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Phantom of the Opera playset

McFarlane's Monsters
by yo go re

The Phantom of the Opera isn't as intimately familiar to most people as Dracula or Frankenstein, so we understand you might need a basic primer on the story. Take it away, Natalie Walker!

Now that you're up to speed, let's begin with the actual "monster" portion of this Monsters set, the Phantom. Originally published as a serial in 1909, Gaston Leroux's Le Fantôme de l'Opéra provides much more backstory for the Phantom than adaptations do: "Erik" was born disfigured, and hated by his mother; he ran away from home and joined a band of gypsies, working as "The Living Dead" in their sideshow, while they also taught him magic and ventriloquism; he was a natural singer and a gifted architect; after building palaces in Persia, he returned to France and helped build the Opera house.

The figure is sculpted wearing his oft-repaired tuxedo, with white gloves, a purple vest, and a softgoods purple cape held in place by a large golden skull/bat chain. He's wearing a mask, of course, because a Phantom without a mask is like me without pants - nobody wants to see it. He wears a sword on his left hip, and is posed in a swordfighting stance, twisting to the side, pulling back, and with one arm raised in a riposte. Personally, I'd have put his scabbard on the opposite side from the hand that's molded to hold the sword, but this doesn't represent Erik immediately after drawing his weapon: pretend it's him after a long battle, when he's switched hands to gain some tactical advantage.

The mask he wears is not a dainty little half-napkin, like the famous Broadway version, but rather an ornate purple-and-gold thing that fits like a luchador. If you remove it, the face beneath is actually quite like the one described in the story, looking for all the world like a living corpse. His skin is grey, he has no ears or nose, and no lips hide his teeth.

The second figure in the set is a plain human, and since he's a white dude and not Persian, we can assume he's meant to be Raoul. Much more hale and hearty than the character described in the novel (seriously, that recap we linked may have been a joke, but "twink" really is a fitting description for him)! Raoul in the novel has been to sea, and was even planning to go on a mission to the North Pole before meeting Christine, so the toy's heavy jacket and massive cutlass make a kind of sense for him. He also wears big gloves and boots with four buckles apiece.

He's also described as having a "small, fair mustache," while this toy has a bushy brown one. He just generally looks much stronger than the story describes him. He, too, is in a fencing pose, though his stance is much more aggressive than the Phantom's. Both figures move at the neck, shoulders and waist, while this guy gets the added benefit of swivels at his gloves, too. His silly sword can be hung on his hip, and he includes a big goat mask, because why not?

The display base for this playset is the biggest one in the line - or at least the tallest. Standing 13⅜", this is a two-story section of an opera house. Though, as far as opera houses go, this is a very poorly designed one: the upper half is a balcony, complete with a thick red curtain to provide some privacy for the occupants; immediately below that is a pipe organ. How would you be able to hear a single thing going on if the music were blasting out right beneath your feet? And if the acoustics of the place are engineered so the organ can be heard by everyone, every little cough or shift in your seat would also reverberate through the audience, ruining the experience for everyone. Bad planning, architect!

The sculpt on both halves of the set is quite nice. The balcony is black with golden embellishments decorating the facade, and the archway is flanked by a pair of grey Ionic columns. A small platform plugs into the back of the set, so there's enough room for a figure to stand securely.

The 22 organ pipes are shaped to fit beneath the curve of the box seating, while the console has a double-level keyboard with more keys than I care to count. [bottom row: 50 white, 35 black; top row: 56 white, 40 black; 181 total --ed.] Above that are a bunch [62 --ed.] of small knobs representing the stops that allow the organist to control the flow of air to certain pipes or ranks of pipes, thus changing the sound - and to this day, putting every resource you have into accomplishing a goal is called "pulling out all the stops." The four pedals on the floor look more like they belong to a piano (where they would make the existing notes play differently) than an organ (where they would play bass notes). The base of the set is a 3¾" square of wooden planks with three footlights aimed at the organ.

All the Monsters playsets featured some sort of play feature, and this one takes advantage of one of Phantom's most famous spectacles: the falling chandelier. Gaston Leroux wrote Le Fantôme de l'Opéra as a sort of historical fiction, weaving in real events and characters for his story - in fact, other than things directly related to the Phantom, it's all mostly true. For instance, in the story, Erik drops the grand chandelier to express his anger at the theatre managers; that was based on a real incident, on May 20, 1896, when one of the massive chandelier's counterweights broke free and smashed through the ceiling into the auditorium, killing a woman. Now, the chandelier in this set isn't quite that gigantic, but it has real chains and is suspended from a 6" arm that hold it out over the floor, and you can push on the peg to really make it fall. Fun!

This set will require a lot of vertical space to display, but that just makes it stand out in your collection. The detailing is nice and the characters look good fighting one another.

-- 05/17/17

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