The World of Springfield is a series of Simpsons action figures which ran between January 2000 and September 2004 and was released by Playmates Toys.

The collectable action figure series is called World of Springfield because the goal of the line was to build a miniature Springfield through a series of interactive action figures and play sets. It eventually encompassed over 200 different figures/characters from the series, 40 interactive play sets (toy re-creations of interior settings and town location settings within Springfield), and 3 non-interactive diorama town settings.

Background

The success of all "mass-market" action figure lines based on TV or movie characters are timed to the initial release of the project (as part of its promotional and marketing messages) taking advantage of the promotions, P.R. and advertising awareness and the figures themselves also as advertising and promotional vehicles. Most movie/TV tie-in action figures are successful for the brief period of the theatrical release, the video/DVD release and the possibility of a successful sequel but rarely for any longer period and typically, the release pattern for the action figure is no more than a few dozen figures, and some play sets to serve as background dioramas for the figures, with sales dropping off a few months after the last film is released. The Kenner/Hasbro Star Wars movie line is, of course, the gold standard with figures in the same scale and in the marketplace since 1978. The closest TV equivalent might be the Star Trek line though non-contiguous and not technically from one TV series (coincidentally also from Playmates Toys).

While the Simpsons merchandising and licensing had continued unabated since the series premiere in 1989, when the characters were first represented as action figures, they only had a brief Mattel run in Summer 1990 with only 7 figures (Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Nelson Muntz and Bartman) and the Sofa & Boob Tube play set.

Why was the line successful?

Of course, it starts with the mass market appeal of The Simpsons, encompassing everyone from young kids who loved the slapstick aspects to adults of all ages who appreciated that the jokes and situations that worked on multi-levels of our intellect (from the kid in us to the Mensa in us), even teenagers. Like any classic TV series, fans remember and quote the lines, so Playmates Toys managed to capture that appeal with its interactive play sets. Each figure came with its own "coded" chip on the base of that character's foot (generally the foot but not always), so that when contacted with the "trigger" tab on each play set, it would complete the circuit, so by then pressing the button closest to that figure, you would hear a playback of 1-6 phrases for the character.

What made it unique was that the playback was from the actual show and the actual voice actor, so for example, by placing the Homer Simpson figure on an appropriate play set would trigger the playback of an audio clip of a quote as performed by Dan Castellaneta as he performed them in the original episode.

An additional value was that each play set held unique quotes and voice clip performances for a variety of characters, so for example, that placing the Marge Simpson figure or the Bart Simpson figure would trigger different quotes and voice clips per character. One limitation was that not every character worked with every play set, either for story logic reasons (character might not appear at that setting), release logistics (figures released after a play set was available much earlier) or presumably for cost reasons (as each voice clip had to be approved and licensed).

A real-world situation also cannot be over-looked; that these were released during the era of the internet/dot.com boom and general health of the U.S. economy. While the figures were priced at the lower end of action figure retail pricing (from $5.99 USD to eventually $7.99 USD each), the play sets generally ranged from $20 USD to $25 USD at the end of 2004, but there were special releases that ranged into the $60 USD range. Even at minimal retail, 200+ figures and 40 play sets meant a financial commitment. In addition, there were a dozen exclusives and mail-in figures that required extra work to obtain the figures, often via an online auction. It was, however, during these early years of the series coinciding with the healthy economy that added extra impetus and momentum that carried the line a few extra years.

Fan Interaction

The World of Springfield line set a new standard of company/fan interaction in its relationship between Playmates Toys and the collectors, specifically based at the Simpsons Collector Sector (CS) website and forums. Starting in mid-2001, with contacts from board moderator Michael Crawford, Playmates executives (first Jeff Trojan and later Pat Linden) reached out to the collectors in a mutually beneficial relationship; when fans get input into the line, the company gets free market research. Playmates Toys answered a monthly Q&A from collectors, and regularly gave exclusive details about upcoming products to the CS website directly. Collectors had opportunities to affect the line's future on a few occasions.

The first incident occurred in summer 2001 after a controversy surrounding the release of the ToyFare exclusive Pin Pal Mr. Burns figure. Fans complained about the unfair way ToyFare handled these offers, and Playmates responded; first by having ToyFare make later offers available online, and later by ending WoS offers from ToyFare entirely. Conversely, fan enthusiasm helped revive products that had been cancelled at one point, including the deluxe Main Street play set with the Old Jewish Man and Jeremy Freedman, and the Moe's Tavern play set with Duffman.

Collectors were also often asked to give suggestions on what figures and play sets they wanted to see, and polls were generated. The results of these polls had an impact on future lineups, with collectors getting many of the figures they had requested.

