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FLASHBACK REVIEW:
TRON - ACTION FIGURES
By Thomas Wheeler



In 1980, Disney came out with a truly amazing movie, that set then- groundbreaking standards for special effects. What's impressive is that the movie actually holds up reasonably well even today, allowing for the storyline and time period.

It was called TRON. It postulated the existence of a computer world, where programs took on humanoid form, and where a massive computer program was trying to rule the world by gaining more and more power.

Enter a young programmer in the real world named Flynn. Fired from the company that created the Master Control Program, by an underhanded programmer named Dillinger, Flynn sought to break into the company to find the evidence that would prove that a spate of video games that he had created - which Dillinger had stolen - were in fact his.

Instead, the MCP used an experimental laser scanning device to convert Flynn into a computer program, and sent him into the digital world. Here Flynn met up with Tron, a program designed to track down the MCP and try to get him back under control. Ultimately, they succeeded.

What made the movie so amazing was that it was the first movie ever to use extensive computer animation, and even worked the human actors who played Tron, Flynn, and other humanoid characters, into the animation. Although admittedly somewhat primitive-looking by today's standards, it worked within the storyline, and was one extremely cool movie.

In recent years, it has generated a sequel video game, and a comic book.

There was a small toy line, though, associated with the movie. Let us remember that in 1980, tying a toy line into a movie was still a relatively new concept. It had worked for Star Wars, but it still wasn't the expected thing that it is today.

TOMY was the company which produced the figures. It can't have been easy to figure out how to approach the half-human, half-computerized characters. And while it would be a stretch to say that Tomy came up with perfect likenesses, what they ultimately decided to do was still pretty cool.

In the movie, the characters tended to appear mostly white, or a sort of bluish-grey, and had highlights on their costumes that looked more or less like circuitry. The computer animation in the movie allowed these circuits to appear to glow a certain color. The good guys, such as Tron, Flynn, and a few others, glowed blue. The bad guys, which in the movie included the MCP's main henchman Sark and a cadre of soldiers, glowed red.

Tomy decided to mold the figures in colored transparent plastic, mirroring - more or less - their colors in the movie. There were four figures in the line. Flynn was blue. Tron was a blueish-purple. A little inaccurate, but it looked cool. Sark was red. The soldier figure was a darker red. Each figure had circuitry highlghts imprinted on him that was a slightly lighter color than the transparent plastic.

The figures were a bit of a stretch from their movie likenesses, but one got the impression that Tomy was going for a "cool look" more than a precise likeness, and in this, they succeeded.

Each figure also came with a glow-in-the-dark accessory. In the case of Tron, Flynn, and Sark, the accessory was a disc. In the movie, these held programmed information that was vital to each individual. They were also used as throwing discs in one of the various "video games" that the programs played. The soldier figures came with a glow-in-the-dark staff.

There was only one vehicle in the line, which was extremely scarce due to its popularity. One of the favorite scenes in the movie is the light-cycle chase. These fanciful "motorcycles" raced across a square-marked game grid, and were capable of immediate 90-degree turns. They also left solid walls behind them, and if an opposing player crashed into one of them, well, it was definitely "Game Over". These scenes were some of the best animated and most intense in the entire movie.

For whatever reason, Tomy either underproduced, undershipped, or underestimated the popularity of the light-cycles. They made them in three colors - red, yellow, and blue - but it didn't make a whole lot of difference because they were all pretty impossible to find. I wish I could show one here in this review, but I certainly never saw one in the stores.

By modern standards, the figures really don't seem like much. They're not highly articulated - head, arms, and legs. And there's certainly more detailed figures out there. But the TRON movie has enough of a following that another company actually reproduced the figures, and the lightcycle, for the specialty market a few years ago.

I didn't get them because, I still have my originals, which are pictured here in this review. But it does show what sort of lasting popularity the movie engendered.

If you've never seen TRON because you're under the impression that a computer-animated movie from that many years ago can't possibly be any good, then you need to go find a DVD of it and see what you're missing. As to the toys, while neither the originals nor the remakes are that easily found anymore - not even the VERY different action figures based on the TRON 2.0 video game, which I reviewed some time ago for this Web Site - are easy to come by. But, if you enjoy the movie, and you regard yourself as a toy collector, you just might find yourself trying to track them down.

And if you're able to find them, they certainly have my recommendation! TRON - a cool movie, and some pretty cool action figures, as well!