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Treehouse of Horror 1: The Raven

The Simpsons
by yo go re

McFarlane Toys has really carved out a niche for themselves, recently. They found a bold new business plan that no other company would have dared try: specifically, they find a toy line that another company made in the past, then do a worse job with it. Brilliant! The newest entry in this "elite" group of also-rans is the Call of Duty line, but McToys kicked things off with The Simpsons.

This painstakingly crafted figure displays many of the classic elements from the very first "Treehouse of Horror" episode, first broadcast in the US on October 25, 1990. Since that auspicious debut, the "Tree House [sic] of Horror" has become an annual Halloween event in the lives of legions of Simpsons fans. In this segment, Homer listens as Lisa reads Poe's classic work "The Raven." He fantasizes himself to be the narrator, Marge to be Lenore and Bart to be the raven. Bart complains to Lisa that Poe's tale of horror isn't scary enough, "Not even for a poem."

McFarlane's press release for the line said they wanted to "work with The Simpsons creative team to capture their favorite legendary and key iconic moments" and "bring to life the snapshot storytelling that McFarlane Toys is best known for," as well as "breathe life into its version of The Simpsons action figures through sculpting, poses and paint applications."

Yeah, fail.

The original "Treehouse of Horror" episode was made in Season 2, before The Simpsons had cemented its place as a high-water mark of American culture. It was just viewed as another stupid flash-in-the-pan cartoon, but their adaptation of Poe's "The Raven" impressed the literati, becoming in particular a favorite of English teachers (for obvious reasons). The segment didn't mock Poe, or turn "The Raven" into a joke: it just lifted the text (almost) exactly and provided an animated depiction - albeit fairly stylized - of the poem's narrative structure.

This diorama isn't exactly a "snapshot" of any specific scene, but is rather an amalgamation of elements from the episode. We have the young scholar (Homer) cursing the raven (Bart), who sits high on the portrait of the lovely lost Lenore (Marge) as the seraphim (Lisa and Maggie) circle in the air. Watch the cartoon and you'll never see this exact arrangement, but the intention is clear. With everything in place, the set is 6" wide, 3" deep and 9⅛" tall.

Homer is 4" tall, and points angrily at the uncaring sky. Bart is an appropriately scaled 1¼" - well, appropriately scaled for a bird, anyway. The girls are the size they'd be in relation to their dad: Lisa is 2" and Maggie is 1¼". The only articulation in the set is found in Homer's ankles and the girls' necks; swivels all. Ough. You know what fans' complaint about the Playmates figures was? That there wasn't enough articulation. So McFarlane's answer is to put in less? Yes, it's the solution nobody demanded!

Each of the figures connects to the base to keep them in place. Homer and Bart both get footpegs, while Lisa and Maggie have clear rods that plug into the wall. Marge, of course, is just a sticker. Two stickers. Her hair is big. Everyone but Lisa can stand on their own, and she and Maggie are premanently attached via the cord that suspends their censer. Bart steadfastly refuses to stay on his peg, however, and will pop off at the merest nudge.

The sculpt is decent, but not better than Playmates's work. Now, obviously there isn't a lot of detail to capture on animated toys, but it's a question of shape and proportion, and while these toys are adequate, they're not especially impressive. A highlight of the sculpt is that Homer's hairs are separate pieces rising above the top of his head, not just sculpted on. However, the fact that we're singling that out as worthy of mention should give you an idea how lackluster the work is overall.

What's really bad, however, is the paint. The large areas of color are fine, but anywhere there's a black outline, things just go to pot. The lines are clunky, uneven, and generally fail to follow the sculpt. Looking at this sloppy work, you can see why previous toys avoided black outlines whenever possible. This, along with the so-so sculpt, really combines to give the toys the look of mid-grade Christmas tree ornaments, not a McFarlane Toys product.

McFarlane Toys got the Simpsons license in at the beginning of 2005, but didn't release their first product until the middle of 2006. And although their license doesn't expire until 2009, they've admitted they're not putting out any Simpsons stuff at all in 2008. Why not? Because this line is just another unfortunate failure. McFarlane tried to charge high-end prices for low-rent figures, and nobody was having it. If these had, say, a $8 pricepoint instead of $15, it may have worked, but you can't charge us more money for less toy than Playmates gave us 10 years ago.

Poor planning and bad decisions are hitting McFarlane Toys, just like they hit Palisades before the end. Earlier this year they announced the cancellation of all their in-house properties, and obviously even their licensed properties are having trouble. The toy industry is in a strange place right now, and McToys needs to be careful if they're going to come out the other side in one piece. The Simpsons could have been huge, if McFarlane had played it right, but as it is, the toys aren't worth getting unless you can find them on a pretty substantial clearance - fortunately, your odds of that are really good, even now.


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