It’s time for another tale of starting and stopping a toy line. I’ve done this with many different lines over the years and there are always different reasons involved for what happened.
Today I’m going to talk about Playmates Toys’ line based on the long-running The Simpsons animated series. It was called “World of Springfield” and was one of the largest and most comprehensive collections to kick off the new century.
Today’s post is going to be light on pictures since I don’t have any of my own collection. For a comprehensive look at the line, check out WorldofSpringfield.com.
As an interesting note, consider the difference between Playmates and Hasbro as a producer of retail items. Right now Hasbro has Marvel, Star Wars, Transformers, and Jurassic World in the boys’ category. And yes – I am aware that a certain percentage of the population finds that categorization archaic, but I also don’t care. I’m not here to get into a gender dispute. I’m here to talk about Simpsons toys.
So Hasbro has all of these licenses that produce various forms of media throughout the year. Marvel is putting out two movies a year. That’s essentially a years’ worth of product. Disney is releasing one Star Wars movie a year now. Six-ish months of product. Transformers vary release-wise, but the line is still strong on its own and maintains a presence year-round even without media support. Jurassic World is dinosaurs and dinosaurs always sell. For a while, at least.
My point is that not only does Hasbro have all of these different focuses, but that they’re essentially fighting one another for space in the toy aisles. Think about this one – Hasbro nabbed the Star Trek license from Playmates in 2013 after the abysmal performance of the 2009 movie toy line and they haven’t produced a single item outside of their Kree-O offerings. Would any other toy company have just sat on the rights to make action figures of one of the most successful science fiction franchises of all time? This is the fiftieth anniversary of that franchise and there’s a new movie coming out and nobody is making new toys.
Maybe that’s a whole other post.
Then there’s Playmates, who has Ninja Turtles. That’s all they worry about. All year.
As such, they have great success in both releasing new characters and keeping older figures circulating. They’re pretty amazing at refreshing the line with new products. And they don’t have to worry about the media for some other license interfering with their sales plan for TMNT.
World of Springfield had a similar situation.
The line launched at the turn of the century, in the middle of the show’s eleventh season and amidst a certain amount of fanfare thanks to the still-relevant Toy Fare magazine. The Simpsons was experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity at the time, though there were still those that claimed the show was in decline (something that has been happening since its second season).
If you had asked me how I felt about The Simpsons that year without referencing the toy line, I couldn’t have answered you. Most of my Simpsons memories revolve around the Treehouse of Horror specials and the first decade of the show.
After high school I used to hang out at this food delivery service where all of my friends worked. It operated out of a townhouse, so there was a TV and VCR and a revolving cast of weirdo tenants. They didn’t have cable, so we watched VHS tapes we rented from the Blockbuster across the street, as well as a stockpile of tapes with stuff recorded from various peoples’ homes. A few of those tapes were crammed full of six hours’ worth of The Simpsons episodes and they got more play than anything else. I’d say that period was the height of my Simpsons fandom.
Well, technically 2000-2002 was the height, since that’s when I was spending a buttload of money on the toys.
I have to admit that I was a victim of the hype for this line. I was excited for the technology and for the quality of the sculpts. Sound chips were the big gimmick for the line, and were an inspired decision on Playmates’ part. While playability is always a consideration for toy lines, the one enduring factor of the shows’ iconic status is its quotability. Not many television shows have infiltrated modern pop culture in the same way that The Simpsons has. Its creative team has produced some of the funniest and most memorable lines in the history of television. That’s why there’s a whole website dedicated to memes from the show.
How the sound chips worked was also quite smart. Each figure came equipped with a contact point that interacted with the playsets that were produced. Plugging a figure onto the contact points on each playset and then pressing a button would produce different quotes sampled from the show. Each figure interacted with multiple playsets, so to hear every phrase from every figure you had to buy all of the playsets. The only limitation with this ingenious interactive feature was that newer figures couldn’t interact with older playsets since the sounds were all loaded onto those.
This made for a compellingly collectible toy line.
The figures looked fantastic, but didn’t have much playability, with fixed legs and a total of four points of articulation – cut joints at the shoulders, neck, and waist. Their appeal relied on the combination of the sound chip interaction and a decent assortment of character-specific accessories. For example, Homer came with a donut, a can of Duff beer, a remote control, and a bag of Salty Snax. Each piece was chock full of detail and had excellent paint apps. Every figure in the line had this kind of assortment of props that were recognizable from the show. Honestly, the accessories were almost as exciting as the figures, as so many of the items had been made iconic on the show. A Homer Simpson without a donut is like a Batman without a Batarang.
The first series consisted of Grampa, Krusty, Homer, Bart, Lisa, and Mr. Burns – all heavy hitters. There were also two interactive playsets – the Simpsons’ living room with Marge and Maggie and the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant with Homer in his hazmat suit.
Here’s how invested I was initially – I even bought Lisa Simpson, a character that I cannot stand. I had to have the whole family.
However, I wasn’t completely, all-the-way all-in, as I stuck to my normal habit of only buying each character once. I avoided costume changes for the most part. Still, with the wealth of memorable supporting characters that the show had this still meant a good-sized collection of toys. And playsets. Large playsets that didn’t display particularly well.
Each playset consisted of a base, two walls, and an assortment of sculpted pieces like the counter of the comic book shop, the Simpsons’ couch, or arcade machines. Mostly these were background pieces and the figures couldn’t really interact with them. For example, Reverend Lovejoy couldn’t stand on his pulpit. The bases were all od shapes and weren’t designed to fit together in any way, so they took up an inordinately large amount of space on my shelves. I remember having to rework those shelves a lot over the years that I displayed this line.
I stopped collecting around Series 9, which hit around the middle of 2002. Each wave was consisting of more and more costume updates and I believe the playsets underwent a significant price hike. And might have been getting much more difficult to find. Disco Stu and Rod and Tod Flanders were the last figures I bought, and I might have picked up the Springfield Retirement Castle as my final playset. Maybe not. I know for sure I stopped buying the playsets because I was out of space.
I think another reason why I quit World of Springfield was the frustration of Exclusives. Many of them were nigh impossible to find and I know there were several that I wanted badly that I never even saw at retail. Toys R Us carried four Treehouse of Horror sets and I was only able to get one of them. Fortunately it was the only one with otherwise unreleased characters – Kodos and Kang – but I wanted the others, as well. An Electronics Boutique Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy set was impossible to find. Actually, I think all of the EB Exclusive sets were problematic.
Eventually the World of Springfield toys got packed up because something else needed the display real estate. They didn’t pack any better than they displayed. Each of the figures got a Ziploc bag because of all of the accessories. That was a pain because I had all of the accessories that I wasn’t displaying in a drawer together. I had to separate them all out and figure out what came with who – no easy task in the days prior to decent internet checklists.
Side Note: Or possibly prior to the point where I would think about looking up an internet checklist.
The playsets were large and bulky and didn’t pack well. My usual method of storing large items are plastic tubs of the sort you buy at Walmart or Target. But these things didn’t stack and were designed so that you couldn’t fit them together in any space-saving way. I think I ended up with four tubs for this one toy collection.
After storing around fifty figures and fifteen or so playsets for a couple of years and not missing them I decided it was time to put them up on eBay. For once in my toy collecting life I just happened to hit at the right time. I believe it was around 2005, so it would have been after the line had died. Maybe there were people looking to fill in their collections or folks who had missed it and decided they wanted Simpsons toys. Whatever the case, despite the fact that everything was loose I recouped my investment and then some on the World of Springfield.
I had a lot of fun hunting down and collecting this line, but never a moment of regret for getting rid of it.
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