And now, Scary-Crayon presents...
Kong Discounted Action Figures (Part One)
by: Wes

I didn't exactly love Peter Jackson's King Kong remake when I finally got around to seeing it, but folks who followed Scary-Crayon and/or chatted with me at some point during the winter 2005-2006 season know that the hype surrounding the movie led me to develop a temporary obsession with the ape from Skull Island and his gargantuan brethren. I reacquainted myself with Disney's heartwarming remake of Mighty Joe Young courtesy of Wal-Mart's $7.50 DVD carousel, I added the laughable (though enjoyable) 1976 King Kong and its 1986 sequel to my 2005 Christmas list, and -- when it finally got restocked in February -- I was delighted to acquire the Best Buy exclusive DVD collection tin featuring the original 1933 King Kong, its sequel Son of Kong, and the 1949 Mighty Joe Young. I frequently began AIM conversations with a single four-letter word -- KONG -- followed by anywhere from one to sixteen exclamation points. I even took to watching that lame Kong cartoon on Saturday mornings and tried my hand at the (flipping awful) GBA game based on it. Oh yes, friends -- I was so firmly held in the grip of giant gorilla mania that, during the quietest and most unexpected moments, I still sometimes find myself exclaiming, "KONG!" for no apparent reason. The beast that beauty a bunch of fighter planes and a 102-story drop killed made a lasting impression upon my heart.

But despite my intense love affair with the 8th wonder of the world during those cold winter months, I never really got into the licensed King Kong action figures. I have no idea why that is -- given how much I dig toys, you'd think I'd have gone for at least one of the many different plastic versions of the giant gorilla. And even when I did get around to buying one some two years later, it wasn't because I'd come to my senses and decided I needed some Kong love in my action figure collection: it was because I wanted a stand-in for Gorilla Grodd in keeping with my current DC Comics obsession. But after getting that Kong and another with intent to repaint it into Monsieur Mallah, I've found myself falling for the oversized ape all over again -- this time in a 6" scale. Granted, I intend to repaint a good number of the Kongs I've acquired into generic gorilla soldiers or specific DC universe characters (and one of these days I'm going to lop off the head of one and transform it into the Negative Gorilla Queen -- how's that for an obscure reference?), but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the Kong The 8th Wonder of the World figures in their own right. I admittedly can't see paying $10 for them, which is probably one of the reasons that I didn't get into them in 2005, but the $4.98 KB Toys is charging for its excess Kong stock makes them quite a bargain in today's expensive toy market.

That said, this review will touch on four of the Kongs that I've acquired Playmates' Kong The 8th Wonder of the World toyline (part two will cover the other two 6" Kongs and Mezco's 15" deluxe figure). As noted, you can probably still find these today in your local KB Toys at a discounted price. Apparently I wasn't the only person who passed over them back when the movie was popular, so KB's got tons of leftover Kongs waiting to be freed from their plastic prisons -- likely because of the fatal flaw of most licensed toylines. See, for some reason, companies like to release tons of different versions of the main character. I'm sure that there are plenty of practical reasons for this -- especially since so many companies do it -- but the tale of the pegs doesn't support whatever market research suggests that Mattel needs to keep releasing Batman figures in costumes with various themes and random colors... or, here, that Playmates needed to put out five different 6" Kongs (not to mention the three or so in larger scales). I mean, unless you're repainting them into other characters or trying to create your own Gorilla City display, you really only need one Kong. But which one? Hopefully the following analyses will help you to decide. And take note -- you can also click any of the images below to get a closer look at the figures!

Gripping Kong

In this day and age, he's a super value indeed!A monkey, a bug, a girl, and a vine. Neat.

