ToyBiz’s Lord of the Rings was a fantastic line. It was deep, immerse, well structured, and most of all, fun. I don’t think you’ll find many people who contest such a claim.
The line had an extremely successful run from 2001 to mid 2006 which began with film specific releases followed by a “best of” line known as the Trilogy Collection. In that time, ToyBiz covered an immense amount of content. Through the span of three films, Toybiz produced almost every viable main and minor character and additionally, most of the visually recognizable Orcs and Goblins that graced the screen. They did this multiple times to boot.
I would go so far as to argue that ToyBiz is the only company to rival Hasbro in thoroughly rebuilding a movie universe so well.
Fast forward to 2012. Fans world-wide look forward to a silver screen return to Middle Earth through the adaptation of the prequel Tolkien book, The Hobbit.
With a massive revival of an enormous property, it was only expected that a return to merchandise was inevitable. This time around, a small company known as The Bridge Direct took helm of the The Hobbit license. At the time, The Bridge Direct was best known for, well, this.
Yeah. That’s exactly the company I’d have picked to take the reins of a massive fantasy universe with arguably infinite potential as a toy line. The Bridge Direct not only had access to The Hobbit, but the entirety of the Original Trilogy as well. Why someone larger like Hasbro, NECA, or, had they been in the 1/12 figure market at the time, Funko, didn’t get their mitts on it is beyond me, but I have a theory.
I center on Funko because of their notorious Game of Thrones Legacy line, which in a lot of ways harkens back to ToyBiz’s Lord of the Rings line. I imagine that Funko looked to ToyBiz’s work a lot in the development of their series.
So, as I was browsing the sources of toy news, member BilbotheHobbit of another forum, a forum that I shall remain unnamed for the time being, posed an interesting statement. He mentioned a desire for Funko to have had access to Lord of the Rings much the way they have with Game of Thrones.
This simple statement spurred my childhood into high gear, and made me wonder what the potential for such a revival was.
First, we need to see what Funko currently has access to. Funko’s relation to The Hobbit comes in the form of their stylized Pop Vinyls and bobbleheads. No 1/12 figures in sight. But does that mean it’s not possible? After all, Funko did make the leap from Pops to the Legacy Collection.
With The Bridge Direct’s license for the Hobbit lying in an obviously questionable state, could Funko potentially move in and buy it out from under them? I wouldn’t go as far as to discount such an idea. For now though, let’s assume with the *ahem* “success” of The Bridge Direct’s Hobbit line, they’re eager to drop the license and all legalities aside, Funko had the opportunity to obtain it.
For Funko to go head on into such a powerful licence, I’d imagine it would need to go beyond The Hobbit films (if I remember correctly, TBD’s rights do). The Hobbit Trilogy is finite, a means to an end; there’s only so much figural potential in them. I imagine with the current status of The Bridge Direct’s Hobbit line, Funko wouldn’t pursue it without the ability to expand to the original films, which raises a few questions.
1. Is there an Original Trilogy Lord of the Rings retail audience left?
As much as it pains me to say it, as both a fan and as a collector, that ship has long left the docks of Laketown. The films haven’t graced a silver screen in years; most new introductees will watch them at home after seeing The Hobbit. Above all though, the merchandise has had its mass market saturation, which brings us to the next, and arguably most important question.
2. Are we observing the first property that has been done so well and so thoroughly that it’s simply not worth starting over, at least not this soon?
The line officially concluded in 2006, perhaps early 2007 if you want to get technical. That’s not all that long ago.
The only line to successfully go beyond it’s films (both in terms of content and time) extensively was Star Wars. Of course Lord of the Rings had the potential to do this, however it would still be here if that was the case.
As stated before, ToyBiz’s roster was extensive, covering most main characters, minor players, and iconic villains. During the height of the film’s success, there is no question that there was plenty of opportunity to capitalize of on the promise on a beautiful collection, whether you were with the line from day one or picked up part way through. At a MSRP of $5.99 a figure (that’s actually taken from a ToyBiz Original Trilogy Collection press release!) the line was perfect and accessible for collectors of all ages.
