Toy Review: Transforming WALL-E

It should come as no surprise to anyone that there’s a fair number of toys available relating to Disney-Pixar’s current feature film, WALL-E. After all, there’s a fair number of toys available relating to any Disney theatrical release of any significance, and in the case of WALL-E, almost all of the main characters are robots – the perfect subjects for licensed toys.

Also unsurprisingly, the great bulk of said toys depict the film’s eponymous hero. Not only is he the star, he’s easier to make a toy of than his leading lady EVE (because, well, EVE moves by levitating and has nothing actually connecting her arms and head to her body, all of which is challenging to depict with current toy technology). Like any good robot toy, WALL-E comes in a variety of different sizes and configured for a number of different gimmicks. There’s the small basic model, and a variant on same with a different paint job. There’s a somewhat larger one that can make blocks of simulated trash out of Play-Doh (WALL-E’s a trash compactor robot, you see), one that simulates tap dancing, one with removable, interchangeable robot parts. There’s one that can be used as an iPod speaker and reportedly dances along with the music. And there are several different sizes of remote-controlled and “interactive” versions. For this fall (probably to coincide with the DVD/Blu-Ray release), Thinkway Toys has even announced a colossal $250 semi-autonomous radio-controlled model featuring 10 motors and all sorts of clever computer logic.

A little to the left of the middle of the range is Transforming WALL-E. Admittedly, “Transforming” is a bit much if you’re used to toys that transform with the elaborateness of, well, Transformers, but he does change shape. Those of you who have seen the movie will remember that WALL-E has a “storage mode” in which he changes from a little track-driven robot into… well, a box, basically. This is the toy that replicates that particular gimmick.

As packaged (in “robot mode”), he stands about the same height as a standard DVD case. His head is attached on a swivel so that he can look around and tilt his head, and it’s hinged in the middle so that he can do his happy and sad expressions. The spring associated with the “transforming” gimmick means that while he can look up and down as well, he can’t hold those poses; if you let go his head springs back into a “neutral” position.

His arms rotate and hinge at the shoulders, so he can rotate them a full 360° and swing them out to about 45° past parallel with his body. His hands are nicely articulated, with independent two-jointed fingers and thumb, but his wrists don’t rotate, so he can’t be put into the character’s signature “idle” pose (with hands held horizontal and sort of left to hang in front of him, T-rex style). Sadly, his shoulder joints aren’t mounted on sliding tracks as they are in the film, so the one arm position is all you get.

His tracks aren’t, really – they’re molded as one solid piece – but they do have nicely freespinning wheels mounted into the bottom, so rolling him across a surface isn’t hard. They’re also not set up in their typical triangular shape, because they’re one solid piece, so if they were in that shape they wouldn’t slide underneath his body.

“Transformation” consists of four simple steps:

1) Slide his two track units together so that they lock into place underneath, instead of below and to the sides of, his main body.

2) Once they’re locked, push them up inside his body.

3) Position his arms in the obvious grooves on his sides and squeeze his shoulder joints in until they lock. (You’ll then have to fiddle with his fingers a bit to get them to lie correctly in their recesses at the front corners of his body.

4) Squeeze the sliding bits at the front and back of his head together, then push the whole assembly down into its recess until it locks.

Voilà! Your WALL-E is now in box mode. Reversing the transformation is even simpler: there are four buttons on him, one to release his head, one to release his arms, and one on either side that, when squeezed together, make his tracks drop down and pop outward.

Detail work is pretty good, as you’d expect on a toy of this size. He’s mostly construction yellow, with appropriate grey bits, and a lot of the mold details on the yellow parts have had a brown paint wash applied to simulate surface rust. His chest panel has a decal representing his power level indicator, and his speaker and record/stop/playback buttons are molded in and painted. His arms have their proper industrial caution hash marks painted on, and his eyes are a dark blue plastic that appears translucent under strong light. Flipping down the panel on the front of his body that gives access to his trash hopper in the movie reveals a label simulating a hold full of crushed trash.

Drawbacks are few, and mainly relate to the way the transformation gimmick interferes with poseability, as mentioned above. Also, on mine at least, the catch that must be engaged when folding his head down is fairly stiff; I always have to push a little harder than I’d really like to in order to get it to take.

Still, he has a satisfying size and heft, and at $20, if you’re looking for a larger toy than the standard figure but don’t want to spring for one of the pricier electronic ones, he fills a niche.

As an aside, I would find it exceedingly difficult to recommend the movie any more highly than I already do, because, frankly, I don’t think my scale goes any higher. I mean, come on – a tender love story coupled with a race against time with the fate of all humanity hanging in the balance, told in something very like the style of one of Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” silent films, and they’re robots with voices designed by Ben Burtt? D’accord! I wanted to buy stock when I got out of this movie the first time.

About Gryphon

In his career - well, not so much a career as a series of interesting but usually ill-advised vocational choices, if we're being honest - Benjamin D. Hutchins has been a tech support grunt, an Internet operations tech, a small-town print reporter, a public relations writer, and a semiprofessional muser upon the random. Now he's working on several books (none of which, just to buck tradition, is the Great American Novel), eyeing the relentless march of personal gadget technology with bemusement and often suspicion, and wondering what's with these kids today, with their clothes and their hair and that stuff they think is music.His first book, Off the Top of My Head: Personal Reflections of a Small-Town Newsman, can be had here or here.
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  • MegaZone

    It is an awesome movie, I’ll be ordering the Blu-ray as soon as it is available.

  • jonathan

    I have to concur though for me I don’t know that I will get the Blu-ray right away since they cost money and in college you don’t get a lot of that unless you sell stuff and what fun is that.