12" Pierre Toussaint Charbonneau

I usually don't spend too much time on the backstory of any figure I'm reviewing. You see, my theory is that if you don't know who the character is, odds are pretty good you wouldn't be looking for an action figure based on him (or her) anyway. That's usually a solid theory.

Tonight's review is a noted exception, however. A company called the Manitou Free Traders is producing a series of 12" action figures based on the famous Corps of Discovery. For those that slept through 8th grade history, the Corps of Discovery was the lesser known name for the Lewis and Clarke Expedition.

Now, if I told you tonight's review was of Lewis and/or Clarke (and I do have a review coming up of one of them), I'd assume you would know who the hell I was talking about. But this review is of Pierre Toussaint Charbonneau. Who? Exactly.

Fairly early in the expedition, L&C met up with someone who might be familiar to you - Sacagawea. I wouldn't actually assume that, except for the fact that she graces the Sacagawea Dollar. And yes, most people confuse her with Pocahontas, sadly.

Sacagawea joined up with the expedition to as as interpreter, since she spoke Shoshone, a highly desirable quality. However, they might not have ever realized this had they not interviewed her husband, Pierre Toussaint Charbonneau, to be an interpreter. He wasn't particularly qualified however, since he didn't even speak English. His wife was a much better candidate for the job though, and since it was a package deal, they were hired.

His performance during the expedition was met with mixed reviews. He was at times a problem, and it was even suspected that he couldn't swim (a tad disadvantageous on an expedition involving river travel and small boats), but he did serve his purpose at times. Clark was enamored with Jean Baptiste however, the infant son of Charbonneau and Sacagawea born during the expedition itself. You can usually see Jean on the back of Sacagawea sculptures and artwork, including the obverse of the dollar coin. And just to add to your trivia bag, he's the only minor to ever be portrayed on U.S. currency.

So that's the story on this guy - a trapper, trader, jack of all trades kind of guy who hooked up with Lewis and Clark, and who's greatest contribution was in winning the right woman in a card game. And yes, that's one story of how he 'acquired' Sacagawea, although the more likely scenario is that he purchased his bride.

BTW, he's also famous enough to have appeared on the Simpsons, in the episode called "Magical History Tour". Milhouse portrayed him, as Lisa portrayed Sacagawea.

The Manitou Free Traders have several other figures under the Corps of Discovery series, including Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, York (a black servant on the trip who was the first black man officially recorded as voting on a subject - where they would winter - in American history), Seaman (Lewis' dog), and some accessory sets like a large campfire or canoe. There's also a slightly more generic deluxe Fur Trader that I'll be reviewing soon as well.

Packaging -  ****
For long term sixth scale collectors, when you think packaging, think bbi. That's the style right down to the last detail that Manitou Free Traders has adopted.

The packaging is completely collector friendly, and you can very easily remove the figure and accessories from the inner trays and put them right back later, without any damage or even much effort. There is an inner tray that holds the main character and a couple of the larger accessories, and this is covered with a plastic lid, reducing the need for lots of twisties or tape.

There's a second tray on the inside of the fifth panel, that fits into the box neatly when it closes. Folks that have bought bbi figures before know what I'm talking about. But unlike some of the early bbi stuff, this tray is also easily removed without any damage to the box.

The exterior of the box has some great art, and a decent amount of historical text on the character and his involvement with the Corps of Discovery.

Sculpting - ***
I have no idea exactly what Pierre looked like, although there is an artist's rendition of him on the front of the box. Since we have no historical reference as to Sacagawea's actual appearance, I doubt there's any for her lesser known husband. But they went with what they could glean from written records, with a little measure of artistic interpretation thrown in.

He has the high cheekbones and ruddy appearance of French fur trader, with a fairly unique expression. While most figures are either in battle, or in quite repose, Pierre appears to be laughing it up at the local tavern. The wide smile exposes a missing tooth, and the overall appearance of the brows and eyes is jovial and good natured.

The head sculpt is fairly well defined, and has some wrinkles and basic texture. It's not quite at the quality of the better Sideshow work, but is a step above the more generic work by Ignite.

The hair is rooted, and laced in back in a unique ponytail configuration that I'm assuming was common at the time. It's sort of a combination of a very short pony tail, and a French braid. The hair is tight and well rooted, and looks surprisingly good. I'm usually not a huge fan of rooted hair these days, largely because that translates to a rotocast head, which sports a softer sculpt. But they managed to avoid some of that here, although I would have still preferred a sharper, more detailed head.

The hands are not unique sculpts, or even designed to handle the accessories particularly well. They are generic grip hands, and this is something that any company looking to to museum quality figures needs to reconsider.

Paint - ***
While there isn't any real slop or problems with the face paint, it does lack life.

Capturing a realistic look is a combination of colors, finish and detail.  Pierre has clean ops, with straight eyes, neat eyebrows, and rosy cheeks.  But he also appears a little too toy-like, similar to your average mass market style, rather than on par with the higher end items from Sideshow or Hot Toys.

His hands lack any paint ops as well, being cast in a flesh colored plastic.  This doesn't quite match the facial tone, and ties in with my general quibble about the generic hands.

