One popular line of action figures got its start in the preschool department, and has since "graduated" to action figures. Hasbro originally intended what is now known as the Star Wars Galactic Heroes line for the little-kid crowd. But they proved so popular among collectors that they were moved over to the action figure section, where they have since been joined by counterparts from Marvel Heroes and Transformers.
So there is a certain amount of crossover. And indeed, there is one well-regarded preschool line of figures, that has run for a great many years, that in many respects bridges the world of preschool toys and action figures -- and that line would be RESCUE HEROES, produced by Mattel under their Fisher-Price subsidiary.
But I'm not going to review any Rescue Heroes here. Don't get me wrong. I think it's a great line for the younger set. It's a cool concept, the toys are nicely made, have a good amount of play value and imagination in them, get the kids away from the video games and introduce them to the fun of action figures, and certainly the line has proven to be a huge success. But I don't collect Rescue Heroes, nor do I intend to start.
But it seems there's a new line out there, that in some respects takes its cues from Rescue Heroes, at least in partial name and, one might assume, basic scale, but also provides a whole new world of fun and adventure.
This new line is called PLANET HEROES, and in my opinion, it's a very cool concept, with a lot of potential to entertain younger kids, and teach them about something that, as far as I'm concerned, is sorely neglected from just about every aspect of society today -- space exploration and our solar system.
Imagine, if you will, that every planet in our solar system has indigenous life. Okay, we know that's not the case, but if it were, then if that life can be used to teach young kids about the solar system, I don't have a problem with it. There'll be plenty of time to get more scientifically accurate later on when the kids are older and hopefully have maintained their interest in the subject. It wasn't THAT long ago that the probability of Martians was fairly widely accepted.
That's pretty much the theme of PLANET HEROES. One character from each of the worlds -- INCLUDING PLUTO, THANK YOU VERY MUCH -- has been brought together to form the Rescue Heroes Team to battle the evil forces of Professor Darkness -- who frankly looks like a cross between Emperor Zurg from Toy Story and Spider-Man's arch-enemy Mysterio.
This line reminds me of several other concepts. There is, in all honesty, a certain cartoonish look to the characters that is really right out of Pixar. Almost any of these figures would fit rght into the next Toy Story movie rather nicely.
There's an element of Major Matt Mason in this, as well. For those who don't recall him, Major Matt Mason was a truly phenomenal action figure line in the 1960's, another Mattel product, interestingly enough, that took a lot of its cues from the popularity of real-world space exploration at the time and took off to great success.
But there's also a VERY strong element here of a lesser-known toy line from the 1960's, that tried to catch onto Major Matt Mason's coat-tails (or whatever part of an astronaut suit might compare to that). Called "The Outer Space Men", it was a series of figures from -- of all companies -- Colorforms, that features scale-compatible figures to the good Major, and designated them as being from different planets within the Solar System.
Obviously the Planet Heroes line doesn't come across nearly as "serious" in appearance, but the basic theme certainly has its similarities, and personally, I love the whole concept. Enough so that I bought one of them, and might try to round up some of the others.
I've been a follower and supporter of manned space exploration practically since I WAS a preschooler. I have vivid memories of watching the Gemini and Apollo missions -- particularly vivid since we had one of the few color TV's on the block at the time -- and I sincerely believe to this day that the manned exploration of our solar system and beyond is one of the most important endeavors we can undertake. And we've frankly been doing a pretty sloppy, careless job of it lately. I've been a member of the Planetary Society and the National Space Society, and I'd still like to live long enough to see us set human foot BACK on the moon AND on Mars.
So you can see why a line such as this Planet Heroes line, even if intended for the preschool crowd, would have a distinct appeal to me, and if it proves to be suitably popular, which I hope it does, if it in some small way inspires a future generation of real-life space explorers that help get this nation back on track and back "out there", then more power to it, and I intend to support it as such.
I deciced to start my collection with the EARTH representative. Not surprisingly, he's the central character of the line. He's a boy named Ace, presumable no relation to the G.I. Joe pilot of the same name, although there is a vague resemblance.
Ace is described on the materials within the package as a 10-year-old boy, very smart with computers, appears highly confident but isn't quite as confident as he comes across as being, and although most of the time seems to be an ordinary Earth boy, when he receives a signal from space, he becomes part of the Planet Heroes team.
The figure -- well, looks more than a little like Ace got design tips from Buzz Lightyear. The figure is dressed in a mostly white spacesuit, with large shoulders, huge feet, and a bulky helmet. The uniform is mostly white, with green gloves, blue shoes, green knee-pads, and the front of the shoulders are blue and green and vaguely resemble Earth. This is a point common to most of the Planet Heroes toys. His chestplate has an image of Earth with the number "3" in it, representing our place in the Solar System.
