There is an old adage that some folks have faces that only a mother can love: in the world of plush pals, that hardly ever seemed the case … until Mezco hit the scene. The renegade toy company creates plush critters, action figures, dolls, and other novelties that incorporate some of the darker elements of life. If your personality is more inclined toward lollipops, sunshine, and strolls in the park, Mezco Toyz is not your company. It is much more tuned into furtive tiptoeing in graveyards, moonlight, and things that go Pop in the night.
I bring up this alternative universe because my son recently discovered “Mars Attacks!” As a Tim Burton fan—I love “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood,” and “Beetlejuice”—“Mars Attacks” was one of his critically lambasted offerings. It boasted a huge cast of A-listers (Jack Nicholson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Annette Bening, Glenn Close, and Natalie Portman, among others) but a very cynical look at potential human-intergalactic relations. Basically, the Martians were set to shoot first with laser beams—and ask no questions later.
My nearly 10-year-old son caught an airing of this 1996 flick at his friend’s house, and I have heard a running commentary about landmarks being blown up, ingénue heads being grafted onto dog bodies (SJP’s face ends up on the torso of a Chihuahua), and other revolting but fascinating tidbits. For a pre-pubescent boy, this movie is like “Citizen Kane.” It is loaded with memorable visuals, laugh-out-loud quotes, and furiously fast destruction. What more could a tween boy want?
Well, apparently the “Mars Attacks!” fan base is also clamoring for plush tie-ins, and that’s where Mezco comes in. They are getting ready to release a Martian from the series, complete with oversized brain and really spooky, blood-red bug eyes. I saw the creature at Toy Fair, and was instantly creeped out. This isn’t a face that a mother can love; this is a face that fan boys (and fan girls) of all ages will love.
On Facebook, I’ve been seeing some of my friends who are very into Comic Con and other sci-fi gatherings talking a lot about “Mars Attacks!” I wondered why, and then realized it’s because the original concept is 50 years old this year! It’s hard to believe but these enormous-skulled invaders began their lives as Topps trading cards in 1962. I had no idea that their legacy was part of the United States’ Cold War angst. While Americans were watching the sky in fear and dread of Cuban and Soviet missiles, Topps tapped into this anxiety by marketing the Martian invasion cards.
Now, I’m not a historian, but that had to have been on the mind of the trading-card executives when they issued these paper depictions of the ultimate threat. Pretty ingenious stuff!
Cold War nerves have subsided, but still global jitters never fully retreat (I’m blogging this as North Korea threatens to launch a long-range missile). The “Mars Attacks!” franchise holds a fascination for adults who remember those days of “duck and cover” firsthand; it also attracts a new generation—younger than Gen X and Gen Y—maybe Gen Z?—that responds to cool-looking aliens and all kinds of otherworldly mayhem.
My son has no idea about Détente or perestroika or glasnost, but he knows what he likes. He likes to watch eye-popping explosions, cartoony carnage, and computer-generated genocide, BUT it’s got to have a happy ending of sorts.
The “Mars Attacks!” film does conclude with the humans managing to defeat the extra-terrestrial interlopers by blasting Slim Whitman music at them. The creatures can’t survive the loud, falsetto yodeling of the country balladeer.
So, prepare for a lot of chatter about Martians this summer from your young sons and your young-at-heart husbands. The 50th anniversary of this property is bound to be universally saluted in surprising ways. (Mezco is going to unveil action figures in 6-inch and 3.75-inch scale; Topps is re-releasing the original trading cards; plus, a book exploring half-a-century of the intergalactic images and their impact on pop culture is going to be published.) I am already gearing up on discussing with my son what I would do if a real-life space invader landed in my backyard. I’m sure one of the 8-inch plush figures is going to be touching down in my son’s bedroom!