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Classic design plastic: Playmobil comes of age

14 Playmobil figures (eg nurse, American Indian, gardener)In the world of tiny people, population growth is out of control. The number of Playmobil miniatures on the planet grows by 3.2 every second. What’s more, they’ve been constructing their appealing microcosm of cowboys, knights and pirates for 40 years now, so there is a huge army out there.

Hans Beck’s classic model has remained relatively unchanged since it debuted at a German trade fair in 1974. Yet even today the process from an original idea to finished product takes two to three years, perfecting the balance of detail and simplicity in each new character. While rival Lego sprawls across feature film, video-game, innumerable blockbuster tie-ins (The Last Airbender Lego set, anyone?) and even business consultancy, the smiling denizens of this happy world are content to stick to what they do best. Which is being adorable.

The family has evolved over the decades, of course. The familiar clip-grip hands became rotatable in 1982, while the pirate captain was the first to sport a round belly. Each generation boasts new clothes, footwear, body shapes and accessories. Increasingly drawn from contemporary trades and contexts, all tiny human life is here. Regard the individuality of the models – mountain rescuer with search dog! Recycling technician in hi-vis tabard! Teacher with too much paperwork! OK, the last one is made up. But what Playmobil is quite clearly working towards is a wholesale reproduction of society in 7.5cm, injection-moulded form. World domination never looked so cute.

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