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B&W Creature from the Black Lagoon/Wolf Man

Universal Monsters Minimates
by yo go re

At Toy Fair 2010, Diamond Select revealed that they'd bought the Universal Monsters license, which meant figures of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy were on the way. The first results of that partnership have just arrived in time for October - Series 1 of the Universal Monsters Minimates. There are two four-packs coming, but those same figures have just been released in two-packs available at Toys Я Us. Mostly they're the same figures, just offered in different combinations, but TRU got an exclusive as well, this black and white set.

"The Creature from the Black Lagoon" was originally released by Universal pictures in 3D in 1954. Before the days of high definition color movies, the cinematographer and lighting crew had to work much harder to convey emotion and detail in their subjects. This paint variation attempts to pay homage to those past masters.

Yes, they did have to work harder to convey emotion and detail, but it also allowed them to cheat in a way we can't today: the Creature costume was green, but he was painted yellow for the underwater scenes to improve the contrast. That's the type of thing you can do with black and white films, because no one will ever see what it really looked like.

Like the bio says, the film was shot in 3D, making it the Avatar of its day. Gill-man, as the creature is properly known, was designed by Disney animator Millicent Patrick, but makeup artist Bud Westmore took all the credit. The original plan was to make Gill-man sleek and feminine, which probably would have been ideal for a Minimate, but this toy gets a new chest cap to properly duplicate the familiar scaly texture and create a full dorsal fin. His hands and feet are new pieces, and much like Sabretooth, they have extra pieces extending from them to trail along the limbs and, in this case, create fins without needing even more newly sculpted pieces.

At one point, the Creature was going to have claws like a crustacean and a big mechanical tail - features which were dropped because it would have been too hard to control underwater. However, what did make it to the final product is his face, which was designed to look like a frog. The Minimate gets a new hat thingie, but it doesn't quite look right: if it sits up too high it looks like weird hair instead of gills, so make sure it's jammed down on his head as far as it can possibly go; the brow ridge of the headpiece should come down far enough to touch his eyes.

Gill-man is looking good in grayscale. He's mainly two different shades, dark for the body and lighter for the scales, gills and fins. His claws are the same gray as the scales, as are the lips, and his face is detailed with black lines. There are wavy lines painted on his legs, but those are just done in dark grey. Since the second Gill-man film, Revenge of the Creature, was mocked by Mystery Science Theater 3000, fans of that program will recognize this look from MST3K's opening credits.

The Wolf Man was originally released by Universal pictures in 1941 and was actually the second Wolfman picture they released. Before the days of high definition color movies, the cinematographer and lighting crew had to work much harder to convey emotion and detail in their subjects. This paint variation attempts to pay homage to those past masters.

Yes, that's basically the same bio as the Creature got. Way to diversify, copy writers. Anyway, the first two four-packs feature The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Wolf Man, so logically this exclusive set offers one of each of them. For you trivia fans out there, the first werewolf movie was Werewolf of London, made in 1935. Now you know!

We've reviewed literally fours of werewolf figures before (including Universal's genre-defining take) and we'll be reviewing the four pack courtesy of Luke's Toy Store, so let's keep this review short and to the point. Lawrence has new hands and feet, to give him fur and claws, but no chest cap or anything to add bulk. There are rips and tears painted on his body to show the fur poking through - but only on the front, not the back. His pants are black and his shirt is pale gray, when in reality, the blue-green shirt and brown pants both ended up looking about the same shade in grayscale. We understand the need for visual contrast, but this is too much; tones closer to the two shades on Gill-man would have been better.

The Wolf Man gets a new head - or, more accurately, a new head covering, since it's really a hollow helmet, like Iron Man or any number of other figures have. The hair and ears are sculpted elements, but the details of the face are all simply painted. The head beneath is a blank white tube - it's a shame they didn't paint a human face under there, but then they would have had to include hair, hands and shoes, as well. As it is, all we get is the wolf-head cane, and he can't even really hold it.

There are four two-packs in the Toys Я Us assortment, but these are the only two that won't be available in the box sets. Of course, being exclusives, they're harder to find. They're evenly packed with the other sets (two per case), but they're the first to sell. If you want these black and white beauties, better act fast.

-- 10/03/10

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