The possibilities of playtime: 40 years of Playmobil
For over 40 years, the diminutive, smiling people of Playmobil have been inspiring children’s imaginative adventures. In memory of company founder Horst Brandstaetter, who passed away last week, here’s a whirlwind tour through Playmobil sets both old and new.
Designer Hans Beck considered the figurines to be the most important part of the Playmobil formula. From Wikipedia:
“Beck spent three years developing what became Playmobil. He conducted research that allowed him to develop a toy that would be flexible (unlike tin soldiers), not too complex, to fit in an average child’s hand and have a facial design based on child’s drawing (e.g. having a large head, smile, and no nose). “I would put the little figures in their hands without saying anything about what they were,” Beck remarked. “They accepted them right away… They invented little scenarios for them. They never grew tired of playing with them.””
Brandstaetter was not immediately sold on the idea, but history intervened on Beck’s behalf: the 1973 oil crisis demanded that toymakers use less solid plastic, and the small, customizable Playmobil pieces (and the hollow bodies of the tiny characters) used far less plastic than the hula hoops and other large toys that Geobra Brandstätter was currently making.
Playmobil sets made their debut at the Nuremberg International Toy Fair in 1974, and while industry professionals weren’t certain about the toys, children definitely were. Their winning formula for immersive play was there from the beginning: check out all the accessories that came with these early knight playsets!
Since the central design for the characters has not changed at all in 40 years, every piece from the original sets is still perfectly interchangeable with the ones from the current sets. Writer Laura Mitchell notes that “if you still have any pieces left from the set you had as a child, you’ll find they will fit exactly with the modern-day sets. A 40-year-old knight can hold a modern sword and a 40-year-old cow can still graze on today’s plastic Playmobil grass.”
Today’s Playmobil still has knights, of course, as evidenced by these fierce little guys I saw at Toy Fair 2015:
…but it also has much more exotic warriors, including this guy in an awesome robot suit:
You can choose from a wide variety of houses, from the everyday to the exotic, customized for modern or traditional sensibilities:
And little Playmobil players can choose from a wide variety of vocations, from being a mom to a veterinarian to a firefighter to a helicopter pilot, and you can choose companions ranging from unicorns to goats. (And since everything is interchangeable, Mom, the fairy princess, the veterinarian, and the goatherd can also take their turn flying the helicopter or putting out fires. Why not?)
Oh, and every kid wants their own Ferris wheel:
The newest Playmobil sets will be appearing throughout the year on our store shelves and on our website, so keep an eye out! Which sets do you think your kids will be clamoring for? Tell us in the comments!
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