Not only was Disney’s John Carter an excellent movie, but it was also filled with more “toy-etic” designs than any other big budget movie in recent memory. With iconic heroes and villains, a huge and lavish world from which to pull inspiration, and a strong sense of cinematic design, John Carter seems like a sure-fire hit on toy shelves. But no company bit for the first movie… let’s take a look at why (along with some fan-casting fun) as I propose the line I think would be incredible.
John Carter is great, although he’s always been a much more cult/ underground property than his more famous successor Tarzan. Still, the John Carter series has lived for a century now as one of the biggest influences on generations of sci-fi, fantasy and pulp fiction properties both large and small. The new movie, directed by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, proved worthy of its title, with tons of pulpy action, amazingly realized visuals, and great interpretations of the novel’s classic characters like Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas. While it remains to be seen how the box office will perform, John Carter is already scoring pretty strong marks among critics and fans alike (myself included).
Still, even with a major movie to support it, nobody seems to have bit to release a toy line for the movie. It makes some sense in today’s retail environment– we all know movie toy lines have a very limited shelf life (Star Wars nonwithstanding)… even major, proven blockbuster properties like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Marvel movies come on strong but have proven to limp their way to the clearance aisle after the Holidays. And some less-proven lines like Playmates’ Terminator Salvation or Mattel’s Avatar were flops right out of the gate. Despite this harsh retail climate, a John Carter line would have had a few things in its corner. First, since the movie is being released in March, a toy line would have launched right at the beginning of 2012, meaning shelf space would be readily available for the New Year resets… and competition wouldn’t be too bad since many lines would be too hung up on clearing out 2011 product to get their new merchandise out on time. Also, a January release would have been met with lots of kids and collectors antsy to spend that Christmas money burning a hole in their pocket– you know it’s true… I don’t know a single collector who won’t jump in for a new toy line in January, just to have something to buy while we wait for Toy Fair. And while John Carter may not be a household name, Disney certainly is, and that name brand alone should help garner sales.
This isn’t even mentioning the most important benefit of John Carter as a viable license– the excellent production designs of the movie. While early stills looked a little too “Star Wars prequels” for many fans’ liking, the designs for costumes, aliens, tech and sets actually works impossibly well in the film, and the subtle differences seen in the look and feel of John Carter (like the organic sexiness of Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris, and the merging of sci-fi and fantasy elements) would appear both unique on retail shelves and also familiar enough to entice other similar sci-fi/ fantasy fans of proven winners like Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft. I mentioned some lines above that never hit, and one of the main reasons with toys like Avatar and Terminator Salvation were dull and uninspired film designs. Mattel did a wonderful job translating Cameron’s Na’vi and their world into plastic, but at the end of the day that world sucked, so there’s only so much that could be done. With a stellar crew and a hundred years of visual inspiration in his corner, director Stanton and his team were able to create a fresh aesthetic clearly inspired by classic fantasy from the likes of Frank Frazetta, but also quite modern and practical within the world of the story– in Avatar, the creatures may “look” cool, but there is no reason that land-dwelling animals would need to resemble the specific evolutionary adaptations seen in deep sea life. It’s just not logical.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you by this point that John Carter really is worth a toy line. Now let’s get into the real fun stuff– figuring out exactly what that line should be! For a major sci-fi epic like this, I think 3 3/4″ scale would be the way to go, which provides lots of options for vehicles, creatures, playsets and army-building the various factions of Barsoom. Since Habsro is the undisputed king of this scale, they would be an ideal candidate for this license, for my money… Model them similar to Star Wars or the Marvel movie lines, with strong actor likenesses and a healthy amount of articulation and sculpted detail to show off all that great costume and character design work from the movie. As far as what’s in the line, since this is an unproven property on top of being a time-sensitive movie line, I think small and concise would be the way to go. 17 basic figures would round out our main cast nicely, most practically split over three waves– one at launch, one tied in with the movie premiere and a third followup to support the DVD release. On top of that, there are enough cool vehicles and large-scale things to round out the world of John Carter pretty nicely. Here’s what I propose:*
In addition to the basic figures, a set of deluxe figure/ vehicle (or beast) sets would lend themselves to the line brilliantly. Here’s my picks:
Deluxe figure/ vehicle sets:
Of course, we’d need an in-scale White Ape as well.. the White Ape would be in-scale, clocking in at about 14″ tall, and would basically guarantee at least two sales for each fan to match the pair of beasts from the movie.
Rounding out the line could be a playset– based on the promotional materials (and the potential of parts reuse from the Star Wars Geonosis set) the Thark White Ape arena would be a logical choice, but for what it’s worth I think a playset of the crawling city of Zodonga would be even cooler!
That’s the line as I see it, with plenty of nods to fans of the movie and novels, with enough focus on the great action, weird aliens and cool character designs showcased in the film. For the time being this is all wishful thinking, seeing as with the movie in theaters this week, it would be impractical to create a toy line right now… however if John Carter does as well as it deserves to at the box office, it’s the first installment of a proposed trilogy, meaning there’s still plenty of time for a brave company to grab the rights to the series and re-create the entire world of John Carter of Mars in plastic.
What do you think? Would you go in for a John Carter movie toy line like the one I concocted? Or do you think there’s a better format for a potential line? Let us know in the comments!
*please keep in mind while this is a fan-list for the series, I’m trying to keep it as viable as possible. This means, playing by the same rules that a toy company would have to follow in order to get retailers to back the line. SO– that’s why I have multiple John Carter’s thrown in in lieu of collector-appeasing (but retail-toxic) figures like Bryan Cranston’s Cavalry officer, or Daryl Sabara’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although come to think of it, Ned would make for a great Comic Con exclusive to go with the main line…