We'll start this off with Gripping Kong -- partly because he was the first Kong that I got (and thus started me off on this recent Kong kick), but mostly because he's technically been featured on SC many times before. Yes, Gripping Kong was the base figure for my beloved Gorilla Grodd custom. As a Kong figure, however -- and compared to the other Kongs in the line -- I can't entirely endorse Gripping Kong. As noted on the cardback, his "feature" is that he's super-poseable, which could make him slightly less fun for kids who want their Kongs to bust stuff up. And while it would be a preferable addition for older collectors, it's misleading because he's not really all that articulated. He does have 22 points of articulation (which is technically exaggerated since they're counting the shoulders and hips twice, but then the superarticulated figures with 25+ joints do this as well), but he's still limited when it comes to compelling poses because of the way he's sculpted. As you'll see, each of the Kongs is sculpted in a way that best represents their particular feature in accordance with their included accessories -- and because one of Gripping Kong's accessories is a vine from which he can hang, he's made to look good with it. So while the angled cuts of his wrists and ankles look perfectly natural when he's swinging around, they can look downright awkward (and can even make him difficult to stand) if you want to keep his feet on the ground. (For this reason, the gripping feet joints are also potentially useless.) Granted, you can still get Gripping Kong to pull off a few convincing standing poses, but some of the other Kongs look just as good standing and almost rival him when it comes to useful articulation.

Gripping Kong also has the misfortune of having the least exciting accessories of the bunch. Granted, the miniature Ann Darrow is kind of nice -- sure, it's a cheap little thing, but she's kind of necessary given that Kong spent a good chunk of the movie making moon eyes at her -- and the Weta-Rex bug isn't bad as far as bugs go, but they just don't compare to dinosaurs and pink bat things and whatnot. And the vine is fine if you want to display Kong hanging from stuff, but otherwise it's a fairly useless addition.

Still, if your primary reason for going after a Kong is because you want to use him for something else (like as Grodd!), I highly recommend this guy. The Kong figures vary in height, but Gripping Kong clocks in at 7" -- making him appropriately taller than most 6" scale figures (even though real gorillas actually stand around 5'6" and under). Given how long his legs are compared to the other Kongs, he'd even make a pretty good sasquatch or yeti (particularly with a brown or white paint job) for all manner of figures in 6" or smaller scales. The calmer expression also makes him more adaptable to other uses, as gorillas in the wild are peaceful and yetis (for example) aren't often depicted mid-roar. (If they were loud creatures, they'd have a hard time staying hidden!) And whereas I'm not a big fan of the toy's original paint job -- which is one of the reasons I decided to try repainting it despite having never painted an action figure before -- I think Gripping Kong would look better even if you gave him a uniform coat of some other color. He may not be the best Kong in the line, but he's probably the monkey of choice if you have other plans for him.

Kong vs Venatosaurus

Button-activated POWER-SLAMMING action... that hurts.The Kong of the Kong vs Venatosaurus two-pack lacks Gripping Kong's articulation (he's got 17 points if you count the shoulders and hips twice; 13 otherwise), but he's got a leg up on the above figure in that he a) looks more natural in a standing pose and b) has what is arguably the most impressive action feature of all of the Kongs. The cardback's not joking when it refers to his feature as "extreme Kong power slam action" -- believe me when I tell you that this bad boy hurts. Literally. See, if you hold this Kong around his lower half like a remote and use your thumb to press the button on his back, his arms come low enough to catch your fingers in the slam... and ouch.

In keeping with the name of this particular set, this most brutal of Kongs also comes with a Venatosaurus adversary to take the brunt of his fatal blows. It's a good-looking dinosaur figure that not only has seven points of articulation itself (neck, shoulders, hips, tail, and spring-loaded jaw), but also has its own action feature -- when you press a button on its back, it "collapses" via the loosening of a string that otherwise holds its limbs tight to its body (with a knob on the belly to wind the string back up). I admit that I've never been really fond of the "collapsing" feature on figures, but it's less objectionable here because the Venatosaurus is an accessory. However, while the idea is that Kong's literally supposed to beat poor V-saurus to death, it's so difficult to get the little fellow to stand upright that he mostly ends up just knocking it over. So the feature isn't really necessary, but the thought is appreciated.