ToyBiz was one of the first groups to utilize facial scanning technology to get, at the time, eerily accurate likenesses on a great number of their figures. Their sculpts still hold up today. Toybiz paved the way and set a standard that many companies still aspire to reach with their product today.
Combined with a deep roster, comfortable price point, detail that exceeded most products on the market, quality, and trailblazing merchandise, we’re posed with the next question.
3. Who would buy a new line?
The aforementioned aspects of the ToyBiz Lord of the Rings line made it an extremely accessible line for most people who wanted to collect it, and collect they did. Those who invested into the series had at least their favorite characters and a roster of opponents to display alongside them in most cases.
In a time where many companies struggle to bring the main cast of a property to shelves due to cost and the market, we’d immediately see a reduction in character selection. In theory, if this revitalized line were a reality today, the consumer would have a shot at select main characters and if lucky, a handful of villains. The best example of a contemporary line that is doing this is Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series. At $20 a figure, you can’t expect an audience to invest that much money on an assortment of 6, 7, or 8 figures in a single wave. People don’t have the money these days. This is a problem that’s already plaguing Marvel Legends; I have spoken to multiple people who were priced out of the line from the start.
I brought this argument up with Play Imaginative when twidth=”316″ height=”378″ hey went into the 1/6 Iron Man market, something dominated by Hot Toys. They faced two things:
- A retail audience that were already invested in the line. They had every character offered by another company. What does a new company offer the consumer that they don’t already have? Even if, for example, Play Imaginative offered die-cast parts?
- They’re offering a product significantly more expensive than what the established fan base already has paid for their existing collection.
Would these two factors not be identical to Funko?
I’d argue that those who were into Lord of the Rings have a good collection, as said before. What incentive does Funko bring? ToyBiz really had great sculpts in the majority of their assortment, better quality figures, and the great majority of the cast complete.
Sorry to say, but 10 years later, my Lord of the Rings figures are more durable than the Legacy line. I’d let a 7-year-old kid play with ToyBiz Lord of the Rings figures; I wouldn’t let a 7-year-old touch the Game of Thrones Legacy line. Now, I was a different kid, and by that I mean I was already displaying my figures at that age, but I digress. ToyBiz made solid products, there is no question about that.
While certainly, times have changed significantly, with varying contributions increasing the costs of figures, the established fan base spent $5-$10 a figure. For a person who has the majority of the collection, what incentive is there for them to spend $20 on a figure they have (multiple variations to boot), and is at least equally as good, or better than the new product?
Most of this argument can probably be demolished if the line only focused on The Hobbit – but, that hurdle has already been answered in The Bridge Direct’s work. It existed for a paltry two series and proved there is no longer retail interest in 1/12 Lord of The Rings. Series 1 was arguably perfect in terms of assortment, so one can’t even pin the “you started off on the wrong foot” argument on The Bridge Direct. It just wasn’t well received, probably due to a combination of price and inferior product compared to ToyBiz. Series 2 was the final nail in the coffin though, being composed of “leftovers”. Neither Radagast (see our review here) nor Azog are worth their weight in plastic without other characters.
So. Does that mean that Lord of the Rings is the first toy line that’s not worth re-visiting simply because it’s predecessor was that good?
Yes. No, that’s not a yes I’d preface with “unfortunately” either. ToyBiz’s recent efforts and accessibility made it a widely procured commodity. Anyone of that time who was a fan, still is now. It may be fun to buy your favorite character in a new form again here and there, but to go and replace a line at $20 a figure just isn’t viable to most people, especially with a large, existing collection. This is what took down The Bridge Direct and would inevitably face anyone else who wanted to attempt the same. People don’t want to buy the same line all over again at a higher price point, especially when it doesn’t bring anything truly new to the table.
But that’s my analysis. Sound off in the comments and forums detailing what you think!