Monday, February 13, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean action figures (theme park exclusive)
Toy review by Sombrero Grande

As you surely know by now, Sombrero Grande is a huge theme park nut and action figure collector, so when I heard that there were now action figures based on the characters in Disney’s classic Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, my jaw dropped. I had to head on down to Disneyland this past weekend to check them out in person at the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney. (I didn’t really feel like ponying up $50+ to go check them out at the in-park official Pirates of the Caribbean store, though I was told by the Cast Member working the register that they have a bigger selection in there.) There’s already been a set of four action figures based on the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, with many more on the way including at least one set for the sequel coming out this summer, but these are the first action figures I’ve ever seen to be based on the Marc Davis-designed Audio-Animatronic figures that have been entertaining riders for nearly 40 years now. Once I got them in my hands, I realized that these are pretty decent figures, a little better than I was expecting but not as phenomenal as I’d hoped they’d be.

I’d only gotten one of the Haunted Mansion figures Disney put out a few years ago to coincide with the movie--one of the hitchhiking ghosts. To me, the sculpts were just too off--almost as if the sculptor was working only from memory to recreate some of the ride’s more iconic characters. For these Pirates of the Caribbean figures, the same seems to hold true again, but thankfully to a far lesser degree. Most of the most important details are there even if none of them are completely accurate.

The three figures I picked up are labeled “The Scalawag,” the drunken pirate carousing with pigs in the mud (who served as inspiration for a scene in the movie); “The Pillager,” the skeleton pinned to the cave wall with a sword through his chest from early in the ride; and “The Buccaneer,” the womanizing/gluttonous, chubby pirate who is currently the only Audio-Animatronic figure in the ride who directly addresses riders floating by.

The Buccaneer is my clear favorite of the three figures. He’s the only one who really bears a striking resemblance to the ride figure and he comes with one of the coolest accessories in the line so far. It’s not easy to see from the packaging, but one of the neatest aspects of this line of figures is their detailed bases, and the Buccaneer comes with a fun, unadvertised bonus feature. At Disneyland, this guy used to query riders if they’d “set their eyes on a bewitchin’ maiden in their travels,” and then go on to describe how he’d like to “hoist me colors on the likes of that shy little wench,” and “I be willin’ to share, I be!” Wow, it’s no wonder this guy was “cleaned up” in the ‘90s; he now sits stuffed with food as opposed to raging hormones and asks passing riders if they’d care to join him in chowing down on a fine pork loin (though the Walt Disney World version of the ride may still sport the un-P.C. version of the scene, I’m not certain). At any rate, the “punch line” to this horny pirate gag was that the young lady he was pining for was hiding within sight of riders, immediately behind this guy and poking her head cautiously out of a barrel. The Buccaneer action figure comes with the barrel as an accessory part of his display base and on the barrel is a button that, if you push it, causes the hiding maiden to pop her head out the top. It’s a fun, unexpected feature, and the young woman’s sculpt and paint is even more detailed than the Buccaneer’s, so I’m really surprised there was no mention of it on the packaging.

The Scalawag isn’t nearly as recognizable until you see the muddy base and pigs he comes with. The outfit matches the figure in the ride, but something about the face just seems off. Unfortunately it’s rather difficult to get him into a believable sitting position (it’s too bad they couldn’t give him the same kind of waist/hip articulation Palisades gave Statler and Waldorf in their Muppets line to allow them to sit, but oh well), but eventually I was able to get him to sit and hold a reasonable seated stance off to one side of the mud base. He comes with two pigs--though I believe the ride has three--one stuck to the base lying down and one separate and standing. Something that’s not very apparent from seeing the Scalawag in his packaging is that his whole backside, from his pants on down to his bare feet, is caked in brown mud. It makes sense when you display him on his base, but it looks a little odd if you plan on putting him somewhere out of context...

The Pillager appears much more sinister than his theme park counterpart. The action figure does not sport the cute seagull sitting on his hat, and I don’t recall seeing so much dried blood caked on the rockwork behind him on the ride. The articulation on his left arm is a little funky--I felt like perhaps it had been attached improperly, and who knows, maybe that’s the case, but it hangs out and down instead of down and forward. Also, he’s got non-skeletal hands, which look rather odd. They aren’t gloves either; they’ve got fingernail details on them and everything. His base is quite nice though, with a crab and treasure chest stuck to the sand base and an attachable sign that reads “Dead Men Tell No Tales” with the seagull missing from his hat perched on that instead. His sword doesn’t have to pin him to the wall; it’s easily removed or replaced, making for some fun play options. Of the three figures I purchased, he’s the one that would probably look best away from his base if it weren’t for the funky articulation. His head doesn’t move at all, which is a surprise.

All the figures come with a wealth of accessories to hold-lots of guns, swords, bottles o’ rum, etc., and they seem to be pretty interchangeable from figure to figure. All the paintwork on my figures was more than adequate and the large amount of overall articulation was a welcome surprise. The names seem a bit odd (who decided to call them “The Pillager” or “The Scalawag”?!) and the fact that a couple of the most iconic characters didn’t (as far as I know, the store didn’t have all of them) make it into plastic form with these is a bit suspect. Where’s the Auctioneer? He’s easily the most popular figure on the ride among the ride’s big fans (after the Red Head of course), yet I didn’t see him. Some of the other figures in the series include “The First Mate,” the drunken pirate harassing some alley cats, who calls himself “Old Bill” in the ride; “The Treasure Keeper,” who, as far as I can tell, is the one interrogating the mayor being dunked in the well; “The Captain” and “The Red Head,” both of whom everyone will probably recognize.

The price of these figures is a very reasonable $12 given that A) these are sold only at Disney’s theme parks, B) they’re exclusive figures and C) the average price of a standard specialty market action figure these days is easily $10-$15 a piece.

As a big Pirates of the Caribbean fan, I’d rate these figures 3 stars out of 4, though the Buccaneer may be a 3 and 1/2. If you’re a huge fan like me you’ll want to be sure to pick up at least a few of these action figures, but you’ll probably want to pick and choose your favorites instead of just grabbing all of them. While I’d love to see a company like NECA or McFarlane do some really spot-on sculpts for these figures (and the Haunted Mansion ones too while they’re at it), these Disney figures are probably the best action figure representations we’ll ever see for the ride’s characters.


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