Mattel Cars

About 4 weeks before the film Cars hit the local multi-plex, I started picking up the die-cast cars. Not because I had any real high hopes for what appeared to be Doc Hollywood With Rubber Tires. But the character designs were very cool, and I thought they'd look good on the shelf.

And so I slowly bought them, grabbing most of them over a couple week period, and then, about two weeks before the movie came out, something very strange happened. Something almost unheard of for a movie related toy tie-in...they disappeared.

I'm not talking about from one store, or for a couple days - they dried up everywhere, and even now, two weeks after the movie opened, they still are as scarce as good review for Nacho Libre. I ended up buying two full sets of the single carded figures, one to open and one to keep carded. I haven't done that in ages, but I couldn't help myself this time around. I'll end up picking up a set of the four two packs to open as well, but for now, I'll include photos of the package packs.

BTW, there's a bunch of these cars if you're looking to have a complete set. There were originally 12 cars released as single packs - Lightening McQueen, Mater, Filmore, Sarge, Lizzie, Wingo, DJ, Sheriff, Doc Hudson, Sally, Chick, and King. Along with those, four "Movie Moments" multi-packs were released, which included Flo and Ramone; Guido, Luigi and a Tractor; Snot Rod and Boost; and Red and Stanley.

If you happen to live near a BJ's Wholesale store, they have two six packs of the cars available as well, but these include a baby blue version of Mater in one pack, and do not include DJ.

If you don't have a BJ's, you can still get the baby blue Mater inside the bowling game. And there is a muddy version of Lightening inside the Mountain Challenge track set, bringing the original list up to 14 different cars.

Since then, four more cars have been announced, three of which are shipping for sure at this point. There's a blue Dinoco deco McQueen, Nitroade, a greem Ramone (all three already shipping) and a Leakless.

Whew. I believe that's a grand total of 26 regular cars, plus Stanley. There are also four large playsets designed for these cars, plus two Mack truck versions floating around. That's a lot of Cars! Tonight's review will have photos of the original 12 loose, three of the four two packs loose and the fourth packaged, and the new Dinoco McQueen loose. Expect to pay around $4 each for these figures, and they are currently shipping to large stores like Wal-mart, Target, Toys R Us and Meijers, along with places like Krogers, CVS Pharmacy, and Walgreens.

Packaging -  ****
I don't know if I've ever given a regular cardback/bubble package four stars before, but I'm doing it now. The reason I fell back on an old, old habit and actually bought a full set of the cars to keep on card is because of how cool this packaging turned out.

Each car has his own large, colorful photo right up front. On the back is a character specific bio, along with another smaller shot. The cardbacks look fantastic, grab your attention, and even sport a diecut that's inspired by the Cars retro style. Cheers to Mattel for going all out on the design!

Sculpting - ***
Some folks are calling these 'Hot Wheels' or 1/64th scale. They are neither. They are a slightly larger scale than the normal Hot Wheel (see the comparison photo), and they aren't quite the same construction.

The outer bodies on most are die cast metal. Some have some plastic exterior parts, like Sarge, but for the most part, the exteriors are metal. Unfortunately, the under carriages are not.

Because of this, they have a cheaper feel than you expect once you have them out of the package. Add in the plastic tires (instead of rubber), and the cars don't turn out quite as nice out of the package as they are in.

But it's not the fault of the sculpt. They do look like they just drove out of Radiator Springs, with lots of small details sculpted in. There's door handles and license plates, and even the 'eye brow ridge', which extends down onto the windshields of most of the cars, is a sculpted feature. That gives it a shadow and realism that works much better than just a simple paint application would have.

Out of the entire set, Mater is my favorite. This is partly to his more complex sculpt, including big old buck teeth and exposed engine, partly due to his rusted paint job, and partly due to the character himself. Heavy packing him was a smart idea on Mattel's part.

Mater also can tow several of the other cars behind him, if you'd like. Characters like Lightening have enough of a lip between the die cast top and plastic undercarriage that they can be attached to Mater's hook.

Paint - ***1/2
The paint apps are terrific, featuring bright glossy colors and excellent tampos. Each car has his required eyes added to the windshield, and they have personality and quirkiness. The small detail paint work is clean and neat, with almost no bleed, and colors are consistent and eye catching.'

There's a few things missing, like the pinstripe 'tattoo' on Sally's posterior. But these exclusions are fairly minor, and there are other small details (like the license plates) that are very well done.

Fun Factor - ****
And we'll have fun, fun, fun til the scalper takes our Lightening away...for the kids and parents lucky enough to grab these so far, they are definitely a ton of fun. The inclusion of the nifty playsets and mountain race track adds to the play value, and die cast cars have survived for 50 years as a boy's top toy because they are just so damn cool. Through in a Pixar movie tie-in, and you can't go wrong for little Jimmy.

Lest you think I'm a sexist pig, these work great with girls too. My daughter wanted a Sally right away, and the film's appeal hits both sexes.

Value - **
Ah, but here's the real rub. Hot Wheels cost around a buck each. Now, these are a larger scale - don't let anyone tell you they are 1/64th - but not that much larger. They certainly aren't 1:43rd, but I've heard 1:55th bandied about. Perhaps. Anyway, I expected them to be a little more expensive, just because of the slightly larger size.

But four times as much? Now, this is due in part to the license, I'm sure. I doubt Pixar/Disney was cheap when it came to licensing fees on what was sure to be a box office hit. On top of that, some of the cars required licensing from the car companies, added some additional cost. But I have to repeat myself - four times as much?

These are easily two dollar cars. At three dollars, you're in the **1/2 range. But at four bucks a pop, you've dropped below an even average value.

Unfortunately, due to the extremely scalp-friendly nature of the current distribution situation, some of these cars (like Sarge or Lizzie) are commanding ridiculous prices on ebay. Patience - they will start shipping more. I hope.

Things to watch out for - 
Not a thing. The vehicles are sturdy, and should stand up to reasonable play, and even some unreasonable play.

Overall -  ***1/2
I'm tremendously happy with this series of diecast, and I'm not a big diecast car buyer. Oh, sure, make a Batmobile and I'm on it like hair on a bear, but generally I leave the cars to my son. But this series snagged me the first time I saw it, and it has me coming back for more in a way no movie line has in years.

I'm picking up the playsets as well, and may eventually get a review up of those too. But trust me when I say that Mattel has a hit on their hands with the entire line (at least what's been produced to work with these scale figures), and it is going to do very, very well for them this year.

And if you were wondering, I'd also highly recommend the movie.  Oh, it's not Toy Story or Monsters, Inc., but it certainly ranks in the middle of the Pixar pack.  And an average movie from Pixar blows out some of the best from other studios.

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

Where to Buy -
Your best bet is to haunt your local toy stores, like Target or Toys R Us. Also try places that you normally wouldn't look, like Kroger's (who have a special display) or Walgreens. You'll pay a little more at some of the smaller stores, but it might be easier to find the shortpacks like Sarge or Lizzie.

BTW - the V-8 Cafe, the largest of the playsets, is now hitting stores!  A reader (thanks!) wrote in to say he found it yesterday at a KBtoys, and it was only priced at $24.99.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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