Toy Background – A Look Back at the LJN Toyline
Written 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…
In the U.K. and some places in Europe, the LJN toyline was licensed to be manufactured by Rainbow Toys. Rainbow Toys was located in Oldham, Manchester/England. They were set up in the same place as Toy Options LTD (this is the address you will find on some packaged companions figures). Toy Options was a seperate company from Rainbow Toys, but it was Rainbow Toys who rented floor space of a mill from Toy Options.
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.