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Karate Kid: Even Miyagi has an action figure! Hya!!
Matt - 3/18/01

While most of you are probably out parading and drinking dyed alcohol as I write this, I'm sitting at home wishing death upon the Irish. If for no other reason than they haven't done much for me lately. There hasn't been a new Leprechaun movie in awhile, and Lucky Charms is taking liberties a little too creative with their style of new marshmallows. But, for the percentage of you who are celebrating St. Patty' long and prosper.

Deep in the bowels of my toy commercial library is some pretty strange stuff. Over the years I've been collecting these things without any readily available reason other than the kitsch factor, but thankfully with this site I've now got a forum to exploit my sick, sick hobbies at everyone else's expense. These type of articles are usually reserved for rainy days, but while it ain't storming out there just yet, its close enough to a blanket/tea/book day to churn out yet another trip into mass merchandising's almost forgotten past. Today's focus is a weird one, and totally cancels out any doubt that everyone, everywhere has an action figure crafted in their honor.

Oh, so sorry.

The Karate Kid! I must confess, I'm one of the seven people who've never seen the movie in full. I've seen bits and pieces of it here and there, but have never felt one with the spirits enough to devote a full two hours of my time to Ralph Macchio. While the mood may have taken me from time to time, all that was killed off once Hilary Swank assumed the role as ninja princess for the series. Based on sheer spite, I refuse to watch any of the movies. Though that didn't stop me from picking up the toys! There actually was an action figure line based on the movie - hideously unsuccessful, but noteworthy nonetheless for the amount of effort that went into advertising the beast. If you can't appreciate a toy commercial that features guys getting knocked out of windows and hitting their skulls against punching bags, you're a critic before you time. Let's take a look at the madness...

From the getgo, the aura is amazing. I'm taking the fact that there were no actual ninja figures made, just lame cardboard stand-ups, to mean that Remco wasn't flying with faith about the line's impending successes. Unfortunately, the movie came out in '84 - meaning these toys at the latest were an '85 issue, steeped into a golden age of action figures with a ton of competition from all sides. Even if every kid in America wanted to be a star-crossed karate expert, most would opt to play with those wacky transforming robots or Snake Eyes instead. Poor Karate Kid never stood a chance in the market. Then again, movie lines like these are generally created for the fast cash-in. I don't think it cost trillions of dollars to formulate three action figures and slap together some surreal commercials, so the profit margin probably wasn't too dismal. Not every movie is gonna create the 'Star Wars Snowball' with toys - look at movies like ID4 and Godzilla of more recent times...despite having some pretty cool toys, they lasted mere weeks on the feature shelves before getting pushed back eternally from the focus and to the clearance rack.

Anyways, I went so far off track there that I totally overlooked the amazing shit going on up above - Miyagi slaughters the cardboard ninja! Yes, believe it or not Ripley, Mr. Miyagi has his own action figure. Then again, Will Smith has six or seven, so its no major accomplishment. I feel bad for any actors who weigh their worth by the number of figures they have, since they're fighting an upward battle: freaking Mark Hamill now has over 15 different action figures. Mark, love you as I may, you're no Pat Morita. But the Miyagi figure is more than meets the've just got to use your lucid imaginations a bit. This isn't just a Miyagi action figure. This toy can be used to represent virtually any historic Chinaman in movie history. Some suggestions...

How bout that crazy old guy from Ran? You're telling me you could live without your very own Ichimonji action figure? Well, you're stronger than me. If having a figure is the pinnacle of movie character success, Ichimonji more than deserves the distinction. Star of the amazing samurai classic that managed to seemingly blend Shakespeare and swords together like they were a destined pair, the guy etched his way into my heart a few years back in the classic scene where, at that little jester kid's request, the old bastard leaps off a cliff for no apparent reason whatsoever. Ran is definitely not a comedy, but that's probably the hardest I've laughed in the last ten years. And I've seen Paula Poundstone do standup, so don't think the scene wasn't up against stiff competition. The Miyagi figure could easily be tinted and thrown around enough to fit the Zaius-like exterior of Ichimonji, already making this Karate Kid toyline essential in ways far beyond the likes of Danny Larusso could ever dream up.

But it doesn't end there. Miyagi can also be used for another great movie recreation, this time from one of my illustrious Top Ten Faves, Gremlins...

