Book Review: LEGO Minifigure Year by Year: A Visual History

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LEGO has been around for decades now, but the fascination with the toy construction bricks, among children and adults alike, only seems to be growing stronger by the year, as evidenced by the incredible popularity of the Warner Bros. and Traveller’s Tales video games and, most recently, the box office smash hit The LEGO Movie. But before LEGO branched out into licensed properties and took the world of digital entertainment by storm, the iconic minifigure, or minifig for short, at the heart and soul of the LEGO brand began life as nothing more than a faceless yellow head stacked atop a torso of red plastic with bumps on the sides meant to look like arms and a single, plastic stump for “legs.” From this rudimentary prototype, the minifigure soon grew to become what now has to be the most recognizable toy character on the face of the planet.

LEGO Minifigure Year by Year: A Visual History tells the complete story behind the meteoric rise of the minifigure. The book is essentially a 250-page timeline chronicling the annual evolution of the minifig, from its humble origins in 1975 to the first licensed theme based on Star Wars in 1999 to the more extravagant themes of the 21st century like Ninjago and Legends of Chima.

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After a brief introductory section recapping the advent of the minifig and providing insight into the design process behind the loveable, posable figures, the book breaks off into chapters divided by decade — 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s — stuffing your head with minifig imagery and knowledge to the point that your brain might just pop from an overload of sheer LEGO ecstasy. Within each decade chapter, a certain number of pages highlight the major minifig advancements and new LEGO theme launches for each individual year. Each page consists of high quality minifig photography accompanied by captions introducing each figure and pointing out interesting design elements that make the figure special from others or have evolved from the same figure in a previous year’s set. Additional fun facts are presented in little “Did You Know?” bubbles, while certain minifig pictures have speech bubbles proclaiming one-liners to appropriately convey the silly sense of humor associated with the LEGO brand. There is a ton of great information to digest, but the pages are almost too cluttered that sometimes it can be hard to follow the flow of that information.

These timeline chapters are interspersed by the occasional two-page side story exploring various aspects of minifigure design and culture, which helps to break up the monotony of sorting through so many minifigure factoids. Some of these are simple galleries that list out different head or accessory designs in chronological order so you can see, for example, how minifig hairstyles evolved from pigtails and bobs to Mohawks, comb-overs, and character-specific hairdos like Superman’s gelled spitcurl and Medusa’s locks of tangled serpents. Other spreads show off advancements in vehicle designs and headgear, as well special minifigs which are now considered rare collector’s items. A couple even steer away from the toy world to present the minifigures impact on memorabilia and digital entertainment, including TV, movies, and video games.

As someone who grew up playing with LEGOs during their prime early years in existence (I used to have a full-size plastic laundry hamper full of random bricks and minifigs that I would build random things with, in addition to larger theme sets), flipping through this book has been like reliving my childhood. As I reached the chapters between the late 80s and early to mid 90s, I began to giddily reminisce about bedroom minifig battles staged between knights and forestmen of the LEGO Castle theme, or going to my best friend’s house to see the awesome new LEGO Pirates set he just got. (Of course, being the high fantasy/medieval geek that I am the Castle theme was always my favorite.)

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Once the nostalgic high began to wear off, I honestly sort of began to feel a little jealous the further I made it into the book. By the time LEGO really blew up and started launching licensed themes, I had outgrown toys and moved on almost exclusively to video games as my preferred form of home entertainment and objects of collectible desire. Reading this book has allowed me to look back in history to see all the minifigures that came out after my time, and it has been a fun ride. At the same time, it’s hard to do that and not become somewhat envious of today’s youth and all the sweet LEGO sets they have available to them. When I was a kid I would have gone absolutely ballistic to have a set of Lord of the Rings or Ninja Turtles LEGOs. While I did recently buy a LEGO The Hobbit set as a small display item for my office book shelf, putting it together didn’t come with the same childhood wonder that it would have years ago.

But any feelings of envy are all taken in good spirits, because it is downright impossible to look at more than 250 pages of minifigures and not come away in a cheery mood. Whether you grew up playing LEGOs but eventually moved on, are an avid brick architect and minifig collector, or are a youngster still fresh in your exposure to the wonderful world of toy brick construction, LEGO Minifigure Year by Year: A Visual History will fill your soul with unadulterated joy. This book is a true celebration of the minifigure and the imaginative spirit of LEGO.

And do you want to know what the best part is? The book comes with three actual minifigs–Townsperson, Stormtrooper, and Robber–packaged directly inside the front cover! How sweet is that?

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!