When I think of the iconic cartoon moments from my childhood, a number of sequences flash into my mind: He-Man holding out his sword and shouting, "By the power of Grayskull!"; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles partying their way through the sewers under New York City; the Joes foiling Cobra's attack in the opening of GI Joe; Lionel's eyes looking through the guard on his sword as it glows; and the five colorful lions assembling to form the mighty Voltron. So powerful are these moments that all of them were tied to toy lines meant to allow children to recreate them at home, roleplaying the greatest moments of their Saturday morning cartoons.
When it comes to Voltron, the lion force was a bit of a holy grail for me. I didn't have any friends who had all the lions (at most a kid might have one or two) and given my parent's seeming unwillingness to blow the mortgage money on my toy habits, I never bothered to push for anything Voltron. At least with the Transformers toys if you had a few members of a Combiner, you could still mass a decent battle between Autobots and Decepticons. With Voltron if you only had some of the lions, you were going to feel pathetic every time you looked at your incomplete collection.
In the years since the 1980s, a number of toy companies have launched and relaunched Voltron toy lines. Often the reimagined Voltron toys were meant to compete with some other property that may have been inspired by Voltron (or its source material, the Japanese cartoon "Beast King GoLion.") In each instance the toys seemed either too cheaply made or too expensive for me to invest in, and so I have let them pass me by.
Recently Netflix launched a new cartoon called "Voltron: Legendary Defender," created by Dreamworks Animation and helmed by Joaquim Dos Santos (who is known for his work on "Justice League Unlimited" as well as the "Avatar: The Last Airbender" cartoons). This new imagining of Voltron has received high critical praise for its story and characterization, and many fans were overjoyed when Playmates Toys announced that they would be releasing the official toyline to coincide with the show. Again, I was very tempted to climb aboard and pick up the new sleek "Legendary Defender" lions so I could finally have my own combined Voltron, but I held off because it didn't quite speak to my 1980s sensibilities.
I was rewarded for waiting with the release of an all new set of five lions called "Voltron Classics" and designed to closely represent the original show (with a few nods to more modern versions as well as the original "Beast King GoLion" thrown in for good measure).
Each lion comes packaged with the Lion Blades (meant to be held in the lion's mouths) lasers and missiles that you may or may not remember from the originals. The "arm" lions also include the giant sword and shield that Voltron uses in his combined form to brutally slice his enemies. The black "torso" lion also has an electronic sound feature that plays recreations of the sounds from the original show. It senses the transformation process and calls out the addition of each color lion with phrases from their pilots.
These "classics" toys are as faithful a recreation of the original animated versions as you are likely to find at this price point. You can assemble your own full Voltron for $110-140 depending on where you buy the lions, and the more collector-oriented sets out there (those with diecast parts and chromed weapons) might set you back something in the neighborhood of $400.
While my lions have a little sloppy paint here and there, they feel very solid. The individual lions might have hollow legs, but every joint has a strong and satisfying ratchet that keeps them able to bear weight and hold fairly dynamic poses. The assembled combiner is able to make dynamic poses and hold his weapons firmly (thanks to the spring-loaded lion "mouths" that form his hands) without sagging or falling over. While the black lion is slightly elongated to allow for his electronics, I don't feel that it affects the overall presentation, which means that your combined Voltron will look great posed on a shelf and commanding attention.
One very amazing detail to note is that each lion's package has a small bio of the pilot written on the back. If you pay attention, you'll notice that the biography printed for Pidge (the green lion pilot) is nongender specific. People interested in representation in media should be thrilled to know that this is an intentional nod to the fact that Pidge has become a bit of a cult symbol for transgendered youth. The original Pidge (in the 1980s cartoon) was a bit androgynous and had inspired theories about their status on the LGBT spectrum for years. In the new "Voltron: The Legendary Defender," we are explicitly informed that Pidge was not properly gendered by their team, and thus Pidge's status as a trans-hero was solidified. None of us should be surprised that Joaquim Dos Santos, who was partly responsible for the same-sex romance between Korra and Asame in "Avatar: The Legend of Korra," would continue the work of LGBT representation in the worlds of Voltron as well.
With this new "Voltron Classics" set, Playmates Toys has finally given collectors like me a chance to own a piece of our childhoods that won't break the bank. This is a solid set of toys that can be handled or displayed with confidence and evokes those thrilling cartoon moments from Saturday mornings when Keith would shout "Activate interlock, dynotherms connected..." and five colored lions would combine to form Voltron.