This interaction hit a peak in 2003 when the Simpsons Collector Sector hosted a panel discussion at the San Diego Comic Con that July. A representative from Playmates Toys was the featured guest and engaged in Q&A with attendees and handed out free figures to all of the attendees as well.

Fans continued to have a voice through the end of the line, although larger issues (voice contracts, censor disagreements, etc) sometimes prevented collectors from getting everything they wanted from the line. This model of interaction has been followed by many other toy companies since.

End and Revival

The line ended in September 2004 after the Springfield Town Square with Jebediah Springfield play set was released due to a number of factors, most importantly slow sales. There were a number of factors, in turn, that contributed to the declining sales, including "collectors fatigue", the release pattern of figures, the sheer size of the line being difficult for newcomers, the slowing economy, the changing toy retail situation, and even Playmates Toys relationship with 20th Century Fox.

For a complete detailed history of the WoS line, check out Michael Crawford's 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of Springfield!' and the archives at the Simpsons Collector Sector for an even more in-depth history.

However, shortly after the end of WoS, McFarlane Toys, known for their sports line of action figures, decided to revive Simpsons collecting and start a new line of figures. The first set to be released was the "Ironic Punishment" set based on "The Devil and Homer Simpson" segment of Treehouse of Horror IV featuring Homer being "tortured" by one of the devil's minions by forcing all of the donuts in the world down his throat. It was soon followed by a "Family Couch Gag" set based on the couch gag. So far, the new line has been accepted very well by Simpsons collectors and plans for an official line of figures will be coming soon.

Entire List of Figures and Playsets

Wave One

Release date: January 2000

Wave One Playsets

Release date: February 2000

Wave Two

Release date: August 2000

Wave Two Playsets

Release date: August 2000

Wave Three

Release date: January 2001

Wave Three Playsets

Release date: January 2001

Wave Four

Release date: April 2001

Wave Four Playsets

Release date: April 2001

Wave Five

Release date: July 2001 (Note: This is the only series to not release a playset.)

Wave Six

Release date: September 2001

Wave Six Playsets

Release date: September 2001

Wave Seven

Release date: December 2001

Wave Seven Playsets

Release date: December 2001

Wave Eight

Release date: March 2002

Wave Eight Playsets

Release date: March 2002

Wave Nine

Release date: June 2002

Wave Nine Playsets

Release date: June 2002

Wave Ten

Release date: October 2002

Wave Ten Playsets

Release date: October 2002

Wave Eleven

Release date: December 2002

Wave Eleven Playset

Release date: December 2002

Wave Twelve

Release date: April 2003

Wave Twelve Playset

Release date: April 2003

Wave Thirteen

Release date: July 2003

Wave Thirteen Playset

Release date: July 2003

Wave Fourteen

Release date: October 2003

Wave Fourteen Playset

Release date: October 2003

Wave Fifteen

Release date: January 2004

Wave Fifteen Playset

Release date: January 2004

Wave Sixteen

Release date: June 2004

Wave Sixteen Playset

Release date: September 2004

ToyFare Exclusives

  • Glow In The Dark Radioactive Homer (Release date: October 2000)
  • Pin Pal Burns (Release date: July 2001)
  • Boxing Homer (Release date: October 2001)
  • Convention Comic Book Guy (Release date: December 2001)
  • Pin Pal Moe (Release date: December 2001)

Toys-R-Us Exclusives

EB Games Exclusives

Mail-Aways

Celebrity Wave One

Release date: February 2002

Celebrity Wave Two

Release date: June 2002

Celebrity Wave Three

Release date: October 2002

Dioramas

Release date: July 2003

  • Simpsons House Diorama with Homer, Marge and Maggie Simpson
  • Kwik-E-Mart Diorama with Grampa Simpson and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
  • Krustylu Studios Diorama with Krusty the Clown and Milhouse Van Houten

Re-Releases

Release date: April 2003

Vehicles

Technically not part of World of Springfield (although there is a debate among the fans), these vehicles were made by Playmates Toys in June 2001 and August 2002, and are sometimes considered part of the line by fans. The vehicles weren't actually able to hold any figures from the line, but they could, however, speak by moving the small characters to the right or the left or by pressing the car's hood (this would create a conversation between the characters rather than just one character talking). Upon doing so, each character would have special lines taken from episodes from the series, much like the figures.

KayBee Toys Exclusive

The KayBee Toys exclusive "When Bongos Collide" 3-pack featuring The Ingestible Bulk, Vampiredna, and Captain Kwik.

