great robots & toys
from the space age



planet zero

2006 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1956 sci-fi movie, Forbidden Planet. This film is a classic of sorts for a number of reasons. It's a very loose update of Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, and it plays off of the '50s fetish with psychology. You also can see Leslie Nielsen before his comical roles in Airplane and Police Squad.
But the real star of the show was Robby, the robot of Altair- 4 and the creation of Dr. Morbius. In real life he was created by Bob Kinoshita, whom one may suspect of secretly being one of the big-brain aliens that people this sort of film, because he created not one but two of the greatest robots of all time, the second being the "Bubble-headed Booby" of TV's Lost in Space, robot B-9.

Above: Save for your trip to Altair Four. This great Robby the Robot coin bank was still available retail in 2008, for under $50. If a bank doesn't sound like too much fun, how about an alarm clock or a room guard? Robby looks gold in the above picture, but he's actually dark gray, about ten inches tall, all plastic. He runs on two AA batteries, one in each leg.  He's made in China by Daiwatoy, but there's an instruction sheet in English.

Above left: two blue LEDs in Robby's faceplate blink when he talks. He says three phrases from the film, and makes an outer space noise. Center: close up of the coin slot in Robby's faceplate. Right: The control panel looks green, but it's really black. Robby's functions are set by the two round and two square gold buttons.

The left square button cycles through six modes:
1. clock: setting the clock, which is on 24 hour, or military time.
2. balance: displays savings balance.
3. expenses: to display withdrawls from the bank.
4. target:  displays savings goal and amount to goal.
5. alarm: setting the alarm. When the alarm goes off, Robby blinks, beeps, and says "Good morning, gentlemen", as in the film Forbidden Planet.
6. other settings:  turns on and off the video slot game and voice clips.

The round buttons cycle numbers up and down, as when setting the clock. The right square button performs various functions depending on which mode Robby is in.

The video slot game can only be activated by inserting a dollar coin. Inserting a coin switches automatically to the bank mode, and displays the total. Robby can count US pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, fifty cent pieces, and dollar coins. He can display up to $999.99, after which he reads "full". But he only holds up to 100 fifty cent pieces. Coins can be emptied out and then the total adjusted.

The light sensor is very sensitive to changes in room light. With the voice clips turned on, Robby blinks two blue LEDs in his faceplate, singly and together, and says one of three random lines from the film Forbidden Planet, or makes outer space noises. With the voice clips turned off, Robby still blinks when the light changes.

With the voice clips turned on, when Robby's alarm goes off, he beeps and says "good morning gentlemen". With the voice clips turned off, he still beeps, but twice as long. Pushing any button turns off the alarm, but it shuts off anyway in a few seconds. The voice is not very loud, and the voice clips off, "beep only" mode is recommended for heavy sleepers. There's no off switch, so the only way to shut him off is to take out his batteries.

Robby's licensed through Turner Entertainment, and seems to be made from the Trendmasters molds, with only very small changes (see the Trendmasters Robby below). (Robby knock offs never say "Robby the Robot" on the box,  nor do they have actual Forbidden Planet voice clips from Turner Entertainment.) However, since the film's first appearance in 1956, Robby has forever influenced robot design, and inspired lots of great Robby-style robots, an enduring tribute to his creator, Bob Kinoshita.

This Robby is mainly a very tech bank. If he's in the clock mode (normal mode), inserting a coin will override it. The display first shows the amount of the coin, then Robby bleeps and shows the total saved. Another beep, and the display goes back to showing the time. Then he's ready for another coin.

If the video slot game is turned on, inserting a dollar coin automatically starts it. Pushing three of Robby's buttons brings up a three digit number. Hit 777, and Robby rewards you by playing one of three secret sound clips. Robby has a sliding panel on the back to empty out coins, and you can reset the savings total to zero to start over.

It would be great if you could leave the voice clip on the alarm and shut off the light sensor voice clips. The way to do this is to cover the photocell. But here's a very tech talking Robby with real voice clips from the film, bank and alarm functions, well-made and very detailed, collector quality at an amazingly low price. Start saving for your trip to Altair- four. Wake up and smell the gear oil!

Above: Robby and Son. When the Lost in Space movie came out in 1998, New Line Cinema licensed Trendmasters to make tie-in toys. The movie toys, like the film, fell far below the original TV show. However, Trendmaster also created a stunning series of toys of the Jupiter II and robot B-9 from the original TV series (see Lost in Space). As if that wasn't enough, in 1999,Turner Entertainment licensed Trendmasters to make this great ten inch remote controlled Robby the Robot (left), here shown with Masudaya's wind-up Robby (right).

