Santa Claus is Coming to Town
S.D. Kluger and the Mail Truck

Christmas might seem to come earlier every year, but I double checked - it was about this same time last year that my Christmas action figure reviews started. Then it was Playing Mantis and the Mickey's Christmas Carol stuff - this year, it's once again Playing Mantis and their new line, Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Rankin and Bass were responsible for some of our most memorable Christmas specials, all done with a unique stop-motion style - Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Little Drummer Boy, the Year without Santa Clause, and many more.

Along with the stop-motion style, holiday theme, and tendency to be based on a Christmas carol, these shows had one other thing in common - a character who's sole purpose was narration, voiced by a well known actor. Rudolph had Burl Ives as the Snowman, Frosty had Jimmy Durante, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town had Fred Astaire as the mailman, Special Delivery Kluger. Playing Mantis has brought us a deluxe set of the Mailman character along with his North Pole mail truck.

All superheroes have origin stories, but poor old Santa doesn't have a canon version. This show was one of many versions of his beginning, showing us how the young Kris Kringle got sucked into giving away toys once a year, and managed to melt the heart of the evil Winter Warlock.

I picked up the mail truck at a local K-mart for $20, but some comic shops and specialty stores are getting it in as well. There's also a series of six regular figures for the line - Kris Kringle, Mrs. Kringle (Tanta), Burgermeister Meisterburger, Grimsby, Topper the penguin, and Miss Jessica (the eventual Mrs. Claus). They also have two deluxe versions of the Winter Warlock - the warlock version with a mean face, and the happy I've-seen-the-light version with smiling face.

If you're interested in some of the other figures, never fear - I'll have a review up of a couple more sometime very soon.

Packaging - **1/2
It's a window box. It's a fairly basic window box, but it shows off the figure and vehicle fine, let's you play a little snippet of the song, and is a living nightmare of twisty tie hell. Just wait til you see the twisties wrapped around the posts on the back of the truck...*shudder*

Sculpting - ***1/2
One of the real advantages to doing figures based on the clay-mation style cartoons is that you don't have to deal with all the 2D to 3D issues - they're already 3D! Better than that, they are already simplistic 3D characters that look just like action figures! How hard can it be to transform them into the real thing?

Kluger looks great, with just the right amount of detail work, and excellent proportions. His arms seem just a tad long, but part of that may be due to their bendy nature. The head sculpt matches the source material perfectly, and his scale fits in great with all the other holiday figures that Playing Mantis has created. You can put Kluger right next to Rudolph and Santa and it looks like they all belong together.

The scale and sculpt on the mail truck is excellent as well, and Kluger fits nicely in the cab. Although his knees are articulated, he has to sit with his legs out straight due to the design. Both doors open on the truck, and the back treads even turn!

Paint - ***
The paint ops have been questionable at times for Playing Mantis, but I didn't have any major issues with this figure.

The detail work, particularly on the face and jacket of Kluger, is great, and while the truck is predominately molded in the single red color, there's enough extras to keep it eye catching and interesting.

One big plus is that both the red of the vehicle and the color of Kluger's suit are consistent.  There's not lighter or darker areas, or spots that looked touched up.  That's especially important on Kluger, where the use of two different materials for the arms and torso could have resulted in two different shades of color.

Articulation - ***
I suppose you could count the opening doors and turning treads as 'articulation' for the vehicle, but I'm only counting S.D. here.

He has neck, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and wrists, along with bendy arms. Personally, I could have done without the bendy arms and gone with elbows, but it's not a major issue. They bendy arms work better than average, and have a pretty good range of 'bend'. They're elastic enough to get into a lot of positions, and stiff enough to maintain them.

Accessories - ***
Most of the figures in any Playing Mantis line have a lot of terrific accessories, but since I'm counting both Kluger AND his truck as the main toy here, that reduces the number of things left to discuss in this category. There are a couple though.

Kluger comes with his hat, which is easily removable. Too easily. A magnet would have been nice here, or some sculpting details that allowed the hat to snap in place a little better. In reality, it just perches on top, and falls off at the slightest angle. It looks good as long as it's on, but staying on is the trick.

There's also two large bags of mail for Santa, which fit nicely in the back of the truck. The detail is good, and the paint ops mirror the quality work of the entire set.

Talking Feature - ***1/2
Press a button on the truck horn, and it plays the ENTIRE clip of the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as sung by Fred Astaire in the show. The entire thing! Since this lasts almost three minutes, you might find yourself getting a tad tired of it fairly soon. Fortunately, there's always the demo mode which only plays a brief chunk, in case your kids are driving you mad. Just don't show them the switch.

Fun Factor - ***
S.D. Kluger himself makes for a great Christmas toy, with just the right amount of articulation and durability. Unfortunately, the mail truck is a tad easy to break, so don't be surprised if you have to break out the super glue on occasion if you have some children playing with it.

In general though, the line is a lot of fun for any fan of the show, young or old.

Value - ***
$20 is a nice solid value, especially considering the quality of the truck. I'm betting we end up seeing them on clearance, at least at K-mart, after the holiday, but what fun is waiting?

Overall - ***1/2
This vehicle could be my favorite of the year, because they've managed to capture the look and scale so well. When I found it, I was surprised at how well done it was, and even casual fans will recognize Kluger and his truck immediately. I had almost no interest in the overall line, as this was not my favorite Rankin/Bass Christmas show, but I had to own this truck. It fits in perfectly with the other lines like Rudolph, and really looks terrific on the 'Christmas' shelf.  This vehicle is going to be very high on my list this December when I'm picking the best vehicles or play sets for 2004.

Of course, this begs the question - where's Frosty? While there wouldn't be as many characters from that show - only Frosty, Professor Hinkle, Karen and perhaps another Santa Clause make sense - they would certainly be a popular and quickly recognized set.

Packaging - **1/2
Sculpt - ***1/2
Paint - ***1/2
Articulation - ***
Accessories - ***
Talking Feature - ***1/2
Fun Factor - ***
Value - **1/2
Overall - ***1/2

Where to Buy - 
I picked mine up at K-mart, but there are some on-line options:

- Time and Space Toys has it available for $25, along with a lot of the other cool Christmas lines like Peanuts and Rudolph.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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