Saturday, February 6, 2010

Where the heck is the Toy of the Week?

Well after a nearly two month long hiatus I am returning to my blog.  The Toy of the Week has been conspicuously absent since the holidays and I have been avoiding getting back into it-- in fact, I am not actually getting back into it just yet.  I have not just been sitting on my hands though.  I have been busy with several projects worth mentioning so now I am going to mention them.

The Museum biz:
Coyote Point Museum was extremely busy over the holidays, with our largest attendance day cresting 1100 visitors.  We saw a 20% increase in visitors this year during the holiday week!  I like to think that this is due to my exhibition Tinkering-- however I must concede that our new baby river otters AND baby bobcats are a big draw as well.

I am currently moving forward with new prototypes for the next exhibition.

The hobby world:
I have been using my spare time to focus on many projects.  My wife surprised me with a beautiful little live steam engine as a Christmas gift this year.  This engine has required a large amount of tinkering to get running though, and it still is not operating at 100% but fiddling with these engines is part of the fun.  My efforts have been focused on building up my ride on train collection and I have recently been building a beast of a model in large 1:8 scale.  The model is of a narrow gauge railroad flat car.  I estimate the model weighing in between 35-40 pounds.  It is built EXACTLY like a full sized railroad car with wood and metal parts and functional scale hardware.  You can see one of the early construction photos below, shot in my back yard.

This model is mostly complete so I will post more up to date picture as soon as they are available.

Full steam ahead.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, December 14, 2009

Last week I featured a toy from Galoob that flew under the controversy radar and highlighted some of the most shocking moments from the classic sci-fi/horror film Alien.  Toy history has had countless scenarios of recalls based on safety issues ranging from a baby doll that could "eat" but wound up eating a little girls hair-- nearly scalping her in the process, to an infamous Cylon Raider toy which fired tiny plastic missiles and nearly blinded a young boy, or even the lead-based paint controversy of recent years.  It's much "easier" for a toy to find itself immersed in controversy based on safety concerns.  Much more rare are the examples of toys that made headlines because they embody questionable subject matter.  Generally toys like this need to be targeted buy an individual or organization that carries enough weight to get the public to vote with their wallets.  In the case of the Freddy Krueger doll that I mentioned last week, a Christian advocacy group known as the National Federation for decency had parents boycotting toy stores which ultimately lead to the toys discontinuation in a surprising one week time span.

In the mid 90's toy maker Galoob boldly flew in the face of previous controversies and produced a handful of toys based on the 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien  This week I continue featuring these toys with a really nice model of the space craft Narcissus.  In the movie a commercial space towing vessel called the Nostromo landed on a remote planet after receiving a radio transmission.  Their efforts to investigate the transmission ultimately results in nearly the entire crew of the Nostromo being exterminated by a hostile parasitic alien organism.   Sigourney Weaver's character Ripley is the sole survivor-- but not before engaging in a final showdown with the alien in the Nostromo's escape craft-- a small vessel named the Narcissus.

I have to hand it to the toy designers at Galoob.  This toy thoughtfully recreates the classic final showdown between Ripley and the alien down to some very small details.  For example Ripley's cat "Jones" is finely rendered in a small carrier inside the detailed interior of this toy.  Jones the cat was the only other survivor of the alien attack and went on to be featured in the sequel.

There are many other details to enjoy so please investigate the Alien Action Fleet Narcissus in the Vehicles Gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities.

Full steam ahead...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, December 7, 2009

Throughout the history of toys there have only been a few that have been pulled off the toy store shelves because they represented something so scary and violent that parental advocacy groups rallied to have them removed.  Two examples are legendary: 20 years ago the wholesome and beloved toy company Matchbox released a doll of horror movie staple Freddy Krueger.  Strangely,  a toy of a gruesomely disfigured serial child killer attracted the attention of a Christian advocacy group that dubbed themselves The National Federation for Decency.  This group previously focused their efforts on such "dangerous" targets as TV's Three's Company and Charlie's Angels.  Long story short, the group was successful and the toy was ultimately removed from shelves in less than one week.  This of course instantly launched the toy into collectible toy history.  

