Getting a cat in a set, or a dog in a blindbag comes naturally these days. The LEGO Group (TLG) includes animals in sets when it goes well with the theme, or just to make things more fun. However, these LEGO animals have been around almost as long as the minifigures themselves, and man, did they evolve! Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the LEGO animals and see the changes they have gone under.
It all began with a bird… and some horses!
The very first LEGO animal was released in 1983, in a Fabuland set called Paulette Poodle’s Living Room (3788-1). It was a yellow bird in a white birdcage, and after its release it appeared in 3 more sets.
Shortly after, in 1984, TLG released the first horses. At first they were made in black and white, and two years later, a brown one joined. These horses appeared in many themes, mostly in Castle and Western, since both knights and cowboys (or cavalry) needed horses, but also in Town sets, like Paradisa. The general design, or the mould, of the horses stayed the same until 2012, although there have been many variations in terms of printing. In 2012, they underwent a huge change – not something you see immediately, but realize the minute you take one in your hands: They were now able to rear.
In 1989, the first water animal was released, a shark, along with the first uncaged birds, two parrots. Both the shark and the parrots accompanied the Pirates and Castle sets at first, and then as time passed, they spread to other themes.
There were two different versions of the parrots, one printed and one unprinted. Throughout the years, TLG experimented with different colors for the unprinted one, and made it in pink, blue, green, yellow, gray, brown, black and red. Sometimes they were used as companions, and sometimes decorations on a building. The printed version continued to appear in sets until 2002, while the unprinted one can be found in more recent ones, up until 2016. In 2016, a small change was made to the parrot mould, making its beak slightly larger.
TLG tried something different in 2009. Instead of using a single color in the plastic, they used two: Red and green. This created a natural mixture of colors, and prevented the texture from disappearing as a result of play and time. There have been many parts made by this technique before, and a few LEGO animals, too, but the parrot was the first to be included in a wide range of themes.
Also released in 1989, the shark continued to appear in sets until 2011, and had three different colors: White, dark gray, and dark bluish gray for the newer ones. Now, Bricklink shows a very similar shark appearing in more recent sets, but the listing is different, saying “shark with rounded nose”. I don’t have the newer version, but the overall design of those sharks look very similar to the old ones, except the nose bit.
In 2008, the shark turned evil (see image) and got its gills. The mould of this shark was rounder than the first one, and with a bigger mouth with its teeth showing. Apparently, it wasn’t very popular because it only appeared in two sets, and after a few years TLG went back to the original design with a few modifications. Along with the changes in the tail and the fin, the gills were added, and instead of an engraved ‘eye’, there was a printed one. This version was released in 2013 and it’s so far the most recent shark design. There are no teeth visible.Of course there have been other shark variations, like the zombie shark from the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, or the Sharkanator from Ultra Agents. These were designed specifically for that said theme, and only appeared in a single set.
Belville and Scala
Quite a few LEGO animals were made for both themes, cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, bears… Not only there were different species, but there were different breeds, and even different ages. We had Dalmatians and Mountain Dogs, kittens, puppies and foals. Some of the horses even had ‘real’ hair, instead of plastic ones. However, these animals looked like giants next to minifigures, since both themes had larger, more action-figure like dolls, and faded away along with the sets.
However, some of the designs, like the crouching kitten, managed to hang on and continued to appear in System sets, and even managed to get printed eyes, or sometimes a printed body, for their efforts. Also, I think the adult cats have become the origin of the more minifigure-scaled cats we have today, since their design is very similar.
In 2000, we got our first dinosaurs. There were seven in total, two Triceratops, two Stegosaurus, a Pteranodon, a T-rex and a baby T-rex. These were all part of the Adventurers: Dino Island sets. Both versions of the Triceratops and Stegosaurus appeared in only one set, while the T-rex, its baby, and the Pteranodon managed to jump across other themes like Studios. Different colors of the baby T-rex have also been used as accessories or statues.
Between 2001 and 2012, TLG released four dinosaur related themes: Dinosaurs (2001), Dino Attack (2005), Dino 2010 (also 2005) and Dino (2012). Of these four, Dinosaurs introduced a few different species, like the Brachiosaurus and Mosasaurus, and included baby versions of some of them. A few of these dinosaurs were brick-built with moulded heads, instead of a full mould. Dino Attack and Dino 2010 had very weird looking dinosaurs, as if they were exposed to radiation and mutated. The dinosaurs included in the Dino theme were your regular dinosaurs, but the designs of the first ones were largely improved along with a few species added, like the Velociraptor and the Coelophysis.
With the Jurassic World released in 2015, and the Fallen Kingdom a few years later, the LEGO dinosaurs started looking more like the ones we saw on the big screen. We now had our own Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo, accompanied by the beautiful Indominus rex (she was deadly, yes, but still beautiful). A few new species were introduced in the sets of both films, like the Dilophosaurus and Stygimoloch, along with baby raptors to keep the baby T-rex company.
Fantastic Beasts and Not So Fantastic Beasts
The licensed themes, starting with Star Wars in 1999 and continuing with Harry Potter (2001), the Hobbit (2012) and the Lord of the Rings (2012), brought some fantastic LEGO animals into our lives. It was now possible to travel on a Tauntaun, ride a Warg, and fly on a Hippogriff. Prior to these, there were only two LEGO animals that fell to this category, one green dragon released in 1993 and a black one released in 1997. Even though they were a big deal back in their day, when compared to more recent dragons, they just make you smile.
While most of the LEGO animals were designed specifically for these sets, a few managed to jump across other themes, or at least become an inspiration for a later design, like the dog, owl and the rats (both standing and on all fours).
