A Closer Look at the LJN Toyline
by Blackiecats & Manny with Excerpts from Lee’s Toy Magazine
The Beginning of Something Special
Following in the footsteps of Mattel and Filmation Studios with their success of the Masters of the Universe toyline and animated series, LJN Toys Ltd., the late great toy manufacturer, grabbed the ThunderCats license from Telepix and the late Ted Wolf, creator of the ThunderCats to start manufacturing and producing toys. It was a figure-based toy line that expanded to include vehicles, playsets, and role-play accessories. Without qualification, select toys in this line boasted some of the more ingenious play-action features in action figure history, not the least of which were the Berserkers. The “Battle-matic Action” phraseology and design that had actually been carried over from a previous LJN brand (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), was integral to the brand’s popularity with kids.
In 1985 LJN Toys unleashed the brilliant ThunderCats toyline to the public. The ThunderCats toyline was probably LJN at their finest. All the figures were highly detailed and in most cases, the designs stuck to the concept of the animated series of which the toyline was based on. Unlike Mattel and it’s Masters of the Universe line, LJN was able to produce figures that not only had unique molds for each figure, but differed in almost every way imaginable — from head sculpts and weapons, to cool action features.
The line ran for approximately three years, with each wave consisting of figures, vehicles, accessories, and playsets. In the toyline’s peak, LJN created different promotions — mail away exclusives, fast food restaurant promotions, and kid’s clubs. And while there were other toys that were starting to come into their own in the United States (such as Transformers and G.I. Joe), ThunderCats held steady with their vast array of merchandise and promotions.
In total, the LJN toyline produced over 30 different action figures and about a dozen different vehicles and accessories (not including the mini-figures). Around 1987, right before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze started to hit the United States, the toyline was cancelled. With the end of the cartoon, came along the end of the toyline.
In addition to the six inch action figure line, Kidsworks, then the FOB division of Panosh Place Inc. released a line of 2-inch PVC figures that included carded single packs, multi-packs, a weapons pack, two boxed playsets, and a belt for carrying the figures.
While the mini-figures were not as popular as their six inch counterpart, the mini line was able to spread into different countries, along with tons of variations.
Unfortunately LJN (and it’s UK counterpart, Rainbow Toys) ceased trading in the early nineties. But collectors will never forget the great toylines they gave us, especially the great ThunderCats line.
The popularity of the line comes sadly in the lack of packaged figures still around today. Such lines as the Masters of the Universe carded figures are plentiful with many warehouse supplies being around when that toy line died out. With the ThunderCats toyline however, the supply produced met the demand; therefore few warehouse finds existed after the line died. This is what makes the LJN ThunderCats packaged figures so special and highly collectable today.
Some loose figures are also highly collectable as well, especially complete with their weapons. Some weapons had small parts or were quite delicate…so breakage and misplacing of the items was likely with kids in the eighties. A good example of a rare weapon is ‘Bengali’s hammer’ seen to your right.
Across the Atlantic… Distribution Overseas
LJN pretty much manufactured the ThunderCats toyline by themselves during it’s run, except for a few additions that were produced by Playful Toys for the Argentinian market only. The LJN ThunderCats toys were distributed for sale in other countries by a number of different toy distributers native to that certain country. However towards the end of the toyline it would be common to find toys on LJN only branded cards (perhaps being left over production runs from the American market).
Except for the Playful South American toys, all the other toys were pretty much identical for the most part, however there were some production variations, such as different paint jobs and slightly different weapons (See Foreign Figures for more details).
This page will guide you through the different companies that sold LJN/Telepictures products and where those products were licensed for sale.
LJN Toys began business as a subsidiary of the Japanese company, Matsushita. In 1986 they were bought out by Universal, then 2 years later Acclaim Entertainment bought the company off Universal. Acclaim Entertainment suffered heavy financial problems declaring themselves bankrupt and went out of business. Therefore all of their subsidiary companies were shut down including LJN. LJN produced all the toys for Telepictures (the owner of the ThunderCats cartoon series) and the same toys were distributed around the world via many different companies that licenced the toys from Telepictures and LJN. LJN distributed the ThunderCats toys in the United States between 1985 and 1988. American LJN headed cards were also distributed in other countries such as the UK, Europe and Australia. In France the ThunderCats name was re-branded to Cosmocats and Cosmocats headed cards were produced for the French market under the LJN logo.
Rainbow Toys were LJN toys’ United Kingdom production arm, which produced the ThunderCats toys for the UK and Ireland. Rainbow toys were located in Oldham, Manchester/England. They were set up in the same place as Toy options (now Character Options) and this is why you will find the Toy Options address on some packaged companions figures. Toy Options was a separate company from Rainbow toys, as Rainbow toys rented floor space of a mill from Toy options. Because Rainbow Toys were a much smaller production arm than LJN itself, less stock was produced. Although the target market for Rainbow toys ThunderCats line was the UK and Ireland, some Rainbow Toys headed figures did pop up in Eastern Europe. Rainbow Toys distributed the ThunderCats toys between 1986 to around 1992 when I last saw them in stores. I think this was mainly due to the episodes of the cartoon being spread out between it’s debut in 1987 and when the last half of season 1 aired between 1990-1991.
Grand Toys is a Canadian toy distributer that has been in business for over 40 years and it is still in business today. It specialises in distributing toys, stationary and other accessories featuring many popular characters and brands that it has licensed, for sale within Canada. Grand Toys licensed the ThunderCats toys in the 1980’s and distributed them all over Canada. You can visit their website at www.grand.com
ChildBro were based in Hong Kong, distributing the toys in Asia.
Otto Simon were based in Holland and Belgium and distributed the toy line in Eastern Europe on behalf of Childbro. They distributed the toys throughout the late 80’s and into the early 90’s.
Glasslite is a Brazilian company who distributed LJN ThunderCats toys for the Brazilian market. Glasslite produced the 4 main ThunderCats (Lion-O, Panthro, Tygra and Cheetara), Mumm-Ra and Monkian. It is currently unknown what other characters they distributed. Card backs did also feature a picture of the Lion-O with pvc Snarf, but it is currently unknown whether this version of Lion-O was ever released by Glasslite in Brazil. The packages were totally different to the blister cards all the other companies had packaged the ThunderCats figures as the Glasslite figures were boxed instead of being on cards. However, Glasslite did release the figures on blister cards as well.
Playful was based in Argentina and distributed ThunderCats toys in South America. However the toys that Playful produced were not the LJN toys. The series of figures released in South America by Playful do look like the LJN figures for the most part, but they are not re-packed LJN toys like what was done with the companies I have already spoke about above. The Playful figures were fully licensed by Telepictures and are not bootlegs. These figures seem to be made from the LJN moulds but are are made up from parts of different characters. For example the LJN Jaga’s body was used for the Playful Lynx-o. The plastic used to manufacture the Playful figures seems very cheap and you will often find little bits of plastic sticking out of the seams of these figures. The Battle-Matic actions on these toys can be quite clunky and stiff and many figures were found to have quite bad paint jobs. Playful also made up some of their own toys that LJN never released called the Shuttleguns. (See Foreign Figures for more information on the Playful toys).
Our collector’s toy guide, while a continual work in progress, promises to be one of the most definitive showcases of the LJN ThunderCats toyline on the net.