The catch of the day isn’t a whopper, but it’s generated some Big Fish Stories nonetheless. Do we find this figure compelling because of its lowered articulation? Because it came free with a couple tubes of toothpaste? Because of its odd, shoddy paintwork? Because of its dubious legal nature? Or do we recoil in horror because it’s not quite right?
For me, it’s all of the above and much more. When I set out to write this review, I figured I’d do something “easy” because the last one I wrote was massive. But I’m a journalist by nature, so I couldn’t leave well enough alone– I did some initial research, asked the experts some questions, and then dug even deeper. A couple things I found really surprised me.
This GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow is much more than a slapdash toothpaste giveaway figure. There are oddities with production, licensing, and figure construction. I dug up the unexpected.
So, come for the weird under-articulated Undertow variant and stay for the mysteries hidden within its underachieving exterior shell.
Time to reel it in.
Why I Bought GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow in the First Place
The 1990 GI Joe Undertow was a figure I loved as a kid, but only got to play with once in a while. Along with a small handful of other figures, including 87 Gung Ho, Crystal Ball, Techno-Viper, Sonic Fighters Lamprey, and Static Line, he resided at my dad’s house in a small town two hours away from where I lived. I only saw my dad every other weekend, so I had a few toys over there for when I visited.
I had a lot of fun adventures with Undertow in rural Idaho. I could never get him to hold his trident properly, my dad’s Airedale Terrier ate its barracuda, and its mask and fins were lost pretty early on. But, even without the gear, Undertow looked like a cool commando. He effortlessly fit into any role my 6-7 year old brain could assign to him.
Then, when I stopped seeing my dad, I stopped seeing Undertow. In 1992, when the ARAH line got a few more divers, I thought about the Undertow figure more often. As even more divers came in 93-94, I longed for another Undertow– but there wasn’t any real way for a kid in 1994 to find a GI Joe figure from 1990. My family didn’t do swap meets or flea markets, after all.
I was 15 years old in 2000 when another Undertow came along as part of the Real American Hero Collection. I loved the color scheme and I loved that he came with his original accessories, but I was never able to find one in stores.
I didn’t get another Undertow until 2002, when I found the BJ’s “exclusive” Sound Attack 8-Pack at Fred Meyer in my hometown. I really liked the figure, but I was bummed that he was missing his gear. I still used him alongside some of the New Sculpt era divers and vehicles, but vowed I’d find either a version 1 or version 2 Undertow someday.
Well, I sort of forgot that oath for a few years. Ten or more years, really. But, at some point in the mid-to-late 2010s, I received a Dinosaur Dracula Funpack with an odd Battle Corps Cobra Commander in it. It was a Pepsodent promotion from India. I knew all about Funskool figures, but I’d never seen one like this– it had a strange accessory and reduced articulation. It was kind of charming, but it didn’t blow me away.
Thanks to my friend Pat for help with this image!
I liked the figure enough to do some research, and found that there was also a Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow from Funskool. I added it to my mental “to-get” list and moved on.
I made 2018 the year of the Undertow. I found two version one figures and two version two figures, and got some gear from Marauder Inc. for my Sound Attack version. I also half-heartedly looked for the Funskool version, but did not find one that year.
In 2020, though, I finally found a Pepsodent Undertow for a good price and pulled the trigger. I “opened” the toy last week and decided he’d be my next review. He’s a weird international figure, and an update to a 90s classic, and a diver. That’s right in my wheelhouse. I was ready for a fun and simple review.
But then the waves took me.
GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow (2002) Review
Let’s get all the normal stuff out of the way before we take a deep dive into why this figure is truly weird. Well, normal is relative because just look at this guy.
Here’s the GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow haphazardly rubber banded to his packaging:
This figure came with specially marked packages of Pepsodent toothpaste in India. The original box, toothpaste and all, looked like this:
Image Courtesy of Funskool Rony
And here is the cross-sell that showed the other available figures. I believe you got one figure at random.
Image Courtesy of Funskool Rony
The figure and its accessory (also random) came attached to this card, a very thin piece of cardboard, with a black rubber band. When I cut the rubber band to free the figure, the band kind of crumbled and shredded itself into several pieces. Clearly, Funskool chose rubber bands with quality to match these Pepsodent figures.
Anyway, here’s a look at the printed filecard, which is identical to the Hasbro Undertow v1 writeup:
Once you get the figure off the card, you’re presented with something odd. What’s the first thing you notice– the oddball paint scheme or the weird articulation?
