I remember seeing the preview for the Ghost Whale Skeleton and going "I think I need this." I got it at Tuesday Morning on clearance for about ten bucks, which is an absolute bargain for a giant plastic thing that glows - the accessories and rock base are a bonus.
In the 1990s and 2000s - and now - it was not obvious what Playmobil wanted to be. Usually its themes were similar to what LEGO was doing in a non-licensed sense, but Playmobil would go down weirder corners, or pick up on the zeitgeist at a time that sometimes seemed early or late. The Ghost Pirate theme wasn't their first ghostly pirate offerings (as there were some in the 1990s, like the Patch-Eye Pirate 4572 - but that predated the Johnny Depp movies. And this theme came after the initial trilogy was over. Toy trends tend to coincide with movies or sometimes follow them a few years after the home videos made them ubiquitous, and this seems to be a case of the latter. Not content to merely make spooky boats, Playmobil added mutant sea creatures and serpents and spooky skeletons. In the USA a lot of these lines could be found on closeout. Toys without licenses can be a tough sell to collectors, so weird toy junkies like me will scrape up whatever we can get cheaply.
Playmobil holds a weird place in the toy business - it's a weird import, it's a dollhouse, it's a preschool toy, it's an elementary school toy, and with a few lines like this it was arguably an action brand. The skeleton masks a cannon with a launching projectile, plus there are clear rectangles inside so figures can stand at an angle and not slide out. (Think foot pegs.) The sperm whale (I think) skull has an articulated neck and an opening jaw - and this thing charges quickly and glows nicely. The skull has a big indentation so a figure can sit in it - which matches the real sperm whale skull. I assume that's why they picked this model, but since Playmobil also made a small sperm whale animal toy it might be intentional.
Assembly is easy, and you can hang some vines off it if you want. I think it's overkill - but I would almost say the Playmobil aspect of this toy actually makes it less interesting. A giant, weird glowing whale skeleton needs no embellishment, but here we are. It can shoot a rocket and ghosts can hang out and haunt it. It's potentially disturbing, but who cares? It's cool, and you can litter a couple of tiny green crabs and an orange eel around the base too.
The set also includes two ghostly pirates. The "skin" and "bones" on them glow in the dark, and glow pretty well if you charge them with your UV LED flashlight. Their tattered clothes look pretty spooky, and the painted eye sockets and blue lips work well. One has a fancy hat with a feather, blue boots, and a coat that's barely clinging on to the corporeal realm. The other figure lost his shoes long ago, with tattered clothes and more visible bones. A red sash hangs across his chest for reasons beyond my understanding. Both figures have slightly shaggy hair and swords. One of them even has dings and looks like it saw a lot of combat.
In the context of the line, this series was more or less its own thing - spooky pirates and monster creatures, doing their own thing, sailing on their own, and there was no group for them to antagonize specifically as part of the series. Your imagination would be needed to kick in to decide if these are going to haunt your existing pirates, or classic naval ships, or modern cargo haulers. Modern kids don't necessarily have tons of imagination as ideas from the public domain aren't necessarily what American kids were thinking about, but pirates are perpetually popular in some form. You just had to supply your own play time script. Since Playmobil caved in on entertainment licenses a few years ago (Ghostbusters, Dreamworks Dragons, Scooby-Doo, Back to the Future, etc.) I've read many a fan wary of the line losing its unique place of having to dig into real life (and their sketchbooks) for ideas for toys. American toy companies have leaned on existing brands and licenses for adult fan dollars, and it surely paid off big for LEGO.
I like this set. It's weird, it was pretty cheap for the size of the toy - nearly 14-inches from beak to what survived of its tail - but it is a little hollow. It has some great parts, but nowhere to store the spare projectile and the skull is just there to decorate the landscape, or to be impaled on a sword. It goes wonderfully with an existing collection, and may be the kind of thing new fans discover as they make the leap to Playmobil now that licenses are bringing more eyeballs to the 47-year-old toy line. If you see one at or near the original retail price, buy it. If you see the skeleton somewhere, buy that too. It's not for everybody, but it's the kind of thing we don't see a lot in American toy lines, and we'd probably never have seen it if Playmobil had got the license from Disney to do the movie pirate toys instead.
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