onward will be among the most polarizing for Pixar, but I think that’s too strong a word. There will be some who cite this as their new favorite from the studio, but few will number it among the worst. I think the divide will largely fall on the line of those who consider it great, and those who found it entertaining.

I lean more towards the latter, as I think the film offers a totally worthwhile and enjoyable experience, but it won’t be threatening to dethrone the likes of Coco and Finding Nemo for me. And in many ways I don’t think my opinion matters. Onward feels like a movie made by Dan Scanlon (and other talented people) for Dan Scanlon to process and deal with the tragedy in his past. He wasn’t able to wield a magical staff, but hopefully he and his brother were able to arrive at a similar place to Ian and Barley. And ultimately, I hope Onward ended up being the movie he wanted to make.


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