Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Past Plastic - Kenner Jurassic Park

kenners jurassic park toys
Kenners Jurassic Park Toys

What better way to start an irregular series of articles than with one of the biggest, most enduring movies of all time about Dinosaurs eating people in a theme park. Yes, that's right pop the corks on your champagne bottles - I am starting a new feature, and kicking it off with Kenners Jurassic Park toy line.

Past Plastic will be an opportunity to take a look back at some vintage and revel in their nostalgia. Franchises such as Starcom, Transformers, M.A.S.K, Masters of the Universe, Thunderbirds Visionaries, TMNT, Batman:The Animated series and many others will make hopefully have their day.

I was obsessed with Jurassic Park. I was there opening night in a Jurassic Park T shirt and Baseball Cap and convinced my family to buy me as much merch as possible. Even stationary, because it had the logo bestowed upon it- so of course I needed it. So when Jurassic World came out, I was excited about all of the new merchandise that I would be able to buy. Even thought the movie is great, Hasbro sadly flopped at producing a decent toy line, I mean they gave us Velociraptor toys without their trademark claws.

So it inspired me to go back and take a look at some of the toys that were released by Kenner as part of the toy line that accompanied the original movie, and that kids around the world desperately emptied their parents wallets to snap up.

Hit the button below to read the article


jurassic park action figures by kenner
Robert Muldoon, Tim Murphy, Ellie Sattler & Alan Grant. Allegedly.

The Dinosaurs needed people to eat in the movie, which meant Kenner had plenty of characters to choose from in terms of human figures.
Surprisingly, we only got 6 of the actual characters from the film (of which I only have 4) the other two being Dennis Nedry and Jeff Goldblums Ian Malcolm (who did not make an appearance until the second wave). Apparently David Attenboroughs Park Owner, John Hammond, was slated to be a part of the line but Kenner felt that kids would not buy a figure of an old man. No Lex either, so no who do we have to say "it's a Unix system?". I'd have loved a Mr Arnold and Genaro figures too- with splitting in half action feature.

Each of Kenners Jurassic Park figures were attached to cards decked out in the Red sky and Black tree motif that all of the official JP merchandise bore. I was totally taken by this packing, the marketing department had me completely. I would just gaze at it and I could my heart being pulled into it -as if that was definitely the island and it was own character.
Sounds crazy, but it made my heart ache as a child to go to Jurassic Park, and be totally absorbed in the world it created (I'd have been eaten by a Dinosaur within 5 minutes, tops). It even made want to be a writer, so I could be involved in that world. For a school parents evening in 1993 I had actually written my own Jurassic Park 2 and the teachers forced me to let them display it even though I had probably invested more time scrawling the JP logo on the cover than writing an actual story.
Cool kid yeah?

Kenners Jurassic Park design team were working quite far in advance so based their sculpts off of early concept sketches for the movie which is why the figures share little resemblance to the movie actors. As previously mentioned, a series 2 of Jurassic Park figures was re-released which reused these sculpts but modified the heads to better resemble the actors from the movie -except Muldoon, who it also happens is the most egregious in his differing appearance. He looks more like the wrestler Kurt Angle than Muldoon.

Even with the standard 5 points of articulation from the time (which Mattel and Hasbro seemed determined to bring back), the figures all have a lot of character due to the sculpting and detail.
For example Muldoon actually has molded socks above his boots that are painted another colour - can you image Hasbro or Mattel doing that now?

jurassic park kenner figures with accessories

Actual accessories are included but sadly I don't have all of them as 1993 was a long, long time ago. So lets just do a quick run through, right Ellie Sattler comes with her iconic grappling hook bazooka.
Hang on - what?

She certainly did not have that in the movie, but Kenner decided they need to raise the stakes a bit to gain kids attention. Jurassic Park toys were always going to sell once the movie started stomping box office records but as was the case with most early 90's action figures, the figures came packed with all manner of spring loaded accessories which were not accurate to the source material. In an era where most action figures were focused on war and fighting, it stood to reason that they could not just allow these figures to be like they were in the film- they needed massive weapons.

kenners jurassic park alan grant figure

They at least made a tenuous effort to make them work, as Grant comes with a stacked looking ruck sack that just happens to fire a capture net. It was good that they did not just give them all guns and the accessories do at least fit more with Jurassic Park not being a militarised movie.

Whilst they are all kinda daft, as a kid they did expand the story in my mind. In a "What if they were stranded on the Island for longer" sort of way. A grappling hook bazooka may come in handy right?

Extra items that are molded on to the figure sculpts (so non removable), include torches, guns, knives and walkie talkies which whilst the characters in the movies did not have them - they do fit in with idea that these people are trying to survive in the jungle full of famished Dinosaurs. Expanding the universe and story a little bit, and they fit with the awesome little collector cards that were packaged with each figure.

Small, baby Dinosaurs were included with each figure and all had a JP tattoo on them, much like their larger brethren. Whilst not being movie accurate it fit the idea that they were branded zoo animals.

No wonder they were all so ticked off.


kenners jurassic park jeep toy

Vehicles were included in the toy line, and the ones we are looking at all had a special place within the movie.

Appearing in two of the films most iconic scenes, where they see the Brachiosauraus for the very first time (yes, they had a T-Rex), and later racing away from a pursuing Tyrannosaurus Rex (must go faster) the Jeep was the vehicle the parks staff used to get about.

Jeep are notoriously protective of the rectangular headlights and grill, which they view as their trademark so it interesting to see it used on this toy, in spite of them not using the Jeeps name and referring to it as the "Bush Devil Tracker". Recent  Jurassic Park video games have changed the lights and grill to avoid the wrath of Jeeps lawyers.

Kenner went with a semi accurate deco, the Red slash is there on the front and windshield, but oddly not the back or wheels, The number 27 is branded onto the side which I don't think is one we saw in the movie.
A Jurassic Park logo sticker is planted on the front, which in the movie was just the letters "JP" followed by the number of the Jeep, and the park logo was only used on the doors, which the car does not have. It actually fits into a molded space, presumably to stop kids getting it all cock-eyed.

the jurassic park jeep toy

Like all toys of the time, the Jeep comes loaded with action gimmicks. 

A mounted rocket launcher which shoots a Yellow missile (surprisingly far) can be detached if you want the more authentic movie look.  A capture arm is attached to the side, and has a piece of string running through it with a loop on the end to ensnare misbehaving Dinosaurs.
It lifts up, it swivels and all of that good stuff but the most interesting aspect is that it is attached to the chair (ah that is why it is does not have doors), which slides out as if it were made for Batman.

There is a small control console, but I have found that out of the four figures I have only Alan Grant can fit in the seat, as they others all have molded shorts which block their legs from fitting around the console.

Whilst not movie accurate, you could imagine the actual park having specially adapted vehicles like this to nab wandering Dinosaurs and the like. I love the depth little things like this add to the idea of Jurassic Park.

jurassic park jeep tracker with dino damage

Each of the vehicles in the Jurassic Park line had a "Dino-Damage!!!" feature, which gave an effect as if they had been attached by the rampaging Dinosaurs.

Whilst it just requires popping off the wind shield on the Jeep, the effect is pretty cool, and is responsible for the many wind shield less Jeeps currently for sale on eBay.

So the Jeep is quite successful in being a fun toy, and representing the vehicle from the movie with a few liberties taken,


jurassic park explorer car toy

I obsessed over the Jurassic Park Explorer toy as a kid, I needed it to fill the empty void in my soul that could only be filled by a plastic car. I begged and pleased, but to no avail - my pleas fell on deaf ears. In the end, I did manage to acquire one in a trade with a kid at school for some old Transformers or Gameboy games. Play ground currency.

The heartbreaking thing was the wheel was broken, so I had to glue it in place meaning it could no longer roll. Since then, I have always wanted another one, and semi regularly have scoured eBay for a reasonably priced complete one without ever managing to pull the trigger.
Now years later, that ghost that haunted me for me so has finally been laid to rest.

Decked out in a Red, Green and Yellow the car was used to ferry the characters around Jurassic Park on an electric track.
The original vehicle was a heavily modified Ford Explorer, which the Jurassic Park movie engineers modified to include a large glass roof section. The idea being that if you were taking a tour of a theme park featuring Dinosaurs, you would need to look up to see the massive Dinosaurs.
You were not supposed to be able to exit the vehicle, which is why Muldoon lamented the doors not being electronically locked.



The movie vehicle featured a large Yellow trim around the bottom, that faded into the Green, and also adorned the wheel trims - but that colour is nowhere to be found on the actual toy. But it is there on the toys box art.

Fords Jurassic Park Explorer is the one vehicle we have never had a screen accurate update for. Jada Toys recently released an incredibly  spot on die cast replica of the original JP Jeep and a larger radio controlled version - but there is no sign of the Explorer.

Kenners toy still looks great, and does a great job of evoking that original vehicle with the addition of a few flourishes of its own.

the side of the jurassic park explorer


The dripping Burgundy markings look incredible for a retail toy from the 1990's, especially across the bonnet and I assume they are intended to evoke Dinosaur markings, and make the Explorer look like a theme park safari vehicle. It does feel like something you might find in a Disney park, which is probably the highest praise you can give it.

Stickers are used for the lights, and other details across the car. What is strange is that the Jurassic Park on the left side is all one sticker, whereas on the right it is separated into two separate stickers? For their age, they are actually in remarkable condition with only the "Jurassic" on one side looking like it needs replacing, but even that is not bad or faded.

The front of the car has a large set of bull bars, as per the movie, and there is an opening glass roof just like the one the T-Rex smashes to pieces on screen. Flipping this open is how you slot the figures in, to a bare interior, which sadly lacks the box of flares and goggles that were present in the real thing. Though Tim's figure comes with the goggles (if you can find one where they have not been lost), and I just use the storage space in the back of the Explorer to squish all the accessories in.

kenners jurassic park car toys

There is a small swivelling video camera on the top for...reasons, and Kenner squeezed in the vehicles main action feature of a spring loaded projectile launcher on the inside of the cars back door. It flips around, which is pretty cool,as it is not bolted on in a way that detracts from the vehicles role in the movie, but instead is hidden away.

According to the box they fire "blood sampling missiles", that are supposed to be non lethal and I guess just collect the large creatures DNA. But frickin hell, look at the size of those missiles - they are enormous and look more ICBM than just for harmless research purposes.
Each missile is surprisingly massive, and both can be stored on the side of the car, on two well placed mounts.

Not that these were featured in the movie, but boys toys need weapons to shoot things or so toy execs thought, and still to do this day. If they spent less money on these gimmicky accessories that most people discard or ignore, toy companies would have more money to invest in the paint apps and sculpts. But still today, random spring loaded accessories pervade.

jurassic park dino damage feature

One of the movies most iconic scenes is of course the T-Rex freeing itself from the paddock and goes nuts on the Explorer with a trapped Lex and Tim screaming away inside. Why on Earth did Lex turn that light on? So it is fitting that the Explorers Dino damage goes a bit further than on the Jeep.

The cars hood pops off in torn fashion, leaving much of the engine exposed. But what is cool is that there are claw marks across molded in, making it look like a Dino has genuinely been at it.

So the Explorer is pretty great then, and lives up to the toy I craved, and owned in a broken fashion, as a child. Sure, it is not highly accurate, but then it was designed as a kids toy and fulfils that role pretty well.

Maybe someday a company will make a modern update to the Explorer that is screen accurate, and will probably cost a small fortune.

I loved the Jurassic Park toys, and still do now. All of the toys still hold up today, even the figures due to the size, amount of detailing and almost alternate universe character stylings. Having toys that are not based on war, military or fighting but a disaster movie makes a really nice change and makes the line stand out as unique to an extent.
Being able to revisit them now has been a lovely experience and I have had more fun playing with and writing about these toys than anything else recently. It was impossible not to hum the theme tune for hours on end and smile like a 9 year old again. My balance is quaking, because now I am casting an eye over eBay, to find the awesome looking Jurassic Park command compound playset that I always dreamt of owning.
That is one of the best things about getting older, being able to go back and buy things I never had the chance of owning as a kid.

Muldoon was wrong, they should not "all be destroyed", they should all be collected and preserved on toy fans shelves.

That will conclude the first Past Plastic article, and you may have noted that none of the Dinosaur toys have a presence. Well, I do actually have them coming at some point, which means there will be a part two to this feature at some point in the future.


Please like the Toybox Soapbox page on Facebook where you can get updates and the like here
You can also follow Toybox on Twitter @ToyboxSoapbox , or press the +1 button on this page to follow us on Google Plus. We are even on Tumblr...somewhere...


3 comments:

  1. I was hypnotized by the card art as well. I remember being a second grader in the toy aisle and staring at these figures for hours. Dennis Nedry was my first figure from this line. I truly miss awesome action features. Kenner was the best. Aliens vs Predator, Jurassic Park, and my favorite toy line of all time; Beast Wars! (it was my G1) I never saw the movie in theaters as a kid but my father brought home the book for me. Many of the figures, dinos, and vehicles soon followed. That Christmas I even got the compound. (best play set ever made) The Bush Devil Tracker was the one vehicle I never owned. Now I have to track it down. Awesome article! It opened up a lot of great memories. I'm glad others still remember this fantastic experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was an incredible time for toys and movies. Glad someone else also appreciates it! Kenner were a great company and it was heartbreaking when they were folded into Hasbro - it's just not the same

      Delete
  2. I had the jeep and explorer as a kid....I think I threw them in the trash in the late 90s. Sad

    ReplyDelete