What better place to start as I begin adding Funko Pop articles to Vinylmation Isle than with a post comparing Pop vinyls to Disney's Vinylmation?
A quick summary if you're not familiar with Funko Pop, Funko is a company that produces numerous lines of collectible figures. I would say the most popular and well-known line is their POP! vinyls, which are vinyl figures from various aspects of pop culture including movies, television shows, cartoons, and music icons. Disney is very prominent in the Pop vinyl line.
I held out on buying Funko Pop for the longest time because I really didn't need yet another collectible item to swallow all my money. If my memory serves me correctly, the first Pop vinyls I remember seeing were The Big Bang Theory characters and I just didn't get it. They had weird square shaped heads, no mouths, and didn't look like the characters from the show at all. Later on I came across WALL-E and Eve Pop figures and realized Funko made Disney figures too. I still wasn't into it because I didn't like the WALL-E and Eve designs, they were also too boxy and square, but the Disney characters definitely got my attention.
So what made me jump right in to Vinylmation and why didn't Pop vinyls grab me in the same way? Are both collectibles created equal?
The whole concept of Vinylmation seems to me to be artistic representations of various Disney characters and Disney parks attractions, all in the shape of Mickey. It's in the name "vinyl" and "mation", taken from animation. Fans therefore collect these little pieces of art and nostalgia and form a beautiful collection of different designs all with the same uniform shape, which makes them look amazing on display. Funko Pop vinyls don't have the same alluring concept to me as Vinylmation. They don't have a unique purpose in the way Vinylmation do. In the same way that Vinylmation have the common factor of each figure holding a Mickey shape (with the exception of Park Starz), Pop vinyls have a common factor too, which is big, round, black eyes on every figure. But Pop vinyls are just vinyl figures of icons from pop culture. They don't tell a story, they're not uniquely designed. There's somewhat of a theme to them (pop culture) but it's a very broad theme, unlike Vinylmation, with numerous sub-themes.
What drew me to Vinylmation was the personal connection. Each figure is a 3" piece of art that holds Disney memories for me. Sure there were seemingly random sets like High School and Wrestlers that were ugly as sin, strayed from the main idea of Vinylmation, and were sorely unsuccessful. But I focused my collecting efforts on the strong Parks series line. I loved to collect these small representations of my favorite Disney attractions, places and characters. I have a Vinylmation of the Empress Lilly to remember my third birthday party held there, I have Colonel Critchlow Suchbench who represents my many happy nights at the Adventurers Club. I have gorgeous figures of Carl and Ellie from Up, the first Disney movie I saw with my husband. The personal connection to these figures is part of what makes Vinylmation a true collectible in my opinion.
By contrast, Pop vinyls are much less personal. They're not made to reflect places and attractions, they're not even artistic representations of characters, they're just pop culture icons in plastic form, which to me feels more like a toy than a collectible. There's no thought process or concept art from an artist behind each Pop. What made Vinylmation unique was the challenge of having artists paint a design on a Mickey shaped canvas. Sure the vinyl could be Cinderella and have no deeper meaning than that, but it would be that artist's vision of what Cinderella looks like, drawn on a set canvas. Furthermore, in the early days, you'd even get a small card showing the Vinylmation's concept art along with the artist's signature. Just like certain items of memorabilia come with certificates or artist autographs, that's how Vinylmation felt with this awesome little card - a true collector's piece. Pop vinyls have no creativity or deeper meaning. They are simply cutesy looking figures of well known characters. They don't come in a beautifully designed box, they come in more standard looking boxes with plastic open windows that I think, again, make them look more like toys.
Vinylmation always felt like a collectible to me because of their exclusivity. They were available at Disney Stores, the Disney Parks, and on the Disney Store's website, enough locations that they were accessible but still not everyone had access to them. Pop vinyls are much more easy to access. They're sold at Walmart, Walgreens, Target, Toys R Us, Barnes and Noble, Game Stop, the list goes on. The easier level of access to Pop vinyls once again made them feel like a toy to me and they felt less special. Walt Disney World vacations had increased hype as collectors looked forward to stocking up on the latest Vinylmation releases while they were there, people made special trips to the Disney Store purely for Vinylmation, and we would stay up late throwing online release parties as we waited for new releases on the Disney Store's website. Collectors had such a sense of pride that they finally acquired the figure they wanted through these means. It doesn't feel as special to pick up a Pop vinyl along with your groceries.