Think about it as you look at the figure.
In theory, this GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow is painted up to look like Hasbro’s 2000 Undertow v2, but it takes some pretty wild detours. The entire chestpiece, the figure’s diving apparatus, is painted in a nice shade of lilac, and most of the figure’s wetsuit is painted in a dull shade of blue. You also have some red details, like straps and a knife handle, and some grey to pick out padding and other details. Overall, it’s not a bad look. It’s a visually interesting figure that sets itself apart from any Undertow Hasbro released.
The articulation is where things fall apart. Instead of GI Joe’s famous swivel/hinge and ball joints, the Funskool Pepsodent Undertow has only swivels. There are swivels at the shoulders and neck, along with rough ball joints at the hips. There is no knee, elbow, or waist articulation.
His arms also come terribly pre-posed, like he’s some kind of Underwater C-3P0:
But at least the poses on the mostly-static arms are slightly different from one another, right? It could have been worse.
For accessories, this particular GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow came with Toxo-Viper’s… thingy. This is one of my least favorite GI Joe accessories when it comes with anyone but a Toxo-Viper, and even with a Toxo-Viper it’s still not great.
The figure can’t hold the “weapon” in any convincing way, and his grip on it is slippery at best.
I thought this figure might look pretty good when posed or photographed alongside other Undertows, so here’s what he looks like with them:
He’s unique among them, and his color scheme looks generally good with all of them– especially the 2000 Hasbro version. I’m not too disappointed by that.
But you probably noticed that even apart from his reduced articulation, this Funskool Pepsodent Undertow looks different than his Hasbro counterparts. That’s because he’s a good bit smaller.
This one-on-one comparison should show you the difference nicely:
If the Funskool Undertow had full articulation, the size difference wouldn’t be a big deal. Humans have different builds and body types, I’m not too bothered by it. But, when you combine the size with the weird articulation and glopped-on, under-detailed paint applications, you get something that doesn’t really work in any meaningful way.
So, what can you do with a GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow?
I have a few ideas.
I tried him with some gear from other Undertow figures. Here he is with the mask from v2 and the Funskool version’s own Toxo-Viper… thingy:
And here he is with v1’s mask and trident.
He looks pretty nice with Undertow v1’s gear. The greys match up pretty well, and the mask adds an air of menace to the figure. The problem is that Undertow gear is not easy to find (and the masks on the 1990 version aren’t terribly sturdy, anyway) so spending $20-$30 on accessories for a subpar figure isn’t really a practical thing to do.
And even if you do get him a set of v1 or 2 Undertow accessories, it’s not like he can use them all. The arms won’t pose well enough that he can use the sea sled, and there’s one more problem with the figure:
He doesn’t have peg holes on the bottoms of his feet! That means he can’t use any Undertow swim fins.
In case you’re wondering, though, a Pepsodent GI Joe can wear a regular GI Joe backpack.
Really, the best use I’ve found for this figure is as a driver or gunner. He looks good in the Water Moccasin turret, and he looks decent driving the Piranha. I’m sure he’d look pretty good in a Moray turret, too. I think the best use for him, though, might be as a co-pilot for a Cobra Mantis Sub, which is a great and underrated vehicle I wish I still had.
This figure is bad. It’s not up to Funskool’s usual level of quality, and kids deserved better. Even kids getting something from a toothpaste company. I love Funskool GI Joe figures, and think of them as something special– they’re great toys, not just novelties.
This figure is a novelty at best, though. His biggest selling point is that he looks weird. I love diver figures, but this toy has too many negative points for me to even use him as a normal Cobra diver.
I’m about to issue my verdict, but stick around for the research I did on this figure. I’m about to explain why this figure is so crappy and dig into its origins. I guarantee you’ll find a few surprises.
Verdict: This is a bad toy. It’s not up to the usual Funskool standards. It has bad paint, bad articulation, a bad accessory, and isn’t compatible with many Joe vehicles or accessories. The only people this figure will work for are people who display International GI Joe curiosities on a shelf or in a glass case. Or completists, I guess. Just grab any other version of Undertow, because I’m feeling Neutral on this toy. It’s still technically a GI Joe product, but it’s disappointing all around.
- Funskool Pepsodent GI Joe Action figures at Indian Toy Collector
- With Pepsodent from India at Random Toy Reviews
GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow Origins, Construction, and Other Weirdness
Now that the review is complete, let’s wade into weirder waters.
