Muppet Show Action Figures Series 3
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 doesnt 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 whats 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 havent 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 wed 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?
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.
Rowlfs 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:
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.