Captain Toy/Michael's Review of the Week

Captain Toy Picks...
The Top Ten Animated Action Figure Series

Date Published: 2016-11-30
Written By: Michael Crawford

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Rango action figure

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Regular Readers know that one of my personal favorites is action figures based on animated shows and movies.  It's hard for me to resist, even when I know they'll probably just end up boxed in storage - the designs are just so damn cute.  My most recent addiction was the Zootopia line, and I only need two more vehicles to be complete. See, that's the other problem with animated lines - I tend to be a completist with them more than any other style.

People often make the mistake of assuming that since they are cartoon characters, and therefore simple designs, that creating accurate action figures should be easy.  In fact, it's not only difficult, it's often nearly impossible. Animated characters can vary scene to scene and even frame to frame.  Additionally, they are usually two dimensional, and capturing a three dimensional version of a flat character can be tremendously complicated.

For this list, I went with series, not specific figures. If I went with specific individual figures, I suspect it would be a very different list...perhaps that would make a good future article.

I also suspect that this list will be very heavily influenced by not just your personal tastes (which they all are, of course) but by when you grew up. The cartoons of our youth tend to stick with us, good or bad, and separating our nostalgia from our picks can be very difficult.

Here we go!

10 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Playmates, 1988
You're going to notice a number of heavy hitters missing from my list, and I'll discuss some of them in the concluding section. But one series that I simply couldn't leave off is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Playmates. Originally started in 1988, this is one of the longest running action figure lines of all time (even with a break in the late 90's), and remains a big seller for Playmates. Interestingly enough, my favorite Turtles action figures aren't from Playmates but rather the NECA comic book based set, but this is an animated list after all.

Playmates TMNT Michelangelo action figure

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9 - Samurai Jack, Equity, 2001
On just about every list, I'll have one choice that makes you scratch your head.  This one might just be it.

One of the great cartoons to hit at the turn of the century was Samurai Jack, by Genndy Tartakovsky. Great writing combined with killer designs and a unique (for the time) animation style made the show stand out from the pack, and garner critical and fan praise. The show is scheduled to make a return next year, so now is the time to catch up with the original 52 episodes.

A company named Equity produced a series of toys, and the basic figures were fairly large, running in the 8 - 9" scale. They captured the look and feel of the show beautifully, and while there weren't a ton of figures (and what there were was largely Jack variants), it was a great example of getting the tricky 2D format right in three dimensions.

The photo comes from Figure Realm, where they have an excellent checklist of all the figures.

Samurai Jack action figure

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8 - Nightmare Before Christmas, NECA, 2005
Claymation or stop motion animation movies and shows have spawned some terrific action figure lines with some amazing variety, from Corpse Bride to 9 to Davey and Goliath. My favorite was an easy pick though - the Nightmare Before Christmas series from NECA.

Not only did they capture the characters beautifully, they gave us a ton of variety. That's something I love in most animated lines - the diversity of characters. If an animated line can make it past a wave or two, they almost always get deep into the B and even C characters, which I find extremely appealing. That's the case here, where we didn't just get Jack and Sally, but the Undersea Gal as well.

NMBC Dr. Finklestein action figure

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7 - Ren & Stimpy, Palisades, 2004
If you read my 'toy things I'm thankful for' Top Ten, you'll remember that I mentioned the Mattel Ren and Stimpy line. But that line won't be seen here - while I have a nostalgic love for it and its effect on my collecting, I'm capable of seeing that it also sucked big time.

But I love the subversive cartoon, and thankfully Palisades stepped up to the plate to produce a terrific line of figures. Sadly, we didn't get a ton, but what we got were the usual tremendous quality that we expected from the company.

Another aspect of animated lines that I love is all the cool accessories - companies usually go all out with the extras, unlike most superhero or reality based lines.  This series is a great example, particularly with Mr. Horse, who had the extra parts to give him multiple looks on the shelf. Rubber Nipple Fetish!

Ren and Stimpy Mr. Horse action figure

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6 - Family Guy, Mezco, 2004
Mezco has done some great animated lines, including the classic Popeye series that almost made the list. They managed to get two of their lines on here, and the first is Family Guy.

