Thursday, 12 November 2015

A Tribute To... Firffels!

Everybody knows that the Fird is the word. 


I present to you Remco’s Firffels poseable figures:


Released in 1985 at conveniently the same time Hasbro’s Wuzzles poseable figures they are conveniently the exact same concept of two cartoon animals smooshed into one, they claim to be The Original Two-Feature Creatures, which I’d believe if Remco ever originated anything in their entire time as a company and didn’t instead make all their income from parents who didn’t quite know what that thing their kids were into was called and/or couldn’t afford that thing their kids were into and thought Remco’s wares would be an acceptable substitute. As that IS true, I’m just going to assume ‘The Original’ is another part in of their ploy to convince parents who didn’t quite know what that thing their kids were into was called

*ehem* I’d be wrong.



It turns out the Firffels come from a children’s book and tape set called ‘Whoever Heard of a Fird?’ written by Othello Bach and narrated by Joel Grey1, which was published in October 1984, nearly a full year before the Wuzzles first aired so these
ARE the original smooshed cartoon animals. This, hyperbole aside, actually isn’t too much of a surprise, Remco actually has a history of licensing pre-existing concepts that could be presented as knock-offs of upcoming/current toy fads – they did it with DC Comics when they licenced Sgt. Rock and Warlord (and Hercules Unchained and Arak: Son of Thunder) to be their G.I. Joe: Real American Hero and Masters of the Universe knock-offs and again with AWA Wrestling when the wanted to get in on Wrestling Superstars’ and MUSCLE’s markets. It’s a really clever idea and I don’t doubt helped keep the original toy companies lawyers at bay2, the book was a genuine success and probably could have supported a merchandise line in its own right (lines have been based on less, need I remind you all that Care Bears came from greetings cards and the Incredible Crash Dummies came from a road safety advert that didn’t even air in most of the countries the franchise succeeded in). Now I’m actually not saying that Wuzzles ripped off Firffels, if I was I’d just say it, like I’d say Lion King totally ripped of Kimba the White Lion, I’m sure that’s what Othello thought and who can blame her but it can easily take a year to develop a toyline from scratch, especially when you’re co-developing it like Hasbro was (with Disney), I’m not saying it’s impossible that someone on the team picked up Who Ever Heard of a Fird and rushed into work with it shouting ‘I’ve got the perfect idea for the Disney job’ just there’s no guarantee that it happened, especially with only an 11 month gap between the book’s publishing and the first episode of Wuzzels hitting the airwaves.


Here’s how Bach herself tells the story from the site promoting the recent reprint of Whoever Heard of a Fird (which features some kick-ass new artwork):
“At the height of "Fird's" success, with over 100 licensees cramming the stores with children’s merchandise and an animation contract with Hanna Barbera, the book and all of the merchandise suddenly vanished from the shelves.  Although she lost the rights to several other published children’s books at the same time, Othello has never received a reasonable explanation for what happened.
   However, like Fird, Othello refused to give up. For 20 years, she tried to regain the rights to her work. Entertainment attorneys assured her it would never happen. They said, "It can't be done!"  But she did it. Today, with the rights to all of her work securely back in her hands, the highly-collectible Whoever Heard of a Fird? is the first to be re-released,”


What she neglects to mention there is that Hana-Barbera never actually produced a Fird cartoon (I think they may have done the animation for the toy adverts though) and of course I’m guessing that the stuff didn’t ‘mysterious vanish’ but rather with the Wuzzles brief fad over and with no animated special of its own Firffell’s sales dried up but I could be wrong. Anyway she isn’t wrong in saying that Firfell’s got a massive merch push, they had lunchboxes, cuddly toys, Read Along book and record sets, sowing kits (remember them? Where you could sow the same plush you could buy already made? Weird things) and colouring books.


And a set of poseable figures of course, which is what this post is actually supposed to be about. I love poseable figures, they were a two-punch of success – allowing toy companies to market action figures to girls while allowing boys to own toys from a show not aimed at them without questioning their sexuality (I’ve never liked the whole ‘boys/girls toy’ thing or the stigma that comes with them, but that should be pretty obvious I guess) – and personally for me they allow me to have action figures of more franchises. I am however not that knowledgeable about them, I didn’t know Gummi Bears had a line until this year (when I found one at a bootsale) for instance and I had no idea Remco had put out their own Wuzzles poseable line. I have no idea why I hadn’t thought they would because they did the same with the Care Bears poseable figures (Dream Bears) but I never thought to Google ‘Remco knock-off Wuzzles’  - I really should have. I found the Firffels while idly eBaying Wuzzles (as I’ve already admitted to hoarding vintage Care Bears toys it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I do the same for Wuzzles, I’m also very fond of Kissyfur) and snatched up all the seller head, 5 figures for £25 plus postage, not bad at all. I also shouldn’t have been surprised to find they were based on something other than Remco’s desire to make money off the back of other people’s ideas because my first thought when seeing them was ‘holy shit these are so good they could BE Wuzzles’ and have you seen what Remco produce when they have to come up with their knock-offs themselves? As much as I like Dream Bears or The Warrior Beasts they’re nowhere close to being as well designed as your average Firffel.   



