Magazine:
We have gotten a lot of news recently about the one action figure line that seems like it might actually take the crown from Star Wars in 2001 as hottest, bestselling, favorite, and so on amongst collectors, Playmates Simpsons. It's interesting to gauge its popularity by seeing which categories people accessed most on action-figure.com's Toy Fair coverage. Simpsons just beat out Star Wars, only losing to Jurassic Park III, Harry Potter, Cheech and Chong (!?), and the champion Lord of the Rings. Of course all of those have the benefit of being brand new lines not covered elsewhere, and a couple are on unknown movies people are curious about. With the success this line is seeing, this seems like a good time to evaluate what Playmates has done and what they have planned in a sort of Playmates Simpsons State of the Toy Line Address...

_____Part 1: Distribution_____

You should all read this interview with Playmates VP about the line. In it he seems to acknowledge that Playmates has decided this is more of a collector's line. He implies the strategy used in Wave 1 of packing in many Barts and shortpacking other characters was designed with kids in mind, that it didn't work so well due to a higher proportion of collectors buying into the line, and that evenly packed cases for new waves will be the norm. I also notice after Wave 3, the amount of new Barts/Homers in each wave drops from 2 to 1.

We've seen this even-packing in effect, especially in Wave 3, but I still wonder what Playmates' remedy will be for some of those lesser produced figures that are no longer in cases. They reshipped Mr. Burns in Wave 2, but Lisa is currently the hottest figure in the line going for $25-30 on eBay. Grampa and Smithers are also going for a bit of a premium. This seems a real shame with Lisa since she is such an important character. The best idea I have for remedying this problem is do something similar to Hasbro's TRU exclusive Batman figures. Do a multi-pack set of the Simpsons family. Mix it up a little with some new head sculpts, swap the different Homer/Bart heads onto the old figures, recolor Grampa's shirt the proper pinkish-orange, etc. It would be a good way to keep the "core" figures available without clogging up the new cases.

_____Part 2: Playsets Played Out?_____

The odd thing about this line from the beginning was the Interactive playsets. It was untested whether people would pay $20 for a playset with a new figure as readily as they pay $5 each for the standard figures. I think results have been mixed. We seem to have seen our first sales problem for the line with the Principal Skinner playset. Although even the once pegwarming figures have sold tremendously briskly recently, I've seen a lot of these playsets clogging shelves even on sale. The Marge and Apu playsets definitely prove that people will pay the price for a really popular or important character. But the second-stringers probably will not do so well. I anticipate stalled sales on the Mayor Quimby, Pin Pal Apu, and Reverend Lovejoy sets.

The other issue with the playsets is the design. Is it feasible for Playmates to keep selling small pieces of continually less popular and noteworthy locations just to make the figures talk? What about quotes that don't necessarily associate with a location? I can think of some additional playsets: the alien spaceship (probably coming this Halloween), Simpsons' kitchen, retirement home, Mr. Burns office, police station or jail cell, backyard barbecue, doctor's office, news desk, town square, town park... Most of them don't really spell fun or inspire a lot of quotes, and Playmates has already released a lot of the most appropriate characters for them. So I see this area as a real one of concern for Playmates. They want these figures to talk, but have they really sold people on this playset idea? I think they might need to take a lead from MAC's Futurama line and start including single display bases with new figures that allow for voices, preferably ones that link together, even if it means raising the individual figure price. This is similar to what they are doing with their new "action gimmick" spin-off Simpsons line, but is probably an idea that could be incorporated into the original line.

_____Part 3: Female Figures_____

One criticism I have of Playmates' upcoming figure choices is that there are very few female characters. I didn't expect that from a company called "Playmates," but seriously, there will be only ONE female in all of 2001! That's counting everything including new characters and new costumes (although I admit I didn't count Kang's sister Kodos, the pair of which will probably be this year's Halloween set). We're still missing such recurring or notable characters as Maude Flanders, Mrs. Krabappel, Ms. Hoover, Agnes Skinner, Sherri and Terri, Princess Kashmir, Helen Lovejoy, Luann Van Houten, Marge's mother, Selma, Homer's mother (young and old), Lunchlady Doris, Lisa's friend Janey (black girl), Lisa's classmate Alison (Winona Ryder), Mindy Simmons (Michelle Pfeiffer), Jessica Lovejoy (Meryl Streep), Erin (Christina Ricci, Lisa's vacation friend), the "other" neighbors Ruth and Laura Powers, the middle-aged female judge, the long-forgotten Miss Pennycandy, Apu's wife Manjula, Cletus' wife Brandine, the crazy old lady, Belle from the exotic strip joint, the TV variety hour substitute Lisa (a blonde character model also used elsewhere), etc. There are some third and fourth-stringers there, but plenty of good choices.

