I very much doubt I’m alone in this, but I feel that Lego’s minifigures are what makes Lego Lego. But it wasn’t always so: Lego patented the now-classic Lego brick in 1958. It took 20 more years for the minifigure we know and love to be patented.
Before that, we had buildings and vehicles without people, or freakishly huge brick-build figures that didn’t fit the buildings and which I’ve always found unnerving for some reason (those large Lego figures are actually the reason why today’s minifigures are called mini-figures).
But 1978 changed everything and we got our little tiny people to play with. This coincided with the introduction of new themes like Castle and Space, and the world of Lego adventures opened up to me (thanks to gifts from my parents).
So what is it about these minifigs?
If you look at them, they’re actually very similar to Playmobil figures: despite the obvious difference in size, they both lack a nose, are always smiling (at least until 1989) and both have claw hands to grip objects. But there the similarities end.
Interestingly the new doll minifigs we get with the Friends and Elves sets are more akin to Playmobil since you can’t move their legs individually and their hand grip is fixed. Classic minifigures were – and are – much more versatile than that: their legs can be moved independently , allowing you to put them in various poses, and their hands rotate at the wrist through friction, vastly increasing their range of movement, and allowing them to hold objects with two hands, like guitars or brooms, something you can’t do with Playmobil.
Minifigs, at least those who aren’t based on characters from various films, books, or graphic novel franchises, are always yellow. The idea behind this was to make them identifiable by any child of any race. I would argue though that the many amazing hair pieces we now have at our disposal puts paid to that lofty goal, but I absolutely love that yellow skin tone nonetheless.
They’ve also taken on a life of their own since 2010, when Lego started releasing various series of individual minifigs, each with their own trait and personality. It’s like they’ve almost moved beyond the need for sets and the appeal of these little fellows is becoming universal with billions having been produced since 1978.
But why do I personally love them so much? Simple: each minifig is the same size as all the others, and they’re all compatible with one another. It doesn’t matter which set they’re from, you can easily mix and match them. Which is why you can have Indiana Jones interacting with a satyr, a spaceman, an elf, Iron Man and Rocket Racoon, and a man in a banana suit, and no one bats an eyelid.
And which other toy allows you to do that? 😉
Until the next time, Captain out.