The figures themselves are a pretty good fit for the ‘real’ poseable lines too, they’re slightly shorter (and shinier) than the Wuzzles poseables but then the Wuzzles poseables are actually pretty tall, taller than the Care Bears, Gummi Bears and Rainbow Brite ones I have anyway (well, not as tall as Cold Heart but he’s a full-grown man). They do look a little bit cheaper but that’s because they are, with cheaper plastic and hollow heads and limbs, but I have a feeling that Remco were selling these as a full price line, too much work seems to have gone into them – each of them has a very personalised card front, they were part of a pretty large merchandise line and they’re simply much higher quality than the likes of Lost World of the Warlord or Official All-Star Wrestlers or those Transformers they made. However even with the slightly crappier quality they’re a really good fit for the Wuzzles, who only had one wave of figures, I could easily show someone Fird or Shamel and convince even those who grew up with the Wuzzles that these were from a second or third wave of the toyline. It’s one of the real benefits of knock-off lines that often gets overlooked, it allows fans to have MORE, more beyond what the official toyline produced, they may not be official but they’re super compatible and play and display great with the real things.



The main character, Fird (chicken + bird) was raised by Dicken but his family had never heard of a fird so he went in search of a herd of fird with his assistant Snyder (um…I have no idea), pretty cute and also a little bit sad, as children’s books should be. The Fird figure though is a little bit evil, he doesn’t look so much an ugly duckling as he does a teenage car-jacker, looking like he’s the only First around because he killed all the rest and fed them to your dog, maybe that’s a bit too far, but he does look like he enjoys throwing fireworks at old ladies at least. That’s right I absolutely think he’s brilliant, a mischievous little bastard to try and lead Mooseal astray. Remco didn’t scrimp on the paint-apps for these figures (with Fird here having the most, pretty well applied too) but it’s a shame the didn’t give them any accessories, I’d’ve liked a little Snyder to accompany my Fird on all his dastardly acts of vandalism and petty crime.



I think Bertle (bear + turtle) is my favourite, he just looks like such a nice guy, incidentally the cards for these come have two different colour backgrounds – pink and blue, so I’m guessing that as this is the 1980s that probably indicates whether the character is a boy or a girl so I’ll be using that as a guide when picking a pronoun for them, from what I can tell Bertle and Fird ARE male so my theory holds water. Bertle’s kind of a carefree, lazy bloke in the book but his figure makes him look like a worrying but caring big ol’ softy, I think I may totally ship Bertle and Butterbear (buttertle?). Interestingly (or not) Bertle is one of characters who’s figures were completely recoloured from their original book and prototype depictions, Bertle went from the more natural looking greyish brown and green to the more Wuzzle blue, pink and…what are we calling his fur, grape? Grape.





I don’t know much about Shamel because I haven’t actually read the Whoever Heard of a Fird book, when my copy turns up from America maybe I’ll revise this and Elephunky’s paragarphs. She hooks up with Fird on his journey to find his people I think, she look the nervous sort, doesn’t she? Like she’s a big scaredy cat?  She’s certainly the best sculpted of the set though she feels one of the cheapest (Fird is the worst I think, he has the feel of a dog toy, that’s another reason why I like him – seriously dog toys are wasted on dogs – but it is a fact) actually she reminds me of these old Play-Doh molds I had, which were animals that you opened and inside you could cast a Play-Doh baby for them, which is a bit sick really. I don’t know if my picture shows it because I’m a terrible photographer but she has the nicest purple parts, it’s a really pleasing purple, it was originally going to be brown so that was a nice save, purple is usually better than making your Firffel look like she has a turd halo.