This isn't a poor paint job overall, but won't knock your socks off as you might expect at this price point.

Articulation - ***
There's really no shortage of articulation here, and the body follows the industry standard pretty closely. Double jointed knees and elbows, cut biceps and thighs, ankles, wrists, waist, ball jointed shoulders and hips...all the joints you expect from any high end sixth scale figure are here.

The body is very similar to bbi or Hot Toys in feel, as well. It's a lightweight construction, but it doesn't feel cheap or easy to break.

The joints are a little loose in some places, particularly the knees and ankles, which can make keeping him in a pose for an extended period is tough.

Finally, while the neck is ball jointed, there isn't a tremendous range of movement forward, backward and side to side. As you know, this is my favorite joint, and one that is so critical to adding personality to a pose. This is one that could use some improvement in design.

Outfit - ***1/2
One area where this figure really shines is the outfit. While the bright colors might seem a little much at first, they actually do make sense historically.

The most impressive feature is the material used. The chamois outer shirt is fantastic, and is actual leather material. Hell, you could dry your car with it, and yet it's very thin and in scale. It's adorned with fringe and plenty of beads, not to mention some cool brass highlights. The cut of the material is also quite realistic, with a wide neck open normally found on shirts like this.

There's also a blue and white undershirt, and dark blue felt pants. The felt is another great choice, and looks in scale and quite realistic. There's more bead work here, and while I'm calling these 'pants', that's not to imply they have a modern cut. These are more like chaps, with the dark blue loin cloth acting as the package protection. This is a more historically accurate style of clothing, and really adds to the authenticity of the figure.

There's also a sash around his waist, along with a blue and white checked scarf, and a nifty pair of moccasins that don't interfere with his ability to stand in just about any pose. Topping it all off is a knit hat, which looks pretty silly at first (think red dunce cap), but with a little work will lay flatter against his head, and he looks better with it than without.

A major plus of these figures is that these outfits are very accurate, right down to the pattern and style of beading.

Accessories - ***1/2
The other real strength of this figure is in the quantity and quality of the accessories. Pierre comes with a properly scaled oar, flintlock rifle, flintlock pistol, tomahawk, bear trap, one large and one small knife (which can both fit in a buckskin sheath), haversack (bag), and powder horn. There's also a set of beads, with some stitching to the left sleeve, that can be removed and carried if you prefer.

Both flintlocks have moving hammers, and the bear trap works - sort of. The mechanism is all there, and it does shut when tripped, but it won't snap shut hard. You aren't going to be able to use it to catch mice, if you should be so inclined.

The rifle also has a pleather strap, and the nifty haversack has a velcro closure. The velcro on mine isn't glued down well though, and came loose immediately. It's nothing a little dab of glue can't fix, but it's worth noting.

The sculpts on all these accessories are good, but there is nothing outstanding here. I'm giving a high score for both relevance, and quantity. Of course, some of these will be reused with other characters, but if this is your first or only member of the Corps of Discovery, that won't be an issue.

Value - *1/2
These figures are a limited edition of just 1100 each. I don't think this is really intended as a selling feature, but rather intended to ensure production meets initial demand. However, that means the price tag is higher than you'd expect from the more generic figures out there. Toussaint runs around $65, while some of the higher demand figures like Lewis and Clark run $50 each. The small run size, along with the complex outfits, is what appears to be really driving the price of these up.

Fun Factor - **1/2
Any kids that enjoy sixth scale western figures will love this guy. Unfortunately, he may not love them. The rooted hair would get disheveled pretty quick under normal play conditions, and the complex beading on the outfit won't last in that situation either.

The figure is really designed (and priced) to be a displayed collectible, commemorating a particular historical event. In that situation, it works extremely well.

Things to watch out for - 
You'll want to take care with some of the clothing, particularly the outer buckskin jacket. There's a lot of detail and beading here that probably won't hold up to any kind of serious play abuse.

Overall -  **1/2
I have three of the Corps of Discovery figures right now, along with one of the extra diorama accessories (a campfire).  I'll be reviewing all of them over the coming weeks, but started with Pierre because he was the lowest score of the set.  The other two figures move up from here.

Price is the big issue across the board for all the figures though.  The quality of the outfits and accessories reminds me of the Ignite line, as does the more basic sculpting and paint.  However, they are as or more expensive, and lack the cool die cast feature of the Ignite accessories.

If you could find these for around $40 or so, they are certainly worth the price to add to your historical collection.  We don't have enough figures from this period - and I'd kill for a Daniel Boone.  The limited nature of the figures is what is really driving up the price though, so you'll be one of a small number who own this line if you do decide to pick them up.

Packaging - ****
Sculpt - ***
Paint - ***
Articulation - ***
Outfit - ***1/2
Accessories - ***1/2
Fun Factor - **1/2
Value - *1/2
Overall -  **1/2

Where to Buy -
Search around with some of the online sixth scale dealers, and you should be able to find him. You can also find him at many of the state and national park gift shops, and other western gift shops as well.

Related Links:
Be sure to check out the Manitou Free Traders web site for further information on the entire Corps of Discovery line up.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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