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Mini Brands

5 Surprise
by yo go re

When reviewing the Dino Strike toys, I had to go to Zuru's website to learn about them. Which is how I also learned about another 5 Surprise line, Mini Brands.

Still sold in a solid plastic balls (white this time, rather than Dino Strike's orange) that split into five segments, Mini Brands are fully licensed reproductions of real-world products. Each set includes a checklist (designed to look like a receipt) that shows 118 different things to collect, from Common to Super Rare. The sets are blind-packed and randomized, so there's absolutely no way to predict what you're going to get - in other words, prepare for duplicates!

I've picked up a few of these now, so here's a random sampling of some of what you might find inside. The company that ultimately owns the brand will follow the name, so we can see just how few companies are actually involved.

The products can be roughly divided into four categories - not based on where you'd find them in the grocery store, but based on construction. We'll begin with the simplest, the folded cardboard. These are the things you could make yourself at home, if you had a printer and scans of all six sides of the box. This is the perfect choice for things that are actually sold in boxes - for instance, Lipton tea (Unilever), Dove soap (also Unilever), or Wet Ones wipes (Edgewell Personal care). The box minis are really little more than glorified papercraft, so it's surprising they're not a bigger part of Mini Brands' repertoire.

Moving up to something a little more traditional for toymakers, we have the specifically molded plastic shapes. This is definitely the broadest category in the line, thanks to the potential for repaints. Like, okay, you've got a can of Barbasol (Perio Inc.) - but wouldn't it be super easy to take that mold and put a green-striped sticker on it instead of a red-striped sticker? Congratulations, you've just made Original and Soothing Aloe varieties. And it works just as well whether you're making personal care supplies (Pure Silk [Perio], Skintimate [Edgewell], Axe [Unilever], Hawaiian Tropic [Edgewell]) or food (Hormel Chili, Spam, Skippy peanut butter [all Hormel], Hellman's mayonnaise [Unilever], Bosco chocolate syrup [Bosco, surprisingly]). Like we said, a lot of this series falls under the "molded plastic" category, which means a lot of distinct molds to be shared around.

Next we've got the weirdest category. This one covers things like AirHeads (Perfetti Van Melle) that are sold in individual wrappers, as well as things like Hormel Crumbled Bacon (Hormel) or Smarties (Smarties Candy Company) that are sold in bags. While we've seen "bagged" snack foods as accessories for years now - think Playmates' World of Springfield or the candy NECA's Gremlins came with - they've always been solid plastic with a label applied. Zuru, however, has done something new and awesome: these are actual bags; you could tear them open if you wanted to. It seriously feels like they went to the same manufacturers who create the packaging for these items and had them make scaled-down versions. To keep us from just getting flat wrappers, which would be both boring and unrealistic, there's a little piece of what feels like foam sealed inside each. It bulks it up without making it excessively solid, like plastic would be.

Our final group is very different from the rest, in that it's not tiny licensed brand packaging, but it is still something you'd find in a grocery store. A shopping basket! A cart! Shelves! Tiny little extras to help display all the groceries you've found. They're disassembled in the ball, flat-packed like Ikea furnitue, and they include instructions on how to put them together. These do underscore the only major problem with the line: there's no attempt at creating a unified scale. The hand basket is just as big as the full cart, and a single piece of candy can be as large as a bucket of ice cream. So you can't just pick up one of the Mini Brands balls and be assured you'll be able to make Batman and Superman fight over a tub of microwave chili.

But for comedic purposes, the mix of sizes and the mix of products are great. Most of this stuff is going to end up decorating my Muppet Kitchen or MiWorld sets. And doesn't the idea of Batman and Superman fighting over a tub of microwave chili get even funnier when the tub is the size of their heads? The total randomness of the packs doesn't particularly appeal to us, but this is a fun line with some interesting effort behind it.

-- 07/08/20

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