Merchandise Releases:
Action Figures

Released by Mattel

This set of prototypes comprises the cancelled second series of Simpsons action figures and vehicles by Mattel. Whether it was due to higher prices, a flood of too much Simpsons merchandise, a dip in the popularity of The Simpsons, competition from other action figure lines such as Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Marvel Superheroes, a difficulty in mining good toy concepts from the show, high licensing costs, or something else, sales of the first series of Mattel figures (which included Bart, Homer, Lisa, Marge, Maggie, Nelson, Bartman, and the Sofa & Boob Tube playset) did not warrant production of this planned second series.

Considering the design of the prototypes, some collectors elicit a moan of regret at this fact while others breathe a sigh of relief. Although Mattel's articulation and changeable word balloon accessories continued, many of the new toy concepts abandoned any attempt to be faithful to The Simpsons television show. The early 1990s was a very different time for the action figure market compared to just a decade later. The first major line for adult collectors, Star Trek by Playmates, was just getting started. It would not be until 1994-95 when Spawn by McFarlane Toys and Star Wars by Hasbro would be introduced, bringing adult collectors into the action figure aisles in greater numbers. Kids were just about the only demographic action figure companies were interested in back then, and companies were trying to attract them with figures that were more bright, colorful, and often sillier to adult sensibilities than ever before, including multiple colors of Batman, G.I.Joe Eco-Warriors, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This Mattel action figure line would have fit that mold perfectly.

The clear favorites to collectors in this assortment would have been the ones truest to the show, Krusty the Clown and Bart the Daredevil. Krusty was just about the only supporting Simpsons character merchandisers were interested in during the early days of the series, but he always played second fiddle to the Simpson family. His plush doll was produced in low numbers but never made it to Burger King and his action figure never saw production at all. Bart the Daredevil, complete with bandages, a newly sculpted intense facial expression, and a variation on Daredevil Lance Murdock's costume, was inspired by a fan-favorite episode. The other planned toys consisted mainly of original Mattel concepts that ranged from the creative to the absurd.

Bart, not Homer variations were the name of the game. Baseball Bart looks like a well-done variation of Bart in a baseball uniform, which was not a costume that had appeared in the show but may have been seen in the Butterfinger commercials. The idea was most likely inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles variations in sports costumes which Playmates was producing at that time to appeal to the athletic youngster. Ninja Bart was similarly inspired by current trends in children's entertainment, namely the fascination with ninjas that started in the mid-1980s with such characters as G.I.Joe's Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow and the aforementioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ninja Bart's grappling hook accessory looks like something that might have been packed with every other Batman figure by Hasbro that year. It's ironic that years later The Simpsons show would actually feature a Ninja Bart (or more accurately a Chinese Restaurant Menu Delivery Boy Bart), in a parody of yet another incarnation of the ninja/samurai fascination, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The next Bart along with Homer and Marge seem to be an attempt to translate the spirit of the show more accurately into playable action figure form. Even though the outfits were original Mattel designs, their everyday look along with the lawnmower, grill, and shopping cart accessories feel like an attempt to capture the sense of domestic chaos with which the series made its mark. With no Lisa variant to speak of, judging by Playmates' first three years of World of Springfield, it looks like some things never change.

The vehicle concepts are what went furthest into the realm of the bizarre. Homer's power plant vehicle was at least inspired by the show, although one has to wonder why a nuclear waste transporter would be designed to dump all those radioactive, glow-in-the-dark parts on the driver. The Simpson car on the other hand was a grotesque and gaudy design. With its bright, clashing colors and exploding feature, it looks to be inspired by the tackiest of Hasbro's Real Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice toys. I don't recall the Simpsons ever driving in a convertible either.

Alas, or thank goodness as your opinion may be, none of this second series ever made it to the production stage. With the license in the 21st century now firmly in Playmates' hands and out of Mattel's, it seems unlikely that these prototypes will ever be dusted off and considered for production. Thankfully, Playmates has given us their own versions of Krusty the Clown, who as a first series figure showed that he isn't playing second fiddle anymore, and soon Daredevil Bart. While it is not out of the realm of possibility that Playmates will someday produce Ninja Bart, Baseball Bart, or some of these accessory ideas, collectors can so far feel secure that Simpsons action figures will always accurately represent the show that inspired them while they are in Playmates' hands.

Thanks to Bill LaRue of Collecting Simpsons for finding these pictures in an old Tomart's Action Figure Digest magazine. You can read Tomart's every month and browse news and online store.

Look up more information by keyword: 1991, cancelled, Mattel, prototype, Series 2

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