Created 43 years ago by a German family company, the small plastic figurine with an eternal smile is the pride of the industry of an entire country, and has established itself in just three years as an absolute Best-Seller.
The toy brands have definitely been on the rise for several years in the cinema, as we explained again last January. Let’s face it: the success story of Danish toy manufacturer LEGO has sharpened the appetite of the competition. Starting with another toy giant, German this one: Playmobil. In November 2014, we learned that the group Pathé and Wild Bunch were working on the creation of an animated film based on the brand’s famous plastic figurines, scheduled for release in late 2017. It was only two years later, on August 7, 2019, that the adaptation on the big screen was released in the dark rooms.
Who could have predicted that this little man, 7.5 cm tall, all plastic and with a smile frozen for all eternity, would one day enjoy such global success that he has sold himself in the billions since he was born 43 years ago? Certainly not his progenitor, Horst Brandstätter, even if he believed hard, if you will, in the success of his creation.
The family company Playmobil Geobra, in Germany, is an institution. A national pride. And it is above all the brilliant idea of a patriarch who owns a company located near Nuremberg, Germany, and specializes in bulky plastic toys. In the early 1970s, when the price of oil rose – particularly due to the first oil crisis in 1973 – and therefore by extension that of polymers, Horst Brandstätter asked a certain Hans Beck, his creative director, to think of a toy that would be less greedy in terms of material.
This engineer-designer then develops ABS plastic figurines 7.5 cm high to be able to hold in the hands of the youngest, and weighing from ten to fifteen grams. The shapes? Simple, refined. He draws them like a child would draw an adult, with basic codes: a round, neutral face, with only two eyes and a mouth shaped like a smile but without nose or ear, with a head that turns, mobile legs, and stiff arms.
At the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg in February 1974, the company presented its creation for the first time. Or rather his creations; three in this case: an Indian, a knight, and a worker. The first returns from the profession are not frankly enthusiastic. She considers these figurines “too ugly” and “meaningless“. In this almost unanimous negative criticism, a Dutch wholesaler took the opposite view of his colleagues, and placed an order. In the autumn of the same year, the first Playmobil boxes appeared in toy stores.
This is the beginning of a jackpot. In just three years, the turnover of sales has risen from 20 million marks to more than 100 million. The success is immense. The toy also meets a demand for children’s role-playing games: projecting their emotions through the figurines, they can tell stories, bring their imagination to life, recreate scenes, etc. Just like its competitor LEGO, the German firm Playmobil has a huge asset for this: its catalogue of very, very vast atmospheres, from the world of pirates to that of the Western, the Middle Ages, fairy tales, the world of the zoo, that of the circus, etc… The only limit is ultimately the limit of the designers’ boundless imagination. To date, there are about twenty different worlds, each sold of course with its boxes of accessories. The final invoice can therefore be rather expensive…
In 1976, the first female figurines appeared. First nurses, queens or maidservants, sticking to the classic stereotypes, they will then be pirates, pilots or secret agents. In 1981, it was children and even babies who poured into the shelves of toy stores. Like its competitor LEGO, the firm is seeking to reach an ever wider audience. In 1990, it launched a new range, called “Playmobil 123”, designed for children under 3 years of age, with even more rounded shapes.
With its twenty different worlds and its 30 themes, its 500 models of figurines, the Playmobil toy is distributed in nearly a hundred countries, and has sold more than 3 billion copies since its creation, the toy people’s view and bought the most through time. They are always extremely appreciated by children, including collectors, and the oldest versions of playmobil can be found on second-hand sites. At a time when traditional toys have suffered a sharp decline in recent years in favour of video games and other electronic games, there is, in the end, something reassuring to see the success story of this small 7.5 cm figurine continue for so long, which seems less than ever ready to disappear from the landscape. Good for you.