The Action Figures
A review of the Futurama action figures by Eric Sansoni
April 10, 2001
Last month Moore Action Collectibles kicked off their Futurama toy line with the 8" vinyl Nibbler. Now the heart of the line, the action figures, have begun to hit stores. It's unclear if these will be available at general toy stores. MAC's previous high-profile line, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was available at only one, Toys 'R Us. So far, Futurama has only hit the entertainment specialty shops like Media Play and Suncoast Video, as well as some comic book shops. The rumored case assortment is 4 Bender, 3 Leela, 3 Fry, and 2 Planet Express ship. This seems likely as what I saw on the shelf would indicate that 2 each of Bender, Leela, and Fry had been sold by the time I got there.
Expect to pay more for these than most other action figures. MAC's Buffy figures were $9.99 at Toys 'R Us, and that was the low end of the price range. Suncoast is charging $12.99 each for the new Futurama figures. MAC is not a major toy company like Playmates, Hasbro, or Toy Biz, so they don't have the same economies of scale in their favor. I think we should just be happy these got made at all. Given FOX's lackluster promotion and frequent preemption of the show, we're lucky at least one company had faith it would still be on the air by the time the figures were ready.
This debut wave features the show's core characters, Fry, Leela, and Bender, along with a miniature Planet Express ship. The odds are against this growing into an extensive toy line, due to MAC's less powerful distribution and marketing along with the show's lower profile, but I hope we get at least another wave or two. If we could get Dr. Zoidberg, Zapp Brannigan, Amy, Professor Farnsworth, Hermes, Kif and perhaps Mom, we would have a pretty complete lineup of all the important recurring characters. If not, at least here we get the three major stars right off the bat.
The best thing about a smaller company like MAC is that they are willing to be more innovative and take a less cookie cutter approach to designing their toys. That can also be the worst thing, when some of their ideas don't work or just aren't executed as well. Overall these toys hit the mark more often than not, with the flaws being of a more technical nature.
The show's superstar Bender is bound to be the most popular figure. I'm happy to say he may just be one of the best done action figures of 2001. MAC really went the extra mile here. Not only does Bender actually bend, (which may allow him to bend better), with full bendy legs and arms, but his chest cavity door actually works with room for two accessories inside. His sculpt is perfect, and the eyes have an angry expression making him seem more lifelike. The coloring is spot-on, right down to different tones on his visor and upper chest that give him a more convincing look. The bendy limbs preserve the perfect look of his sculpt in any position, and of course offer infinite articulation possibilities. The shoulder and hip joints are actually completely functioning as well, something I've never heard of on action figures with bendy parts, which itself is a rare design feature to begin with. Bender comes with a flexible pipe and Old Fortran bottle which he can hold, and a pile of money and can of Mom's Robot Oil which he can't. The paint detail on the money is extraordinary, although the visible bill has no face to it. One problem with Bender is that you need to bend his legs somewhat to get his feet flat on the floor. Either the feet are too big or the legs are too close together to let him stand if you bend them straight. Other than that the only real improvements I could think of would be to give him twistable wrists and a He-Man-esque feature, where we could twist his antennae around to show different eye shapes. Bender comes with a suicide booth display stand, which gives the illusion of being 3D but is actually flattened out by a factor of about 80%. I grade Bender a 9 out of 10 or an A-.
Also sure to be popular due to her lovely plastic physique is Leela. She is a good figure, but probably the weakest entry in this wave. The sculpt is pretty nice, especially all the important body parts, but I would have gone with a narrow-eyed expression instead of the blank stare. Her leg stance is stylized, making most possible poses a little awkward. Coupled with the ponytail this makes her the hardest figure to balance and stand up. Her posability is also hurt a little on her left elbow because it's sculpted in such a way that it won't bend back more than halfway. One nice feature is that in addition to her 15 joints she has what may be another action figure innovation, an articulated ponytail. What is bothersome about the joints is that the places where the thighs and biceps are cut are not rounded off enough. The articulated parts don't match well when not in their original pose. Leela is one character that would have benefitted from the sleekest look possible. Still, the arm articulation helps her pose well with either of her two guns. She also comes with Nibbler, his litterbox, and a stylish otherworldly display stand. I think they may have miscolored her wristamacallit. At least, it doesn't match the cardback. I grade Leela a 6 out of 10 or a B-.
