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Family Christmas &
Sunday Best Grampa

World of Springfield
by yo go re

Though The Simpsons gets a lot of credit for its Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, that's hardly the only holiday that Spiringfield loves to celebrate. Hell, the first episode centered around a typical Simpson Christmas.

It should be no surprise that the Simpsons celebrate Christmas. They're fairly devout Protestant Christians - in the Western branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism - and attend church every Sunday. In fact, Springfield is a very religious town, probably more indicative of the average American city than any other sitcom. But there's more to Christmas than church; there's also the gathering of family to renew old relationships.

This set was a Toys Я Us exclusive in 2001 - yeah, we're jumping on this one at the height of its popularity, can't you tell? The set's biggest appeal was that, at the time, it was the only way to get the entirety of our favorite family in one fell swoop.

There were about two dozen Homers released in the World of Springfield line, so you might think the one in this set is nothing special. I'll be Homer for Christmas You'd be right. Well, unless you consider getting an entirely new body "something special," at which point he is.

In the premiere episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," Homer was crushed to find out he's lost his Christmas bonus. Looking to make some quick dough, he takes Barney's advice and becomes a mall Santa. Yes, he was willing to sink that low out of love for his family. Cue the heartwarming "awwwww!"

Anyway, after deductions, Homer's paycheck was only $13. One of the deductions listed was "costume purchase," so Homer got to wear it home. After a brief stop at the dog track. Homer's got a great body for a fake Santa - no stuffing pillows into the costume for him! He's wearing the traditional red suit with white trim and fur around the neck and wrists. His big black belt has an orange buckle, and his shiny black boots come up to where his knees would be (if WoS figures had any).

Yes, Homer moves at the Springfield Four. He hasn't spontaneously generated any extra joints in the five years since his release. He's got the same electronics as every other generic Homer, so he'll talk on all but 10 of the released sets. On this set, he says:

  • "I love Christmas so much!"
  • "Spill it Marge, where have you been hiding the Christmas money?"
  • "Lisa! Where's Christmas!?"
  • "Christmas is cancelled; no presents for anyone!"

Homer's bald head is showing, because he's given his hat to Bart. On a bet from Milhouse, Bart accosted the Mall Santa, yanking off the fake beard to reveal his father beneath. Since Bart was the only one privy to Homer's secret shame, he got to tag along for the rest of the zany, depressing fun!

The hat, sadly, isn't removable. I know it's not removable because I removed it. The only thing under there is a massive peg and a square bit to keep it from spinning. This figure isn't entirely accurate to the pilot episode: he's in his usual red shirt and blue shorts (in the winter?), but that hadn't been nailed down by the premiere; Bart used to wear a blue shirt, and in that particular episode, he also wore winter clothes. Playmates are just cheap bastards.

Bart has the same body we saw on most of the dozen Bart figures in the line, and the same electronics, so he'll talk on 25 different bases. His wintery dialogue is:

  • "Dear Santa, I promise not to do anything bad between now and when I wake up."
  • "There's only one fat guy that brings us presents."
  • "It's crap-tacular."
  • "The Inferno-buster 3000!"

One of the faults of the World of Springfield line was its inattention to scale - the kids are nearly as tall as their parents, which means they're about 40% bigger than they should be. That said, the children do seem to be at least somewhat in scale with each other: Lisa's a little shorter than her big brother Bart.

If this set is supposed to represent "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," then it would be before Lisa converted to Buddhism. It's fine if you want it to be set after, because she's not wearing anything particularly Christmasy; she's just dressed in her winter coat and boots. The coat is lavender with purple trim. It looks like she's not wearing anything underneath, since her chest is yellow. And you'd think they would have given her a hat, so they didn't have to deal with that pointy hair. Nope - all 23 spikes are still there.

Lisa got nine figures from ths line, but most of them were in special sets - only two were ever released by themselves. Christmas Lisa uses the standard voice chip, and here she says:

  • "Bart got a present early? Then I should get a present early!"
  • "But I really want a pony!"
  • "This year's tree is just perfect!"

Marge really only has one outfit (though one variation Playmates never made was her Chanel suit from "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield," oddly enough). She's wearing her usual green dress, but her head is new: she's wearing white earmuffs and has red garland wrapped around her hair.

For a mother of three, Marge has always had a surprisingly good figure. "Body" figure, not "action figure." This figure really tones that down, though, casting Mrs. Simpson as a rather formless tube. She doesn't need to be Lady Death or anything, but there's a reason she still makes Homer growl after 10 years of marriage.

