?If you grew up in the 1970s or ’80s, chances are you had a few of the Little People playsets. These wondrous playthings were initially released under the “Play Family” banner by Fisher-Price, a company who has been bringing joy to generations of kids since 1930. Parents buy Fisher-Price toys because they know that these products are relatively affordable and are durable enough to withstand rigorous use by kids — thus ensuring that they can be passed down to younger siblings once the initial user outgrows them.
The company’s most popular offerings remain the peg-like Little People. The ones you probably remember were made of either wood or plastic, and the line continues to this day (albeit with Little People who are much more squat and less swallowable than their predecessors). Over the years there have been Little People replicas of everyone from circus clowns to Holiday Inn workers and they have gone everywhere from drive-in movies to Sesame Street. Whomever they represent and wherever they go, they remain just as fun. It has been said that the Little People and their corresponding playsets have acted as gateway drugs to the world of action figures. This seems right on. So before you run to eBay in search of a teensy Count von Count you can sit alongside your Muppet figures, check out this list of the 10 Coolest Fisher-Price Little People playsets. Be warned though, there’s a debilitating amount of nostalgia ahead. Tiny, armless nostalgia.
10) Little People Construction Set
?The mundane becomes extraordinary with Little People. That is certainly the case with this bundle of toys that features three construction workers, their vehicles and accessories aplenty. Those of you who had this during your childhoods probably don’t think it’s so cute now that traffic jams caused by construction actually screw with you on a regular basis. Kids however still will find these amusing. And that’s the trick that Little People so successfully pull off — they make everyday things like going a garage or the airport seem full of fun. So the next time you are stuck on I-95, try to imagine the workers who are inconveniencing you as lovable neckless torsos and you’ll probably feel a lot better.
9) Play Family Action Garage
For reasons best left to the child psychologists to explore why, when I was a kid I used to love scotch taping my Star Wars figures to the cars that came with this playset. (To this day I get warm feelings whenever I think of Chewie awkwardly going down the garage ramp). Anyway, it’s worth mentioning that the current Little People Wheelies Stand ‘n Play Rampway toy is a two-foot tall quasi-remake of the Play Family Action Garage. Car goes up. Gravity does its thing. Car goes down. You really can’t ask for any more in a toy than that.
8) Play Family Airport
Play value aside, what is most striking about this set is how when viewed through 2011 eyes it reminds us of how rapidly the world has changed over the past 40 years. Just as Playmobil’s Airport Security Check Point toy reflects the paranoia of post-9/11 life, the Play Family Airport symbolizes the excitement of 1970s jet-setting. In other words, these days you can expect a visit from Homeland Security if you give the Little People included in this set any shit.
7) Play Family Western Town
?This is the closest we’ll ever get to having toys based on The Oregon Trail. Sigh.
6) Play Family Circus Train
?If there’s a lesson to be learned from the Play Family Circus Train it is this: not all clowns have to be scary. The one included in this set is so adorable you practically expect to see footage of it cavorting with Zooey Deschanel on TMZ. The perfect toy for young P.T. Barnums and Indiana Joneses alike, this set has proven to be so popular over the years that it has seen various add-on sets –including a clown fire brigade — and has been revamped several times. Despite these changes, the sober reminder of how isolating the nomadic (and often cruely short) lives of early 20th century circus folk were remains a constant. But hey, at least the train makes a “choo choo” noise!
5) Musical Ferris Wheel
A Ferris wheel that plays “In the Good Old Summertime” seems lame on the surface. Look closer though. See how hostile the carny operating the ride here appears to be? It’s as if at any second he is going to speed up the controls and send the riders to the big funnel cake booth in the sky. For that little touch of authenticity alone this toy earns its spot in the top five.
4) Little People McDonald’s Restaurant
?Across the nation, childhood obesity is so out of control that several states are actively trying to eliminate kids’ meals at fast foods restaurants. So the days of corporate tie-in toys like this one seem to be in the past. Given the whimsical nature of playsets like this one, I think that’s a real shame. I wouldn’t recommend for a real child to ride in a wagon full of what appear to be genetically modified French fries, but man, the Little Person in the above picture is having the time of her life. In a bit of subversion worthy of Adbusters, the creators of this toy have made it so kids can do the following:
That’s right, the hamburger in this playset can EAT RONALD MCDONALD. That sound you hear? It’s vegetarians across the country applauding wildly.
3) Play Family Castle
?Like Castle Grayskull, the Play Family Castle utilizes stickers to build the toy’s sense of dimension. As a result, the added detailing — which includes a moat with its very own crocodile — enhances the play value considerably. The set’s inclusion of a Knight and a Dragon more than make up for the lameness of the King and Queen Little People. Throw a drawbridge and a trap door in the mix, and you’ve got a toy for the ages. Yet much to my eternal disappointment, there is no Little People re-enactment of Monty Python and the Holy Grail scenes using this playset on YouTube (get on that, Internet).
2) Play Family Farm
I don’t know what it was like in your neighborhood, but for me it seemed like the Play Family Farm was the one toy that every kid I knew had. I’m guessing this is because it could be easily transported thanks to its included handle and had plenty of animals to play with. Plus, people are just suckers for anything that moos.
1) Play Family Sesame Street
When Sesame Street debuted in 1969, it revolutionized not only kids’ television but childhood itself. Growing up without it is inconceivable. Needless to say, being able to play with Sesame Street itself was a magical thing. This reproduction of one of the street’s brownstones came packaged with figures of Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar, Susan, Gordon and Mr. Hooper (later, expansion sets offering up characters like Grover, Roosevelt Franklin and Sherlock Hemlock were issued). When opened, the building revealed three living spaces and Mr. Hooper’s store. Connecting the apartments was a green chalkboard, on which kids could practice their ABCs and 123s — that is if they ever stopped playing long enough to do so. Some thirty odd years after its initial release, the level of detail poured into this set still astounds. For those who had and lost it, it is the Generation X equivalent of Charles Foster Kane’s “Rosebud.” According to the box, this is only suitable for children aged two to eight. Don’t believe that. This thing is timeless.