Everyone loves Lego. The sheer potential in loose bricks. The color and variety of bricks that lets you create pretty much anything you can imagine. Easily taken apart for a new construction. The skills required are almost minimal, to the point where even toddlers will appreciate pressing two bricks together. But the bricks can also occupy the attention of the most skilled engineers. What's not to love?
This will not be the last time I write about Lego. Mainly because I really like Lego, but also because there are a few subjects surrounding these toys that I'd like to address. As you all can see, I have a Lego guy in my home-made banner, and I feel it fits just perfectly to start the "toy section" of Toys and Bacon with some thoughts around the famous and beloved Minifigure.
Read on for more!
The Minifigure evolves
I will make this shorter than I'd like, because the history of Lego is rich and it's really easily available several places on the net - the best place is probably Lego's own web site.
Lego is a Danish company that makes bricks that can connect together. The production of the bricks as we know it started some time in the 50s, and to this day they are still produced in Billund, Denmark (among other places). Currently, The Lego Group is the third largest toy manufacturer in the world, conveniently sandwiched between the two big American, and the two big Japanese companies.
The minifigure saw the light of day in 1978 - but hopefully, wise parents moved it out of the sunlight before it could take any more damage (yes, I will be addressing the issue of discoloration on toys in the near future). The minifigure was intended to be as neutral as possible, which is why they gave it a bright yellow skin color, instead of more realistic flesh colors. The early minifigures also had no apparent sex, and all of them came with the same satisfied smile on their faces. No minifigure was branded as good or evil, they were just generic yellow toy people. This neutrality was intentional, and it fit well within the idea of Lego, The kid would not only decide what was built, but also the role of the minifigure.
Back in the day, I had a lot of Lego. And I had the mentality that I could create anything. I still remember one time I made Predaking in Lego. At that point in time, it was dead on, perfectly recreating the idea of the character Predaking, and quite possible surpassing the quality of the actual toy. It probably just looked like a pile of bricks, but not to my 8 year old self. Today, kids get the luxury of having very specific Lego of all their favorite themes. The result is both a blessing and a curse. On one side, you get gorgeous looking sets that are dead accurate. On the other side, there is the possibility that the idea behind Lego is diminished, that the creativity is hindered by the abundance of themed sets. There's a good chance I'm wrong, and that being a kid these days actually requires some effort. I don't know. Throw me some comments on this.
I still have all my Lego. As both a collector and nostalgic, I have continued to take care of my bricks. My favorites in the 80s were the space dudes. They came in various colors, had cool helmets and piloted wickedly awesome vehicles. Notice they are all smiling. Why wouldn't they smile? They are Lego space dudes, and have gotten continuous appreciation!
These days, Lego still makes the space dudes, but they are a bit more elaborate and detailed. This is the general trend with today's Lego sets, as well as their minifigures.
As you can see, these figures derive greatly from the figure in the first picture. They are extremely detailed, and come with a large variety of accessories (and they kind of ridicule stereotypes, but you know.. it's a toy). But the general idea is actually still the same, and the construction of the minifigure is almost untouched. The idea may be unchanged, but the minifigure is probably a lot more popular today, and has for the last years had a healthy existence outside the sets, specially among collectors. This was solidified with the 2010 release of the first batch of blind-packed "collectible minifigures".
At some point in the late 80s, Lego started their pirate line. This is relevant, because it was the first time Lego decided for the kids. Gone was the days when neutrality ruled, and you could grab any Lego person and pretend it was anyone and everyone. Captain Redbeard and his crew has several chests filled with gold coins, and it's doubtful that they made that money doing honest work. Just take a look at them! They haven't shaved, and they're still smiling. Clearly they are evil. On the other side you have the imperials, with their neat suits and high hats. The good guys, without a doubt. Even though the pirates clearly were the bad guys, and the imperials naturally was the force of good, kids still had the option to root for their favorites. And for some reason, I own a lot more pirates than imperials...
Which brings us to..
Lego Licensed Sets
In the late 90s, The Lego Group got hold of the rights to make brick versions of known franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. The sets became popular, and over time Lego continued obtain licenses to make known franchises into Lego. Superheroes like Spider-Man and Batman have gotten the Lego treatment, as have movies like Toy Story, the extremely popular Harry Potter, and as you can see above, Pirates of the Caribbean - here represented by the Lego version of Captain Jack Sparrow. What separates Captain Jack from my old pirates, apart from the obvious increase in paint details, is the fact that he has a more natural skin color. It's actually far too light for Jack's likeness, as he had quite the tan from his years out in the Caribbean sea, but it's still something else than the otherwise yellow skin of Lego's "own" figures. While the early licensed sets had yellow skin, actual skin colors soon became the standard for all these sets.
One of the first licenses The Lego Group got was Star Wars, and it's still popular among kids at literally all ages. Rightfully so, many of the vehicles translate well into Lego, and the background story is compelling enough to make the sets even more interesting. It's a legitimate claim that Star Wars Lego is the best thing about Star Wars since 1981. I can make an entry about sets some other time, but today it's about the minifigures.
While some fans were salivating over the idea of a Lego Boba Fett, it's still a fact that the bad boy of the Star Wars universe does preciously little, other than trying to look cool. He has a cool costume, and the Lego version was indeed good looking. But in the end, the Fett got outsmarted by a blind Han Solo, and eaten by a worm.. or something. Aaaand that's as close we get to something food-related in this entry.
As you can see, I have taken a picture of the true heroes in the Star Wars Lego Universe, and my personal favorites. The robot who always had a solution to problems, the admiral who knew when someone tried to fool him. And finally the powerful villain, who really was nothing but a puppet up until the moment when he turned on his oppressor. Such a strong character, such a visually character, such a cute little Lego figure.
Back in the day, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic over a Darth Vader minifigure. But the fact is, I didn't really think that way. I thought the way kids did with Lego.
Why not make it? I have this character I like, and I have Space Lego dudes...
So 8 year old me simply made Lego Darth Vader.
And like everything else that's good in life, it usually leads to a smile.