Every great kid-friendly franchise generally has a lead character who can act as a fitting role model. Superman fights for justice and the American way; Optimus Prime believes freedom is the right of all sentient beings; and the Power Rangers demonstrate that having attitude will get you on the fast track to being a superhero who battles kaiju until they explode. They're passionate about all that is good in life, stomp out the evils of society, and are simply fun and iconic characters. They also make a job out of beating people up, which, in today's child-protecting culture, can be quite disconcerting for parents. And that's why every great kid-friendly franchise needs a line of action figures! We can't have little Timothy trying to blast Johnny with heat vision or an ion cannon, no sir -- that kind of suffering is relegated to the plastic figurines bearing likeness to the series' villains, which are much easier to set on fire. And that's why you hardly see any villain toys being made nowadays. Thanks a lot, pyromania.
Of course, the strangest characters can be the heroes of stories, and they can be particularly strange role models if kids have low standards. WALL-E, for instance, is essentially a short, ugly dude with no friends who picks up crap for a living. That can hit quite close to home for some people! But Kung Fu Panda seems to feature a particularly weird main character. I have positively zero knowledge of the movie whatsoever, and thus can only give the abridged explanation of what I've picked up from trailers: instead of training in a deadly martial art or becoming the successor of Hokuto Shinken -- something that'd actually require effort -- his skill comes from being a fatty boom-boom.
Well... it's a change, I guess! I mean, considering that an overweight bus driver survived being shot due to his extra mass, it can't be without its advantages. Not to mention it's simply an interesting and unique visual in comparison to all the barrel chested, tree-trunk-armed superheroes you see strutting around all the fictional metropoleis. I applaud diversity!
But we're all probably aware by now that every great kid-friendly franchise has got to have a toyline... and every great kid-friendly toyline has got to have some horrifying knockoffs. Behold: the Jungle Panda! Normally I would expect to find a monstrosity like this in crappy pound shops or in the iffy marketplaces of Spain, but nope, this guy and a legion of clones were found in my local grocery store, alongside generic crouching soldiers and rubber sharks. I mean, this thing has an actual package, with a plastic bubble and everything! It's even got stuff on the back! In comparison to its competition, that is downright neat. Not that it makes good use of its front and back, mind you (it's the exact same image!), but when the only toys available are in plastic baggies or have the backs of their card adorned with naught but undecorated cardboard, it's a breath of fresh air.
Also, yes, I spent a whole £1.99 on this thing. That's not a sticker -- the price is actually printed on the cardback. I could have gotten a discounted ToyBiz Marvel Legends figure for that price! It probably would've been a character I know nothing about like X-23 or Longshot, but it certainly would've been of higher quality than our poorly painted panda pal here. But would it have been as hilarious? I think not.
The first thing you'll notice about the Jungle Panda is that... there's nothing very jungle-like about him. The star of Kung Fu Panda at least has some kung-fu poses in promotional material and wears an exotic pair of pants, but our bootleg friend here has no such trait. I admit I'm not sure how one would convey "jungleness" via a character's appearance; whereas jungle-themed army figures I've seen merely wear safari hats and khaki pants, that seems to imply they're on a pleasant sightseeing tour rather than facing down guerrilla forces. I've also got a bad habit of accidentally calling this guy Karate Panda, but even if that were true there's a distinct lack of karate going on. I'd be downright shocked if this grinning fool knew any martial arts at all.
While Kung Fu Panda's titular character has the balls to fight evil with naught but his talent as a butterball, Jungle Panda here totally overcompensates with a sword as long as he is tall and not one but two tonfa. Wes tells me they're half-inched from the Power Rangers: Jungle Fury line, their original titles being the Shark Saber and Jungle Tonfa. BJ Toys, you thieving swine!
Not only that, but he's got several items of clothing -- black jeans, a belt, boots, and what I'm assuming are shin guards. He can't be content with merely covering his crotch, he's got to protect his fragile footsies, too. If an anthropomorphic panda can't even traverse his natural habitat without footwear, I wouldn't trust him with rescuing a cat from a tree, never mind turning on an oven.
