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Skids & Mudflap

Transformers ROTF
by yo go re

Just as with the first Transformers movie, the Transformers 2 toyline is stocked with a lot of characters who didn't appear in the film. Improbably, though, one of the toys we were all sure - absolutely sure - wouldn't be showing up in the film turned out to not only be real, but was also the first TF we saw. Unbelieveable!

Skids and Mudflap have always been close, but this is a little ridiculous. Equipped with experimental combination technology, they use their newfound ability to help the other Autobots hunt rogue Decepticons wherever they hide. Unfortunately, they have so much difficulty hanging onto each other in vehicle mode that they spend more time struggling to stay on the road than they do fighting.

Seriously, until this ridiculous ice cream truck rolled across the screen in the opening battle, the smart money was on it just being a goofy toy design that had been adopted by the prequel comics, not something we'd see on-screen (see, for instance, Arcee's portrayal in the first movie comics). Hey, go figure. It's always fun to be surprised.

The ice cream truck in the film had different proportions than this toy: it was taller and more narrow, but that's a change necessary to make decent robots; we can live with it. The truck is 4⅝" long, 2⅛" wide and 3⅛" tall, counting the festive dollop on the roof. The truck is pink and white, with blue windows - translucent in the front, opaque in the back. There are a few printed images and slogans on the vehicle, but not nearly as many as there were in the movie. No "suck my popsicle," sadly. ReproLabels.com to the rescue!

Overall, the paint is very simple. The truck in the movie was old and decrepit, while this one is nearly pristine. Perhaps this is best evidenced by the spots on the sculpt that are not as smooth as the rest of the surface - there's a fine, bumpy texture, and it's meant to represent rust. Awesome idea, but it's just painted the same color as the rest of the truck around it. A real shame.

So there's no mistaking the fact that this truck is a Combiner, it's packaged in two pieces in the bubble - the divide is right behind the driver's seat. The front half turns into Skids, better known as "the green one." Of course, he's pink and white here, but you know what we mean. Despite being made from half an ice cream truck, Skids manages to still have quite a few visual parallels between this robot and the one made from the Chevy Beat Spark, such as the large rounded sections on the shoulders, the placement of the headlight kibble, and the curved spines coming up from the chest.

Skids has decent articulation, especially considering he stands only about 3½" tall. He moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows, right wrist, waist, hips, knees, ankles and feet. Part of his conversion is automated: press in on the grill, and his head pops up from beneath the hood. There's also a strange step that involves turning the truck's megaphone 180° - it doesn't really accomplish anything, so what's the point?

The back half of the truck is Mudflap, who will eventually be the red twin. Judging by the head, he's the same basic height as his bro, but the toy stands a whopping 4½" tall thanks to the large panels rising above his shoulders. On the Chevy Trax version of the character, those would be doors, but since there are no front doors on the back half of an ice cream truck, this time the kibble is made from the rear and sides of the serving compartment.

Like his twin, Mudflap is pink and white, but the designers did a nice job of mixing it up - Muddy's upper body is heavy on the white, while his legs are mostly pink, which is the opposite of Skids' look. He still has large panels reading "creamy ice cream" sticking out from his shoulders, and despite being the rear of the truck, is designed with headlight and grill kibble that would really be nowhere near him. The figure's toes are slightly too big to properly fold away in vehicle mode, but whatever you do, don't try to force them! The feet will break, and you'll be shopping for a new set. Voice of experience, here.

The idea behind the twins is that they were formed from a single spark that split in half - that's why they both seem kind of half-formed: Skids has an oversized right arm, Mudflap has an oversized left arm; they each have one eye that's bigger than the other; together, their faces are patterned after the Autobot symbol, with Mudflap as the top and Skids as the bottom. Lots of little design cues that tie them together, but also make them look rather ridiculous. And that's the beginning of the problem.

Now, there's been a lot of discussion about the characterization of Skids and Mudflap - namely, whether they're racist or not. And the reason you read OAFEnet rather than, say, Buddy Magumbo's Weekly Toy Hootenanny is becaue we provide actual commentary, not just numbers. With that in mind, we'd be remiss to ignore the issue altogether. So, are the twins racist?

Honestly, the argument is being couched in the wrong language. Yes, the twins are racial caricatures, and they most definitely are annoying and unfunny. But those two facets are unrelated: we could have the same lines delivered in a Southern drawl or a Bahstan accent, and they'd still be annoying and unfunny. They're not crap characters because they act "black," they're just crap characters because this is a Michael Bay movie - a director, incedentally, who has a history of portraying black characters badly, which isn't helping the problem.

But that still avoids the question: yes, they'd be annoying even if they were hillbillies, but they're not; so are they racist the way they are now? Not intentionally, but that doesn't matter. There's such a thing as accidental racism, and when a culture is as dominant as whitey is in America, there's a lot less leeway when making humor out of the less privileged. Tyler Perry's movies are racist as all get-out (Tyler Perry's Pickaninny Hoedown! Tyler Perry's Madea Meets Little Sambo! Tyler Perry's Jigaboo Tarbaby!) but he gets away with it because he's dealing with his own culture, not commenting on it as an outsider. When Michael Bay wants to make fun of white guys with millions of dollars to throw around, people will let him.

But the twins are far from the only racial caricatures in the film, so why do they get the attention? Because they're the most egregious. They sound black, they're clumsy and bumbling, they can't read, they talk smack, they're misshapen, they care more about gold teeth than anything else... shall we continue? They're like every "lazy shiftless negro" cliche rolled into one, with faces that look like darky iconography straight out of Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs. Michael Bay has said that the characters are meant to be stereotypes of white kids imitating black people, but he's really not skilled enough to pull of that kind of subtlety with his characters, especially not when we're talking about candy-colored robots. They're not designed to be hurtful, they just can't help it.

That said, the toy versions of Skids and Mudflap have nothing to do with the film's choice to portray thm as stereotypes: they won't be shucking and jiving unless you're the one to make them do it. If I can imagine an alternate world in which Jar Jar is secretly Force-sensitive and saving the day on purpose, then I can make these two competant - if ugly - warriors. Maybe they stepped on a cyber-landmine, and that's why they're so messed up. The ice cream truck idea would have worked better as a Voyager release rather than just a Deluxe, but for just a few dollars more than one Scout-class figure you get two robots of comparable size, and a combined vehicle mode that's much larger. That's a good deal, and the Ice Cream Twins are a good (but not great) toy.

-- 09/22/09

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