Because of the architectural wonder that is her hair, Marge is the tallest WoS figure. She only moves at the Springfield Four, and the Intelli-tronic chip in her legs means her feet are permanently stuck together and her ankles are too thick. To be honest, she probably wouldn't have much more articulation even if another company had done these: not with that dress. She says:

  • "For once, we're going to celebrate Christmas as a family!"
  • "Hey, kids! I made your favorite cookies!"
  • "Kids, you wanna go Christmas shopping?"
  • "You will not be getting a tattoo for Christmas!"

Our final figure in this set is a two-fer: two characters who were previously released as accessories, now bundled together. It's Maggie, riding on the back of Santa's Little Helper. SLH was Homer's answer to his Christmas Bonus problem - he scored the dog for free from an abusive owner, but the family just assumed he'd spent the money on a thoroughbred. The moral is "always conceal the truth."

Santa's Little Helper, known to MoneyBank Credit Services Department as Santos L. Halper, has fallen prey to the holiday spirit - someone in the family has strapped one of those ridiculous dog headpieces on him, so now the poor little guy's got antlers. Magaggie is draped across his shoulders, wearing her traditional blue smock, rather than the star-shaped snowsuit that is her usual cold-weather wear.

There is no articulation for this pair, but there is a voice chip - Santa's Little Helper's feet are all connected to some lump of plastic that contains the chip. It could pass for a shadow (or a puddle) if it was painted, but it's the same plain brown as the dog. SLH and Maggie "say":

  • *barking*
  • *panting*
  • *burp*
  • *crying*
  • *cooing happily*

Further tying this set to "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is the environment, the Simpsons' living room. The Simpson house has two things that could be called a living room, and Playmates already called the other one the living room when it was a playset in Series 1. But that room is where the family watches tv and gathers for every episode's couch gag - it leads to the backyard and the kitchen. This is the room immediately to the left when you come in the front door; it has a couch in the center of the room and a fireplace on the far wall.

This room measures 7" tall, 7⅞" wide and 5" deeep. Unlike the standard playset environments, the Living Room only has one wall - the others usually had a rear wall and one side wall. Here we get the blue-green carpeting, with a burnt umber area rug on top. The wall is pink, and the curtains around the bay window are yellow. Patty and Selma are standing in the front yard, smoking, but it's too dark to see George Bush's big house across the street. Next to the window stands the family Christmas tree, with presents underneath and a birdhouse peeking out: since Homer couldn't afford to buy a tree, he had to cut one down on private property.

The set includes one accessory, an upright piano. It's purple, with white and black keys and sheet music for "Jingle Bells" just waiting to be played (though you'll need a jeweler's loupe to see it). Did you know "Jingle Bells" has four verses? Neither did I. The piano actually does belong in this room - it's there in the show, just off in the corner. To put it where it "belongs," it would have to sit next to the set, not on it. There are three footpegs for the five figures, so they can't all talk at once. It can be difficult to arrange everyone, on and off the pegs, and with the piano in place. Press one of the buttons without a figure in place, and you'll hear sleigh bells.

This set is a great way to get the entire Simpson family at once - or most of them, anyway. You've got figures of the main family, with evidence of Marge's sisters out on the lawn. The only thing missing, really, is Homer's dad. Yes, he's got a picture next to the tree, but that's it. What about Abraham Simpson?

If you want to invite Grampa over to celebrate Christmas, don't go for the plain version - he's not gussied up enough to fit in with this crowd. Instead, track down Sunday Best Grampa, who looks just as festive as the rest of the clan. He's wearing wingtips, brown pants, a white shirt and a green bowtie beneath a rumpled red jacket with patches on the elbows. He's got his glasses, but they don't attach in any way - they have a tendency to fall off. Consider glue.

As for accessories, Abe has a Bible, a bottle of aspirin, a stick of beef jerky and a tin of pomade. Those are all nice enough, but the capper (ha!) is his fez. Purchased with the money he inherited from his girlfriend Bea in "Old Money" and purportedly once worn by Napoleon. A green tassel hangs from the top, and the hat has a hole to accommodate Grampa's little tuft of hair.

Sunday Best Grampa has the same electronics as the regular version, and so he works on the same 17 playsets - which, sadly, does not include this one. He's most talkative at the Springfield Retirement Castle, which makes sense. After that it's the other Living Room playset, then a tie between Dr. Nick's Office and the Military Antiques Shop. You know, all his favorite places. It really would have been nice if Playmates had made the Christmas Living Room compatible with more than just the figures that came with it.

This set was a World of Springfield exclusive back when that still meant something - it regularly sold for more than twice its SRP when it was new. But the line has been gone for several years now, and all the prices are trending downward. As of this writing, the Family Christmas set was available on eBay for less than retail. It makes for a great seasonal display piece, though, so if you're looking to add some holiday cheer to your toy collection, this is a good choice.

-- 12/13/06

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