IT’S A PLAYSET! A PLAAAAYSET! Planet of the Apes was released 56 years ago…
By SCOTT TIPTON
When people think movie merchandise, most people think of Star Wars as the one that started it all. Not so fast – there’s another movie franchise that had huge merchandising efforts years before George Lucas and Kenner revolutionized the toy aisles. I speak, of course, of the film that celebrates its 56th anniversary — the legendary Planet of the Apes, which made its New York premier on Feb. 8, 1968, before going wide in the spring.
Come with me now on a tour through some of my favorites in the wild and weird world of Apes merch, in no particular order:
1. The most well-known and well-loved POTA merchandise is probably Mego’s line of action figures from the 1970s, and I’d have to say this is the highlight of that product line, the Planet of the Apes Fortress Playset.
It’s the toy that closest resembles the crazy architecture of Ape City from the first film. It’s just so grim, with a prison cell and what is clearly an examination/vivisection table for the ape scientists. Your astronaut action figures were not going to have a fun time at the Fortress, to be sure.
2. More difficult to find was the Mego Planet of the Apes Treehouse Playset, which I myself only managed to locate at a convention a few years back.
The Treehouse has its charms strictly from a novelty perspective, but it lacks that Apey authenticity that the Fortress boasts. And just from personal experience, it’s a real pain in the ass to build.
3. Planet of the Apes also had a big presence in the world of what are known as “rack toys,” the more inexpensive offerings you might find in the toy aisle of your local grocery store or drugstore. Which is where you might have found this: the Sky Diving Parachustist.
I love everything about this. Not only does no one use a parachute anywhere in that movie, but it’s Dr. Zaius who’s hitting the silk! Makes no sense. Perfection.
4. Staying with the rack toys, this one is even more improbable but somehow feels more right: the Official Planet of the Apes Gyro-Motorized Stunt Cycle.
No, the Apes didn’t have motorcycles in the movie, but if they had, you know they would have been riding them everywhere. And also, there was a variant of this featuring Dr. Zaius on a motorcycle, which is even better.
5. One more from AHI and their rack toys, the Official Planet of the Apes on Horse With Galloping Action.
Only fifty cents at K-Mart? What a deal. A huge part of the charm of these is the garish, brightly colored package art, which almost looks on-model.
6. Jumping ahead a couple of decades, in the 1990s, Japanese toy company Medicom released an expansive line of Planet of the Apes action figures, including this one of Astronaut Cornelius:
I think this is the only time Cornelius as he appeared in the opening scene of Escape From the Planet of the Apes ever got the action-figure treatment. These figures offered beautiful sculpting, if very limited articulation.
7. Here’s a weird one: A few years back, 20th Century Fox offered a comprehensive DVD box set of all five original films and both TV series, all stored inside Caesar’s head!
Planet of the Apes: The Ultimate DVD Collection is still available at Amazon if you don’t mind a pre-owned copy. I actually passed on this one myself. I’d imagine Caesar’s eyes just follow you around the room…
8. Toymakers Super7 featured POTA in their vintage-style 3 3/4-inch action-figure line a few years ago, and even offered this beauty, a replica of The Lawgiver statue:
And yes, for you Beneath the Planet of the Apes fans, they even offered a bloody variant from Dr. Zaius’ vision.
9. The Hong Kong-based Hot Toys also dipped their toes in the Apes water back in 2009, with this fantastic sixth-scale action figure of General Ursus:
I really wish Hot Toys would have continued with this line. The figure is marvelously detailed, right down to the crude wooden rifle.
10. This one has to be the rarest in our discussion – I’ve been looking for one for years and have never even seen one in person. I’m talking about the Planet of the Apes Adventure Set from Amsco. Just look at this beauty:
Amsco made a variety of these cardboard punchout playsets back in the 1970s (including the equally rare Marvel World, which I finally found at a toy show decades after seeing it advertised in comics as a kid), and they’re fantastic. Ingeniously designed and surprisingly sturdy — and look: you even get Taylor’s spaceship before it sinks into the lake. And the Doomsday Bomb?! Someday this will be mine. For a closer look at this gem, check out this feature over at the wonderful Plaid Stallions website.
11. As we near the end of our list, let’s return to probably the best Apes merch-makers, Mego. When the company returned to life a few years back, they quickly began producing Apes figures again, and in a great surprise, turned to some of the characters who had never been made the first time around — including this delightfully grim Mutant Leader from Beneath the Planet of the Apes:
Both masked and unmasked versions were offered. I wish they’d managed to secure the Victor Buono likeness rights, but it’s a quibble I can live with.
12 and 13. Looking back at the original POTA toyline now, I find it hilarious how many of the offerings were based around the idea of Apes torturing humans somehow, such as in the simply but honestly named Planet of the Apes Jail.
I mean, look how panicked that poor Astronaut looks. I also find it amusing that the box art actually played down the gigantic size of that padlock on the door.
Which brings us to maybe my favorite bit of Apes merch ever: the Mego Planet of the Apes Throne.
The beauty of the Throne is in how it defies description. What is it? Is it a trap? Why? Why would your astronaut figure ever sit there? What does it accomplish? I saw this as a child but never found one until decades later, but it still took up so much real estate in my head that when I found myself writing the official Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover… well, you can figure out the rest…
For a little more about how this fantastic cover by J.K. Woodward came about, click here.
— Dig This Gallery of Groovy MEGO PLANET OF THE APES Playsets and Vehicles. Click here.
— 13 Marvelous MARVEL PLANET OF THE APES Covers. Click here.
Scott Tipton is 13th Dimension’s longest-tenured contributor-at-large. He’s best known as the writer of scores of Star Trek comics published by IDW.