I've mentioned two features I love about animated lines - depth of characters, and depth of accessories. This series kills it on both counts. You don't get a lot of action figure lines where you get characters like the Pope, and the volume and episode specificity of the accessories was truly impressive.

Family Guy Stewie action figure

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5 - Invader Zim, Palisades, 2004
Palisades did a ton of great animated action figures, including some based on the Pink Panther and the Adult Swim block of shows. But none of them can top their Invader Zim line, thanks to the unique design and overall quality.

One of the features of the Zim figures that always impressed me was the amount of articulation they managed to get into the tiny limbs and cartoon style. It also helps that they killed it with the accessories again, creating dioramas and sets that added to the overall display of the figures themselves. I wish the line had gone further, but I still love the figures we did get.

Palisades Invader Zim Germ Fighting action figure

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4 - South Park, Mezco, 2005
I love the show, but I was pretty hard on Mezco back in the day with this series. But thanks to going deep into the characters and hitting up all those cool episode specific accessories, I've grown to love them over time.

This line also sports a feature that no other series had before, and I doubt any series will have again - articulated eyebrows!

Mezco South Park Carman action figure

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3 - Futurama, Toynami, 2007
A lot of companies took a shot at the Futurama license, including Moore Action Collectibles with their series of figures.  But only one got it right - Toynami. It helps that they had plenty of experience with animated lines, including their great work with Thundarr. But it was with their Futurama line that they really shone, and it's easily my favorite Toynami series period. It's another that I wish had gone further, because the sheer number of potential characters and figure variants is so great, but we still got some unique releases and some amazing accessories. They also managed to incorporate some useful articulation, even with the difficult cartoon style.

Toynami Futurama Nudar action figure

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2 - Batman The Animated Series, Kenner, 1992 
I haven't talked much about BTAS during the course of my Top Ten lists so far. Even the more recent TNBA Batman from DC Collectibles ended up on my Top Ten Batman list, but nothing from the original Kenner toys. But that's not to underestimate my love for the series, and the overall quality of the line.

In fact, this is the line that really caused me to become the psycho collector I am today. Prior to this, I dabbled with a toy here, a toy there. But the show and action figure line created a perfect storm, combining a cartoon I loved with a terrific plastic representation. Sure, the articulation always left something to be desired, but the sculpts were terrific and the scale just about perfect for the show.

I never did get a Robin's Dragster, so if anyone out there is feeling particularly giving this Christmas season, you can put that on my list.

The photo is from the terrific site Cool Toy Review.

One:12 Collective Frankenstein action figure

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1 - World of Springfield, Playmates, 1999
Was there any doubt what would be number one?  Of course not.  I've gone on about the World of Springfield line plenty of times now, and I've even done a top ten figures list specifically for the series.  Talk about depth - they produced more than 200 figures and 36 play sets! And Playmates pretty much defined creating episode specific accessories, and lots of them.  Add in the terrific Intelletronic sound feature, and you have my all time favorite animated series.

World of Springfield Homer action figures

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You'll notice some pretty heavy hitters are missing. For example, there's no G.I. Joe.  That's because I'm a child of the 60's, and the small figures based on the tv show were an abomination to my generation. Yes, they are great toys, but they weren't MY G.I. Joe.

You'll also notice no Masters of the Universe.  I love the classics line, but I was never a fan of the original show or the original animated action figures.

If you're a child of the 80's, I'm betting other lines like Thundercats and Transformers are big on your list, but I have no real nostalgic love for them. To be honest, I've always thought the 70's and 80's were terrible time for animation,  but if you grew up watching those shows you're much more likely to add them to your list. And let's be honest - a line like Transformers is a truly amazing series of toys whether or not the show speaks to you.

I'm betting a lot of people are going to ask "Where's the Muppets?"  While I put any Muppet figures I review, including the amazing Palisades line, under the 'cartoon' label in my indexes, they aren't really a cartoon. It's not a series based on an animated show, and therefore wasn't eligible for the list.

It's interesting to note that 6 of the 10 choices came from 3 companies: Playmates, Palisades, and Mezco. I'd say that's because of two factors - overall quality from these companies and their greater focus on animated lines in general.

If you're enjoying this concept of Captain Toy Picks, drop me a line and let me know!

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Photos and text by Michael Crawford.

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