Pirates of the Caribbean
L is back with another great pirate review - okay L, show us your booty!
Arrrrr ya ready for another pirate product review? (Hey, you try resisting that joke!) Well, Zizzle's POTC offerings are spreading around, and now that the figures are showing up all over the place, the next phase of offerings are starting to trickle out. So far, TRU seems to be the place to find the 12" figures and the small ships, and I was really happy to find the latter.
I'm a true child of the 70's and 80's, when action figures really only existed so somebody could drive the jeep, pilot the spaceship, sit at the command console, and fall through the trap door. Toy lines were driven by playsets and vehicles, and figures were only there to populate our little plastic worlds. As a result, I find it a shame to see the market dominated so strongly by figures nowadays, and when a company is bold enough to release some vehicles or playsets, I'm delighted. Zizzle is doing more than its share, releasing tons of accessories for Dead Man's Chest.
Perhaps the coolest: three small ships with mini-figs, under the heading Pirate Fleet, all of which look to be compatible with a small playset due later this year. The Pirate Fleet includes the Black Pearl, the Flying Dutchman, and a merchant ship called the Edinburgh Trader. Here's my take.
Packaging - ****
I fully realize that the packaging is not particularly original, but I love it all the same. First, I think it looks good. The colors are dark, the font is appropriately piratical, it is attractive. Second, there's a decent-sized window to show off the toy inside, set against a backdrop that looks like a nautical map. Finally, Zizzle, unlike some other companies out there, has made a package that is appropriately sized. It's square, so it stacks easily, and it's small, with minimal wasted space. Looking at the Titanium packaging for Star Wars lately (the figures, the 3" ships, or the larger Ultra series) it's a massive amount of wasted space in a curved, impossible to stack package -- it's as if they've designed it to be maximally wasteful and inefficient. The Zizzle boxes are a welcome relief. Granted, the usual twisty torment awaits, but by now hopefully most of us have some kind of clipper to snap through them easily, and these remove pretty smoothly with the proper tool.
Sculpting - ***
These are an interesting mix of really neat and admittedly cheesy. In general, these ships are done in the style of the Action Fleet line developed for the Star Wars brand. The ships are roughly the same size, they come with figures done in roughly the same style (minimal articulation, basic compatibility with ships and playsets). In some ways, there is more detail in these than in the SW items, simply because they are representations of wood and rope rather than plates of metal. Each of the three ships is detailed to look like a seventeeth-century tall ship, with ratlines and sails and planking, and it's all remarkably well done. The pictures speak louder than words, so I'll let them explain how well done these really are.
At the same time, obvious shortcuts can't be ignored. The cannons, for example, protrude through gunports in the hull -- but are not actually visible on the decks. With the Dutchman, it looks as if the guns are below deck, under the floor and therefore legitimately out of sight. With the Trader and the Pearl, however, it's pretty clear -- and pretty silly -- that the guns should be there and simply aren't. Maybe they've got Bugs Bunny on board, hoping to fool potential raiders by painting cannons on the hull that the ship doesn't actually have... The Trader, while we're on the subject, also suffers from slightly over-large, over-simple masts, which combined with its color (see below) make it look the most juvenile of the three ships. At the same time, the Trader is the only one at full sail, and with tall masts, giving it a fantastic profile -- while the two dark pirate ships look cool, neither of them has any sails to work with, which I consider a real shame.
Still, there are some nice touches in the sculpt, details they could have easily left out. The sails are tied to the masts with thick ropes, there are ships' wheels and cargo holds, there are windows and decorations, each ship has ratlines from the masts (though the Trader seems to need an extra pair, alas). The Dutchman features its distinctive supernatural details, like the ghastly faces along its hull, and the teeth at its bow. The Pearl has great stairs leading to the quarterdeck, and a ship's wheel. Very well done.
The only real downside of the sculpt is that each ship has three holes along one side of the hull for the screws -- they are not wholly obtrusive, since they are low and not TOO large. I even failed to notice them at first. Still, they are present and they detract; luckily they are only on one side.
