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Muppet Show Action Figures Series 3

Boo, get off the stage!

Annika Abel and James Carroll (2-24-2003) - Palisades hit its stride with Series 3. Series 1 was a first pass with Palisades just beginning to understand the Muppets and how to turn them into figures. Series 2 was a substantial improvement; each figure more accurately captured the personality of the Muppet. In Series 3, they moved beyond the initial learning stages of the Muppet action figure line and found their footing.

This seems an appropriate time to sit down with Ken Lilly and pick his brain a bit. In case anyone doesn’t know, Ken is head of product development at Palisades. We wanted to find out how Ken feels about Series 3, the line as a whole and what’s coming next. In short, why not have the man behind the figures review them? (Don’t worry, the standard figure review follows).

What is the biggest improvement, overall, in Series 3?

LILLY: Overall it has to be figure construction in production. Less stuck joints mainly, which we had an issue with on Series 2. The new factory making Muppets did a great job with making sure the joints were more durable and properly assembled.

What was the biggest challenge in 3?

LILLY: Preserving Rowlf's likeness as much as we could. He is a big hairy blob on the show. Translating that, especially in the head with articulated ears, was a real challenge.

If you could change one thing about this series, what would it be?

LILLY: Just one? Hard to narrow down. Angle of Rowlf's head, addition of bicep swivel joints on Scooter, etc.

How has your approach to the Muppet line changed since you first began working on series 1?

LILLY: When Series 1 began, we had no contact with Muppet Central or anyone else as passionate about the characters. Since Series 1 first was announced, many people from the message boards have been hugely helpful in determining the looks of the characters, providing reference, feedback, video grabs and other assists. It's far more streamlined now in getting feedback from people who really know the puppets and I think the sculpts reflect that. We've also hit a good stride with figuring out certain scale and likeness issues.

What are the difficulties in moving from a foam Muppet to a plastic action figure?

LILLY: Everything is difficult. These are items made of foam, high pile hair, feathers and fabric. Turning that into a PVC interpretation is a really hard thing to do. Makes it even harder when you have to make the parts actually move. We've started, with Animal, to get closer to a good way to interpret the stringy hair, and things we learned on Animal we took to Pepe, then to Beau. Their hair is really strong and reflect the learning process of this type of interpretation.

What is the biggest challenge for the line at this point?

LILLY: Maintaining and hopefully even increasing the volume. Hate to say something as basic as that, but that's the truth. Everybody wants to see their favorite Muppet figure made. So do we. So if the volumes of the line can continue to be strong or even increase there is more of a chance you will see guys like Pops or Sweetums as figures, know what I mean?

What has surprised you most about working on the Muppet line?

LILLY: The fans of the show. What a passionate group of people.

What would you like to do with the line that you haven’t been able to do in the first three series?

LILLY: Would love to do a themed line based on the Star Wars interpretations of the Muppets. The likelihood of that happening is slim, but hey, no one thought we’d be able to make a Jim Henson Muppet and now we are, so I guess anything is possible.

Which is your favorite figure from 3? Why?

On the left is the original prototype from last summer. On the right is the refined and final Lew Zealand figure.

LILLY: My favorite figure is Lew Zealand. The basic reason is that as a product development person it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did my job effectively. To me, the figure is not complete when you have a finished sculpture. In fact, in some ways that is an early stage. There are still lots of tweaks and enhancements you can and should make in the development process beyond the sculpting stage, and I think Lew illustrates dramatically how much of an impact you can have on a product if you keep pushing it beyond the sculpt stage. Compare the first mushy prototype photo we showed to the finished piece and you can really see the differences. It justifies for me the long hours spent sweating over the stuff even after it has been sculpted and officially approved by the licensor.

Which is your least favorite from 3? Why?

LILLY: Rowlf. The position of the point of focus on the head really bugs me. It was conceived so that when you place the Beethoven's Bust on the piano it could look like he was interacting with it. In hindsight I would have liked to have worked out a joint system that would allow his head to angle down more. The bright side is that there is a lot of time to perfect the "Naked" Rowlf and really make it kick.

Rowlf’s piano is incredible in terms of size and detail. Was it a challenge to do such an elaborate accessory and maintain a reasonable profit margin?

LILLY: Well...truthfully there really is very little profit margin in that figure. The other three had to carry the profit load on this series. Let's just say that sometimes as a designer I can get a little carried away. The reality is that the piano should have been smaller and the lid should not have been able to be opened and then I would have hit the mark as far as budget. But we didn't go THAT far over budget because the Tux allowed us to keep the paint operations to a minimum.

Talking with Ken makes it clear the folks at Palisades continue to strive for better likenesses, more character-driven accessories and top-notch quality. It’s hard to imagine Fisher-Price sacrificing profit to improve a likeness, much less for a really cool accessory. Palisades’ hard work is paying off. Series 3 is solid. The weakest figure in 3 could easily surpass the best figure from 1 or 2. Now Muppet fans have only to sit back and see what surprises and innovations Palisades brings to the next series.

