The Last Airbender - Aang and Appa

Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel

The more I see and hear about M. Night Shyalaman's latest flick, The Last Airbender, the more I worry.  My son and I love the television show, and it's one of the finest children's cartoons of the last decade. From the designs, to the characters and their development, to the dialog and plots - it's a winner all around.

But M. Night is not. Once again he's trying to do everything with this movie - produce, direct, write - and the only real difference between this and his other recent nightmares like Lady In The Water or The Happening is that it's not his original material, but an adaptation.

Add in an unknown child actor who reminds me way too much of Jake Lloyd, and the simple fact that they are trying to condense 8 hours of character development into a 2 hour movie, and it seems like a recipe for disaster.

Still, I'm hopeful. The source material is so good that it's hard to imagine anyone screwing this up, and the trailers so far have been filled with some exceptional special effects and energy. Will the humor and heart that make Aang and his Scooby Gang so special still be there? We'll find out on July 1st.

Sadly, the only action figure I've looked at so far did nothing to assuage my worries. The large Ultimate Battle Aang was terrible, and will surely find a place onto my Worst Of list for 2010.
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel
Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel

But if you don't succeed, try, try again and so I have, this time checking out the smaller main series of action figures. Tonight I'm reviewing Avatar State Aang along with his flying bison, Appa. These are being produced by Spinmaster, perhaps best known for their Bakugan line.

I picked these up at Toys R Us, but you should start seeing them pop up at other mass market retailers as well. This first series also includes a regular Aang (with Momo), Sokka, Zuko and a Blue Spirit.

Packaging - Aang ***; Appa **1/2

Appa comes boxed, but with no window plastic, so you can touch and handle him through the diecuts. I like boxes of course, and these store easily and are more collector friendly than the sealed bubble/cardback packaging that house Aang and the other 3 3/4" figures.

The graphics are good, following the cool colors and designs of the film. There's very little text on the back due to a ton of small legal print and the fact that these are tri-lingual, intended for an international audience. I'm not a fan of tri-lingual cards, but at least now I know he's "muy articulado". They do show the other figures in the first series, a plus as far as I'm concerned.

Oddly, Appa's packaging shows two different versions of the toy on the back. Neither of them matches the actual production toy exactly. The one closer to you without Aang on his back is more accurate, as it does not have a strap around the chest and shows the reins on the horns. However, the actual reins they've included look nothing like what's pictured.

Sculpting - Aang ***; Appa **
Size does matter, particularly when it comes to sculpting. When a figure is 8", 10" 12" or more in size, the human eye is obviously more capable of discerning the quality of a portrait. But when a figure is this small (he's just 3 1/2" tall), it's harder to see faults, making nekkid eye impressions different from photos.

The face is still a bit too tall and thin, but I can be far more forgiving here. The body sculpt looks slightly more accurate, and the proportions of various parts to the whole is much better. This actually looks like a real person, rather than some weird amalgamation of reality and cartoon-verse.

I like the small size as well, which allows him to fit in better with other 3 3/4" - 4" action figure lines like Star Wars or G.I. Joe. As a kid, he should be shorter, and the overall proportions fit in with this smaller stature as well.

I thought Appa looked pretty bad when I first saw him on the shelf, and freeing him from the box did nothing to change my mind. He's a bit smaller in scale than what he was in the cartoon...but I think that might actually be more accurate to the film. We've only have very brief glimpses of him in the trailers so far though, so it's tough to tell.

Both versions of Appa are covered in a thick, heavy fur, much like a Huskies. Unfortunately, the toy has a textured fur that reminds me more of a short haired pooch, tight to the skin. This one simple change pretty much kills the toy for me.

He also has a large seat on his back, designed to hold Aang near the front and one or two figures behind him. There's even seat belts, but no airbags, unless you count M. Night. This is very similar to the cartoon version, although this smaller Appa can't hold quite as many of the gang at once. Both belts pop open to make it easier to place the figures on the seat.

The tail is a separate piece in the box, and snaps in place. There's some serious gaping at the joint though, further ruining the overall appearance.

The face actually looks pretty close to the film version, but with the non-existent hair, he really looks creepy - sorta human, in fact. I'm hoping that with the wild thick hair, the movie version doesn't give off the same vibe.

Appa is just over 12" long from tail to nose, and stands find on his own. He can also fly, given enough forward momentum, but then so can a rock.

Paint - Aang **1/2; Appa **1/2
There's not a ton of paint here, as it appears that most of the larger pieces are cast in the color you see. Still, there's some detail work on the eyes, tattoos, eyebrows and shoes, and the quality is quite good considering the scale. The blue tattoo on the top of his head could be better...which holds him back from a better score here.

You might be wondering about the pupil-less eyes - remember, this is the 'avatar state' version. Not sure why the decided to do that look with the winged version of his staff, but they did. Also, I could have swore that some of the figures labeled as such actually had small black dots on their eyes, but I might have just gotten the figures confused on the pegs.