Fry is the third and final figure in the wave. He's got some of the most distinctive accessories of them all, with a can of Slurm, a can of anchovies, a pack of Lightspeed briefs, and a gun. The blank stare look works a little better for him. Another interesting detail is that both he and Leela have their pupils sculpted, not just painted on. Both of Fry's arms are built tight to his body so they don't pose quite as versatilely as Leela's. He's got a nice straight leg pose and huge feet, so he is very easy to stand. I think the legs on both of these figures would pose better with a more straight up-and-down hip joint even without the thigh joint, but you can get Fry into a couple of decent sitting positions and almost into a kneeling position the way they are. It helps that Fry is not the type of guy to sit up neat and straight. His thigh joints have the same mismatched quality as Leela's, but his bicep joints look better. The only real problem with his articulation is the neck. It's cut at an angle, so he can't turn his head to the side very naturally. It tilts like an owl's. They could have cut the joint deeper in the shirt and lengthened the neck to avoid this easily. Overall, though, this is a very accurate sculpt that can be put into a lot of convincing poses. He comes with his own non-working semi-3D display stand, this one of the cryogenic freezing chamber, sporting some very nice coloring on its windows. I grade Fry a 7 out of 10 or a B.
The real oddity in this wave is the Planet Express ship. Since all you get in the package is a minimally playable ship and three accessories with no stand, it's basically the equivalent of the other figures without the figure. That makes it very overpriced. The ship itself is about the size of a Galoob Action Fleet ship. It looks very nice, with accurate colors, individually painted windows and clean logos. It has a rotating cannon, and 3 retractable landing gear. The front one folds up in an interesting way to allow the ship's steps to fit in, but they all require a little fiddling to make sure they don't collapse under the toy's weight. The back ones don't seem long enough either, because the ship's fins almost touch the ground. Unfortunately at this price I would at least expect the ship to split open and reveal a micro world inside, but there is no such luck. You do get 3 full-size alien critter accessories with this, and the ship does look very nice against the Action Fleet Millennium Falcon, but this should have sold for $6 or $8 at the most. I'll have to grade this overall package a 4 out of 10 or a C taking that into account.
Another great bonus is the individual backer cards. They all look the same from the front, with a nice design reminiscent of the show's opening but completely original, with its own sense of proportion and color. The best thing though are the bio cards on the back. They are brilliantly written, capturing tons of subtle details from the show about the characters as well as inserting ample wit relating to their personalities and the quirky evolution of Futurama's sci-fi world. The language and detail reminds me of the Hitchhiker's Guide books by Douglas Adams, which seems logical I suppose considering the rare amount of intelligent sci-fi parody that's been done. These cards are some nice icing on the cake.
These toys will invite comparison to Playmates' Simpsons line for the obvious reasons. MAC's line is actually more traditional, with foot holes, display stands, and good ol' articulation. These have 15 points vs. Playmates' 4 points (including neck, shoulder, bicep, elbow, wrist, hip, thigh, and knee), but of course they lack the talking feature. Rather than large playsets, MAC's line has an individual 3D display stand with each figure. Both lines are neck and neck for accessories, tied for the top position in the action figure world in terms of amount, quality, and variety. If you add up the prices for a full wave of Simpsons figures and playsets, you actually pay $8.75 per figure ($9.50 at Toys 'R Us), so the price difference for Futurama isn't quite as drastic as it first seems. Not to mention, these are larger 6" figures, actually in scale to Playmates' more expensive 6" Simpsons line coming this year. The Futurama figures seem to have more consistently good paint application, however some of the colors have a glossy look that isn't as realistic as Playmates' coloring. MAC has done some more things that are just plain fun, like Bender's special features, however, while Simpsons has less articulation, the quality of the Simpsons joints has been better executed. When all is said and done, MAC and Playmates are basically on par with each other in terms of the nuts and bolts of the lines, as long as you consider the voices a fair tradeoff for more articulation. At any rate, the best thing about both of these lines is that they were actually produced. Both have a lot of enjoyment and collectible display value to offer and get a solid grade of 7 out of 10 or a B from me.