Anyway, assuming that you can keep your fingers out of his way and don't mind having an action figure capable of beating the paint off of the other toys in your collection, this Kong is certainly worth a look. The body sculpt and articulation are among the best of the Kongs, the roaring head is more than serviceable, the paint work is less excessive than it is on Gripping Kong (ignore the grey on his belly -- I plan to repaint him and was using him as a test figure in the meantime), the action feature is as extreme as it claims to be, and V-saurus makes for a great accessory considering that Kong spent half the movie fighting dinosaurs (even if this isn't a Vasatosaurus Rex). For only $5, this savage simian smasher's got a lot going for him.

Kong vs Juvenile V-Rex

Open wide, damnit!Leave Ann alone or face my KONG-fu!

For multiple reasons, the King Kong of the Kong vs Juvenile V-Rex set is arguably the worst of the 6" Kong figures. He's got less articulation than most of the others, as they have knee joints where he doesn't. (He's only got nine points of articulation overall; six of them are in his arms.) His action feature works, but not in conjunction with the accessory for which it is intended -- whereas Kong is supposed to be able to pull the Vastatosaurus Rex's jaws open a la the corresponding scene in the film, he can only successfully spread his hands apart when there's nothing to impede their motion. (In fact, given how weak the lever on his back is beginning to feel, I'm pretty sure that trying to use the feature with the V-Rex -- or using it at all, over time -- will eventually cause the toy to break.) In addition, in order for him to be able to spread his arms as such, the feature requires Kong to have noticeable gaps between his shoulders and his torso. And because Kong is sculpted with the jaw-ripping scene in mind, he looks incredibly awkward doing almost anything except trying to crack open the V-Rex's jaws. Which, as we've noted, he can't even manage.

That said, there are some very good reasons to recommend this Kong over all of the others -- particularly if you only plan to get one figure from the line. Of all of the Kongs, I like his head sculpt the best. The roaring expression works for Kong, but the other roaring Kong headsculpts look stretched and feature paint work that makes him look almost like he's sporting a grey beard. This Kong's head, however, looks better and is more in keeping with the character's film appearance. And while he does look awkward in many poses, the oddness of his hands almost makes this Kong look like he's swatting at something -- so if you use your imagination (or happen to have a display that appropriately mimics the top of the Empire State Building), you can easily envision this Kong swinging at airplanes prior to his fatal fall. He also looks surprisingly natural doing certain other things -- and with the way the feature works, this is the only figure I know of that arguably comes with groping and fondling action. Not to mention that this Kong's limited posing appeal makes him the least ideal for other customizing projects. If you want a Kong that you won't be tempted to paint into another gorilla character, this is your guy (assuming there aren't any gorillas known for molesting superheroines).

This Kong's accessories also tip the scales heavily in his favor. He comes with not only a great-looking V-Rex figure (it lacks meaningful articulation, but it does have a spring-loaded jaw), but also the same Ann Darrow figurine that accompanied Gripping Kong. Considering how much of the movie involved Kong fighting V-Rexes and swooning over Ann, this is pretty much everything you need to reenact most of the memorable scenes from the film. It's worth noting that you can buy a slightly larger V-Rex toy separately (hence this one being labeled a "juvenile") -- not to mention the number of T-Rex toys available out there -- so this isn't the only way for you to get a dinosaur to duke it out with Kong. Still, the fact that you already get a V-Rex and Ann with this set makes it the ideal choice for folks who want a cheap, quick, and comprehensive Kong display.