Since this is the Avatar State Aaang, the tattoo should also be a bright white, since it glows along with the eyes when he's juiced up. It's probably too much to ask of an $8 toy, but I'm still annoyed by the inconsistency.

Like Aang, Appa lacks many paint ops, with his overall body cast in the slightly dinghy white color. The stripe is painted on and there's some decent work on the eyes and toe nails. While there's not any real problem with slop (the slightly fuzzy edges on the painted tattoo are on purpose, intended to make it blend with the 'fur'), the lack of detailing on such a large figure hurts his overall score here more than it does on the much smaller Aang.

Articulation - Aang ***, Appa *
Aang isn't quite as 'muy articulado", "tres articule" or even "highly articulated" as the package claims, but he's still above average for this scale.

There's a cut joint for the neck, and had this been a true ball with some tilt action available, I would have upped him another half star. Being able to tilt the head is crucial to giving any pose personality.

There are post/disc style ball jointed shoulders and hips, and the range of movement on the shoulders is great, while the hips are good. The hard plastic tunic restricts the legs a little, but it's not too much of an issue for most fighting stances. It's more of a problem getting him to sit, which is what you'll want to do with Appa. He can manage it, but has to lean backward a bit. I'm hoping the other Aang in the series works a little better with Appa, but that's probably wishful thinking - the body is more than likely the same.

The arms also have single pin elbows and cut wrists, while the legs have both single pin knees and single pin ankles.

All his joints are very sturdy, and should withstand normal play quite well. There was a little warping to the right calf on my figure, caused by his position in the plastic tray, but it's not bad enough to cause permanent damage to the leg or knee joint.

Appa is in stark contrast to Aang, having only one point of articulation. His neck is cut so he can turn his head slightly side to side, but even that is restricted from a full 180 degrees for some reason. He stands great on his own, helped by having six solid legs all posed with his feet flat on the ground.

Accessories - Aang **; Appa *
Aang comes with one accessory - his staff with the wings popped out. In the show, he holds onto the spokes at the top, and then manipulates the air currents to glide. This version has no way to hold those spokes (they're actually a solid clear plastic piece with no gaps to fit the hands), so posing him in a flying mode with this is pretty much impossible. It's cute I suppose, but once I had it out of the package I regretted not just going with the other Aang that has the normal staff as well as Momo.

Since Appa's reins are included separately and can (and should) be removed, I'm counting them as an accessory here. I say they should be removed, because in place on his horns they look pretty silly. He does wear something similar in the cartoon though, so you can't fault them there.

Fun Factor - Aang ***; Appa **1/2
With my initial glance at this smaller series on the peg, I dismissed them too quickly. The smaller figures are decent for this scale and price range, and had I picked up the other Aang instead of this one, he probably would have scored another half star higher here. Unfortunately for this version, the accessory isn't particularly useful.

Appa isn't nearly as much fun. He's a big hunk of plastic, but as a basic vehicle he'll do the job.

Value - Aang **1/2; Appa **
At $8, Aang is going for the normal price of any 3 3/4" series these days. Occasionally you'll find something cheaper (like the $6 A-team at Target or the $5 Joes at Wal-mart), but those are the exception now, not the norm.

At $18, Appa does a grand total of zero things. Unlike something like the A-Team van, there's no opening doors, no cool action features, and almost no moving parts. While it's probably unrealistic in the current market, he still feels like a $15 toy tops to me.

Things to Watch Out For -
Not a thing.

Overall - Aang ***; Appa **
The smaller scale action figure line is much better than the large Ultimate Battle Aang. The small size makes the paint and sculpt issues less obtrusive, and the articulation and play value are quite good. I almost docked Aang another half star here because of the issues with the tattoo, but I relented at the end because the overall appeal was better than I expected. I like this Aang enough to pick up the rest of the series.

However, Appa is weak. The soft sculpt and lack of articulation make him more of a paperweight than a toy.

I suspect we'll see the after market prices on the cartoon Appa toy skyrocket in the coming weeks (and those things were on clearance for the longest time), since he's a nice, large scale version that will work well with these smaller figures. At least it seems like he might - I'm just going from memory since I haven't seen one in person in quite awhile.

Score Recap:
Packaging - Aang ***; Appa **1/2
Sculpting - Aang ***; Appa **
Paint - **1/2
Articulation - Aang ***, Appa *
Accessories - Aang **, Appa *
Fun Factor - Aang ***; Appa **1/2
Value - Aang **1/2; Appa **
Overall - Aang ***; Appa **

Where to Buy -
Hit your local Toys R Us, where these are popping up first.

Related Links -
I covered the large sixth scale (sort of) Ultimate Battle Aang last week.

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Appa and Aang action figures Last Airbender from Mattel

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

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