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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS BATTLE CAT
By Thomas Wheeler

I've never been one for using animals as a form of transportation. Nevertheless, in a world where people ride cars, and still ride horses, perhaps it's no great surprise that on a wild world like Eternia, where there's no shortage of technological means of transportation, many of which were made into toys in the original Masters of the Universe line, the preferred means of getting around as far as the heroic He-Man was concerned, was not a machine, but it was his faithful animal steed.

Granted, this wasn't a horse. It was a large green tiger with orange stripes. But, hey, it's Eternia. Consider some of the other life forms they have...

The animal's name was BATTLE CAT, and he's been brought into Mattel's amazing MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line, in very impressive fashion.

I find it remarkable that when Filmation started the animated series, they were able to take the Battle Cat toy, which was effectively a non-poseable lump of tiger-shaped plastic, and turned him into one of the most charming characters in the series. Battle Cat could be a vicious and powerful warrior, but his alter ego managed to get better laughs than Orko and wasn't anywhere near as annoying.

Here's some general background on Battle Cat: Battle Cat's alter ego is Cringer, the cowardly, lazy, over-eating feline companion of Prince Adam. He tends to spend most of his time as Cringer sleeping, eating, and hiding at the slightest sign of trouble or danger. He can talk, although no reason is ever really given for this ability, and he is treated as if speaking is completely normal.

In the episode "Teela's Quest", Queen Marlena says to Adam in regards to the planet Earth, "There are no talking green tigers on Earth." It is not known if her referring to Cringer as a tiger means he is called a tiger on Eternia, or if she is simply using it as a comparison, although in the episode "A Beastly Sideshow" Evil-Lyn also refers to Cringer as a tiger. His species is never given an explicit name and it is unclear how many others like him there are. (Fortunately, the character profile on the new figure clears all of this up rather nicely.)

Frankly, given some of the species on Eternia, a talking green tiger probably isn't that unusual...

When Prince Adam transforms into He-Man, he holds his sword out and fires an energy beam at Cringer, transforming him into Battle Cat. When he becomes Battle Cat, he grows to about twice his size, and is outfitted in red armor that covers his head, and back, with a saddle mounted on it for riding. As Battle Cat, he is fearless, and powerful. His voice changes significantly, and he talks with a growl, as opposed to his whimpering voice that is heard when he is Cringer.

Cringer generally dislikes becoming Battle Cat, but he goes along with it anyway. He largely serves as a mount for He-Man, but he is known for mixing it up with the villains as well. Interestingly, at one point, Battle Cat is given a love interest; in the episode "The Cat And The Spider" Kittrina, a warrior of the cat-people took a shine to him from the start.

The story of Cringer/Battle Cat's past is covered in the episode "Battlecat". The episode recounts that Adam, while on a few days exploring the jungle as a boy, found a kitten being attacked by a vicious sabrecat. After scaring the sabrecat away, Adam took the kitten back to the palace where it was tended to by Man-At-Arms. After it became well, Adam adopted the kitten as his pet. However the kitten was scared very easily, and Adam and the kitten were teased by Teela and the other children, with the kitten being called a cringer. Although Adam defended his pet, the name stuck. The Sorceress appeared and told Adam that Cringer might bring him embarrassment now, but in the future he would be useful.

Years passed, and after Adam was given the ability to become He-Man he usually hid from Cringer. However, when an archeological dig was attacked by a monster, Adam transformed into He-Man without knowing Cringer was watching. After spotting him, He-Man tried to reassure his pet that he was really Adam, but after pointing the Sword of Power towards Cringer it let out the usual energy beam, transforming Cringer into Battle Cat for the first time. He-Man was shocked to see the change in the usually timid cat, but remembered the Sorceress' words from when he was a child and he received another message, telling him Battle Cat was now his partner. Using Battle Cat, he was able to confine the beast and save the endangered team.