Each ship comes with three mini-figures as well -- they are far too large for the ships, and not particularly impressive in their sculpt, even taking into account their small size. Elizabeth and Bellamy, from the Trader, and Jack and Will, from the Pearl, probably fare the best; Jack and Will actually look pretty decent. The three figures included with the Dutchman are among the worst -- Davy in particular looks ludicrous. Since the figures are about 30 times bigger than they should be, I will be saving mine for the playset -- these ships work well without figures, I think, as figures that looked anything like the right size would be too small to keep track
Paint - Pearl and Dutchman ***, Trader **
The Pearl is nicely executed, but hardly painted. It's simply cast in black plastic. Still, it looks good. They have added gold highlights to the relevant parts of the ship, notably the castling at the back and the lanterns, but it's been sloppily done. I saw several ships on the shelf, and they all showed the same lack of attention here -- details are splashed over with heavy gold paint, no attempt at all made to paint it properly. I don't feel this hurts the ship overwhelmingly, however, as the general effect is still accomplished, and the Pearl is meant to look somewhat messy and rotten, so a clean and crisp paint job might not work. I notice, too, that even the prototype pictured on the box has an imperfect paint job, indicating that perhaps they never intended tor the ship to look any other way.
The Dutchman, on the other hand, is covered in paint, a heavy drybrush to highlight the details and give it a general ghostly look. It works, though it does end up a tad monotonous as a result. It looks good, though, and it distinguishes itself well from the Pearl, which might have easily not happened had they gone another way.
The Trader, however -- ah, the Trader. Even the early pics made clear that this ship would look a bit silly. The bright colors look better than I feared, but the lack of paint on the light brown masts looks pretty bad. Strangely enough, while the masts of the other two ships were sculpted with wood grain and ropes and painted to look like the masts of a ship that has seen a lot of ocean travel, the masts on the Trader are giant smooth bits of light brown unpainted wood and they look like Baby's First Merchant Pirate Victim. It's clear what kind of contrast they were going for with bright colors, though they went a little overboard. I expect a lot of these will linger on the pegs, as kids will primarily want the more-fun, high profile pirate vessels, and few collectors will want to be associated with such a silly looking toy. Still, it's important for pirates to have someone to practice their trade upon, and I picked up a spare one of these to repaint. A simple coat of brown and grey will make it far more presentable, I expect....
Features - ****
There are a few moving parts and features on each ship, a nice touch that Zizzle could easily have skipped. All have wheels under the hull that roll well enough, though these don't exactly race along the floor like a Hot Wheels car.
The Pearl features an opening cargo hold, full of gold. The inside of the hatch shows a pirate figure -- too large, again, and pretty poor looking. The treasure looks nice, though, and suggests that Jack managed to salvage SOMETHING from that whole "curse of the Aztec gold" affair. In addition, moving the rudder to the left or right triggers some of the rear cannons to move in or out of their
gun ports; not completely, but enough to suggest firing. It is a cute touch.
The Flying Dutchman has a vaguely similar feature -- moving a wheel on the deck causes the cannons to deploy, and the eyes on some of the faces to "glow red" (which means that red pegs emerge to fill the eye holes on the hull). It also features an opening cargo hold, this time with bones and an equally poorly-executed pirate "guard" half-sculpted into the back of the hatch.
The Edinburgh Trader has a movie-specific feature I won't get into, as it seems somewhat spoilerish. It is also very silly and forgettable. The Trader also, however, has a really great feature: tug the rudder at the back and the whole deck collapses, the two rear masts tilting towards one another and the deck itself splitting. It is subtle but effective, and a great feature for a ship designed to be a victim to pirates.
Fun Factor - ****
These are simply great toys. Sure, they could be more elaborate (though at this scale, not by much) Sure, they could look better (but at this price, not by much). In the end, the fact is these are ships to aim cannons at each other and that is pretty darn fun.
Value - ****
It's tough to imagine these being any cheaper. I was expecting $15-20 items, in line with the Action Fleet ships, and when I saw these at TRU for $10 a pop, I was pleasantly surprised. These are wonderfully affordable, and make it tempting to buy extras and try to convert them.
Overall - ****
There really are few things as cool as a pirate ship. There are also few things larger and harder to store for the besieged toy collector still wondering where to put the latest addition to an ever-growing Star Wars armada. Add to that the fact that pirate ships need to fight -- each other, other ships -- and something like small-scale pirate ships are just about the perfect toy. In fact, it just seems amazing that something like this has taken so long to come along.
These are fun, nicely detailed, cheap toys that give a nicely different slant on the POTC merchandise onslaught that is Summer 2006. I thought it was great that the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie was going to get an action figure line, but when I saw pics of actual ships shown at Toy Fair, I couldn't believe how fantastic this line was going to be. I only wish there was a chance for a wave 2, though I'm not sure what they could do with it. (The Dauntless? The Interceptor?
er.... some ship from Dead Man's Chest besides the Trader. . .?)
Paint: Pearl and Dutchman ***, Trader **
Fun Factor: ****
Figure from the collection of