“FLIPPING THE SCRIPT”
How Wonder Crew and I Am Elemental are challenging the norms for dolls and action figures and breaking down barriers.
By: Rob Hull
NOTE: THIS IS AN OP/ED PIECE. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED WITHIN ARE MINE AND MINE ALONE. THEY ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH, OR SPONSORED BY PLAYMONSTER OR I AM ELEMENTAL.
Aficionados of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and particularly of Eric Idle’s songwriting talents, know that on one of their albums there is a song called “I Like Chinese”. Now, before you wonder where I’m going with this, continue reading. I promise it will all make sense. Anyway, back to the song. The first verse is “The World today is absolutely crackers.” Truer words have never been spoken. This is probably one of the most violent ages in human history since medieval times. Unfortunately, it seems that children are exposed to violence at a younger age than ever before, especially in the toys they play with.
It seems like all of the major toy lines for all of the well known characters have some sort of “battle” component to them, and most of those figures come with some sort of weapon. It also seems like gender lines are more pronounced in the action figure category, with most female characters not getting action figures made, or if they do get made, those figures end up being shortpacked. This means that fewer of these figures are put into a case. It is also very rare to see many dolls made for boys anymore. The days of “My Buddy” seem to be long gone. But, two companies are forging brave new paths in an attempt to change that.
Playmonster, formerly known as Patch, is a company that produces a large number of well-known toy products, including Automoblox, Perplexus and Roominate amongst others. Nestled in their product assortment is a line called Wonder Crew. Wonder Crew is a line of dolls, inspired by boys, but made for anyone. In their own words, Wonder Crew “combines the adventure of an action figure with the emotional connection of a stuffed animal to give children a best friend! He’s an awesome sidekick and confidant who will go everywhere your child goes…there’s limitless action-packed, loving, imaginative times ahead!” The Wonder Crew mission statement is as follows: “Our mission is to empower all children to see themselves as connected, creative, strong people with the ability to go anywhere. Be anything.”
Wonder Crew dolls are available in four different characters. The characters are designed to cover the widest range of ethnicity possible, so that there is literally someone for everyone. The four characters are: Will (Caucasian), James (Dark-skinned African-American), Marco (Light-skinned African American) and Erik (Asian). Each doll comes dressed as a superhero, in a generic Wonder Crew costume. All four dolls have the same costume. But, in addition, a cape and mask is included for the child, so they can share in the adventures. This small gesture makes a huge difference, instantly integrating the worlds of the child and the doll.
In addition, doll owners can purchase “Adventure Packs”, that consist of an additional outfit for both the doll and the child. The four currently available packs are Snuggler, Builder, Explorer and Construction. Each doll costs $34.99, with each Adventure Pack retailing for $19.99.
I have a 5 year old nephew who saw a commercial for the dolls on TV and immediately asked for one. I thought it would be a good opportunity to feature them on the site. So, I contacted the PR agency for Playmonster and they were able to provide a doll and Adventure Pack. (For the record, it was the Will doll and the Builder Adventure Pack). He was so happy to get it and couldn’t wait to start playing with it. Within moments, he had decided that be he and Will should be Construction Superheroes, and put on not only the domino mask and cape that came with the figure, but also the Construction vest that came with the Builder Pack, while also making sure Will had the same attire. He had hours of fun, pretending that he and Will were flying around the city, fixing buildings and saving people with their “Construction Powers.”
The dolls are 15″ tall and feature soft vinyl hands, arms and legs with a soft body. They are really well made, fairly durable and the soft bodies make them very easy to snuggle up to. It’s a fantastic product I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to people. In fact, seeing my nephew play with it has only increased my willingness to recommend them to people. As a woman standing next to me at the “TTPM Spring Showcase” Event so eloquently put it, “This is what we need right now. This is hope.”
Heading across the toy aisle, we find a company doing their best to change perceptions of what is a “girl action figure.” As I mentioned before, when a female action figure is made in most of the major lines, it is usually “short packed.” This means that when case assortments are made up, they include fewer pieces of the female figure than any other in the assortment. This creates a shortage of those characters are retail and results in consumers having to turn to online stores to try and obtain this figure. This trend has only now begun to change, with the emergence of strong female leads in major properties, such as Rey in Star Wars, Black Widow in Avengers and Wonder Woman. However, for the most part, female characters are marginalized when it comes to action figures. However, there is a company looking to change that.
I Am Elemental was started by two moms who were frustrated at the lack of a line of female action figures designed specifically for young girls. So, they designed one themselves and brought it to Kickstarter. It was fully funded in just 2 days by backers from all 50 states and 6 continents. Each series has an overarching theme based on a particular virtue and a muse that exemplifies it.
Series 1 is called Courage, and it’s muse is Joan of Arc. There are nine figures in the series. Seven 4″ figures embody seven “Elements of Power.”, which according to the company, are the “building blocks of superpowers.” The seven elements that make up the “Courage” series are: Bravery, Energy, Honesty, Industry, Enthusiasm, Persistence and Fear.
The seven “Elements of Power” combine to make up the Superpower that the series is named after, which is embodied by the eighth figure in the series, Core Power Courage, which is 6″.
That series was followed up by series two, Wisdom, which is inspired by Hypatia. The seven “Elements of Power” that make up the “Wisdom” series are: Creativity, Ingenuity, Curiosity, Logic, Exploration, Mastery and Oblivion.
The figures are very well produced, with each 4″ figure having 9 (yes, I said 9) points of articulation. The figures are sold as single packs or in a boxed set, available from their website. The first series was a huge hit, and when it was released, something interesting happened. The figures, designed in bright colors with purposely nondescript faces, struck a chord with figure collectors, who had to have them all. In this respect, I Am Elemental ended up breaking an unexpected barrier and became a darling in the collector community.
Although both of these companies has very different mission statements, their overall goal was the same: to challenge the “norms” of the Toy Industry and create a new and exciting product to fill a niche and carve a new path in an already crowded marketplace. Both companies have succeeded in this respect and have bright futures ahead.
On a personal note, I really enjoyed writing this article, as I have dealt with these companies and truly believe in both of their causes. If you like this article, please repost it on social media and forward it to your friends. Let’s help these two great companies out by getting more exposure for the great work they are doing.
For more information about Wonder Crew, click here
For more information about I Am Elemental, click here
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