Why are these Funskool Pepsodent figures so strange? Why would Funskool, a company who made great (if sometimes strange) GI Joe toys release such shoddy action figures? After all, the Halbina Exclusive figures were fully articulated.
My first thought pertained to the Undertow figure itself– the Pepsodent version has a pretty interesting color scheme, so why didn’t Funskool release a fully articulated and accessorized version of it?
Since Pepsodent Undertow came out in 2002, I wondered if Hasbro sent Funskool the mold in early 02 after they made Sound Attack Undertow and never got the mold back. I thought about how Undertow’s head was used for both versions of Fast Blast Viper, but then we didn’t really see the figure again.
When I asked Mike T what he thought, he pointed out there was a Club Exclusive Undertow released in 2009. So that killed that theory. I’d also like to own that figure some day, but that’s a lament for another time.
Then I asked my friend Funskool Rony if he had any insight, since he’s the Joe community’s resident Funskool expert.
The first thing he said surprised me:
“Hasbro had nothing to do with these [figures]. They were imported from HK where they were copied.”
He then told me he recently released a video that went over the whole thing. I watched it immediately. Make sure you check it out, too, as he covers the origins of these figures better than I ever could, and also details packaging variants and other interesting trivia.
So, as it turns out, the Funskool Pepsodent GI Joe figures do, in fact, have nothing to do with Hasbro.
They originated as X-Troop bootlegs that were made in Hong Kong. These X-Troop figures (released under at least one other name, too) had the reduced articulation and have identical color schemes to the Funskool versions.
Here’s a look at the packaging:
Image Courtesy of Funskool Rony
So, the both the Pepsodent Funskool line and X-Troop released the following characters:
- General Hawk
- Dial Tone
- Storm Shadow
- Cobra Commander
- Snake Eyes
Image Courtesy of Funskool Rony
As Rony explains, Funskool just straight up imported the X-Troop figures and attached them to their own flimsy, Pepsodent-themed cardbacks.
What’s absolutely wild is that Funskool released GI Joe bootlegs while they had the official GI Joe license– and were releasing official GI Joe figures! No one knows what possessed them to do such a thing, but I’m guessing “money” explains most of it.
Then Mike T noted that the X-Troop/Pepsodent figures were cast from production figures– not stolen Hasbro molds, which explains the smaller size and shoddier details on the Pepsodent figures.
That explained why Funskool never released a regular Undertow figure– they never had the mold in the first place. That’s true for many of the other figures in the X-Troop/Pepsodent assortment, too. But at least the X-Troop figures had their original accessories, so they were a step up from the Pepsodent releases.
Like I said, I think kids deserved better.
With that mystery solved, there was still one more thing I wanted to dig into. Could I open up Pepsodent Undertow? What was his construction like?
Using the screwdriver I use only for working on GI Joe figures, I unscrewed the two screws from Undertow’s back. They came out nice and easy. I was left with this:
The figure’s construction is similar to what you’d see on an ARAH-style Joe figure, except the legs are attached to the front torso (by a very thin piece of plastic), and there’s no o-ring or t-hook.
Interestingly, the inside of the figure is a drab olive green, meaning that the figure was cast in that color and all other paint was applied over it. That certainly makes the paint job a little more impressive.
The screw itself (Funskool Pepsodent on the right, Hasbro on the left) is maybe just slightly smaller than a Hasbro screw. My screwdriver handled them both effortlessly. I’m not sure if you’d want to use a Funskool Pepsodent screw for a Hasbro figure, though.
The most interesting thing I found is that you can swap a Funskool Pepsodent figure head onto a 1982-84 style Hasbro body. It fits perfectly. So, for all of you kitbashers (and even factory customer makers) out there, that means the parts library for swivel neck GI Joe figures has expanded by at least 7 pieces. That’s a pretty big discovery!
Mike T jokingly told me I should tell The Black Major about what I found, and I just might do that.
GI Joe Funskool Pepsodent Exclusive Undertow Closing Thoughts
I didn’t intend this review to be such a rollercoaster, but that’s what it ended up being. This Pepsodent Undertow is still not a good figure, but apparently it does have some uses.
As always, thanks for being here and reading my work.
Do you have any experience with these Pepsodent figures? What was Funskool thinking when they released these toys? Do you have a favorite GI Joe bootleg? Let me know in the comments!