Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why Fisher Price Little People?

As obsessions go, I'd say butchering and reconstituting Fisher Price Little People is a pretty tame one. If bizarre. The real question is, why Fisher Price Little People? The easiest answer is because those are toys I grew up with. Produced from 1965 - 1990, chances are good that if you were a young child during that 25 year period, you grew up with them too. They were all over the place. Even if you yourself didn't own them, they'd be at your friend's house, or the babysitter's, or your grandma's.

The Fisher Price Little People line was one of the few ones that were fun for girls or boys to play with. Even though they were essentially little peg-shaped dolls with no arms or legs, they were our first entry into playing with toys and using our imagination. The Fisher Price Little People had castles and airports, houses and schools, and a big red barn that said "moo" when you opened the door. And it kept saying it over and over and over again when you kept opening the door.

I remember distinctly the playsets I had when I was a child: the schoolhouse, the blue and yellow house, the farm, the airplane...and those that I played with at friends' houses. I loved the castle, with its trapdoor, drawbridge and dungeon; the houseboat, which seemed unimaginably exotic to someone living in the mountains of Northern Utah; and of course, the Sesame Street set of apartment buildings, which I'll gush about in a separate post someday.

Even better than the playsets, I just liked the people. Their hollow pegs fit neatly onto your fingers, so you could wiggle them around like finger puppets (if you're into that), and their lack of moving parts meant they could take a trip to the sandbox or bathtub and come out in one piece. The figures seemed to be designed for both boys and girls, so while there were a lot of women and little girls in the line, there were also cowboys, Indians (one of the few that I can say has a "perturbed" face), firefighters and clowns. And sure, there weren't as many minorities as there would be in later Fisher Price Little People lines, but we were young and it was the seventies, and were just starting to figure all that stuff out. Racial diversity among my toys was the least of my problems. Although when they started singing "We Shall Overcome" in the toy box one day, I did stop jailing them for loitering.

These days, when I'm looking for new characters to make or trying to decide who's next on the chopping block, there's one family that's sacrosanct. I'll never alter this particular set of five characters:

Their names are simply Mom, Dad, Sally, Butch, and Lucky the Dog. They're some of the ones I had as a kid, and I think most people did--they came with sets like the house and the camper and other generic ones that it seemed like every house had. And for me, they're the very essence of Fisher Price Little People. They've got the four classic body shapes for the toys, the three hairpieces and the baseball cap, and all of the Fisher Price Little People I designed myself end up based on this simple design.

I've drawn comics with their adventures (they might show up on this blog)(If I get ambitious)(which is doubtful), I've had some of them on T-shirts and keychains, and the light switch in the room where I'm typing this even has Butch, the Mad-Faced Boy on it. When I thought about getting a pet dog as a kid, I wanted one like Lucky. With a plastic red collar, and ears that were eminently chewable. Always smiling, Lucky could even drive the family car or go to school with you if you wanted.

As a freckled kid who probably had a mood disorder, I identified with Butch. While everyone around him was smiling and happy, I bet Butch was consumed with worries of nuclear proliferation because he watched the Evening News With Dan Rather, and saw the chart showing the Soviet arsenal overshadowing ours, and wondering exactly why President Reagan was making the choices he was making. Still, he had his dog, and while he might not have been happy, he felt safe.

The Fisher Price Little People were a hallmark of my childhood. And although I have had hate mail from people who were horrified at my "destruction" of 744 Little People to make new ones, I really do chop them up and make new characters out of love and respect for what I consider to be one of the greatest toy lines of all time. Long live the Fisher Price Little People.


  1. I think it's an awesome obsession and a fantastic outlet for your creativity. You're not into LOST, are you? Because I would so love to see a LOST Little People group. I'm sure that I had the barn and the basic family as a kid. Not sure what happened to them; probably wound up in a garage sale at some point. Now I wish I had them still! Keep up the great work!

  2. You know, I was always bothered that Butch looked so mean or upset all the time. What kind of message is that sending to the kids playing with them - girls are happy, boys are mean? (;

    I'm going to have to be careful not to be sucked into your enthusiasm too much - next thing you know, I might be haunting eBay and looking for some lots myself! (: