Ripley, Believe It Or Not…
According to recent news Fox’s Alien franchise is poised to gear up again. This fifth installment will feature first Alien protagonist Ellen Louise Ripley as the lead character and apparently ignore the plot lines of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. It’s a maneuver by director/writer Neill Blomkamp (Chappie, District 9) that will surely cause controversy in the fan communities for its wholesale revisionism. I personally hope it will finally give the Ripley character a definitive and satisfying third act. Most importantly, actress Sigourney Weaver has just verified taking the lead again. It’s a role that has proven to define the female action hero for several decades and it’s good to know it will be in the hands of its original creator.
In tandem with this exciting news comes NECA’s announced Alien Series 4 action figures. This wave includes Nostromo Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit) and none other than Ripley herself, based on Weaver’s likeness for the first time. It’s something collectors have been clamoring for and worth the wait as the figure debuts in two different versions. One Ripley dons the distinctive Nostromo spacesuit – what I call the “samurai goalie” look – the other is garbed in her jumpsuit, armed with flame thrower. Spacesuit helmets can be removed, but beware those of ornery face huggers. There are even two versions of Jonesy the Cat, one calm and the other with his hackles up.
NECA (National Entertainment Collectibles Association) never fails to amaze with their New York Toy Fair sales booth displays. This year the highlight was a huge diorama with Ripley in the P-5000 Power Loader that NECA prevued last year. She’s prepared to battle the monstrous xenomorph Queen Mother. Half of the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) watches helplessly in the midst of a hatchling swarm of scurrying face huggers.
The queen is quite a showpiece. NECA has captured the sleek, angular, and wiry essence of the creature with its regal crest and slavering jaws. The deluxe figure has 30 points of articulation, stands over 15 inches tall and 30 inches long to the tip of its highly posable tail. A stand and two sets of inner jaws are included.
Tall Cool One…
NECA also displayed a prototype of their 1979 Alien. It’s a quarter scale replica of the suit worn by 6′ 10″ Balaji Badejo for his sinuous and balletic performance. Born out of the late H. R. Giger’s nightmarish artwork, this lone creature was plenty enough of a scare on his own in the original film. Even in its unpainted state it’s clear NECA has a fine representation in the works. It’s scheduled for a June release.
I was fortunate to have viewed the original Alien in its first theater run, probably its first week. In 1979 there was no chance of internet spoilers, no speculation from decades old fan bases, just a pure experience that was quite a fright ride. Second and third viewings were equal fun, especially watching the popcorn fly in the midst of unsuspecting first timers. I only knocked the edges off the experience once I could run it on VHS at will. It is that kind of audience familiarity and the since proffered Prometheus backstory and Predator interpolations that Neill Blomkamp will have to overcome in his quest to make his new installment of a piece with the first two and offer that kind of impact.
Monogram International Inc. is noted for their years of creating unique licensed collectibles and novelties, and I’ve been tracking their creations over many Toy Fairs. Their bust banks are particular favorites of mine, and they have created many ComicCon exclusives in this range. Antman and Loki are stand out additions to the line this year.
Photographing the varied items at their 2015 New York International Toy Fair booth, I quickly became enamored with Monogram’s soon to be released series of 3D Foam Figural Key Rings. Licensing spans the Marvel, Disney, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and DC universes. The 2” characters have a nice chunky feel, soft but not “squishy.” Their super cute wide-eyed designs are fun and inventive and should make them popular with both youngsters and collectors of stylized characters.
Each keyring series includes 9 standard characters and 2 exclusive figures. Marvel Series 1 includes, Spider-Man, Hulk, Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Iron Man, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Star-Lord. The two “chase” characters illustrated on the bag in silhouette appear to be variants of Iron Man and Rocket. They will be sold as foil pack “blind bags.” Inside each package the characters are wrapped in cardboard to discourage the “touchy feely” collectors from trying to divine their purchase in advance. It keeps things honest and trading brisk.
The Monogram folks were so kind as to offer Ken Pierce (PiercingMetal.Com) and I a mystery bag each, and of course we opened them immediately. I was happy to find Galaxy Guardian Rocket Raccoon in mine, especially since he was not included in the Monogram display.
Weight of the Universe…
Monogram also unveiled a very early look at their Marvel Avengers paperweight. Shown in unpainted prototype it’s an out of the ordinary collector’s piece, nice for the desk of that comic obsessed executive you know. Standing atop the Avengers logo, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Ultron and the Hulk are all nicely sculpted ranging at what seemed to be 4-5 inches tall. Although not shown at Toy Fair, likely still in the sculpt stage, the company’s product art illustrates The Abomination and Loki as part of the set as well.
Though not originally a fan of the mystery box or blind bag collectible model, I’ve come to understand its strengths. Commercially the “thrill of the chase” for your favorite characters certainly drives sales but psychologically adds a layer of fun via anticipation and surprise. That’s not such a bad thing for kids to experience in a world of mostly instant gratification. A personal analogy is how much I enjoyed chasing after 45 RPM’s with Non-LP B-Sides by my favorite musical artists. Now those “bonus” tracks are a click away for download and not truly special at all.
Starting as the Binney & Smith Company, selling industrial pigments, Crayola has been in business for well over 100 years putting art supplies in the hands of one generation after another. The current product line perfectly embraces a two fold vision. There is a tried and true allegiance to standard crayon-in-hand creativity that blossoms in connection with technology both old and new.
Drawing on History…
For instance, the Sketch Wizard is a colorful spin on the camera obscura, an ancient optical device that essentially allows you to trace your subject via it’s projected image. It is widely posited that many artists throughout history used this method to properly render perspective and foreshortening on the 2 dimensional page or canvas. My niece, whose parents were fascinated by Tim’s Vermeer, the recent film documenting the recreation of a Johannes Vermeer style painting by a non-artist using this method, found this one was under the Xmas tree last December.
Also in old school tech mode is the hand pumped Crayola Air Brush, which turns your markers into spray brushes, giving you a perfect way to create delicate stenciled art or misty backgrounds for your characters to inhabit.
The Color Alive products, what Crayola calls a “4D” experience, feature traditional looking coloring books and crayons that allow image capture into your tablet environment. Once visually pulled into the downloadable app your character comes to life in the colors you chose, and against a selection of backgrounds, including the real world image of whatever you point your device’s camera at. I was treated to a fire-breathing dragon dancing on my head with nary a tipple, I swear. The product range currently includes some very popular licenses from Mattel’s Barbie to the Activision’s Skylanders universe. Specialty crayon colors in each package add active nuances like flames and sparkles to the on screen art.
Additionally, 3D Systems in partnership with Crayola can print up a unique collector statue from your 2D Color Alive art. That option should arrive in April 2015.
As someone who dabbled in stop-motion animation during my pre and early teens I found the most impressive demo to be the Color Alive Easy Animation Studio. In my day I enlisted my full size Hasbro G.I. Joe’s to be the stars of my films, often covering them in clay to resemble the creatures in my favorite Ray Harryhausen epics like Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. My “G. I. Cyclops” got a lot of screen time.
Set for July 2015 release, Crayola’s stop motion animation package includes an articulated figure, book with 10 characters to customize and a software application. You simply move the figure into the main positions you prefer, photograph each with your device and the motion capture app does the “tweening,” giving you smooth transitions between the moves. I was pretty amazed by the finished look based on a few simple moves.
I Am Curious (UnMellow Yellow)…
Several newly announced Crayola kits including the Cling Creator to make gummy window and mirror adornments and The Crayon Carver, an engraver that let’s kids personalize their colors of choice, will be worth your attention. Each would make an interesting “activity station” at a birthday party or family gathering, with something self created to go home with. Others like the Paint Maker and Marker Maker kits give kids a hands-on experience creating their own artist’s tools and colors. Paint Maker was TIA’s Activity Toy of the Year Winner for 2015.
As a professional photographer with a fascination for stop motion animation, the Sketch Wizard and Animation Studio are my two favorites. They hit my historical and technological sweet spots for those two disciplines.
I suggest you make the Crayola kiosk a destination next time you’re shopping to get the full experience. The company has kept the price range very moderate, with kits running from approximately $17.00 – $30.00 USD and expansion and refill packages not prohibitive.
The Toy Industry Association‘s 112th North American International Toy Fair 2015 (#NYTF15) got it’s official start with a ribbon cutting event at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center on Saturday February 14, but it launched with advance festivities at the Association’s annual Toy of the Year Awards ceremony the evening before. I’m glad to see several that caught our eye this season took top honors.
Spin Master’s Zoomer Dino, the remote controlled “Boomer,” was voted Best Boy Toy. Its sleek design caught my eye when I first encountered it at the Big Toy Book 2014 Holiday of PLAY event.
Co-editor Adriana “Andy” Melendez (Sylverwhisper) was particularly fond of Hasbro’s Nerf Rebelle archery sets, allowing young ladies to channel their inner Katniss Everdeen in backyard Hunger Games or rival Marvel Avenger Hawkeye for his accuracy. One of the Rebelle line, the super soaker Dolphina Water Bow, took Best Outdoor Toy honors.
