MOTUC SNAKE MOUNTAIN
The Evil Stronghold of Skeletor has finally arrived! Produced to order by Super7 under licence from Mattel, Snake Mountain was a year and a half in development and production. At the time of writing (December 2020), collectors are starting to receive their orders from Super7 and partner retailers. The pieces were dispatched in several shipments from the factory in China.
This was the final MOTUC item produced by Super7 because Mattel withdrew certain licences, apparently with the intention to focus on their Origins line. I have mixed feelings about Super7's short-lived involvement with the MOTUC. They failed to get anywhere near their original plan of four figure waves per year and ended up neglecting Classics for Filmation figures. So is Snake Mountain a glorious way to finish the line or a predictable disappointment?
A review of the playset must start with the cost. There is no denying that Snake Mountain was obscenely expensive (roughly £800 depending on where it was ordered from). If it had been a mass-market item it would have been over-priced at a third of that amount. But this was a break-even, limited edition project for collectors. Probably fewer than 1500 were made. That creates a different measure of value, albeit a hard-to-justify one.
Even with that caveat, I don't think it's good value. The playset is impressive but not
spectacular. There are a number of design issues which surprise me, although I accept that
the size of the model necessitated some creative licence. And while parts of Snake
Mountain are artfully painted, there are some components which were not painted at all.
It gives the impression of being sadly incomplete. Let's take a look.
There's no doubt that Snake Mountain looks striking when assembled. It leans towards the original toy in design but has a number of elements which pay homage to the cartoon. It's large at roughly 40 inches by 40 inches, or 1 metre by 1 metre, although its width appears to be greater than its height. It's less wide than was originally advised but that is probably no bad thing. It's still a monster.
The paint on the exterior is nicely done, adding tone and depth. The designers didn't go
overboard with the spikes, as occurred on the Icon Heroes version.
The green snake has good paint and texture, and the veiny roots spreading across the rock
faces are creepy. The flow of lava is plainer. A fairly obvious choice for an accessory
would have been a bubbling lava pool underneath the bridge, but this wasn't done. Perhaps a
customizer will take up the challenge.
But when figures are added to Snake Mountain, its limitations become more apparent. Oddly, there's actually very little room for them. The steps are very narrow so figures have to shuffle up sideways. That makes for a more interesting display, certainly, but it reminds us that the model is illusory in a way that Castle Grayskull did not need to be. There are no flat steps either (surely some would have been hewn into the rock?), so figures need to be carefully posed and balanced.
Away from the steps we find more space on the rocky platforms. But these are not perfect
either, and both tilt downwards slightly, requiring care when posing figures. This is a
mild criticism, however, because they are visually striking and are not unduly problematic.
The rusty chains are nicely done, even if the clamps are slightly too small to encircle
figures' forearms. The cave, too, is smaller than might be expected. A figure can be added
but only in a crouch.
I am disappointed with the grey arch at the top of the mountain's peak. It has a mediocre sculpt on the front only. There is no added paint either, placing this piece in stark contrast with the attractive detailing elsewhere on the exterior sides. This should have looked like a granite or marble archway with exquisite paintwork. Leaving it unsculpted and unpainted is just lazy. The fact that the gate was decorated beautifully just draws attention to the cheap looking part.
Similarly, the wolfhead tower (Super7 call it the 'Sceptor') is also moulded in plain
plastic. At the very least there should have been some black and silver decoration dry-brushed
onto this piece. And there's another problem with this accessory too: the hole in its base is
too small for the stud on the floor so it needs to be enlarged with a craft knife. Elsewhere,
the interior is a mix of shaded and plain sections. The ghoulish faces are great additions but
much of the inside fails to inspire.
A number of accessories are included in the set. I love the tentacles and swamp creatures; they are characterful additions which look great next to the cave. The 'bone throne' is from the Filmation cartoon. The chair back is quite interesting but the cushion just looks like a giant discarded hairpiece. (Once you've seen it you can't unsee it!). There's room for the throne on the upper level but not much else. A table was also included (not shown) which is also plain and uninteresting.
The computer console is nicely done, reminding us of the technological elements of the
MOTU canon. We also have a net beneath a trap door. It looks quite good but is delicate
and probably best left unused. But the most curious section of the interior is the dungeon.
Surprisingly, there is an open space where the inside wall should be, making it a somewhat
ineffective prison. More on the dungeon in a moment.
Returning to the exterior, we see some nice sculpting for the big monster, proudly reminiscent of the original MOTU playset. The jaw does move up and down but only from the outside, i.e. by lifting at the chin. I would have expected a simple lever of some sort to achieve this motion from the inside but this was not built into the design. That said, aesthetics are more important than functionality with this version of Snake Mountain.
And I think that is probably the key thing to remember with this model. It's not really a
toy. And while you could cram a load of MOTUC figures onto it (awkwardly), I think it
will look its best with no more than half a dozen characters on the playset itself. For
something so big, it's surprising how quickly it can look cluttered.
Okay, some final thoughts on the dungeon. There's a breakaway wall section on the outside near the base of the steps. The idea is that this piece can be kicked in by a warrior in order to rescue a friend from the dungeon on the other side. That's a neat concept but, unfortunately, there isn't actually enough of a gap between the wall piece and the dungeon door for a figure. I'm sure there were design considerations which limited the available space, but I'm equally sure that an extra inch could have been found somehow.
I like Snake Mountain. I like it a lot. But the ridiculous cost and the areas of poor or lazy design prevent me from loving it. With so much great work on most of the exterior, it's amazing that the archway was given so little attention. I can forgive the fact that Snake Mountain is limited and unforgiving when posing figures because it is a display piece first and foremost, but that's also the reason why I'm not completely enthralled by it. Aesthetically this should have been a masterpiece; it doesn't quite make it in that regard.
Am I glad I bought it? Yes, because it's a key part of the collection and this is the first
Snake Mountain I've ever owned. The good does outweigh the bad. And so, returning to the point
I touched on at the start, I feel that Snake Mountain is actually very representative of Super7's
work on the MOTUC. There have been a few touches of brilliance but many occasions when
they haven't quite met expectations. It's to their credit that they had the nerve to produce
Snake Mountain; I doubt Mattel would have committed to it. It's a good end to a fair run. But I
can't say this is a crowning glory.