A Charlie Brown Christmas

It might not be Halloween yet, but already the Christmas booty is hitting the shelves.  The lights, decorations, ornaments, and even the toys with a Christmas theme.

For me, the Peanuts line from Playing Mantis was at the top of the list to check out this year.  I've been a fan of the line since the start, although it wasn't without it's shortcomings.  They lacked articulation, paint ops were iffy at best, and they seemed a tad expensive for what you were really getting.  I had heard that the new lines would be changing in a number of ways though, so I was anticipating this new release.

This set is based on the classic show A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which a sad little tree along with Charlie Brown manage to show us all the true meaning of the holiday.  This set includes six figures - Sally, Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, Lucy and Pig Pen.  I missed out on close ups of the Lucy and Schroeder - I went brain dead I suppose - but there are detailed photos of all six below.

I picked these up at K-mart in two three packs for $20 a pack.  That comes out to less than $7 a figure.  I suspect we'll see these show up at Target, Media Play and Sam Goody stores as well in the coming weeks.

Packaging - ***1/2
This packaging gets high marks for several reasons.  First, by giving us both single carded figures and boxed sets, they give completists a chance to pick up the whole set at a slightly cheaper price.  Folks who only want a couple of the figures can buy them single carded and get just what they want.  It's the best of both worlds!

The boxes are also attractive and collector friendly for the most part, although some of the objects are sealed to the back.  The boxes are nice and easy to store too, for those collectors who like things to stay MIB.

Sculpting - ***1/2
The first set of Peanuts figures - Good Ole Charlie Brown - were released by Playing Mantis just slightly over a year ago.  I hit them up harder that time around, and one of the areas I was a little disappointed in was sculpting.  I'm happy to say they've made some real improvements.

The head sculpts are still very similar to the originals.  They do a great job capturing the look of the cartoon, although if you disliked the scale before you'll still be unhappy about it.  These are certainly larger figures than most people expect.

The body sculpts have changed drastically.  This is largely due to the addition of several points of articulation, a challenge I didn't think they'd be able to meet.  More on that in a minute, but the changes to articulation mean that the overall appearance of the body was altered.

Another area of improvement is the hand sculpts.  Every character has unique hands, designed to hold their accessories.  That's a huge improvement, especially with figures that have some pretty nifty accessories.  There's a sharpness to the hand and finger definition that wasn't there previously, and they really look much more like hands than paws.

Paint - ***
This is still an area where they can use some work, although it's a big improvement over the older series.

The paint application on the faces is solid, with good expressions and clean lines.  These have variant expressions, just like all the previous series, and this time they include a 'singing' expression for each one along with smiling.  Those are the two I've seen so far, but I'm betting there may be others as well.

Pig Pen uses paint to imply his dirty exterior, and they've pulled this off nicely again.  Add the paint smudges in with his wild hair, and you know exactly who this is supposed to be.

The paint is much cleaner and less gloppy on the hands as well.  The lines on the clothes, although not highly detailed, are fairly good and consistent.  It's still not perfect, and there are some issues with bleed between some of the tougher colors like black, white and yellow.  But overall it's a big improvement.

Articulation - Schroeder ***, Others ***1/2
Wow, what a major change!  They've added several points of articulation and completely redesigned the waist and legs!

Each figure has neck, wrists, cut angle elbows, waist, and split legs.  The waist joint turns left and right, and the legs can tilt forward and back together or independently.  The range of motion varies between figures and is dependent on the sculpt.  For the boys, who have pants, the legs move less, but for both Lucy and Sally the new joint works extremely well.

The new arm articulation is a great addition as well.  The old figures had one joint on the arms, midway at the sleeve.  These have an angled elbow joint that give the arms a much greater range of motion, and in conjunction with the wrist joint really adds to the poseability.  Again, depending on the sculpt they work better or worse, but it's clear that Playing Mantis is really trying to step it up.

Schroeder is the odd man out, because he's sitting down as usual.  He has the new cut angle elbows, shoulders, neck and wrists, so that he can take a perfect pose playing his piano, but his lower body articulation is still non-existent.

Accessories - ****
Playing Mantis has done a nice job with the accessories for every series, but they really went all out on this set.

Charlie Brown comes with the most show-crucial accessories.  He comes with his trademark hat, and both versions of his Christmas tree - pathetic and rejuvenated.  The best part is that the sad tree fits perfectly inside the beautiful tree, and even one of the bulbs on the sad tree becomes a bulb on the pretty version.

Linus comes with his stocking cap, blanket (reused from the baseball version) sculpted to fling a snowball, and a snowball to fit right inside.

Lucy comes with her psychiatric booth, stool and donation can.  This time the can is sculpted to fit inside her hand perfectly.  The booth is covered with snow, and the words are different than the previous version, matching the show.  It's a little smaller than the first version, but is made from slightly heavier plastic.

Schroeder comes with his piano, just as you'd expect.  Only this time, the piano plays a line and short piece of music from the episode!

Sally comes with her letter to Santa, the mailbox she had a little trouble reaching, and a big pile of snowballs.

Pig Pen comes with what really amounts to another figure - his dirty snowman.  It's a heavy, solid piece of plastic, and looks dead on to the show.

And every character comes with a snow base that can be set next to the other bases to make a larger display.  I don't use these bases, because I don't have enough room for them, but they are a nice touch.

Value - ***
At about $7 each these are a decent value, especially with the added articulation.  I hope they continue to improve on the paint ops, but the style, articulation and accessories really are quite good at this point.

Overall - ***1/2
It is so rare to see a company improve a line during it's life.  Usually what you get with the first series is what you get with the last, whether there's only a couple waves or a dozen.  Playing Mantis is going out of their way to improve the few problems with this series, and you have to be impressed by that.

The only issues this time around were some small problems I had with paint ops.  Otherwise, these are about as good as you could get for Peanuts figures.  Even though the style of the characters means articulation is difficult, they've managed to get creative and come up with inventive ways to make good toys great.

Where to Buy - 
I picked these up at K-mart, where they also had the entire Mickey's Christmas Carol line in, and the new Rudolph figures.  Reviews of those will be coming soon as well.  On-line:

- Time and Space Toys is your best bet for all things Peanuts.  Not only do they have a great deal for all six of these figures for just $50 right now, they also have the Snoopy playset that goes with them for $24.  They also hav all the Great Pumpkin figures and play sets, including the new Lucy's Party set.  Just click on the Peanuts button in the button bar on the left!

- Beans Toys has the set of six still up for pre-order for only $42 plus shipping, an excellent deal!

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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