Even though we'll be getting 5 new Barts/Homers this year, bringing the combined total to 11 (7 Homers, 4 Barts), we still won't be getting a second Lisa, such as her pink Sunday Best dress, or any more Marges. By not spacing out female figures something like 1 per wave, they'll have to risk filling up future waves with multiple females. And for a line aimed at collectors, this anti-female bias is an unfortunate oversight.

_____Part 4: Support the Simpsons_____

Now I have a criticism about, of all people, fellow collectors. Namely, why the lack of support for the Simpson family in all their many costumes? The Star Wars line, for instance, has no problem selling Luke Tatooine, Luke Bespin, Luke Jedi, etc. Each is considered a different figure. Sales don't slow until they start resculpting Luke Tatooine, etc. in the same costume again. Yet in the Simpsons line we see Sunday Best Barts piling up, and a lot of people leaving the new Bart and Homer on the shelf, only buying the other 4 figures in the wave. I admit Playmates cheaped out with Pin Pal Homer and Kamp Krusty Bart, but when the figures are a complete resculpt like the Sunday Bests or Radioactive Homer, to me that's a brand new figure and I gladly plunk down my $5 and change for it.

I am looking forward to seeing a lot of different incarnations of the Simpsons family. I'd actually like to see those before most of the third string characters, like Duffman who was rumored for this year (although I'd take Itchy and Scratchy Land robots first). I want everything from vacation clothes, winter clothes, beach clothes, bed clothes, hockey and football uniforms, young "flashback" versions, astronaut Homer, 300-lb. Homer, police uniform Marge, Mr. Plow Homer, as well as church clothes for Lisa, Marge, and Maggie. Playmates may be wise to cut back on these to 1-per-wave for now, but I hope they get back to these sooner than later, and that fans enthusiastically support them.

_____Part 5: The Magazine Ad_____

For another topic, there's the toy magazine ad that debuted images of a lot of this year's lineup. There were a few items shown that did not reappear at Toy Fair. Most noteworthy were Kang and Kodos, the aliens. I'm sure they would make a perfect Treehouse of Horror set, and since Toy Fair didn't display them, I guess we can expect it to be another store exclusive. Let's just pray it goes to TRU and not this or any other to Target.

I also noticed the Radioactive Man figure seen in the picture is not in the accompanying checklist, and is a completely new figure never reported before. It would be cool if he came in a 2-pack with Fallout Boy. I just wonder if it would be the Milhouse "movie" Fallout Boy, the comic book Fallout Boy, or the campy 1960s TV series Fallout Boy. Radioactive Man seems to look pretty much the same in all versions but I guess there are differences there too. In the picture he looks kind of like the Rainier Wolfcastle "movie" version.

Not pictured is the Duffman figure that was rumored for Wave 4. He was replaced in the lineup with Carl. I'm immensely pleased he was removed from the schedule because he is such a useless character, although I wonder if this has something else to do with them cancelling Moe's Bar and likewise steering clear of the Duff beer mascot. At any rate, I can't think of another character, one-shot appearance or not, that I want less then this pointless fourth-stringer. He only appeared twice and the first wasn't until season 9. He's not a satire of anything specific I know of, so it's just a buff guy in a generic superhero costume with sunglasses, almost as annoying to me as Poochie was to the Springfield kids. I'd take the even more obscure Laramie cigarrettes Menthol Moose from season 4 over him any day.

_____Part 6: The 2001 Waves_____

Now in Wave 3 that we've seen them implanting the voice chips in just one foot, as in Otto or Quimby, we see there was no real reason Playmates couldn't have put leg articulation in these figures. So it's harder to forgive them for that at this point. However, the fact that they did not institute a price hike in the figures this year earns them more points.

At any rate, the lineup this year is a very impressive one, with the upcoming Wave 4 looking to be especially strong. With superstars Itchy & Scratchy, Ralph Wiggum, and Groundskeeper Willie, along with colorful additions Lenny and Patty, as well as the funniest Homer to date, Underwear Homer, this release is going to burn up shelves. Not to mention Comic Store Guy in the playsets.

Wave 5 is a lot weaker, with no real fan favorites and the first real second or third-stringers (the Captain, Bumble Bee Man, and Sideshow Mel). This will be the real litmus test to see if the line will have the kind of longevity Star Wars has had, through almost 100s of characters.

Wave 6 is a bit of a rebound with popular choices Snake and Professor Frink. No one can claim Playmates is racist either, introducing the first 3 black Simpsons figures all at once here. I wouldn't have recommended doing Bleeding Gums so soon, a character who appeared twice, the second time to become the first recurring Simpsons character to die, and who by the admission of the producers was killed off because he was unpopular. Secondly, I wouldn't have advised making Dr. Hibbert before Dr. Nick. True, Hibbert is used more often on the show lately, but Dr. Nick is special partly because he's not overused, and was always good for some of the show's funniest lines, which should be a high priority for Playmates.