Lets step back even further to 1979.  Ridley Scott had just released the classic Sci Fi horror film Alien.  Based on the success of Star Wars, toy company Kenner began development of a line of Alien toys that would include a large 12" doll of the creature and a full line of 3 3/4" figures.  The 12" doll was the first toy to make it to the shelves.  Stories are mixed on this example but many people say that kids were "afraid" of the Alien doll and in fairly short order the line was scrapped including the unreleased smaller figures.  The Alien doll may be one of the most sought after collectibles in toy history and boxed examples have been known fetch $500.

Some times it is not the toys that spark controversy that are noteworthy-- instead it is the ones that manage to fly under the radar.  Fifteen years later toy company Galoob had acquired the rights to the Alien line and released in limited numbers some really amazing toys and playsets in their Micro Machines and Action Fleet lines.  I already featured the APC vehicle as seen in the movie Aliens.  For the next two weeks I am going to feature two toys from Galoob that capture the horror of Ridley Scott's classic  film Alien in surprising detail.

The first example appears to be simply a statue of the alien's ghoulish head-- however when you open this toy up it reveals an entire playset that recreates some of the films most intense and frightening moments.  Amazingly the most shocking and bloody scene in Alien is depicted in this toy.  I am talking about the scene where the character Kane begins convulsing at the dinner table, and the larval stage of the alien suddenly erupts from his chest cavity leaving him dead and his ship mates splattered in blood.  How Galoob managed to release a toy that highlights this scene is a mystery to me.  It is even an "action feature".  By rotating a small knob on the back of the toy the chest burster spins and Kane's body moves around on the table.  Pretty cool.

There are far too many details, and other action features on this toy to mention here, so I suggest you step into the Dioramas Gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities and explore the Micro Machines Alien Transforming Playset.  Just remember, in space, no one can hear you scream...

Related Posts:
Alien Kubrick Space Jocky

Full steam ahead...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, November 30, 2009

This week is all about filling in and catching up.  Honestly the toy of the week almost fell off my radar-- but fear not!  I am committed to this experiment in cataloging my absurdly large toy collection and I am here with another toy.  But first I must get a little business out of the way.  Last week I launched a new exhibition at Coyote Point Museum.  The new exhibition, Tinkering, highlights the importance and beauty of mechanics, invention, and creative problem solving.  I will add another post with a few pictures of the exhibition but for now you can take a look at this article in The Mercury News about Tinkering or you can visit the CPM website for more information.

Last week I also visited Minnesota.  Of course the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities was founded there and many wonderful pieces are still there waiting to be brought to California.  I undertook a major sorting effort to weed out the riff raff.  In fact I have so many toys that I need to do a serious purging and this weekend I will be attempting to sell some 200 action figures, in original packages, that used to live in my parents attic!

By getting rid of all these toys it only allows me to increase my bandwidth to care for, and display, the real treasures of my collection which is what this blog is all about.  This blog is also about being thorough and accurate and in the interest of that I am taking today to fill out the vintage Stomper 4x4 collection in the vehicles gallery.  Because I have always been a fan of crawler based vehicles, and because the crawler Stomper vehicles tend to be more rare I am offering up two vintage Stomper construction vehicles from the mid 80's.  So take a look at these Stomper Construction Vehicles and educate yourself about the history of Stompers.

Full steam ahead...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, November 23, 2009

Ever since I was a kid I have admired toys that were nothing less than working models of real machinery.  I mentioned this before in my post on the scratch built railroad crane.  This is one of the aspect of the live steam hobby that is appealing.  Miniature steam engines can be made from the same materials as their full size counterparts-- in some cases replicating full size machines down to each individual nut and bolt.

Today's model is not steam-- instead I bring you a working model of an internal combustion engine.  This model is made in germany of CNC machined parts.  As a desktop curiosity this toy is one of the coolest things around.  It runs on butane or propane.  To run the engine you simply open a small gas valve and spin the flywheel.  The engine roars to life-- occasionally shooting small blue flames from the dual exhaust pipes.  It uses a piezo igniter to provide a charge to a miniature working spark plug.  To get a closer look at this miniature working piece of engineering set your throttle to full and visit the Maier Internal Combustion Engine in the Machinery Gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities.

