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PLANET OF THE APES COLLECTIBLES #05

Updated: March 08, 2014

Four astronauts travel some 2000 years through space and time and crash-land on an unidentified planet. They soon discover the world they are now stranded on is run by an intelligent simian civilization that regard man as a brute and treats him like cattle using him for target practice. This how Planet of the Apes begins, and then takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride that leads to one of the greatest climaxes in cinematic history. Planet of the Apes opened on February 8, 1968 to great reviews and broke box office records almost everywhere it played. Apart from being a huge hit, it also created a new genre of film dubbed "The Space Opera" and paved the way for other classics like Star Wars. Because of its original storyline, powerful musical score, makeup special effects, and its provocative thoughts on man's place in the world and society, Planet of the Apes is one of those movies, that can't be forgotten once experienced.

Following the success of the first film, Twentieth Century Fox convinced Arthur P. Jacobs, the man responsible for bringing the first one to the screen, to make a sequel. Beneath the Planet of the Apes was released in 1970 and again proved to be a huge hit. In this film, the Apes battle mutant humans who live underground in the Forbidden Zone. In a spectacular ending, a doomsday bomb is detonated destroying the planet leaving no chance for a third film. The financial success of the franchise however, proved that it could survive even complete annihilation. Twentieth Century pushed for a third chapter in the Ape saga and Escape from the Planet of the Apes was released a year later in 1971, followed by Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in 1972, and the final film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes in 1973.

In 1974, Planet of the Apes headed for television. A weekly hour long television series premiered on September 13 on CBS in the 8pm time slot. The show ran for 14 episodes, only 13 were actually aired before it was cancelled in December of that same year. In 1975 the Apes returned to television, this time as an animated Saturday morning cartoon, entitled "Return to the Planet of the Apes" which ran for 13 episodes.

In 1973 the final installment of the Ape films hit theatres, and although it wasn't a major box office hit and didn't receive the same critical acclaim as the earlier films it was still a popular franchise with both children and adults and a young toy executive named Marty Abrams took note. After being coaxed into sitting through an Apes marathon by his son, an idea was born inside that theatre. The next day, Marty was on the phone with Twentieth Century Fox executives and a deal was struck for the rights to produce Planet of the Apes figures and play sets.

In 1974 the first set of Mego Planet of the Apes figures hit stores. The first wave included characters from the original film: Cornelius, Zira, and Dr.Zaius, along with a generic Soldier Ape and an Astronaut. All the Apes were dressed in detailed costumes which pretty much mirrored what they wore on screen. Mego decided to take money saving short cuts with the only human in the bunch. Instead of licensing the rights to the likeness of Charlton Heston (the actor who played the astronaut in the original film) they went with a generic head which was probably pre-existing and dressed him in a blue flight suit and grey helmet, the likes of which never appeared in the film.

All figures were available on blister cards only, and have the distinct honor of being the first figures to ever appear on the style of blister card that has the off center bubble. A style that Mego would later use with their Super-hero and Star Trek figures among others. This first wave of figures had 3 distinct card variations. They are known as the first issue larger card, Kresge card, and second issue (common) smaller card. There are also endless figure variations. Zira and Cornelius can be found with different shades oif vinyl trim, brown outfits instead of their common olive green ones, and also with a green tint to their hair. Some have attributed this to the dye fading on the clothes and some kind of bacterial growth on the head but if you've ever inspected a sealed one, you might be convinced differently. The soldier ape perhaps has the distinct honor of being the Mego figure with the most pronounced outfit variations. He can be found with sleeves and pants ranging from a rich reddish brown to a dark chocolate brown. His vinyl tunic can be found in black, blue, grey, burgundy, and at least 3 kinds of black lizard print. While mostly found with matching gloves, later issues and foreign issues had sewn on cuffs. Dr. Zaius can be found with 2 different kinds of boots. Earlier figures had a plain black super-hero type boot; later figures had the more common taller boot with the markings on the side. There are no significant variations for the Astronaut. Two play sets and one accessory were also issued with the original release in 1974: The Planet of the Apes Tree house, Village, and Action Stallion.

In 1975 Mego released a second wave of figures, this time based on the television series. Characters included the two human astronauts Virden(sic) and Burke along with Galen the fugitive ape, and General Urko. For some unknown reason, Mego decided to add a second general, General Ursus, who had appeared in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and was portrayed by James Gregory. The two astronauts wore outfits reminiscent of what they wore in the series but the wrong color. Galen was essentially the same figure as Cornelius as he was even played by the same actor (Roddy McDowall). Mego took some liberty with the color scheme for General Urko, dressing him in a bright purple outfit with mustard vinyl tunic and trim, very different from what he actually wore on screen. Mego saved money on General Ursus by giving him the same outfit as the Soldier Ape and therefore the same large number of outfit variations. All these figures were again released on cards but it seems for a very short period of time were also available boxed. What's confusing is, both the first and second series are pictured on the box but no first series figure has ever been found in the box. To make matters worse Virden(sic) and Burke were both packaged in box that was designed for the first series astronaut in the blue flight suit. This has caused many people to switch out Virden(sic) or Burke for this figure figuring they have the wrong one.