In the 2002 series, Cringer is somewhat of a pet to Adam. Although it seems clear he can understand what is said to him, he cannot speak and sounds like a typical house cat. He is a coward, although this does not come up as much as in the original series, but more than once he has shown some bravery in order to help Adam. As Battle Cat, he is most often seen merely transporting He-Man and roaring loudly. However, while in the first season he only has a few moments where he fights (he goes one-on-one with Panthor, helps against Evilseed's vines, fights and defeats giant mutated rats, takes out Clawful and fights a powered up Tri-Klops), in season 2 the writers gave him a more active role; he often fights against the Snake Men and Skeletor's forces. Since he never speaks, there seems to be an effort to portray his relationship with Adam/He-Man as more than master/pet, most often through either Battle Cat or Cringer being badly injured and He-Man entering a rage, or by He-Man explaining things to him. He is twice seen without his battle helmet, revealing a rather fiercer, sabertoothed version of Cringer's face beneath (in the original series, only the helmet had large incisors, and Battle Cat had normal teeth.)

I always thought it was something of a shame in the 2002 series that they chose to not have Cringer/Battle Cat speak. I can understand that Cringer was played largely for laughs in the classic series, and the 2002 series wanted to take a more serious tone, but it was still a shame.

However, even the 2002 series managed a few laughs, even with a non-verbal cat. At one point, Cringer is ducking away from -- something that's scared him, and he makes a noise that sounded like a two-month-old kitten...

So, how's the toy? Astoundingly impressive. For one thing, relative to the Masters of the Universe Classics figures, he's about the size of a small bus. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But he is huge.

I don't have an original Battle Cat on hand for measurement purposes, but I do recall the toy being a moderately-sized feline with very little sculpted fur - i.e. a relatively smooth body -- and no articulation whatsoever. The toy was posed in a fairly dramatic position, and had a removable helmet and saddle.

The 2002 Battle Cat was larger, measuring a bit over 10 inches in length. Once again, though, Battle Cat had very little sculpted fur on his body, although he fared better in this regard than his predecessor. He had some articulation this time around, though. All four legs moved at the shoulders or hips, the tail was poseable, and if you raised his upper head, his right front leg came up to look like it was reaching out to strike. As with the original Battle Cat, he had a removable helmet and saddle, as well as additional claw-like armor on his front paws.

Now we come to the Masters of the Universe Classics version of Battle Cat. For one thing, he's almost precisely a foot in length, and his overall size easily dwarfs both of his predecessors. You want sculpted fur? He's got it head to tail. There isn't a piece of this cat that doesn't have highly detailed fur. I am of the opinion that whomever on the Four Horsemen sculpting team worked on Battle Cat probably needed a week off after he completed the job, just to get his eyes uncrossed from the detail on this ferocious feline.

You want accuracy? Okay, there's not a lot of green tigers in the world. But there ARE tigers, and while I am no animal expert, it would not at all surprise me to learn that the sculptors had photographic references of actual tigers on hand to work from. Mold this toy in "real" tiger colors and you could probably sell it to zoos and animal parks as a high-quality souvenir. Along with the sculpted detail, the painted detail is absolutely magnificent. Some sections of Battle Cat's fur have been painted in a very slightly lighter green. These tend to correspond to the areas of a real tiger where the fur tends to go from orange to white. Remove the saddle and you've for an amazing series of orange stripes running down Battle Cat's back, legs, and tail, as well as on his face. The claws on his feet are painted black, and Mattel even went so far as to sculpt the pads of his feet, and paint them black, as well!

Of course, most of the painted detail is on the face. The orange striping here is absolutely amazing. Additionally, Battle cat has superbly painted eyes, yellow with red pupils and black outlines, a black nose, black spits on his face where whiskers would be found, and the interior of his mouth is painted pink, with big ivory teeth!

Let's talk articulation. Sometimes I wonder how difficult it may actually be to create an articulated animal toy. It's not quite as hard, I would surmise, for a human to decide how to articulate a toy of a human being, or at least a humanoid creature (don't want to put off any robots or humanoid aliens, here). We have an almost instinctive knowledge of how we move. When it comes to deciding how to incorporate that into a toy, it really comes down to just how articulated that toy is ultimately going to be, as well as certain financial and production constraints. Almost any decent toy company can come up with a reasonably accurately articulated human-based toy. You're not going to put the elbow joint right below the shoulder, any more than you're going to put in three knees per leg.