The only Firffel I currently don’t own (I nicked this image off an old eBay auction) is the horrendously named Dicken (dog + chicken), I’m sure Bach was thinking more of the author of A Christmas Carrol rather than a slang term for particularly forceful sexual intercourse – who knows, maybe the phrase ‘a good hard dicking’ didn’t’ exist in 1984, paedophiles and employment didn’t so you never known – but really it’s just best to avoid the word ‘dick’ all together when naming you character, especially if their name sounds like a verb involving the word ‘dick’, whether it’s been invented or not. Dicken and his wife and kids raised Fird despite not know what he was, so we can safely that that the old boy’s an awesome bloke, his figure makes him look a lot younger, dumber and hyperactive though, more like Doug from Up!. He also got himself Wuzzled up for his final figure, with his brown fur and yellow and red wings being replaced by light orange and hot pink  



I’m actually very phobic of frogs and toads but it never carries over to cartoon frogs, I like me a good cartoon frog and Butterfrog (butterfly + frog) is one good cartoon frog, she also really show how unique each Firffels is and how much tooling money Remco sunk into these things – if you have the Care Bears or Wuzzles poseables you could notice that really only Mooseal (Wuzzles) and Cozey Heart (Care Bears) are that different in terms of physique and that both of those lines have a lot of part reuse but each Firffel is are 100% original tools, now I suppose you could argue that it’s just that the Care Bears (and to a lesser extent Wuzzles) simply allow for more part reuse because of their designs whereas Remco had no choice but to make the Firfells out of unique parts each but I’d argue that this is Remco, the company that was so cheap they reused their Warlord bodies for wrestlers, making all of them look like they were wearing loin-cloths and fur boots. It’s just a fun turnaround to find the cheap knock-off company sinking more money into their line than the two big toy manufacturers (Hasbro and Kenner).  Butterfrog had some of the biggest changes from prototype to final figure, not simply just recoloured but also having whole parts re-sculpted, her wings completely changed shape and pattern, and her legs and antennae were redone, she also switched from a very light green and white to a dark and light green with her wings completely recoloured to two tone rather than three. I honestly cant imagine why this did this, maybe it was to differentiate her from Butterbear more? Who knows?




Elephonkey (elephant + monkey)  is the most like what I’d expect a Remco Wuzzle knock-off to look like, she just has that ‘Remco’ look to her sculpt, she looks like someone tried to draw their own Wuzzle but clearly couldn’t emulate the style of the real artists, she also looks pretty cheap and has the shittiest paint apps. This doesn’t mean I don’t like her, she may look the least designed and stylised but she also looks the most like a Hasbro Wuzzle figure to me (which is odd), maybe it’s because she’s made up of two animals the Wuzzled used? Which is probabl also why she looks very much like what I’d imagine a Remco Snuzzle to be, she’s completely unoriginal – except of course she’s not because she was around a good 12 months before anyone had heard of a Rhinokey or an Eleroo. She also got a massive change in colour scheme between book/prototype and final going from the sensible combination of grey fur body and flesh head, hands and chest to bright fucking blue with yellow hands, feet and belly and a crop of bright pink hair, there is no doubt in my mind why this was – to scream IT COULD BE THAT WUZZLE THING at inattentive parents and easily fooled children – but it also had the additional sided effect of making her look way less fucking terrifying (it also seems like they resculpted her head and body, which could explain why her face looks so ‘Remco’ rather than like the illustrations as the rest do, but again it makes her look way less scary, original Elephonkey looks more like Frankenphonkey).    



And there you have Firffels, who were there then gone, mysteriously vanishing apparently. It’s a bit of a shame, the book has some great characters who would have made fine poseable figures – including the musical Blizard (bird + lizard), the magical Hyenant (hyena + ant), cute Girouse (giraffe + moue) and the sad but loveable (if not really bloody weird) Woose (worm + moose) all of whom could have filled out a second wave of toys. The toys can be a little pricey, I got mine pretty cheap (they were carded too) at a fiver each, but loose they don’t seem to be much more than a regular Care Bear or Wuzzle poseable figure (About £8-10) and the sow-your-own-cuddly-toy versions of the plushes are very reasonably priced too, the regular plushes not so much but surely saying ‘I cuddled up with my Dicken last night’ is worth any price?


OTP
1 The Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret, though I… mostly know him as Doc from Buffy, I’m so uncultured (I do actually own Cabaret on DVD, I just watch Buffy more, yes even season five.)
2 In fact I’ve heard some people argue that Remco’s Lost World of the Warlord wasn’t a knock-off but just happened to come out at the same time as MOTU ala Robo Force and Transformers – I think Warlord may have got to market earlier? - except those two toys are completely different other than being warring robots and Lost World of the Warlord figures look exactly like He-Man figures to the point of being in the same ‘shitting outdoors’ squat pose so I don’t believe it for a second.  



1 comment:

  1. Maybe I'm just biased but I remember seeing the book as a kid and seeing a commercial for firffels on a kids klassics tape that I still own to this day way before the wuzzles. Honestly if Disney sank a lot of money into a "stolen" fird story and then they found out oops firffels is a real thing with a real toy line, that firrfels just started to "disappear". Again I grew up with firffels so maybe I'm just biased. Where did you get the proto type photos? Thanks for the read.

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