All the characters from the first series were also re-released in 1975 along with the second series. This also coincided with Mego's switch from the metal riveted body to the larger plastic pinned one, so all 10 figures from the both series can be found with either style body. The second series also had 3 card variations. The difference between the first and second issue cards is really insignificant as it relates only to the addition of trademark information. At some point, for some unknown reason, Mego decided to switch the names of the General Urko and Ursus figures leading to a third issue card for the whole second wave that reflected the name switch. In 1975, Mego re-released the Tree House and Village play sets and also added a Fortress and Forbidden Zone. According to the '75 dealer catalog all play sets with the exception of the Village were offered to retailers as Gift sets which included the figures. To date, only the Tree house has been found like this. 1975 also bought more ape accessories. Besides the re-release of the action stallion, a Jail, Battering Ram, Throne, and Catapult and Wagon were also made available. A set of Bend'n Flex figures based on the first wave of figures was also released.

The Planet of the Apes films were not only a phenomenon in the United States but worldwide. When children in those countries demanded Ape toys, many companies answered the call by negotiating deals with Mego. In the UK, Bradgate/Palitoy released the first and second series of figures. The figures were identical in every way except the packaging. The first series had the same card fronts as their US counterparts but the color was changed for the Soldier Ape (light blue vs. green) and Cornelius (orange vs. blue) and Zaius ( ???? vs. orange). The back of the cards differed completely promising more toys to come. For the release of the second series, the entire card was revamped. All figures were released on "art" cards which pictured the face of a soldier ape on the front and nine characters on the back (the original astronaut didn't make the cut). These second issue palitoy cards are considered one of, if not, the best designed and most attractive packages to ever grace a Mego figure. The UK had one ape accessory that was unique to that country, the Rock Launcher. It was basically the catapult part of the catapult and wagon released in the US. There is also a variation of the Soldier Ape uniform which seems to be unique to UK released figures. This is a purplish/ burgundy tunic with sewn on cuffs. It can be found on the Soldier Ape and General Ursus In Japan, the first wave of five figures was released by Bullmark (a company known for their roto-cast vinyl toys). The figures were exactly the same as the U.S. releases; the only difference was the packaging. Apart from obviously having Japanese text, the figures were not carded but boxed, in an oversized window box which made it possible to view the entire figure from head to toe. Each figure was posed inside the box and behind the figure a booklet depicted the toys in different dioramas. In the back of the box, the Tree house, Village, and Action Stallion are pictured but it is not known if any of these actually made it to market in their own unique packaging. To date, none have been found. In Canada all the Mego Ape merchandise available in the US was also available there with no package or figure variations that has been noted with two exceptions. The Tree house was packaged in a much smaller box than the US version and was bilingual (English / French). Canadian children also got a deluxe Catapult and Wagon set which also included a horse.

In Mexico, Cipsa negotiated the license from Mego to produce Ape figures. In the 1970's, Mexican law required that all toys that were sold in Mexico had to be produced in Mexico. This paved the way for some very "creative" and unique figure and package variations. The line included Soldado Ursus, General Urko, Dr. Zaius, Cornelius, and Bill (the astronaut). All the apes were packaged with an M16 rifle, a unique top, a brown t2 body, tall black (Dr. Zaius) boots, and no pants. Bill (Alan Virden head), perhaps inspired by a character of the same name seen in the 'APES' animated series, came with a unique white burlap vest, white pants and moccasins. All the figures were released in an oversized solid box with flap. Since the flaps were glued shut, there is really no collector friendly way of removing the figure. The Tree house Jail, Battering Ram, Horse Catapult/Wagon set and Throne were also available in Mexico each in its own unique version of the US packaging.

With the cancellation of the TV show it seemed Ape mania was over or at least for Mego. No third wave of figures was ever planned and by mid 1976 as Mego prepared for Toy fair the line was not even offered to US retailers anymore. It shows how fickle the toy market is, even today, hot one minute, gone the next. Still, Planet of the Apes proved to be a major homerun for Mego, and for all the children who were able to create their own ape adventures with some of the most playable action figures ever produced.

In the months leading up to Christmas of 1974, Mego's Planet of the Apes toys became the hottest selling toys in the country. Mego held special promotions at retailers in many states sending actors dressed in full ape make up to visit with kids and parents and push the line. Mego's projected sales of ape merchandise at retail by Christmas of that year was $16 million. The line was a huge success and a second series of figures and play sets was inevitable.


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