If there was no Mr. Wing, we'd have never met Gizmo. If we didn't meet Gizmo, there would never have been Gremlins. If there was no Gremlins, we'd never be treated to Tony Randall's rendition of New York, New York while a guy in a Dracula costume reported on it from inside a garbage can. Erase Mr. Wing, and you erase a whole lotta history. No Gremlins movies, books, pipe dreams of acting success for Zack Galligan, no shots of Christopher Lee walking around torturing lab monkeys, nothing! Yes, Mr. Wing was Gizmo's original keeper, a strange Chinese man who runs his snake oil antique shop in a basement within the depths of Chinatown. Eventual historical significance aside, Mr. Wing represented, for many of us, the first experience with knowing how to respond to the physically handicapped. I'm serious here - when you're a kid, you aren't born with the knowledge that you're not supposed to point at or scream about someone else's physical misfortune. And if Rand Peltzer didn't act casual upon seeing Mr. Wing's fucked up eye, a lot of us would've had some pretty embarassing moments. Don't thank Rand though - its Mr. Wing who allowed the lesson to take place, not only giving up his mogwai, but also his dignity. Makes ya kinda sad that they killed the poor guy off so quickly in the sequel, but these things happen.

So yeah, Miyagi's figure...very, very important.

At the start, its just your everyday fare inside the walls of the Karate Castle. Miyagi's trying to figure out what he's supposed to do with a bowling ball tethered against the wall with rope, while Danny refuses to accept his swank satin kimono as a sheer fashion statement by honing his skills with a punching bag.

Some have gone as far to say that The Karate Kid was the best martial arts film ever made, though I'm willing to bet real fans of the genre would laugh off such claims and probably ninjakick those responsible for the rumors. Still, it was a good movie. If this type of flick was made in today's world, it'd probably be weighed down with a cutesy teen image...and while Macchio was on the covers of all the teen mags back then, this certainly wasn't a 'fluff' piece. Pat Morita don't get involved with that shit. Its without honor. The sequel, though not respected quite as much, at least made an attempt at being something other than a forced revamp of the original. Karate Kid III sucked, but 2 out of 3 is nothing to be ashamed of.

Wuh oh, Johnny spells TROUBLE for our heroes! Its never really explained why the guy broke into Miyagi's house to fight them, but what did you expect? This is only a thirty-second spot we're looking at. Don't fret about the enemies, they're totally integral to these types of stories. Ninjas are pretty boring if they're not fighting people, which explains the scenes with Miyagi making Danny wax his car. There's only so many times you can watch karate kids punch through cinderblocks before it loses its appeal - we need evil karate people too. The great thing about this little occurence is how Miyagi fields the problem...

Miyagi, true to his warrior training, takes one look at his adversary and runs away. I guess this ties in to the whole theory that its easier to preach than to practice. You've really gotta see this though, I'm amazed at how well Remco and their dimestore filmmakers were able to convey fear on the face of an action figure. Miyagi literally shakes and double-takes before hightailing to safer ground, leaving his student to face the music. He'll probably explain it off later by falsely claiming that he planned to do a somersault plancha from the top floor onto Johnny, but the only two people in the world who'll believe that are Ralph Macchio and Leonard Crabs.

Curiously, the poster on the wall behind Miyagi looks more like swing dance instructions than anything having to do with karate, but admittedly, staring at this computer for the last five years has made my eyesight worse than Mr. Wing's. I could be mistaken.

Danny tangles with yet another ninja assailant outside, where Miyagi makes the cardinal mistake of action figure adventure lore: the child's hand serves as a sort of instantaneous rocket pack that can move people through walls, over houses, and into entirely different dimensions in a second flat. In other words, Miyagi is shocked to find Johnny and his neo-ninja buddies waiting for him outside the window on the second floor. The window, much like every other facet of Miyagi's house, collapses the second anyone touches it. Its a cool feature for karate battles, but somehow I doubt Miyagi was too pleased with the living arrangement. How would you like it if a clumsy bird had the power to disinstall the left wall of your house? Thank God patience is a virtue for these ninja types, otherwise Miyagi would be saying words not suitably appropriate for kiddie toy commercials. Damn discount contractors.

But believe me, this old guy has a few tricks left up his sleeve, and he knows how to turn a negative into a positive.

