READERS – If you are seeing this again it is because I added a few new images for more fun.
In case you are wondering if I will be discussing any other 1/6th scale figures besides GI Joe – this is the first non-Joe article with more to follow.
In 1991, the relationship between Mattel and Disney was growing. Mattel had launched a line of preschool products with the Disney Standard Characters, which was doing reasonably well. This was followed up the hugely successful Disney Classics Fashion doll line, which launched with Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The line grew so well that when the license was lost by Mattel and awarded to Hasbro in the last few years, it accounted for over five hundred million dollars in sales.
In an effort to strengthen this new relationship Mattel became an official “Strategic Partner” with Disney to be on the level as Coca-Cola and only a small handful of other major corporations. To build synergy, product brainstorms were held with key players from Mattel Marketing, Mattel Design, Disney Parks Merchandising and Disney Consumer Products. The goal of their meetings at Disney World and later at Euro-Disneyland was to create new product opportunities to help bring the fun of the parks home to guests. Several Mattel products were already selling well in the parks including: Barbie’s Dolls from Around the World and Heart Family Visits Disneyland.
Many ideas came from these meetings but only a few products actually made to the shelves. To extend the selling range, they would be available in the Disney Park stores (Orlando, Anaheim and Paris) and the now rare Disney Stores in the malls.
The Pirates of the Caribbean was one of the first figures to ship. It shipped in and went out with the tide very quickly as the numbers produced were low. This figure used a Ken body with the bent arms since it had the best articulation at that time. That head is actually one of the Ken heads specially designed with a bald scalp to make it easier to root on the hair.
There were not many Mattel dolls released with rooted beards so the wonderfully talented women who ran the development hair-rooting department had fun creating this. The head of the department had decades of experience as she had actually started rooting Barbie heads at eighteen on the production line. Until very recently, there was a Toys’ R Us located on the same spot that used to be the early Barbie production line. It is in Hawthorne, California right off I405, where Mattel had its original headquarters.
The head not only has long rooted black hair, but a long beard and mustache that then has rubber bands holding it into position. It was very tricky to root that tiny area so we had to augment the rooting with some black underpainting to make the mustache look fuller. If the rooters had fun, the face painters were not amused. They were the masters of creating beautiful eye and face painting. Now they had a designer saying – “No, I need you to make uglier. Add warts or age-spots. Add bags under his eyes. Give him craggy teeth!” The final eyes are still prettier than they really should be for a pirate, but the overall effect was there. He looked like the captain on the boat in the harbor yelling, “Give ‘em another broadside!”
As this was a special item with low volumes, there needed to be no new tooling. Here, we had to be very clever as it to be sure the parts would fit on his hands. He came with three knives that slide into his scabbard strap (see image of back of box as they were not packed out in place due to failing transportation testing). These knives with hook grips came from Big Jim. The sword came from the Jitsu character of Masters of the Universe.
The pants and boots were sewn soft goods and the coat has a nice label on the front with the title Pirates of the Caribbean in appropriate script.
My favorite figure of the set, which unfortunately did not ship, was for the Haunted Mansion. There were Haunted Mansions at Disneyland and Disney World, but there was also a newly built Phantom Manor in Euro-Disney. That version of the classic ride had much of the original fun but with an Old West American theme.
One of the early concepts for the Haunted Mansion had a full storyline but it was mostly left out of the final version of the ride. As Disney Imagineers were putting more emphasis on storyline in the rides, the new Phantom Manor had a distinct storyline. The main character was shown in multiple scenes and at least one showing him transform with age. This cloaked figure with a big top hat also matched the organist in the ballroom scene in the original rides. Although no new tooling was allowed since it would be another low volume special, there was a loophole in the costing where rotocast tooling (the method used to create soft Barbie heads) was considered part of doing business as they could only run a limited time before needing to be replaced. This gave me the clever idea to use a rotocast head that could naturally turn, and just sculpt the head to have a living face on one side and a dead/skeleton face on the other. The high collar would cover the back head so you would only see one face at a time.
This figure used the bent-arm Ken body. The black shoes were the same as used on the Prince Charming. The main costume was a jumpsuit of black pants with a white sleeveless shirt and bow tie. The coat had hook and loop tape if you wanted to close it. The fabric cape with collar was removable. Adding soft goods white gloves gave a nice finishing touch and kept the hand colors consistent so we would not have to account for dead hands.
Other figures from the parks brainstorms did ship. Many other fun figures were designed that did not ship. Stay tuned for more.
What is your favorite Disney 1/6th scale figure?