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The Last Airbender
Ultimate Battle Aang

Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster


Unlike the last couple summers, there are really only two movies that I'm really, really, really...really looking forward to seeing: Toy Story 3 and The Last Airbender. Toy Story 3 is obvious, since every breathing creature on the face of the planet is anticipating its release, but far too many people may miss Last Airbender just because they aren't familiar with the property.

If you haven't watched the cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, then you should. Right now. I'll wait.

See? It's the best American cartoon in the last decade, at least for one aimed generally at kids. Drawing from all kinds of Eastern philosophies with just the right touch of the Occidental thrown in, it tells the store of a the young Avatar (no relation to the Amazonian Smurfs in the Cameron flick) tasked with protecting the world, and his band of friends, as they battle the evil Fire Lord. It's the perfect blend of drama, humor, and message, and even if you aren't watching it, your kids should be.

M. Night Shyamalan is helming the live action flick (in theaters July 2nd) based on the cartoon, and I am very excited - and terribly worried. 'M' has one of the worst track records in directorial history, starting with an Academy Award winning masterpiece, followed by a solid if flawed superhero flick, and then followed by two abysmal movies not worth a second viewing. He completed his decent into movie Hell with two movies (The Happening and Lady in the Water) that aren't worth spending the two hours watching the first time.
Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster
Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster
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Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster
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Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster
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Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster
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Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster
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He's taking on all the roles here too - a big mistake that I think has been the center of his problem for the last four films. When you produce, write AND direct a film, there's no one else to rein in the bad ideas.

I will say that the previews so far look great in terms of effects and action. Sadly, they don't show any of the humor, and if the wit gets drained from the dialog, it will be a sure fire disaster.

M. Night is supposed to do three films, one for each season/book. I haven't heard of the production for the second film beginning though, and the clock is ticking - Noah Ringer (who plays Aang) isn't getting any younger.

Which finally gets me to the toys. SpinMaster is doing a series of action figures in the usual 3 3/4" scale, but they also have this one (so far) larger figure - Ultimate Battle Aang. I may cover some of the smaller figures along with Appa in the coming weeks, but had to start with the larger version.


Packaging - **

As regular readers know, I like boxes. Of course, with larger figures like this a box is the only way to go, but they are easier to store and can even look good on the shelf if you're a MIBer.

There are somewhere between 5 and a billion twisty ties however, always a pet peeve of mine. They also included some instructions, which is somewhat amusing because I can't get instructions from Hot Toys on how to put all the costume pieces together on a $150 figure, but SpinMaster shows me how to replace a battery and push a button.

I'm docking them pretty hard for the ugly plunger device that appears to be stuck to his left side...but isn't. That's there only to allow you to use the 'try me' feature. Talk about your wasteful packaging!

Sculpting - **1/2
I'm not going to get into any debate over whether Aang (and the actor, Noah Ringer) is 'Asian' or not, or enough, or even whether he should be, or whatever. I think from a purely visual perspective, they did a good job matching the cartoon character, which is what matters. We'll see if the kid can actually act, which is what matters even more.

The head sculpt is reasonable, but not exceptional. The shape is a little too long and tall, although the eyes, nose and mouth look about right based on his recent Kid's Choice appearance. The expression is blank, with no sign of concentration. I don't want him to look constipated, but he needs to look ready to fight. Instead, we get a very mannequin-like expression, as though he's a store display at Abercrombie and Fitch. If this is accurate to the movie, then Noah Ringer is the next Jake Lloyd.

The body, like the head, seems too skinny, too drawn out. The clothing has no texture, and some of the wrinkles that are included seem unnatural, as though the flow of the stance and clothing doesn't quite match up. Again, it's not atrocious, but ends up falling short of expectations even at this price point.

He stands about 10" tall in the slightly crouched stance. That would put him around 5' tall in sixth scale. That's probably about right, although the skinny nature of the sculpt makes him seem taller and older.

It feels like there are a lot of little problems with this sculpt that are fairly minor in themselves, but that add up to a weird looking figure. He's supposed to be a real person, but some of the features (like the oversized feet) are quite cartoonish, making him a wonky amalgamation of the two styles. It doesn't work for me.

He stands fine on his own. Since there's no leg articulation, that's pretty critical.

Paint - **
This is a mass market toy. Still, that doesn't mean sloppy paint is acceptable. In fact, some mass market lines have gotten so good with their paint ops that it's indistinguishable from higher end collectibles - that's not the case here.