Of course no review would be complete without a few words on each of the figures:

 

Scooter
Accessories:
Skateboard, Take Out Box, Soda Cups with Tray, Radio, Clipboard, Megaphone, and a Black Base

Scooter is, quite possibly, the best figure of the line. Palisades hasn’t missed a detail; from the subtle slope of his nose to the tiny Muppet Show logo on the back of his jacket. His glasses are larger than usual and this causes the face proportions to look slightly different from the puppet, but doesn’t affect the overall likeness. Scooter also appears a little over-scale compared to Kermit, but fits perfectly with the rest of the figures. Scooter includes a ball jointed neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, waist, leg and knee articulation. The paint can be flaky on the shoulder joints of each figure, but otherwise the paint is flawless.

Lew Zealand
Accessories: Kenneth Fish, Swordfish, Small Mouth Bass, Minnow Bucket, and a Black Base

Lew is a grade A likeness. He proves a well made secondary character can be as interesting a figure as a better known character. He has signature silly facial expression, his eyes are perfectly proportioned on his face and his hair has a natural Muppety flow. The frilly-collared costume is spot-on. Lew articulates at the neck, shoulders, elbows, biceps, wrists, waist, legs and knees. Palisades has lost the foot articulation on most of these, but it doesn’t make a difference. He comes with a pop-top bucket filled with three different-sized fish.

Rowlf in Tux
Accessories: Baby Grand Piano, Beethoven's Bust, and a Black Base

Under whelming from the pictures, overwhelming in person-- this figure does more than fill the spot until a standard Rowlf is released. His eyes do point upward more than the puppet, but not by much. He is a solid figure with neck, shoulder, bicep, wrist, waist, leg and ear articulation It would have been nice to ball joint the ears, but there may have been trouble with sufficiently masking the joints. Vertical neck movement would also add to the figure. Rowlf's humongous, amazingly detailed baby grand comes with a music stand and the lid can be propped open.

Zoot
Accessories: Saxophone, Saxophone Case, Music Stand, Hat, and a Black Base

Zoot's amber colored shirt and sandals are definitely vintage Muppet Show, but his overall look reflects the modern puppet and coloring. He is somewhat thinner than the classic version, but fits well with the rest of the Mayhem figures. His bald head exposes the magnet skullcap, but that's a small price to pay for his magnetic hat. The detailed, clip-together sax fits snugly into its carrying case. Zoot has a ball jointed neck and shoulder, elbow, wrist, waist, hip, foot, leg and knee articulation. The addition of articulated knees in series three is very exciting. Palisades definitely didn't "skip a groove" with Zoot.

 

Zoot with Red Shirt (Chase Variant)
Accessories: Saxophone, Saxophone Case, Music Stand, Hat, and Black Base

I actually like this repaint more than the regular Zoot. The articulation on this figure is a little more fluid than the standard version. But he can easily stand and be posed without plugging him onto the base. Zoot has a silver sax, brown hat and a brick-colored shirt that is a little more sienna than red. I think this color suits the figure better than his classic sandy yellow colored shirt. It accents the moodiness of the character. His shades are trimmed with black and so are his sandals. His jeans are faded black too. All of these colors make Zoot really pop. This is one of the best repaints yet.
Swedish Kitchen with the Swedish Chef
Accessories: Over 40 Removeable Accessories
  Mega Beaker Figure
Accessories: None
This is pretty much the same Beaker figure, right down to his stripy socks. He measures over twelve and a half inches. The larger size accents the texture and detail. The paint application has improved and the colors are rich and slightly darker. The joints and shoulder disks are dyed to match the coat. There is no issue like there was with the series three figures. The likeness is spot-on. The head is about the size of Sideshow’s Beaker bust, but a little larger. It looks even better than Sideshow’s bust. This is the best Beaker item to date.

Expect about the same articulation – shoulder, elbows, wrist, neck, feet and now limited hip articulation. He even has the peg holes on his feet, but doesn’t come with a base. It should have been included because the hip articulation can make him unstable when both arms are placed in front of the figure. Unfortunately the regular stands don’t work with the mega.

I wish they had incorporated mouth articulation as originally planned. That is the one real disappointment. It would have been a great selling point, but he doesn’t need it. The hair has been improved, but it’s still kind of tall and clumpy. There were reports of a failed rooted hair attempt. I would have liked a little more tweaking on the plastic. I would have enjoyed an accessory, however small or minor. A bubbling test tube would have been perfect: a beaker to go with Beaker. It would have helped sell this figure to the skeptical crowd.

The play factor is amazing. I wasn't thrilled about the idea of Mega Muppets or that Beaker would be the first one, but he’s spectacular. You have to hold it in your hand to really appreciate how cool this figure is.

  Exclusive Superhero Scooter (ToyFare)
Accessories: Stepladder, How to Be a Superhero Book, Cape and Black Base

Exclusive Animal with Palisades T-Shirt (All Palisades 2003 Shows and Conventions)
Accessories: None

The weakest figure in 3 could easily surpass the best figure from 1 or 2. Now Muppet fans have only to sit back and see what surprises and innovations Palisades brings to the next series.

 
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