Again, technically not considered part of the World of Springfield line (although there is debate about that among collectors), Playmates Toys released a series of figures exclusive to Kay Bee Toys based on the "When Bongos Collide" story line from Bongo Comics in August 2002. It featured Simpsons characters transformed into superheroes. The initial three-pack of figures included Homer Simpson as the Ingestible Bulk, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon as Captain Kwik, and Edna Krabappel as Vampiredna. Two more three-packs were planned (featuring Marge as the Entangler, Lisa as the Jazzler, Maggie as BrainBaby, Grampa as Oldblood member Coma, Skinner as The Stickler and Willie as the Plaid Piper), but the line was cancelled as soon as it hit retail.

Cancelled Figures and Play sets

Like in most toy lines, items are planned for release that for a number of reasons (cost issues, low retailer interest, etc) never end up being produced and/or released. Many items were cancelled from the World of Springfield line; a complete list is available in the Simpsons Collector Sector's Release Guide.

Figures

  • Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky (Voiced by Jackie Mason; was originally planned for Wave Two of the Celebrity line, but was cancelled for unknown reasons)
  • Lyle Lanley (Voiced by Phil Hartman; was originally part of the Celebrity Wave Three lineup, but in April 2002, Playmates Toys added an official list of WoS releases that replaced Lyle Lanley with Cooder, thus being removed from the official list. The reason why is unknown)
  • Molloy (Was originally part of Wave Twelve, but was replaced by Number One for unknown reasons)
  • Stonecutter Wiggum (Was originally going to be the third figure in the mail-away Stonecutters series of figures, but has been cancelled due to reasons unknown)
  • "When Bongos Collide" 2nd 3-pack w/ The Entangler, The Jazzler and BrainBaby (Was originally going to be released alongside the first 3-pack, but was cancelled along with the 3rd 3-pack by Fox when the first 3-pack hit retail due to unknown reasons)
  • "When Bongos Collide" 3rd 3-pack w/ Oldblood member Coma, The Stickler and the Plaid Piper (Was originally going to be released alongside the first and second 3-packs, but was cancelled along with the 2nd 3-pack by Fox when the first 3-pack hit retail due to unknown reasons)
  • Raven Bart and Alien Maggie (Were originally going to be part of the Toys-R-Us exclusive Treehouse of Horror Three Ironic Punishment playset, but when Playmates Toys added an official list of WoS releases, they were replaced by Hugo Simpson II and Freddy Krueger Willie, respectively. The reason why is unknown)

Playsets

  • Flanders Rumpus Room with Maude Flanders (Was originally going to be the playset of Wave Eighteen, but when the end of the WoS line was announced, it was cancelled)
  • Springfield Elementary School Playground with Janey Powell (Was originally going to be the playset of Wave Seventeen, but when the end of the WoS line was announced, it was cancelled)
  • Stonecutters Lodge with Stonecutter Carl (Planned to be released around the time the Stonecutters mail-away promotion was in session, this play set would've been a Toys-R-Us exclusive that came with a Stonecutter Carl Carlson figure. But, due to the end of WoS and the slow sales of the Be Sharps Centennial playset with Dr. Dolittle Wiggum, it was cancelled)
  • 300th Episode Special: The Loft with Skateboarding Homer, Pajama Bart, "Indian Burn" Lisa and Casual Skinner (Was originally planned to promote the 300th episode (which is actually "The Strong Arms of the Ma" due to continuity errors), but was cancelled due to unknown reasons)
  • Oval Office with President Lisa, Old Homer, Old Marge, Grownup Bart and Maggie Simpson, Jr (This was the most rumored WoS playset based on an episode occurring every four years; Was first officially teased at SDCC 2003 and was planned to be a Toys-R-Us exclusive, but was cancelled due to slow sales of previous exclusives)
  • Treehouse of Horror Five: House of Pain with Walrus Homer, Panther Marge, Spider Bart, Owl Lisa and Anteater Maggie (This particular playset went through many different changes. At first, it was going to be themed after the "Bad Dream House" segment of THOH I, with the Evil House as the setting, and it would've came with the Simpson family chasing each other around with knives. Then, it was decided to keep the setting, but replacing the family with various characters from various THOHs, which then would've included Jack in the Box Homer, Raven Bart, Alien Maggie, Vampire Krusty, Werewolf Flanders, the House of Evil Shopkeeper and the wacky Snowball II. Eventually, much later in the process, it was finally decided to use the "Island of Dr. Hibbert" theme from THOH XIII and use the House of Pain setting along with the Simpson family as animals, which became the final design for this set. However, this set was cancelled for unknown reasons)
  • Springfield Nuclear Power Plant Workroom with Mindy Simmons and Homer Simpson (Was originally planned as part of the Celebrity line, but when that line ended, it was cancelled)

Waves

Dioramas

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