Few science-fiction concepts were as durable as the one that fueled Planet of the Apes.
The success of the first Planet of the Apes film in 1968 led to four hit sequels, a live-action television show, and an animated series. Any entertainment series with that level of success is bound to inspire tie-in toys, and Planet of the Apes was no exception. This film and television juggernaut led to a series of action figures that became some of the most popular toys of the 1970s.
Mego’s Planet of the Apes toys were the follow-up to their wildly successful line of World’s Greatest Super Heroes figures.
The first line of Apes toys consisted of a series of 8″ plastic figures modelled after the characters from the Planet of the Apes movies and were released in 1974 to capitalise on the debut of an original Planet of the Apes show on television.
The major characters reproduced were Cornelius, Zira and Dr Zaius, and – since Mego could not get the rights to reproduce Charlton Heston’s image – a generic Astronaut figure to replace his Taylor character.
The first line of Planet of the Apes toys was rounded out by Soldier Apes, which were released with four slightly different costumes. Depending on which one you bought, the uniform would include a tunic that was Navy, Brown, Silver or “Lizard” (a scaly, shiny-looking material). They also came with bandoliers and rifles that had arm straps.
This first line of figures did quite well with toy fans, and their success inspired a second line of Planet of the Apes figures. This time, the figures were modelled after the characters from the television show.
The second series of Planet of the Apes figures included two new human characters, Burke and “Verdon” (the doll’s name was a typo since the character’s name was spelt on the show as Virdon). Both were attractively designed, with nicely-sculpted facial features and well-crafted ‘slave’ outfits complete with frayed sleeves and moccasins.
There was also Galen, a chimpanzee figure based on a character played by actor Roddy McDowall. Since McDowall also played Cornelius, the Galen figure looked a lot like the Cornelius figure.
The other two major characters in the second Planet of the Apes toy line were gorilla generals Ursus and Urko. Ursus had a smart-looking helmet moulded onto his head and wore a purple outfit topped off with a tunic. He also came with a machine gun and a bandolier that contained a detachable knife.
The Urko figure was similar to Ursus but did not have the moulded-on helmet. Urko also had a different uniform, which closely resembled the uniforms of the Soldier Apes.
There were also several Planet of the Apes playsets to use as backdrops for apocalyptic action. The Treehouse set included two bats, three machine guns, and a capture net. It also included a Jail and an Examination Table in case the apes wanted to study their human captives up close.
There was also a Village set that came with similar accessories but also included a cardboard backdrop that depicted the famous demolished Statue of Liberty shown in the first Planet of the Apes film (“You maniacs!”).
The Forbidden Zone was quite possibly the coolest of these playsets, depicting a half-demolished building that included a jail with a trap door.
Rounding out the Planet of the Apes toy line were some nifty accessories that made a collector’s ape action scenario complete. These included a Battering Ram on wheels that was perfect for busting down the cardboard walls of the playsets and a Catapult & Wagon set that functioned both as transportation and a weapon.
One of the most popular accessories was the Throne, which included a cage that transformed it into a trap. Other accessories included the Rock Launcher and the Action Stallion.
Despite their success, the Planet of the Apes toys were discontinued after the second series. Just the same, Planet of the Apes fans and toy lovers remember them fondly, and they continue to be highly valued items on the collector’s market today.
Their enduring appeal also inspired a 1998 line of 12″ Planet of the Apes figures from Hasbro. These figures were modelled on the movie characters and included an official Taylor figure.