There are some instances in which Pop vinyls are more exclusive. There are convention exclusives and other event exclusives, just like Disney had with Vinylmation. In that sense they are the on par by having limited releases. But when Disney had Vinylmation event exclusives for things like the Food & Wine Festival and trading events, they meant exclusives. You would not find those pieces at the Disney Store, or online. Conversely, Pop vinyls often have "exclusives" such as convention exclusives available at stores like Hot Topic and ThinkGeek, removing their convention exclusivity by being available outside of the convention they were designed to be exclusive to. That to me removes the reason to have the vinyl and the point of making it an exclusive.
Another similarity between Pop vinyls and Vinylmation is the rare figures. In the Vinylmation world there are "chasers", that one figure in every series that is more rare than the others, but with known odds. There's also "variants", an alternate version of a known figure with unknown odds, the rarest of them all. In the world of Pop vinyls, there's a "chase", an alternate version of a figure with known odds, similar to Vinylmation variants. The difference here however is that with Pop vinyls always being open window, it's easy for collectors to sift through a store's Pop vinyl offerings and snap up every chase in the store. With Vinylmation, they were sold in blind boxes, so the only way to get a chaser was to buy these boxes and try your luck. For me this made chasers and variants far more special as you opened your blind box not knowing what was inside, leaving you in pure amazement when you pulled that rare figure. Sure you can feel pretty special when you arrive at a store and spot a chase, but driving around from store to store until you find one doesn't have the same magic in my opinion as opening a blind box.
Another highlight of Vinylmation was that with so much Disneyana out there, it felt special when something you loved became a Vinylmation, because Disney would only work on select licenses at a time. I remember my excitement when Disney made a Cranium Command 2-pack because I LOVED that attraction! But Funko work on tons of licenses at once, which means whatever you can name probably already has a Pop vinyl version in existence. It's not as special to be able to pick up a Pop of whatever you want just like that.
For those on a budget, Pop vinyls are much kinder on your bank account. 3" Vinylmation started at a $9.95 price point, but soon reached $12.95 to $14.95 depending on the line, with some more limited figures reaching $16.95, and Park Starz retailing at $18.95. Pop vinyls however are as low as $8.78 at Walmart - cheaper than Vinylmation ever were - and the highest price I've seen them reach has been $12.99 at ThinkGeek and Vintage Stock. (The super size Pops retail higher of course, just like 9" Vinylmation do). Vinylmation can get expensive pretty quickly, especially if you're blind boxing and don't even end up with the figures you want after dropping all that money. An advantage of Pop vinyls is that you know you'll get what you want and you'll pay a lower price for it.
Pop vinyls often looked more like toys to me because so many of them looked like plastic figures. Vinylmation rarely looked like that to me. They were designed and painted in such a way that they never looked cheap and plastic-y. The DC Comics line of Pop vinyls look especially bad to me, I don't like the chunky stance the characters have and how plastic they look. I also hate bobble head Pop vinyls and I'm not sure I'll ever buy one. Bobble heads to me are cheap and gaudy and reinforce Pops being toys. I make ONE exception to that rule, which is Baby Groot. Since Groot dances in his flower pot, a bobble head is warranted, but not for every Marvel figure. Even when I personally didn't like, or want a Vinylmation figure, they still looked like collector's pieces over toys to me the majority of the time.
In my opinion, if you are a Disney Parks fan wanting a collectible, Disney's Vinylmation are far superior to Funko's Pop vinyls. If you simply want a collectible figure, Pop vinyls are a good way to go. They reach a wider audience: fans of movies, video games, cartoons, TV shows and music, for the Disney and non-Disney fan. But having said all this, I do collect Funko Pop figures now. Why after everything I just said? Because I've settled. Vinylmation is no longer what it was and I miss that. I can't get it back, so I'm settling for the next best thing. It doesn't change a lot of what I've said in this article, but like I said, I'm settling.
I think it's sad, Vinylmation would have had me as an exclusive collector and I never would have bought a Funko Pop if the Vinylmation hobby was the same now as it was in 2011 when I started collecting. Maybe they felt they were already losing too many collectors to Funko and that played a role in why Vinylmation fizzled out? We'll never know. But despite my new Funko additions, Vinylmation will always mean far more to me and will remain the superior collectible.