Of course, from the pictures of the figure variants on the package, it looks like this is the most sane arsenal available. While a blade and tonfa are relatively sensible weaponry, they're nothing in comparison to a fuckin' Freddy Krueger glove. Seriously, look at that! What practical use would a fuckin' Freddy Krueger glove have besides scaring the hell out of your foes? I mean, the Freddy Krueger glove is awesome, but I personally never saw it as a proper combat utility. It's not for proper fighting, but just for scaring the bejesus out of hapless teens who have no way of protecting themselves. I'm under the assumption our Jungle Panda friend here is someone who battles the forces of evil -- not someone with ambitions of entering the horror movie industry. Not that I wouldn't pay to see him darting around and hacking people to bits. I'd suggest that he ditch the Kill Bill uniform beforehand, but considering it's actually painted over his fur, that might not be wise. Nobody likes a bald panda.
The top right of the package shows our figure, but sporting different accessories: a pair of nunchaku, which is pretty tame in comparison to the aforementioned gloves... and very tame in comparison to the snake he's toting in his other hand. What the hell, man? Who takes a snake to a nunchaku fight? What's the snake going to do? Is it just a spectator, as part of Take Your Snake To Work Day or something? Or is it a literal weapon, meant to be thrown or launched at the enemy's face? Just... what the hell, man? There is no doubt in my mind that Jungle Panda is an insane son of a bitch. The unhinged look on his face was probably a good first hint.
The back of the box also shows a third variant, wielding this figure's accessories but wearing what looks to be a Chinese martial arts uniform. It's almost like they remembered the source material they were trying to rip off!
Jungle Panda actually has more articulation than I thought, thanks to the odd pose in the box obscuring a lot of details, but it's hardly an extensive affair. His head and waist can rotate, his shoulders are armed (har har har) with swivel joints, and there are hinges in his elbows and knees. All he needs is a V-crotch and he'd have the same level of a typical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figure. Even if Jungle Panda had rotating hips, however, you'd only get decent upper body articulation of this guy since his knees don't bend far enough to be of any use. His arms work better, but they're strangely positioned. Whereas the left one is outstretched straight out at an angle, the other has a permanently bent elbow and the joint only allows it to bend inward -- otherwise it just aims downwards at an odd angle. Only his right hand is positioned to wield his weaponry, and even then it's a fairly loose grip; the tonfa are hard to get in a good position without falling out of his grasp. The other hand is an outstretched palm. Functionally useless, but perfectly suitable for comedic purposes.
Height-wise, Jungle Panda stands just a fraction under 6 inches / 15 centimetres, putting him in relative scale with the Marvel Legends and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lines. I suppose now's a good time to mention that despite being a panda, his build is almost, dare I say it, athletic? Obviously he hasn't got any buns of steel or legs that aren't hilariously dumpy, but in comparison to his official Jack Black counterpart, he looks downright svelte. This, of course, only adds more to his list of freakish attributes. Pandas are lumpy, blobbish creatures with big fuzzy faces and adorable little legs, and thus Kung Fu Panda combines that concept with the polar opposite (polar? bear? oh I can split my own sides) in the form of kung-fu abilities to create a visually striking character. Jungle Panda, meanwhile, just looks like a man in a fursuit who was pushed too far. Either that, or he's pissed that someone riddled his back with screw holes. That stuff just can't be forgiven, man.
And there you have the Jungle Panda. At a mere £2, he costs less than any of the official figures, including the ones that are half the size and completely immobile. Sure, it's fooling no one with regard to the licensing (or lack thereof), and the quality is downright sloppy -- the blemished eyes, the conspicuous mark by his mouth, the fact his belt isn't even painted on the back half of his body... I could go on -- but where else would you find an anthropomorphic panda packing heat? I'm only sorry I never found any of the variations with wackier weapons! Nevertheless, as it stands, I'm honoured to have this absurd little beast in my possession.-- Ragey --