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10 Minutes With … Don Levine

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) It’s been 42 years since G.I. Joe marched into American toy stores to revolutionize the action-figure industry. Don Levine’s miniature Army men _ inspired by years of military service during the Korean War _ tapped into the aggressive fantasies of patriotic American boys. Now Levine is hoping to repeat […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) It’s been 42 years since G.I. Joe marched into American toy stores to revolutionize the action-figure industry. Don Levine’s miniature Army men _ inspired by years of military service during the Korean War _ tapped into the aggressive fantasies of patriotic American boys.

Now Levine is hoping to repeat that success, but this time he’s asking the world’s youth to fight for God.

Levine’s latest line of figurines _ “Almighty Heroes” _ includes accessorized and poseable versions of Moses, Noah, David and Samson. As head of Shakopee, Minn.-based Family Values LLC, Levine says good vs. evil continues to be the most vexing issue facing humanity. He’s convinced his new toys will once again persuade America’s youth to tip the balance and save the world _ if only in the sandbox. The figures retail from $12.99 to $24.99.

Q: What inspired you to turn Bible personalities into poseable action figures?

A: When it came to something in our world called good vs. evil, the market for something like “Almighty Heroes” comes right from the Bible. It certainly shows the good in the world and the evil that the Bible characters are up against.

(Marketers) have to be in today’s world, and today’s world is action figures for young boys. This is a niche market _ 2 billion Christians in the world. It’s a niche market that’s very deep.

Q: What’s your evidence that this market is interested in your toys?

A: We tested it with different religious people, with ministers, with priests and with rabbis, people like that who would talk to us. And they were a little bit unsure when they saw Moses not looking like a Charlton Heston coming down from the mountain but a young Moses.

If someone came in with their young children, the boys went crazy over these figures, and so did the girls. We know we’ve got a hit on our hands.

Q: Do you anticipate Noah being as big a hit as G.I. Joe?

A: Everyone knows who G.I. Joe is. If you were at an airport, I imagine 90 percent would know who G.I. Joe is. But the difference between (G.I. Joe) and “Almighty Heroes” is that we can do this in every language in the world. Everybody that’s interested in reading the Bible could be involved with it.

Plus the fact that G.I. Joe, I would imagine, was 95 percent boys. This one is girls and boys _ and parents _ who take part in it. And religious schools and stuff like that. I would venture to say my passion in doing this is probably even more so than when I did G.I. Joe.

Q: Do you identify with any religion?

A: No. I have studied the Bible, the Old Testament, I was brought up that way. I would read the Quran also. To me, the one thing that is most important is good against evil. That’s what this is all about. That’s where I really sign up and believe in. And if there’s any good in what I’m able to do against evil in the world, God bless. You know?

Q: Is there any ideological foundation between these two sets of toys?

A: I don’t think so. Look, G.I. Joe is a boy’s toy that spanned a child(hood) in 1964. That was 42 years ago, and boys were able to play with G.I. Joe right up until they were 6, 7 or 8. We have a line of preschool toys in “Almighty Heroes” (for children) from 3 to 6 and then from 6 to 7 or 8.

We have action heroes. David is a youngster with his Bible attached to the package. And when we get to the older version, he’s an older superhero. These people are really heroes for God, from the Bible. And so it’s a different kind of situation altogether.

Q: How did you decide which characters to release first?

A: One of the things that made me very excited about this is that we haven’t even scratched the surface. We’ve got four characters: David, Noah, Moses and Samson, and we have Queen Esther and we have Deborah the Warrior.

I certainly know that we can get into many more characters, which we’re working on now. Things like Joseph, things like (Moses’ sister) Miriam. They’re legitimate characters, they’re not going to be around just because there’s a movie out on them. They’re there forever. But there will be many more as we go down into the next line.

Q: Some boys who played with G.I. Joes were inspired to join the military. Do you hope these toys will help some children become more religious?

A: No, I think that’s a philosophical thing and I don’t see that.

Q: You opted not to produce a poseable Jesus. Why?

A: We didn’t want to have a Jesus-religion-in-your-face. There are a lot of religious toys out there, products out there which turn me off in the religious stores. To me, when you take Jesus and do something with it on a commercial basis, I just think we should stay away from that.

Q: If David squared off against Samson, who would win?

A: David against Samson? (Laughs) I think they wouldn’t square off because God, as far as I’m concerned, wouldn’t allow it. I think that they’d be on the same team. They have God’s power, if you read the Bible. And that’s the way we produced it.

I wouldn’t do that. It would certainly confuse the children.

KRE/PH END LEVINE

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