From the day he leaves the Shire to the second the Ring is cast into Mount Doom, Frodo Baggins doesn’t change his outfit the Lord of the Rings movies. And but, between 2001 and 2005, Toy Biz managed to supply 13 clearly distinct and film correct Frodo collectible figurines. 13 totally different Frodo motion figures is a number of Frodos. Arguably, too many Frodos to have in a single toy line primarily based on one film trilogy.
2021 marks The Lord of the Rings films’ twentieth anniversary, and we could not think about exploring the trilogy in only one story. So every Wednesday all year long, we’ll go there and again once more, analyzing how and why the movies have endured as fashionable classics. That is Polygon’s Year of the Ring.
However that was very a lot the purpose. These 13 Frodos redefined the motion determine simply in time for a brand new crop of toyetic blockbusters to dominate the minds of collectors and youngsters alike. That’s proper: Lord of the Rings toys even taught Star Wars a factor or two about motion figures.
But immediately, the corporate is gone, having shuttered years earlier than The Hobbit: An Surprising Journey graced screens in 2012 and the brand new trilogy’s toy license fell to a competitor. The story of Toy Biz and the Lord of the Rings has DC Comics on one finish, Marvel Studios on the opposite, and a center full of lasers.
Shadow of the previous
Earlier than touchdown the Lord of the Rings film license, Toy Biz was finest identified for superhero motion figures, crafting some DC Comics toys within the late Nineteen Eighties earlier than coming into right into a long-term settlement with Marvel Comics in 1993. The 2 corporations had been carefully linked, with Toy Biz proprietor Ike Perlmutter serving on Marvel’s board of administrators, and when Marvel confronted chapter in 1997, Perlmutter and his enterprise accomplice Avi Arad stored the writer afloat by merging the businesses into Marvel Enterprises. Toy Biz served as Marvel’s in-house motion determine producer from then on.
Dealing with Marvel’s sizable catalog of characters proved to be an asset for Toy Biz after they pursued the Lord of the Rings license. New Line Cinema, in keeping with a information launch on the time, needed an modern toy line for his or her “incredible range of highly-unique fantasy characters,” and Toy Biz had the required expertise. The corporate had additionally developed an excellent relationship with New Line after they made motion figures for the Blade film franchise, so regardless of robust competitors from different toy producers, Toy Biz gained the rights to seize the “depth, spectacle and appeal” of Tolkien’s world.
Everybody at Toy Biz took these phrases to coronary heart, and launched into a journey that many within the firm would later name “the highlights of our careers.” As improvement started in 2000, the motion determine trade was in a state of flux. The largest line when it comes to sheer scope was Hasbro’s Star Wars toys, however the small 3.75 inch figures supplied little in the way in which of element or articulation. Many producers had been shifting to a six inch scale due to these shortcomings, with blended outcomes.
Some, like McFarlane Toys, with traces primarily based on Akira and Spawn, had spectacular element however poor articulation. Others, like Toy Biz’s personal WCW wrestling line, had been making strides in articulation however lagged behind in sensible element, with obtrusive ball joints and painted-on costumes. For Lord of the Rings, Toy Biz aimed to set new requirements for scope, element, and articulation, all of sudden.
The making of the Fellowship
To take action, Toy Biz partnered with Light Big Ltd., a 3D scanning and modeling firm, to get three dimensional scans of all of the Lord of the Rings actors, one of many earliest makes use of of this new know-how. Light Big had labored with Star Wars beforehand, however the small scale figures didn’t totally talk what the machines may seize, and Toy Biz aimed to take advantage of the improved stage of element.
Representatives from each corporations traveled to New Zealand and met with each actor, in full make-up, main them by means of an array of expressions as laser scanners revolved round their heads to seize their facial likeness. Toy Biz additionally labored carefully with Weta Workshop, and had entry to their 3D scans of the movie’s intricate weapons, props, and costumes. All of those 3D pictures went right into a extremely detailed base mannequin, permitting toy sculptors to craft motion figures that had been practically true to life.
Toy Biz made strides in supplies as properly. Most motion figures on the time had been simply onerous, shiny plastic, with costume particulars moulded into the determine core. For Lord of the Rings, each determine had a tough plastic core base, however softer plastic items had been layered on high to present extra dimension. They had been textured to duplicate the appear and feel of material, including each realism and suppleness to coats, capes, and robes. Finishes had been matte or shiny, relying on the material being replicated, to additional improve this realism.
On the time, motion determine traces primarily based on reside motion films had been a negotiation of opposing wants: A extra screen-accurate toy, interesting to the collector, must sacrifice mobility. However a extra articulated toy, higher for play and posing, must sacrifice accuracy. Toy Biz’s line featured an array of joints that match nearly seamlessly inside every determine, whereas equipment like sheathes and quivers had been fastidiously crafted to suit every particular person toy with out inhibiting its articulation.