If the bad guys are going to use the poor construction of Miyagi's house against him, maybe Miyagi can use that very same fault for his own heroic needs! Indeed he does, as one of the bad ninjas (indicated by the eyebrow placement - lower than usual) goes right through the balcony railing with nothing more than one of Miyagi's classic ninja lovetaps.

Of course, a normal guy would be killed from a fall like this, but normal guys generally aren't six inches tall and made of hard plastic, except in weird Oompaloompa cases, and of course, Warwick Davis. No, the bad guy doesn't die, he just runs off into the sunset to prepare for his next villainous scheme. Which gives me a nice segue into a short rant about that whole deal. What's up with all the good guys in tv shows, movies, and cartoons always letting the bad guy get away? Okay, GI Joe for instance. Cobra wasn't a one-time terrorist offender, yet 9 out of 10 times the Joes were satisfied enough in their retreat that they didn't seek to imprison or kill the guys. I mean, I'm all for letting bygones be bygones, but they're really killing the time they'd have to themselves by doing this, since Cobra invariably is going to show up next week to try to kill 'em again. And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Didn't the turtles ever get so tired of Shredder's incessant plans to murder them and take over the planet that they might think they should just, you know, kill him instead of letting him run away into abandoned zoos or cleverly placed modules in every episode?

I know they're supposed to be the good guys, but I'd have to think fighting the same adversary week after week - an adversary these people defeat with no problems whatsoever - would get a bit annoying and tedious. Just frickin kill the bastards and take up cricket or something. Anyways, the fun isn't over yet...prepare yourself for Ralph Macchio's super-secret super-ninja friend!

Johnny's figure, who as we've previously established can survive two story falls unscathed, makes an attempt to escape the scene of the would-be crime, only to be stopped by a mystical White Ninja of the Light. My narration skills go straight to the shitter at this point - I don't recall a white ninja in the movie, and oddly, at 5:45 AM, I just don't feel all that inclined to check. Don't worry though, I think we'll all live through it. Point is, this white ninja is fighting for the forces of good, and what better way to do that than to break through a clothes changing station which for some reason resides outside the house? If Johnny didn't expect some sort of chicanery from exterior decorating that offbeat, he had this beating coming to him.

So ends the adventures of Miyagi and friends...for this week. Who knows what the future's got in store for 'em. Miyagi's definitely glad this shibang's over and done with though - its been years and years of hard work, and now its time for a vacation. Between all this excessive ninja training, Pat never got a chance to rest up after his years-long stint as Arnold from Happy Days, and to a lesser degree, Ishihara from The Love of It. His plate's been full for decades, let's hope the Evil Ninja Corporation will wait a few weeks before striking again. Poor guy needs a break.

The closing shots give us a look at the Karate Castle, the only official ninjitsu dojo for action figures. I'm amazed. I thought I knew of every toy castle ever made, but this one slipped right by me. To be honest, it looks pretty cool...must've made the five kids who wanted it pretty happy. Sure, Snake Mountain had an echo-powered microphone. Sure, The Cats Lair had electronic lights. Sure, the Death Star playset came with a neat swing rope and trash compactor. But this? Come on, how many playsets come with cardboard enemy ninjas? Only this one, and they're exclusive to the set! So unless you wanted to go through all the trouble of wasting a perfectly good legal pad to get to the cardboard backing, and then spend hours coloring in ninjas, the Karate Castle was the way to go!

Current Collectors Market Price: (for those interested!) Well, even in the small amount of time this site's been open, we've seen an even larger boom in nostalgia action figure collecting. Though I'm sticking to my guns and saying that its long overdue for a dry spell - too many people have realized the wonders of cashing in on their closet crap, so while if there was only one, let's say, Starscream on eBay, it'd fetch pretty high. But 500 of 'em? Enough to go around. Karate Kid toys don't quite fit this criteria, since nobody wants 'em anyway. You can get the old figures still in the package for 10-20 dollars, assuming you can find a seller who held on to them during that two-week span back in '96 where everyone and their mother was collecting Pat Morita memorabilia. The world's a twisted place.

And if all the hooplah going on within the hollowed and always-breaking walls of the Karate Castle doesn't suit your palette, there's always options. Pick up the glorious Sato's Cannery instead! Believe me, you won't only be the first on your block with this one, you'll be the only one on your block with it. Actually, you'll be the only person on the planet with it. What kid wants a friggin cannery?

- Matt

Past Commercial Exploits: Thunder-Punch He-Man - Trix Cereal - Dinobots
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