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Jakks Series 1

Pirates of the Caribbean
by Rustin Parr

And here we go again.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl took Disney Merchandising by surprise with how huge a hit it was, so we didn't have any toys for that film until several months (a year?) after the fact when NECA rolled out some mediocre stuff. With Dead Man's Chest Play Along stepped in and brought out an ambitious 3¾" line with the film's release than moved right along into At World's End but for whatever reason the market was flooded with the first series of figures from that terrible film and it was The Phantom Menace all over again. So bad were the pegs I was half sure we would never get figures for On Stranger Tides. But I was wrong. Wrestling superstar Jakks Pacific stepped in to fill the void, this time taking on the master license and planning a very aggressive line plan in three scales and many waves.

This series is composed of five figures, and they are pretty much the safest bets in the apparent cast - the three returning characters, the bad guy, and the new "hot chick." Here we have Jack Sparrow (coatless), Gibbs, Barbossa, Blackbeard and Angelica.

The first thing that grabs the eye is the underwhelming production value - "soft," undetailed sculpts and color by plastic rather than paint. These factors are very true but once open they're actually better figures than that first glance.

While the sculpts are very soft in detail in comparison to what we've come to expect from similar efforts by Hasbro and the previous Pirates figures, if you consider this look as a style they're pretty good. Really solid proportions, flowing clothes and most impressively, figures that look equally "natural" with their hats on and off - excepting the bulbously headed Jack Sparrow, of course, who only looks good hat-on. I should also note the every single figure's left hand is sculpted in a useless, open palm pose, so don't even think about having them hold multiple accessories at one time. Fortunately the likenesses add some points to them figures.

Jakks was the first toy company to make use of Gentle Giant's scanning technology, and in order to capitalize on that they coined the term "RealScan" to describe the process for their toys. Since this was our introduction to the brand-new technology, everyone took to using "RealScan" to describe all laser-scanning (much like every buy-it-then-assemble-it toy is a "Build-A-Figure"). But, through regular corrections by the competition, it's a term I rarely hear today, but is a welcome and nostalgic return to the beginning of third age of action figures. (First age - action figures; Second Age - ToyBiz and McFarlane introducing more articulation and detail to the figures; Third Age - introduction of digital sculpting and modeling).

RealScan is back, though, and while hidden beneath a sheen of stylistic softness these figures provide some of the best likenesses the property has yet to receive. Each figure is definitely the actor playing the character - save for Angelica, who looks like Penelope Cruz in as far as both figure and actress wear the same costume.

Paint is where the figures really nosedive into mediocrity, sadly. Anything that can be colored through plastic is, with only some paint touches for parts that absolutely must be a different color than the plastic. These figures are the best example since the 2002 Masters of the Universe line of toys that could be "saved" by some simple paint applications. Some dry-brushing here, a wash there and the figures would improve infinitely. The PotC-verse is well marked by its lived-in quality, the dirty clothes, and these figures look fresh from the laundry. Blackbeard in particular suffers as just a simple, big block of shiny black plastic.

Fortunately Jakks didn't skimp terribly on the accessories. Certainly no DST or Palisades effort, but each figure comes with at least three accessories. Generally these are pistol, sword and hat, but both Gibbs and Angelica have removable scabbards, too. The scabbards are actually very remarkable in that they look natural as is, but also fit the sword very comfortably. They're certainly some of the best toy scabbards I've seen, especially at this scale, and are hurt only by the very soft plastic used for the swords (which can cause them to warp easily). The hats are equally impressive in that they look natural while worn or as an accessory, and the heads look fine in both hat-on and hat-off modes. Well, save for Jack who suffers an ugly bulbous noggin highlighted while sans hat.

I must address Barbossa's crutch (no, his hat is not removable) which is totally pointless as is. Basically they put the handle too low on the support, as a result the crutch doesn't touch the ground and the "cradle" extends over the shoulder. Of course the articulation is of no help here either.

Each figure comes with the Big Five articulation - swivel shoulders, T-crotch and swivel neck - plus the added joys of hinge knees, hinge elbows and swivel wrists. What this means is that even if the crutch were properly constructed it still wouldn't fit under the arm. The lack of balljointed shoulders is painfully felt on these swashbucklers.

Presumably because action figures are dying, and the At World's End figure did so poorly, Jakks felt compelled to add in a "special feature" to the line. Fortunately it's nothing horribly terrible like action features, it's just some applications of UV paint. I'm not sure if this is a reference to the first film, some as-of-yet unknown element of the new movies (zombies?) or just a "brilliant" marketing idea, but basically through inviso-paint the figures have little skeletal highlights that show up under a black light - and Jakks is even nice enough to include black light accessories with each figure.

Jack and Angelica comes with rings (which do not come with the one-size-fits-all cut in the band, they are in fact only kid/girl sized and only fit on my pinky), Barbossa and Gibbs a barrel, and Blackbeard a bottle. The good news is that, other than some apps on dark plastic, the UV paint hides exceptional well under normal light so the figures aren't "ruined." The bad news is that the light-up accessory adds about two dollars to the price tag, and at $7.99 the lackluster production quality make these a very hard sell.

The figures are available both single-packed and in TRU-exclusive threesomes. To get all of the figures you end up spending the same amount of money, but single-packed you get three extra black lights, and three-packed you get a second Jack. Personally I think Jakks would have been much smarter to get the figures out at $5.99 and then use the deluxe line or a separate pricepoint to get out the "secret reveal" UV light accessory. Either way buying singles may prove hard as they "Jakk"ed up the casepacks.

Based on both Toys Я Us'es I found these at, they look to ship in 12-figure cases with Jack at five per case, Blackbeard at three, Barbossa at two, and Gibbs and Angelica shortpacked - so, have fun with that... I know I did... Seriously... what the hell are they thinking?

It remains to be seen how successful Jakks' line will be but it has one major problem - cost versus value. These figures are in no way worth $8, but now they've set precedent on aisles and without rebranding/relaunching the line they can't just cut the UV lights and knock down the price (what store would want to suddenly charge less?) but clearly this is the level of ability they can bring to the market so expecting added articulation, paint, etc. is unlikely. I'm clearly a sucker for this stuff so I wish them the best (if for no other reason than to finally get a Cotton figure to finish off Jack's Crew), and the line is salvageable, its problems though are so inherent to its inception I'm skeptical it will be saved.

-- 03/25/11

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