There aren't a lot of paint operations either. What's here is weak, with poor edging along the shoe straps, sloppy lines on the top of the shoes themselves, and poor cut lines on even the bracelets.

There's almost no small detail work, and at this scale that's a big problem. It leaves too broad of an area the same color, with nothing to break up the toyish appearance of the plastic.

Articulation - *1/2
While some of the lack of articulation can be blamed on the light and sound feature, that's still no excuse for creating what amounts to a plastic statue. It the intention were to make this a Nerd Hummel it wouldn't be as big of a problem, but this is a kid's toy.

The neck has a cut joint, as does the right shoulder and both wrists. There's also a pin left elbow, and the left shoulder is a pin/disc ball joint.

The rest of the body is posed the way you see it, and you ain't moving it. Since the action feature spins the right wrist, that doesn't pose particularly well either. The reality is that you get one or two poses here, and that's it. Considering this is an action movie, an action character, and a toy that you should be able to actually PLAY with, that's just not good enough.

Accessories - **
There is an additional staff, bring him to a grand total of two weapons -  the shorter staff he is carrying in the package, and the longer staff attached to the tray. This does remain somewhat true to the show, and probably the movie as well, although it isn't two staffs there, but one that can change size (and turn into his flying apparatus).

Removing the smaller staff is a bit tricky, but there is a small rubber band holding it in place that can be tough to see. Cut it, and you'll be able to pull the weapon free with a bit of force.

Outfit - N/A
Although the figure is large, the outfit is fully sculpted. No clothes here!

Action Feature - **
The action feature is fairly basic, but does work well. Push a button on his side, and his wrist spins. If you pose the hand above his head, it's like he's doing the helicopter. Pose it in front and he can battle his enemies.

The button is fairly large and obtrusive, since it's a plunger style activator. That means enough of it has to stick out of the body so that when it's pressed in fully, it will give the wrist a good spin.

Just be thankful that the ugly plunger you see in the package is not part of the figure. 

Sound Feature - **1/2
The sound feature works in conjunction with the action and light feature. Pressing the button not only spins the wrist, but causes some sound effects to play. While these are loud enough, they all sound quite a bit alike. In fact, I think that when the arm is in front the sound effects are supposed to be different than when it's raised over his head (you can hear a 'click' as you position the arm, as though a switch was being tripped), but the same series of sounds seems to be playing for me in either pose.

Light Feature - ***
The light feature is the best aspect of the figure, and as I said in the previous section, it's part of the action/sound/light trio. Press the button, wrist spins, sounds sound, lights light.

There are two areas that light up, both driven by the same LED source: the tattoo on the head, and the eyes. Including the eyes was the touch that gave them the extra boost in score here, and as an effect it works pretty well.

Fun Factor - **
After you press the button two or three times, all appeal wears off. This figure really can't battle anyone else because of the poor articulation, and with a weak sculpt and weaker paint, it's not going to be part of anyone's nostalgic childhood memories thirty years from now.

Value - **
I appreciate the fact that this figure has an action feature, a sound feature AND a light feature...but I still feel the $20 price tag is a bit much. I suspect most parents will too.

Things to Watch Out For -
This is a sturdy toy, so there's very little chance to break or damage anything.

Overall - **
It's possible that I'm being too hard on this figure because I have such high hopes for the movie, and because I love the property so much. It's also possible that I'm being rough on it because I'm a big fan of the scale, and hate it when I see someone cut corners like this, even for a mass market kid's toy. Or maybe it's just because the figure is simply below par by today's standards.

In any case, I'm clearly disappointed. I glanced at the smaller scale figures, and didn't feel any better, and then I checked out the small Appa - wow, he's really bad. While we've seen some mediocre lines this year, it looks like the Airbender figures will be on my short list for worst of 2010.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***
Sculpting - **1/2
Paint - **
Articulation - **
Accessories - **1/2
Outfit - N/A
Action Feature - **
Sound Feature - **1/2
Light Up Feature - ***
Fun Factor - **
Value - **
Overall - **

Where to Buy -
These are hitting Toys R Us first, but other mass market retailers should have them soon.

Related Links -
Even though this is not the first line of Airbender figures (the cartoon had a series as well), it is the first toy related to either that I've reviewed. But since you're just sitting around anyway, why not check out the trailers?

Discussion:
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Last Airbender Ultimate Battle Aang action figure from SpinMaster


This product was purchased for the review by the reviewer. Photos and text by Michael Crawford.

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