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Santa Claus & Elf

Playmobil
by Poe Ghostal

While shopping at Target the other day, I came across this little Playmobil set as part of what seemed to be a general stocking-stuffer section. There were a few other toys too, ranging from Transformers Robot Heroes to the usual Hot Wheels cars and so forth. Since I remember back when pretty much any toy you found in such a section was cheap crap, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection. This set cost $3.

I love Christmas-themed toys because, since they double as decorations, I can buy toys from lines I don't collect. I'm not in the Playmobil loop the way Rustin is, but much like Lego, this ostensibly child-oriented franchise has been building a strong collector following for years. Originally developed in Germany in the 1970s, Playmobil now has an incredibly wide range of products - everything from pyramids to the much-discussed airport security checkpoint.

Exactly how many countries are Playmobil toys sold in? Judging from the number of languages the child safety warning is written in on the back, about a kajillion! Or maybe 30. Anyway, it's a fairly standard blister card, though I do like the color scheme.

Playmobil is a German company, and this is clearly not your traditional American Santa Claus - it's definitely more of a Father Christmas or Weihnachtsmann. The beard and the red clothes with the white trim are familiar, but the cape and the stick/staff are not accoutrement I normally associate with Old Saint Nick. He even has an unusual sideburny beard not typically seen on this side of the Atlantic. The overall look of the figure reinforces his possible origins in Germanic paganism (for instance, Odin was known to fly across the night sky in a sleigh pulled by an eight-legged horse).

It's an interesting take on Santa for an American like myself, which makes him a welcome addition to my Christmas figure collection. And the elf is a nice bonus too. When did green and yellow become the traditional Christmas elf colors, though? This little imp uses the standard "child body," an innovation Playmboil started well before Lego introduced shorter legs (for Yoda and Anakin in their Star Wars line). Santa himself is just over 3" tall (counting his removable hat), and the elf's head doesn't even come up to his shoulder. His big green hat is as tall as Santa's eyes, however.

You don't get a lot of intricate paint work on toys like these, but what there is has been reliably executed. Since Santa's boots, beard, hair and cuffs are all separate pieces that clip onto the figure, they're just molded in color. The trim on his suit is crisp, and he has four golden buttons. The elf's detailing is good, and his hair is also removable.

Both figures have swivels at the arms, wrists, and neck, and hinges at the waist. That's standard Playmobil articulation, the way every Lego person moves the same way. The waist is a single hinge, so both legs move together: the figures can sit on the ground or bow to each other, but you can forget about a Christmas can-can. The arms are molded straight, lacking the Lego-like bend, so the figures always hold their accessories straight out before them in a stark manner.

Your figures get a nice pile of loot: Santa has his stick, while the elf has some sort of candle-in-a-star thing (anyone know what it is?). [it's used in nativity plays to represent the Star of Bethlehem; he's a religious elf! --ed.] There's also a car and a football - both probably reused from previous sets - and a cardboard Christmas present. They set a festive scene, and the football has the "Playmobil-person head" logo tampographed on one side.

Not a bad set at all for $3! A nice addition to my Christmas toy collection, and it's perfect for my desk at work, where it's already set up. There's also a second set with a more "casual Santa" and a snowman, which I kind of want too.

-- 12/24/09


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