Full steam ahead...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, November 16, 2009

Released over twenty years ago, the movie Aliens still stands as a benchmark in film making.  Made in a time when digital visual effects were not the go-to technology, the beautiful practical effects in the movie Aliens still stand up today.  Effects including creatures and vehicles were all done with extensive use of miniatures and animatronic puppets.  This combined with unparalleled art direction add up to a gritty and realistic look for the film that only contributes to the excitement of this classic action sci-fi thriller.
Director Jim Cameron drove the art direction in the film to create a believable world.  The military hardware in the film looks modern but still reflects the style of Vietnam war era technology.  Fitting for a movie where a well equipped squad of marines is essentially wiped out but a primitive foe.  The weapon and vehicle designs set a new standard for the science fiction genre and the designs are so pleasing that they remain the favorites of sci-fi geeks nearly a quarter of a century later.

This brings me to today's offering.  From my previous post on the Aliens Action Fleet APC I hinted that some of the most spectacular examples of Aliens toys come out of Japan.  Three years ago Aoshima released stunning die cast metal models of the Dropship and APC.  A close look at these vehicles will reveal details that might make nitpickers cringe.  This is an interesting artifact of having an accurate model of a movie vehicle in your hands.  For example, a close examination of the Dropship, which is a VTOL aircraft like a Harrier jump jet, and you see that the thrust nozzles are not centered on the aircraft.  This would make the Droship nose heavy and unstable.  This shows you that absolute perfection in engineering design is not critical for a successful movie vehicle.  To create something believable on the screen is an entirely different matter.  

That aside, the Aoshima Aliens toys are by far some of the most stunning models of movie vehicles you will ever see.  The Dropship is over a foot long and weighs in at over two pounds!  It has all the moving parts seen in the film.  As a companion piece, the APC is finely detailed and it stows neatly in the cargo bay of the Dropship.  To give a sense of scale, the vehicles each came with tiny detailed figures of the colonial marines.

This is not a toy to be missed, so stay frosty, move on into the Vehicles Gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities, and secure the area by checking out the Die Cast Metal Aliens Dropship and APC.

Full steam ahead...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, November 9, 2009

I still remember when my parents took me to see Back to the Future.  It was 1985.  I honestly had no clue what the movie was about.  I also had no clue what a Delorean was.  Well I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I remember wishing I could ride a skateboard the way Michael J Fox's character did, and I remember instantly realizing how cool Deloreans were. I also remember being excited at the prospect of a sequel.

Fast forward to 1989.  I was in eighth grade.  It had been four years since the first film and Robert Zemeckis was back at the helm for  Back to the Future II.  Boy was I excited.  In the end though I left disappointed.  Like many movie goers I did not expect to have a large "to be continued..." slapped in my face.  I felt like Universal pictures was nickel and diming me into seeing part three.  For me that was it.  I actually vowed not to see the third movie.  It was a vow I kept.  I didn't see the third movie for many years-- probably until the mid 90's when I watched it on video.  I didn't think much of it until a couple years ago.  For Christmas of 2006 I asked for the Trilogy set of films on DVD.  While watching the special features I learned that Zemeckis battled Universal to advertise the second movie as part of a continuing series.  Instead Universal said no and decided to market the movie as a complete film which left me and many other fans feeling ripped off.  Strangely after learning this I was ready to watch the entire series with a new attitude, and to my surprise, I really like the third movie.

The first film still is my favorite but it does place an emphasis on materialism with Marty's (Fox's character) ultimate goal to obtain a really cool Toyota 4x4 and get the girl.  The third movie is more of a relationship movie and we learn a lot more about the wild haired inventor of the time machine Doc Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd).  The movie takes a decidedly steampunk spin and in one of the great action sequences they attempt to push the Deloeran time machine up to speed on Railroad tracks under steam locomotive power.

Naturally, If I were to have a model of any movie vehicle it would be one that rides on R.R. tracks right?   Today I continue my series of movie vehicles and bring you a model of the Delorean time machine as seen in Back to the Future III.  I preformed extensive surgery on this model to convert it to run on standard 45mm "G" gauge track so it could be pushed by a live steam locomotive.  There are many fine details on this model so power your time circuits on, and gun it to 88 mph. into the Vehicles Gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities to check out the R.R. Delorean time machine.

Full steam ahead...