An animal is a different matter. Now, sure, if you come up with some sort of bizarre alien creature, you can articulate it however you like. But if the animal is based on anything recognizable, and despite the color scheme, Battle Cat most definitely is, then you have to understand how that animal really moves, and then decide how the toy is going to reflect that -- and to what extent.

Mattel decided to articulate the heck out of this toy, and I have the opinion that it wasn't any easier than sculpting all that fur. Battle Cat's head swivels back and forth. If you've ever seen a cat shake its head, you know what I'm talking about. The mouth opens very widely to reveal that mouthful of teeth -- those that aren't apparent even when his mouth is closed. The neck, at the base of the main body, moves up and down. The front legs are articulated at the shoulders, elbows, and paws. The elbows and paws have a rotation as well as back and forth movement. There is a mid-torso articulation point, which surprised the hack out of me. It's generally nicely hidden by the saddle. The rear legs are marvels of articulation. Animal hind legs in many species are dramatically different than anything human. Battle Cat's hind legs are articulated at the hip, and then there's a double knee joint in two distinct spots, and then the paws are articulated. The rear paws also have a rotation. The tail is also articulated on a ball-and-socket joint and gives it quite a range of motion. Put it all together and you've got one poseable cat.

Battle Cat comes with his helmet and saddle. These are a deep reddish brown in color, and very reflective, as the entire Classics line is, of the original look, although obviously they're far more detailed. The saddle is removable, as is the helmet. The helmet just pops right off. The saddle has a snap hidden, rather appropriately, underneath the buckle on one side. The seat in the saddle has a worn, leather-like look to it. Again, amazing detail.

Admittedly, without his armor, Battle Cat doesn't look all that much like the cowardly Cringer. The facial expression is too ferocious. But then again, neither of the previous Battle Cats especially looked like Cringer. That's where imagination has to come into play -- yours and the original show's creators...

I don't often talk about packaging, but in this case, it's worth mentioning. Battle Cat was restrained in his box by those highly annoying plastic-coated wire twist-ties that years ago persuaded me to buy a good pair of wire cutters. However, unlike every other experience I've had with these things, they weren't tied in knots in the back of the framework that held Battle Cat in place. Instead, they were curved around small plastic frames, that allowed them to do their job without being an absolute nightmare to remove. If these twist-ties must continue to be used, then this is the way to do it.

As with the standard figures in this line, Battle Cat's backstory is presented on the back of his package, on a very cool scroll-like illustration. Unlike most of the others, the character picture on the scroll is not derived from the original mini-comics. It's more of a realistic painted illustration, and is very impressive. I've appreciated these backstory scrolls. If one accepts that the top three action figure toy lines in the early 1980's were G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe, then the original Masters were the only ones that DIDN'T do this sort of thing for their characters. It's nice to see them now. Battle Cat's reads as follows:

BATTLE CAT - Fighting Tiger.
Real Name: Cringer.
A member of the Green Tiger Tribe, Cringer was saved from a parek-narr attack by a young Prince Adam, and afterwards became his devoted companion for life. He assisted Adam during his quest to unite both halves of the Power Sword of He, and afterwards was enhanced by its power to become Battle Cat, the fighting tiger of He-Man. Cringer is one of only a handful of allies who knows Adam's secret and fights alongside the other Masters of the Universe, carrying He-Man into battle against the forces of evil.

This is the first mention of this "Green Tiger Tribe" that I am aware of, but it makes sense. In most cases, there's no real reason to assume that any of the unusual beings within the Masters concept are necessarily unique unto themselves, and in fact, the 2002 series especially made it a point to show that in fact most of them weren't. Stratos had his people, Buzz-Off had his -- there's no reason to assume that there aren't more green tigers on Eternia. This one just happens to have gotten involved in the action more.

So, what's my final word here? This is an absolutely incredible figure. The original Battle Cat, in my opinion, was little more than an overgrown, independently sold accessory, who was lucky enough to be given a strong personality in the original animated series. This new Battle Cat is a figure and character in his own right. The detail and articulation are nothing short of amazing. Any fan of the Masters of the Universe would want to add this Battle Cat to their collection, and I'm certainly very glad that I did.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of BATTLE CAT definitely has my highest recommendation!