The helmet is removable, and the face underneath is that of a boy who could pass for about ten years of age, something the overall bodily proportions also reflect in a sort of cartoonish sense. Ace has fairly short brown hair, and a big grin.
The figure is well made, and probably a little bit better detailed that one would normally expect from something out of the preschool department. It's a little lacking in paint applications, in my opinion. The front of the shoulder pads are painted, but not the reverse. And the back of the figure's belt looks like it may have been painted by hand. Okay, it's a preschool toy. This sort of thing still drives me nuts regardless of where it turns up. It's not too bad in this instance, though.
Articulation is fairly limited, but again, that's sort of to be expected. In one sense, this isn't really an action figure. At any rate, it's not an action figure the way a Transformer or a Star Wars toy are action figures. Ace can move at the head, arms, and legs. Interestingly, the arms not only move forward and backward, but outwards. That's actually a little more than one might expect from a preschool toy.
Ace stands almost precusely 5" tall, without his helmet. The helmet is molded from flexible clear plastic, has a silver collar, and snaps into place most effectively.
All of the Planet Heroes figures come with a good supply of accessories, and certainly Ace is no exception to this. He comes with a bright green skateboard with a black top. Press a button on the skateboard and it becomes a superboard, as wings pop out, allowing the skateboard to fly.
Ace also comes with a computer console, which is a really futuristic-looking piece of equipment. It's molded from transparent plastic. It's basically a screen with a readout sticker on it, and the screen is attached to a long pole that mounts to the skateboard.
There's a peg on the skateboard to which Ace attaches, but interestingly, the figure doesn't have holes in his feet. The bottoms of his feet are ridged, allowing for Ace to be posed on the skateboard in any number of ways and still stay put. Nice feature!
Ace comes with a file card, that outlines a handful of basic facts about himself, which I've already related, and about the planet Earth, including:
*Our planet is 3-5 Billion years old!
*Earth rotates at about 1000 miles per hour.
*Most of the Earth is water - about 70%!
Nothing all that extensive, but hey, if it inspires further research. Ace also comes with a 27-minute DVD. This was REALLY a nice bonus.
The cover to the DVD reads "Ace in Space", but the episode itself is entitled "Slingshot". The cartoon is CGI, and really superb. I'd readily put it on a par with some of Pixar's early efforts. There's almost a Disney-esque look to the show, as if one were wandering around Tomorrowland or some such. Half expected to see Space Mountain in the background.
The Planet Heroes report to a large headquarters that is fairly close to the sun. There they are given their mission by two beings that look like more heroic versions of the bad guy in this concept. The two beings are rather standoffish sorts.
There's a surprising amount of personality in the characters, for what is essentially a cartoon geared towards a preschool-age toy line. Ace is supposedly ten, but he sounds and acts more like 13, really. Bit of a stretch to see him as a 10 year old. The rocky character from Mars has a Scottish accent. Wonder where he picked that up. The big robot from Jupiter has more than a few screws loose, and every so often starts yapping "radio commentary". The being from Saturn is a quiet, dignified type. The character from Uranus, named Yuri, has a Russian accent, and pronounced his homeworld's name with the accent on the first syllable. And the character from Pluto seems perpetually annoyed that his world has been classified as a "dwarf planet". Can't say as I blame him.
And Ace comes with a poster. Unlike most of the illustrated work accompanying the Planet Heroes toys, which was computer-generated, this poster was drawn by hand, and is a group shot of the nine Planet Heroes characters.The reverse side of the poster is a product catalog for the line.
I sincerely hope this line does well, even if I'm a little concerned as to where it goes from here. Once you've got the nine planets, what then? I suppose they could start doing moons and such. No shortage of those, but given some of the lengthy names of the moons orbiting the outer planets, we might be looking at some pronunciation problems for preschoolers.
There's already a variant of Ace out there. A recolored version comes with the one large vehicle in the line, a Turbo Shuttle.
I am no expert on the preschool toy world. I don't know how long toy lines run, if it's as mercurial as the action figure world can certainly be, or what. Certainly the "ancestor" of Planet Heroes, the Rescue Heroes line, has enjoyed considerable success for many years. But it's just as true that Planet Heroes is a lot more specialized, and some of the characters might be seen as a little too weird for very small children.
I hope not, though. I sincerely hope this line is a huge success. Certainly I think it deserves to be. And I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that it could accomplish a very positive purpose.
I won't say that Planet Heroes is the next great action figure collectible. But it IS a cool toy line, and if you can expand your own collection beyond the boundaries of strictly action figures, you should have a look at it. It really is pretty cool. Or, if you have young children of your own or among your relatives, consider getting them some of the Planet Heroes toys. They're not all that expensive for all that you get, and it's a well-made line with a very cool concept.
And of course, the PLANET HEROES member from Earth, ACE, certainly has my recommendation! Hopefully, I'll be reviewing more of these cool characters in the future.