The Crayola Paint Maker won Activity Toy of the Year division. It’s a toy we gifted to my niece this year. Crayola’s complete line of classic to digital creative sets is impressive. I still covet my childhood box of 64 crayons, replete with sharpener but I’m looking forward to reporting on Crayola’s other products, including their interesting camera obscura style drawing apparatus.
Elsa is Everywhere…
It would seem that Princess Elsa is celebrating her TOTY award by putting NYC in a deep freeze for the next several days. The ubiquitous franchise Disney’s Frozen deservedly won for Property of the Year.
The Complete List…
The Toy Industry Association’s press release offers the complete rundown of winners with an explanation of their voting process.
“TOTY Award winners were selected with the input of consumers (on ToyAwards.org), retailers (mass and specialty), media and members of the toy industry. The five ballots were weighted and used to determine the category winners, with the exception of the “People’s Choice” award, which was selected exclusively by consumers.”
Recognizing an outstanding toy that inspires creative play through various forms of activity, the Activity Toy of the Year was presented to Crayola Paint Maker (Crayola)
Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for boys of any age, the Boy Toy of the Year was presented to ZOOMER DINO™ (Spin Master)
Recognizing an app-cessory or other physical toy that interacts with a smartphone, tablet or gaming device, the
e-Connected Toy of the Year was presented to LEGO® FUSION (LEGO Systems, Inc.)
Recognizing an outstanding toy that helps children develop special skills and knowledge through play, the
Educational Toy of the Year was presented to LEGO® Technic (LEGO Systems, Inc.)
Recognizing an outstanding children’s board, card, CD-ROM or electronic game, the Game of the Year was presented to Simon Swipe™ (Hasbro, Inc.)
Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for girls of any age, the Girl Toy of the Year was presented to Shopkins™ Small Mart Playset (Moose Toys)
Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for infants and toddlers up to 36 months, the Infant/Toddler Toy of the Year was presented to Go! Go! Smart Animals™ Zoo Explorers Playset™ (VTech®)
Recognizing an outstanding toy that combines innovation and play value, the Innovative Toy of the Year was presented to MiP ™ (WowWee)
Recognizing an outstanding toy that is designed for outdoor play, the Outdoor Toy of the Year was presented to Nerf Rebelle Dolphina Bow (Hasbro, Inc.)
Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for preschool-aged children (ages 3-5), the Preschool Toy of the Year was presented to LEGO® Juniors (LEGO Systems, Inc.)
Recognizing a property that has had the greatest success spreading its brand throughout the industry, the
Property of the Year was presented to Disney’s Frozen (The Walt Disney Company)
Recognizing an outstanding toy that is distributed primarily through specialty toy retailers, the
Specialty Toy of the Year was presented to Gravity Maze™ (ThinkFun, Inc.)
Last year at this time we were treated to a look at Mezco Toyz’ early prototype for a Creature from the Black Lagoon Living Dead Doll which quickly went on my must have list. Since then the company has done a design rethink on the figure and gave us another early look during last week’s Pre Toy Fair press event.
The little Creature’s head sculpt still presents a child like look in keeping with his Living Dead Doll siblings but he has lost the Mego style cloth jump suit that represented his scales in the original design. The rethink gives the doll a nicely sculpted fully molded body more in line with Mezco’s stylized lagoon monster released last year. I was lucky enough to score an all white pre-production “test shot” of that guy, seen in the photo below, at Mezco’s vault clearing sale.
Due in July 2015, the “creach” will join the Mezco’s other Universal Monster LDD’s Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride. Preorder the prehistoric gill-boy here.
What’s In A Name? Well, that which we call a rose might wither in the hand of any of one of Mezco’s long running and award winning Living Dead Doll line. New Series 29 will introduce us to the The Nameless Ones. Fresh from interment these 5 children of the damned are garbed in a variety of togs from party dresses to morning and mourning gowns.
Follow the Jaundiced Brick Road…
Along with their original LDD designs, like the new Grim Reaper kissing booth ghoul, Mezco continues to spin up licensed merchandise in some of the most sort after fan franchises. Leafing through their beautifully laid out 2015 product catalog reveals some interesting surprises ahead. In addition to Child’s Play‘s Chucky (design still pending licensor approval) and The Conjuring’s Annabelle, I’m most excited to see the announcement of Wizard of Oz themed dollies joining the Living Dead roster. Dorothy and her companions The Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man dolls are first up, but I’m hoping for an LDD Flying Monkey easing’ on down the road.