They’d a variety of motion with out taking away from their lifelike look, permitting one toy line to supply each playability and collectability. Toy Biz additionally needed the road to face out in shops, and crafted distinctive half moon packaging with a particular colour scheme for every movie. All of this effort and innovation was accessible for a similar low value as some other motion determine when the primary wave of The Fellowship of the Ring motion figures hit shops in 2001.
The road targeted on the primary Fellowship initially, which instantly revealed one of many distinctive challenges of adapting the Lord of the Rings films to toys: Hobbits are small. Frodo’s first head sculpt was a bit extreme and inconsistent from determine to determine, and the articulation was minimal, in comparison with his bigger companions. However Toy Biz’s second Frodo, launched within the subsequent wave a couple of months later, featured a brand new and improved head sculpt, together with extra elbow and knee joints that grew to become customary for the entire small scale figures shifting ahead.
From there, the road expanded rapidly, enhancing with each wave as the corporate labored its means by means of The Two Towers and Return of the King. They bought very properly, and huge on-line communities developed across the toys as followers mentioned their collections, marveled on the detailed work, and mentioned their hopes for future traces. Toy Biz’s sculpts grew extra elaborate and the character selections grew to become extra artistic, particularly for Frodo. After making a number of variations of his customary costume, a translucent Frodo recreated his invisibility when he wore the ring whereas a Frodo in orc armor captured a scene that wasn’t even within the theatrical reduce, solely the prolonged version.
The shut of a movie trilogy would usually imply the top of the motion figures primarily based on it as properly, however Toy Biz pivoted to the “Epic Trilogy” line, reissuing previous figures alongside scores of recent ones to fill in even the smallest remaining gaps, all in new, slimmer packaging. The corporate had already produced seven distinct Frodo figures, and within the two years after The Return of the King hit theaters it made six extra, together with a webbed up Frodo who was included as an adjunct with Gorbag (certainly one of over twenty orcs and Uruk-Hai immortalized in motion determine type).
Such was the scope of the road. Toy Biz went huge, releasing an enormous Treebeard in scale with the remainder of the figures, and it went small, capturing the briefest of moments from the trilogy’s epic runtime. A determine for Galadriel’s darkish type as she was tempted by the ring throughout her “All shall love me and despair” monologue. A determine for “Entranced Bilbo” that recreated the scary cut up second when he lunged for the ring in Rivendell. Even a determine for Theodred, Prince of Rohan, and all he did in The Two Towers was die. Almost 150 distinct motion figures had been launched over a 5 12 months span.
And the usual set by these motion figures, intimately, scope, accuracy, articulation, and technological innovation, nonetheless reverberates immediately. Bigger, super-posable figures grew to become the norm at McFarlane, the place toy designers now mix element with articulation in collection like their DC Multiverse line. Even Hasbro’s Star Wars line bought within the recreation with their Black Collection figures in 2013, utilizing lots of the identical methods Toy Biz pioneered. (Although, sadly, the corporate has since relegated 3.75-inch Star Wars figures to a specialised Classic assortment, and didn’t even bother with a full line at that scale for The Rise of Skywalker.) Toy Biz’s innovation is a brand new regular.
Sadly, Toy Biz didn’t survive to see it. After taking up Marvel, Perlmutter and Arad set their sights on filmmaking, and Marvel Enterprises grew to become Marvel Leisure in 2005. Though Toy Biz had utilized the Lord of Rings line’s improvements of their Marvel Legends figures, enhancing the gathering, Perlmutter and Arad licensed the Marvel rights to Hasbro the next 12 months. Hasbro continued Marvel Legends with the identical type and methods, and later utilized these strategies to the Star Wars Black Collection. In the meantime, Perlmutter and Arad had no use for their very own toy division anymore, and Toy Biz was shuttered.
Bridge Direct landed the toy license for The Hobbit trilogy in 2012, however the brand new line supplied solely a handful of flat, lifeless figures that paled compared to the realism and breadth of Toy Biz’s choices, and it quietly fizzled out. There have been no Bridge Direct Frodos, both, regardless of Elijah Wooden’s cameo. Toy Biz would’ve been throughout that. Diamond Direct acquired Light Big Ltd. in 2019, and recently launched a new Lord of the Rings action figure series that’s garnering positive reviews, although they’ve solely introduced seven figures up to now — and only one Frodo.
Solely 12 to go!
Tim Hanley is a comic book ebook historian and the creator of Marvel Girl Unbound, Investigating Lois Lane, The Many Lives of Catwoman, and Betty and Veronica: The Main Women of Riverdale.