Roaring Kong

Roaring Kong's a big boy.And then for folks who want a bigger Kong to take on their action figure collection, there's Roaring Kong. Now, Roaring Kong is one of two larger Kongs that Playmates released -- there's also a Supreme Kong that roars and features automatic chest pounding as well as "walking" action (on all fours, natch). Right off the bat, I'd say get that version over this one if you have the choice -- it's $14.97 at KB versus this Roaring Kong's $9.97, but you get cool motorized movement for your extra fiver. I only ended up with this one is because I had one of those "$5 off a purchase of $25 or more" coupons and the KB I visited only had this one in stock. Doh.

On the other hand, if the quality of this one is suggestive of Supreme Kong's as well, you'd be better off sticking with the 6" figures. Yes, Roaring Kong is 11" and roars, but in all other respects he's significantly outclassed by his smaller counterparts. Foremost, there's the sculpting. The smaller Kongs aren't terribly impressive, but they do look like Kongs -- or at the very least like generic gorillas with a lot of bloody scratches. This guy, however, looks more like someone wearing a gorilla costume. Note that the head is a separate piece and is made of rubber -- whereas the body is hard plastic -- so it looks even more like a mask. It's even got those weird marks under the eyes that masks often have.

Roaring Kong also loses in terms of articulation. He's got twelve points, but all but two of them -- the rotating hip joints, which you can't really move if you want Kong to stand -- are in his arms. Four of them go to the hinged thumb and finger joints on each hand. They do help Kong to hold the Ann (again), sailor, and Skull Island native figurines that come with him, but they don't significantly add to his poseability. And since the elbows are loose because of the manual chest-pounding action -- you operate a very squeaky lever on his back, causing Kong to beat his chest with alternating strokes -- you're left with only rotating shoulders and rotating wrists for poseability. So as far as dynamic poses go, this is pretty much as good as it gets.

In fact, even though he's 11", this Kong is arguably off in terms of scale. The tiny Ann Darrow measures roughly 1.5" -- so with Naomi Watts being 5'5", that would make Roaring Kong nearly 40' tall. The smaller 6" Kongs, however, come in at around 22 feet by comparison. And since the original Kong was alternately 18' and 24' and Peter Jackson's Kong was 25', that makes the smaller Kongs (especially Gripping Kong) closer to Kong's actual height in relation to the tiny humans. Granted, Roaring Kong is appropriately larger than most other action figures, but technically he's still slightly oversized and kinda undersized even when compared, respectively, with 2.25" minimates and figures in the 3.75" scale. Roaring Kong just can't catch a break!

Good points? Well, when you press Kong's pecs to activate the roaring feature, his mouth will open... but honestly, with the exceptions of the roaring feature -- which does sound pretty good -- and his larger (albeit off-scale) size, Roaring Kong kinda sucks. Although he's great for little kids who just want a big sturdy Kong and will be entertained by his sound effect and lackluster chest-beating action, these tykes would probably be even more thrilled by the sounds and hands-free motorized features of the larger Supreme Kong. Collectors would probably be better off with Supreme Kong as well -- that is, if they don't go for one of the deluxe Kong figures from Mezco (which we'll be looking at in the second installment). I will say, however, that this Kong's 11" height makes him just about the right size for taking on the larger roaring Godzilla figure that came out in conjunction with the 1998 American film. But who else has that Zilla, eh? ;)

More fun than a barrel full of monkeys.And that does it for this first part of the discounted King Kong action figure review! As noted, each Kong has strengths and weaknesses, but I've got to reiterate how strong the Kong vs Juvenile V-Rex set is. If you can overlook the Kong's obvious flaws -- and assuming that you want the V-Rex and don't plan to buy him separately -- you can't go wrong with this combo. Otherwise, depending upon whether you most value articulation or fierce slamming action that threatens to break your finger, you'd do well with either Gripping Kong or Kong vs Venatosaurus. And remember, there are other Kongs to consider as well: next time, we'll review Kong vs Terapusmordax, Kong vs Piranhadon, and Mezco's 15" Deluxe Kong! Don't worry -- they've been on the shelves since 2005. They're not going anywhere. ;)

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