Trendmasters' Robby retailed at under $30 at Toys-R-Us. Push one button on the wired remote and he walks with a lumbering gait, torso turning side to side, his head lighting up. Push the other button and he recites one of three phrases from the film as his head flashes. The voice is clear as a bell and the actual Robby heard in the film. The wired remote control is the same as on Trendmasters' other remote control Iron Giant and Dexter's Laboratory robots. An incredibly great, well- designed and crafted modern plastic robot. Absolutely worth tracking down, even if you have to go to Altair Four to find him.

Above: Got an extra $50K? If so, don't waste it on a sports car. Get this seven foot tall Robby replica from Hammacher- Schlemmer (click a pic for details). He's an exact replica by Fred Barton, AKA the Robot Man, who restored the movie Robby for a California film museum.

Above: Forbidden Planet, according to film critic Leonard Maltin, "remains one of the most ambitious and intelligent films of its genre". Maltin's Movie Guide rates it three and a half stars. Numerous editions of the film have been released, including a two disc 50th anniversary edition in 2006. There was also a deluxe set in a metal box with a small Robby robot included. However, many reviewers on have been critical of the set due to dented boxes and a lack of extras. The included Robby is apparently not the Masudaya wind-up (see below).  However, the inexpensive one disc DVD includes striking movie graphics on the cover (above left).

Right: The box for Trendmaster's ten inch Robby echoes the film graphics, which are also carried over to the remote control box.

Above: Forbidden Planet spawned any number of unlicensed Robby- influenced robots, among them some of the best robot toys ever made.  Along with the Gang of Five and B-9 wind-ups Masudaya released this wind-up Robby as robot YM-3. Later versions were licensed, as shown here with the Rocket USA English language box designed by George Eisner. At just over four inches, this is great robot.  He's all black with relief detailing, a clear face mask showing his silver brain, and silver antennae. Wind up his strong motor and he walks, swaying side to side. He originally retailed at under 20 bucks, and is licensed 1997 Turner Entertainment.  A great deal for Masudaya quality.

Above: One of the best Robby knock-offs was Yoshiya's Action Planet Robot (1958). It was made in both remote control and wind-up versions, with numerous variations. The wind-up ones were so plentiful that they could be had as late as 1999 for $1100 Mint in Box.
But an even better deal was this repro wind-up, available as late as 2007 for under $30. This silver version was made by Ha Ha Toys and distributed through Schylling. Wind him up and he walks, sparking in the head and chest area, living up to his "action" heritage. Note the beautiful retro art box says nothing about either feature. This very popular 9 inch repro was available in numerous variants, the green one being distributed by Robot Island (see links). The silver one carries this warning on the side of the box: "Caution! For ages 15 and up," and "Attention: This is not a toy; it is an adult collector's item," although the Schylling sticker on the box back says "For collectors: not safe for children," "Ages 8 and up." The sturdy, included key also fits some other Schylling repro robots, notably Robot Lilliput, should you lose the key to one of the robots.
Building the Masudaya








                                                                                                                                               (to be continued).

Above: Masudaya released Robby models in both 18 inch and 24 inch versions. These pictures show the beginning of an ongoing project by Seattle model maker Tony Poluyanow to detail the 24 inch Masudaya Robby. Tony is noted for his careful work in detailing and restoring classic muscle cars, and he brings this precision skill to model making.
1. Robby as he comes from the box. He's all black, except for clear plastic detailing pieces.
2. The head and body are both made of nylon plastic. Checking the fit. Now's the time to carefully trim off any excess, using a hobby or x-acto knife.
3. With head removed, the voice box is clearly visible.
4. Placement of voice box within body. The voice box is easily removable to install the batteries.
5. Removing the clear plastic mouth grille/ lens before painting. Note: Be sure and check the clear plastic faceplate before painting the head. This is made of hard lucite. Masudaya recommends soaking the head ( not the clear fceplate) in a bath of warm water, and molding it to fit the face plate if they don't line up. We missed this step, so our faceplate doesn't exactly fit.
6. Carefully wash the head using soap and water and a vegetable brush, rinse thoroughly, and dry with a towel before painting.
7. The head, masked and ready for painting.
8. The remaining area is painted with a couple coats of silver spray paint.
9. Remove the masking, and voila!.

Below: two views of the Estes Silver Comet rocket kit, detailed by Tony, detailer extraordinaire.

Planet Zero