_____Part 7: The New 2001 Concepts_____

Playmates unveiled some new directions for the line in 2001, which bear closer scrutiny. One of the more popular ideas seems to be the Simpsons family car. This will be the line's first vehicle. The strange thing about it is that two different prototypes were shown, one at the UK Toy Fair and one in the U.S. I feel that the UK one is better. It has an actual roof to the car, with Marge's hair sculpted bent backwards allowing her to fit. The U.S. one is less accurate, with an open roof and Marge's hair sticking right out. I'd like if the UK one had a removable roof to view inside the car as well, but I'd still prefer a fixed roof to not having one at all. Without it, it seems one step closer to a novelty product rather than a supplement to the action figure line. Unfortunately neither car shows off the lack of versatility in these toys, with molded-in figures a la the Star Wars Power F/X X-Wing. Still, I would like having this as long as it looks accurate. I also have some other ideas for vehicles, like the Corvair spacecraft, the Mr. Plow plow, Willie's tractor, Stampy the Elephant, etc.

Another item most collectors will want is the Main Street Playset. The huge downside to this is that this features the storefront to 4 buildings including Moe's Tavern but without any interior to back it up. Ignoring the fact this proves Playmates won't be making a real Moe's Tavern, a sidewalk location is an interesting idea for a set. Larger playsets would be one way to improve the line, since the smaller ones don't accurately capture most locations. Think about how cool a large Simpsons family house would be for the ultimate playset. Apu's and the Nuclear Power Plant also would present interesting possibilities for large sets. All of them would be more interesting than this one I have to admit, as long as they had full interiors. I'm afraid there's no real reason Playmates couldn't provide the interiors to these buildings as part of this set, considering action figure lines have a long history of playsets with decorated outsides as well as insides when you fold it open. I think it's going to hurt sales of this piece.

In the category of stuff no one asked for are the new larger deluxe talking mechanical action figures. Here we see the same old toy company move of trying to introduce a differently scaled action figure line parallel to an already successful one. In all honesty they look fun and well-done, with the one glaring error of making Homer in his bowling instead of basic shirt. But this early in the line I don't think anyone is looking to start all over with a new scale. I'm also not sure if these figures are removable from their bases, so we could have an Epic Force incident all over again. A big problem is that there is no opportunity to add more detail to these figures in a larger scale due to the simple character design. Not to mention these look like they'll be retailing for in the neighborhood of $10 each. If collectors support these figures, they're setting themselves up for more lines based on redone main characters, rather than a definite commitment for Playmates to continue the core line with more original characters. All in all this line does not look like it will make it to a second wave.

A big disappointment was not seeing the rumored Evil Krusty Doll at Toy Fair. I really want one of these since it would be like having an actual lifesize prop from the show. Hopefully it was just delayed. Also absent were the Parody 2-Packs which were supposedly solicited to dealers as evidenced at newforcecomics.com.

As for the other new larger scale figural toys, I'm sure they'll sell about as well as the year 2000 ones did, i.e. hardly at all. It's very difficult to diversify a successful action figure line into other toys, and we see Playmates already making the same mistakes that have plagued Hasbro in their Star Wars toy line.

_____Part 8: Beyond 2001_____

As diverse as this line is getting, they still have just scratched the surface of possibilities. Some of the choices this year make you think they've neared the bottom of the barrel already, but I just think that's because they haven't made the best choices. There are tons of great recurring characters still left...as I mentioned already Dr. Nick and the women, but also Uter, Superintendent Chalmers, Fat Tony and his mob buddies, Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, Lionel Hutz, Troy McClure, Gil the Salesman, Dolph, Kearney, Rod and Todd, the black and white cops, the one-eyebrow baby, Jasper, Akira the martial arts dude, Database, Homer's brother, Herman the military memorabilia shop owner, the black judge, Sideshow Bob's brother, the crazy old man, Jebediah Springfield, Krusty's dad, Gabbo and his puppeteer, Roger Meyers Jr., plain clothes Krusty (a.k.a. Rory B. Bellows), Rainier Wolfcastle, the three college nerds, Generic Sarcastic Middle-Aged Worker, James Bont, Dr. Marvin Monroe, all of the parallel Shelbyville kids, daredevil Lance Murdock, and so forth.

Then when you get away from recurring characters you have lots of episodes centered around one guest star character. I mentioned some female ones already, but there's also Lyle Lanley (the monorail guy), Shary Bobbins, Hank Scorpio, Chester J. Lampwick, Jacques (Marge's bowling instructor), and so on. Then you have tons of celebrities-as-themselves, which I'm not too crazy about but some would make fair choices. Then you have some "generic model" characters which could help in crowd scenes, and a whole series of more possibilities from episodes like Halloween Specials and the Bible Stories episode. Considering how deep Playmates mined Star Trek for source material and how extensive the TMNT line was, I look forward to everything and the kitchen sink (Hopefully in a Simpsons family house playset) in the Simpsons line for years to come.

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