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By Thomas Wheeler

In 1995, Disney, in conjunction with then little-known computer animation
studio Pixar, set the animation world on its ear by producing the first
fully-computer-animated full-length motion picture. That movie was TOY
STORY, and it essentially revealed the secret life of toys. When no one
else is around, they come to life.

The original movie told the story of a long-time, much beloved Sheriff
Woody doll, who essentially ruled the toy roost in his home with a young
boy named Andy. But Woody gets some competition on the boy's birthday, in
the form of a brand new space ranger action figure named Buzz Lightyear,
who at first isn't even convinced he's a toy.

The movie was a massive hit. So were the toys from it -- especially, in
an ironic twist, the Buzz Lightyear action figures. The Sheriff Woody
toys didn't fare quite as well.

Now, in the ten years since that first Toy Story movie, we've gotten used
to computer-animated movies. Toy Story had a sequel, with more possibly
in the works. Nor are computer-animated movies the exclusive province of
Disney/Pixar, although they've branched beyond Toy Story themselves.
Among the more notable features in the past decade have been It's a Bug's
Life, Shrek, Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, Dinosaur, Ice Age, The Incredibles,
Monsters Inc., Robots, and others. Add to the fact that CGI effects have
become commonplace in otherwise live-action movies, as well: Jurassic
Park, Spider-Man, Small Soldiers, The Matrix, and, need it be said, the
Star Wars prequels. It's even common on television. All of the modern
Star Trek series have used CGI effects to one degree or another. The
Dominion War battles of Deep Space Nine would've been impossible without it.

For all of that, though, Toy Story still endures. And so do its toys.

The company that first produced Toy Story action figures was actually a
little-known company called ThinkWay. While in 1995, the usual Disney toy
licensee was Mattel, in 1995 they were more concerned with producing toys
for that sure-fire standard animated Disney movie, "Pocahontas".

Now, granted, this wasn't as big a blunder as when, in the 1970's, a toy
company called Mego said "no thanks" to a new movie-inspired concept
called "Star Wars", but even so...

Mattel would eventually get to do Toy Story action figures, and for quite
a few years would do a very capable job of it. When the main Disney
license went over to Hasbro, much as the DC/Warner license went over to
Mattel FROM Hasbro, it was Hasbro's turn to create Toy Story figures, and
they've also done a capable job.

But ThinkWay has never been entirely out of the loop. That 12" Buzz
Lightyear they came up with in 1995 was incredibly profitable, and
they've kept producing him ever since in one form or another, alongside
other "Interactive" electronic action figures, for everything from
Monsters Inc. to The Incredibles. This is what ThinkWay has become best
known for since making their presence known in 1995 -- sophisticated
electronic and often interactive action figures, generally based on
Disney/Pixars movies.

Buzz has turned up in a number of forms. Holiday versions, a Stars &
Stripes version, and now this most recent addition to the line-up --

The figure is a fascinating mix of transparent plastic and chromed
plastic -- two details I always appreciate seeing on action figure.
Buzz's torso is transparent, and for good reasons, and his arms and legs
are chrome silver with blue trim. His wings are mostly blue, and have the
spring-action feature found in the original toy. The figure has a
remarkable level of articulation, even down to index fingers and finger
groups. About the only oddity with regard to the articulation is that the
head does not turn. Given the amount of electronics inside the figure,
this might have been difficult, but it's still a little strange. Beyond
that, though, the figure moves at the arms, upper swivel arm, elbows,
wrists, fingers, waist, legs, knees, and feet. And his helmet visor. His
upper body bulk makes him difficult to stand, but not impossible.

What sets SPACE RESCUE BUZZ LIGHTYEAR apart from his predecessors,
besides the color scheme, are two things -- the workings of the internal
lights (although one other nearly all-transparent Buzz Lightyear holds
the record for most internal lights), and his rather specific mission,
based on his speech patterns.

Press the three-button combo on his chest, and a series of red, orange,
and blue LED's flash in a pattern more or less based on his speech,
announcing that he is Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger, followed by a brief
fanfare soundtrack.

From there, however, it gets more interesting. Continue to press the
three-button combo, and Buzz receives orders from StarCommand (which make
the LED on his right arm light up and flash) regarding various rescue
missions -- putting out a fire on a space station, diverting a possible
meteor impact, and so forth. All the while the voice and sound effects
work, so do the colorful lights in his chest.

Buzz actually has a fair retinue of rescue missions programmed into him.
It's probably the most extensive soundtrack I've ever encountered for a
Buzz Lightyear figure. However, they have to be played in order, and all
as a single overall group, or the track resets shortly after disuse to
the original announcement, and you have to start all over. There might've
been some sort of trade-off there. I'm not sure.

Overall, though, it's a great figure. Buzz looks very impressive in his
chrome, clear, and blue uniform; the storyline of the rescue missions is
cool, and the flashing LED's work most impressively in conjunction with
the soundtrack.

This BUZZ LIGHTYEAR, like almost all of ThinkWay's Disney-based products
these days, is a Disney Store exclusive. He was first made available
around Christmas for $25.00. I was fortunate enough to find him recently
marked down to $9.99. They probably have a new Buzz coming in. For
$10.00, he's definitely worth it. If you don't have a Disney Store in
your area, I recommend their Web Site, although I don't know if he's been
marked down there.

But for any longtime fan of the TOY STORY characters, SPACE RESCUE BUZZ
LIGHTYEAR is a very cool addition to the collection! To Infinity and Beyond!