This year, the smiling, yellow characters that bring LEGO models to life have been around for four decades, so Brick Fanatics is wishing many happy returns to the beloved minifigure
This year marks forty years since the humble LEGO minifigure was first introduced. The simple, smiling character that has gone on to become a symbol of the LEGO Group did not exist before 1978, when the tiny little fellows first appeared in a number of sets. Back then, minifigures held roles such as astronauts, knights and firefighters. Today, minifigures can be found occupying those very same roles, but also representing many licensed characters that did not even exist when the four brick tall figures were introduced.
What came in 1978 was the minifigure that fans still know and love today. In 1975, their precursor was introduced – these had the same head shape, although with no printing, and similarly scaled torso and leg parts. The difference was that the torsos did not feature arms and the legs had no articulation either, meaning these little figures were like mini statues, looking comparatively lifeless. One thing that did not change when these pre-minifigures became minifigures was the head gear pieces, these continued exactly as they were – with many new hair and hat styles introduced over time, of course.
Maxifigures were the main way that the LEGO Group represented characters before the introduction of minifigures. These larger characters were predominantly brick built, with bespoke pieces allowing for heads and arms. The drawback to maxifigures was that the size of the sets had to be larger to accommodate them – even with some fudging, items such as spaceships would have had to be pretty large at maxifigure scale.
Thankfully, this was recognised and the minifigure became the standard in the new Town, Space and Castle sets. The maxifigures did not disappear immediately, and even found use for the new minifigures as dolls and babies. But the minifigures had starring roles in new sets, whether that be defending 375 Castle or exploring far away galaxies in 487 Space Cruiser.
Although the parts that make up the minifigure have been modified over the years, to become sturdier and better for play, they are essentially the same pieces that they always were. The legs are the same shape with the same articulation, the torso is made up of five pieces that are not designed to be disassembled and the head is the same shape as it always was. That this same design has managed to last for forty years, especially in the fast changing world of toys, is impressive indeed.
Looking back at LEGO sets from 40 years ago is a reminder that the minifigures were not included in the more serious sets targeted at adults and older children. It would not really be until the release of the modular building series in 2007 that the LEGO Group realised that adults wanted sets with minifigures, that the blocky little chaps had as much charm for nostalgic grown ups as they did for children. To really emphasise the misty, rose coloured memories, the minifigures in 10182 Café Corner had the basic faces first introduced in 1978.
While nostalgia of course plays a factor in the popularity of the minifigure, the detail and sophistication of the characters has improved significantly over the years. Whether it be Darth Vader’s helmet being introduced in 1999 or Batman’s cowl in 2006, bespoke pieces allowed specific characters to be represented in the format. When the Collectible Minifigures series launched in 2010, an acknowledgement was being made by the LEGO Group about just how popular these characters had become. That new theme allowed for the level of printed detail to continually improve, with the regular LEGO themes soon catching up in terms of minifigure quality.
Such a significant anniversary cannot pass unnoticed, and much like the next series of LEGO Collectible Minifigures, Brick Fanatics plans to celebrate forty years of the LEGO minifigure. Keep a C-shaped hand clicking back throughout 2018 to enjoy some special minifigure focussed content.