Sunday, August 21, 2011

Action Figure Pyromania

Recently a friend sent me a link to this Beastie Boys’ “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” video that features a cast of action figures (mostly Power Team with a cameo from the G.I. Joe Adventure Team commander).  I was not able to watch the whole thing because one of the action figures gets immolated, but it reminded me that the play scale adventures of my childhood were not always sedate tea parties.
Every summer as Independence Day approached, we would enjoy a season of action figure pyromania.  In addition to Nehi sodas, potato chips, and bubble gum, the general store closest to my grandparents’ house sold sparklers, smoke bombs, and best of all, bottle rockets.  My grandparents’ farm was in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the nearest neighbors were on the next ridge so we didn’t have to worry about setting anyone’s roof on fire and no-one seemed overly concerned that we might injure ourselves.

My brother, who was two years younger, and my uncle, who was two years older than I was, would act out all kinds of exciting adventures with their Big Jim, Johnny West, and GI Joe action figures.  Sparklers were dandy torches for nighttime reconnaissance missions.  Or the villains would try to smoke the good guys out of their headquarters with cherry bombs.  The bottle rockets were supposed to ignite, shoot upward, and then go bang!  Instead we would peel them off the stick and use them as TNT charges.  Big Jim and his crew stepped on a lot of land mines and got buried under a lot of dynamite induced avalanches until the sad day when the manufacturer eliminated the second charge.  

This was also the era when the disposable Bic lighter made its debut.  Since my grandmother was a chain smoker, it was never hard to snag one to conduct more incendiary experiments.  I believe that this is how my brother’s Action Jackson met his end.  

The original Action Jackson commercials used puppetry and animation techniques to show the character in a variety of thrilling adventures.  Unfortunately these commercials violated rules prohibiting toy manufacturers from suggesting a toy could do something that it couldn’t do independently and sales of Action Jackson plummeted when Mego was forced to pull the misleading spots from the air.  Still, for those of us interested in making videos with play scale figures, vintage action figure commercials like this early Action Jackson ad are useful examples of how to use puppetry and outdoor settings in a convincing way.  

À Bientôt


  1. Not the Nehi sodas. Oh my. I had totally forgotten about those. Thanks for the links and the history lesson. I thoroughly enjoyed the Beastie Boys video. Yes, it is pretty violent most of the time, but I laughed and clapped my way through it. The effects and the props were phenomenal. For anyone reading this, try to make it through the whole video. There are so many surprises along the way. I don't think you will be disappointed. Just amazing! It was a cross between the Michael Jackson Thriller video and a James Bond 007 movie.

  2. I laughed and clapped at the Beaste Boys video up until the point where the action figure burst into flames. Then I started sobbing hysterically. The effects and props are phenomenal as you say, though.

  3. So sorry that it affected you that way. I thought I would have trouble getting through when I read your post. It was terrible at first. I get screaming 'stop drop and roll'. Couldn't figure out why he didn't do that. Did you see anything beyond that? If not, you got to go back.