The owls were the first birds and the third air animals to be introduced after the parrots, the other two being the dragon and the bat. They appeared in seven different colors, white, light gray, dark gray, black, brown, reddish brown and tan, and were found in various Harry Potter sets along with a few other themes. In 2009, the design was slightly changed to a more angular owl from a more rounded one, and although the unprinted version only appeared in two sets, it became the base mould of the owls we know today. In 2010, three different colored owls were released, letting our minifigures have their own Hedwig, Pigwidgeon, and Errol. The same design was also used in Cho’s owl in last year’s Wizarding World CMF series, but with a different color.
Meanwhile, the first System dog that appeared as the Grim in the Harry Potter sets (2004), became the only System dog up until 2011. It assisted the police, guarded the farmer’s livestock, even made an appearance in the king’s castle. Scabbers and his non-Animagus friends followed him, and some of them even managed to end up on Weathertop and Tatooine.
Under the Sea
While these animals were occupying the land and the air, the sea was a bit neglected. Prior to 2008, when the previously mentioned shark was re-designed, TLG already had a variety of water animals. An alligator (1994), an octopus and a dolphin (1995), a sawfish and a manta ray (1997), a clam, a crab and a starfish (1998), a seahorse and a jellyfish (2005) were already released in various sets either as animals or decorations. However, after 2008, there were only two brand new moulds – or species. A fish (2009) and a lobster (2017).
Let me explain that a little. I know when you search Bricklink for water animals, you get 28 different results for animals released in and after 2008. However, they are either re-designs of the same species, belong to the Friends sub-theme (more on that later) or brick-built. It’s not that I don’t count them as animals, just that it feels TLG didn’t do much when it came to water animals.
Food for thought…
There’s something that bothers me, and it appears more in the marine LEGO animals. Take a look at the picture below which shows the newer versions of a shark, a sawfish and an alligator. Notice something unnatural about their faces? They all appear to be angry. For a company that chose yellow as skin color and two dots and a simple mouth as a face to prevent ethnicity and gender discriminations, this feels overly discriminating.
Yes, they are all predators. But why condition children by making them appear as the “bad guy”? For all we know, the kid may be into reptiles, and in his story, the minifigures become friends with the alligator. Don’t we hear stories of impossible friendships every day? I wouldn’t mind this if they were made for a specific story, and were the villain there already, but they appear mostly in City sets and just part of nature. To give them angry expressions just because they are dangerous animals doesn’t feel right.
I can go on and on about this, but let’s leave it to another article and move on…
Apart from the horses, parrots and the Belville/Scala animals, the first domestic System animal was a foal (1996). It only appeared in two Paradisa sets, and to this day remains the only foal designed for System sets. It wasn’t until 2009 that TLG released a new species: Cows. Two different colors appeared in two different sets, one black and white, the other brown. However, the crouching kitten from originally from Belville appeared in several System sets during this ‘break’.
The pig was released the next year, and its mould has been used in every pig released after, sometimes with a different color, sometimes with a different print. In 2011, two more domestic animals were released, a chicken and a goat, and the dog from the Harry Potter series got a huge makeover. Instead of engraved eyes, we had printed ones, and the specific color and printing told us that it was a German Shepherd. Like the rest of the re-designed animals, it looked more refined, more realistic.
The cat came a few years later, in 2013. The designers must have been happy with how it turned out, because up till this day it’s has appeared in various colors and themes. There is even a punk version, released this year with the LEGO Movie 2 sets.
2013 and 2014 were also the years we had our first System Dalmatian and Husky. The Dalmatian used the same mould as the German Shepherd, but the Husky was a completely new design, and the gray-white coloring was in the plastic, not the print. The collectible minifigure series also introduced several new breeds, and we had the chance to own a Chihuahua, a Terrier and a French Bulldog, all with brand new moulds.
Finally, in 2018, the rat from the Harry Potter theme was re-designed, and released with new moulds and colors. Additionally, we got a cute mouse which will most likely appear in many City-themed sets to come.
Friends and Elves
Whether you like the Friends theme or not, you cannot deny the incredible animal kingdom that came with it. With the theme’s release in 2012, and still continuing to this day, we’ve had horses, cats, dogs, rabbits, hedgehogs, squirrels, fawns, foals, bear cubs, lion cubs, tiger cubs, penguins, orangutans, chameleons, lambs, pandas, seals, turtles, foxes… I mean the list goes on and on. Maybe it was the prejudice that girls would like to have more animals to play with, or something completely different, but no matter the reason, the Friends theme introduced many LEGO animals. The Elves theme made it possible to have some not-so-natural colors among them, so we were able to have blue bears and pink-haired horses, along with some fantastic creatures, like dragons.
Not only did the TLG create different species, but they played around with the colors and printing to create different breeds as well. There are 12 different birds that use the same mould, but all come in different colors and prints. One of them is a very close replica of the blue and yellow macaw. The cats come in two different poses, one standing and one sitting, and with many variations in terms of color and print.
However, what impresses me the most are the dogs. True, the horses have a lot of variety, too, but the main mould is the same. The dogs, on the other hand, have at least five different moulds showing many different species.
Another thing I love about the Friends animals is that they come in their own little sets. If you want to have the animal, you don’t have to get a huge set or go part searching online. You just grab the box, use the contents to create its habitat, or as spare parts, and get the animal. Having had many difficulties obtaining System animals throughout the years, I think that’s a huge plus and should definitely be applied in System sets as well.
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One of the first wild LEGO animals TLG released was a monkey (1989), accompanying pirates everywhere. The head, body and tail was made of a single mould, and the arms and the legs were made of minifigure arms and hands. Like most of the earlier designs, it had no printing, but the head was sculpted to show the eyes. The mouth was open, but not big enough to hold anything.
After several years featuring more domestic LEGO animals, the polar bear appeared in 2000. It also had engraved eyes instead of printed ones. Its mouth was open and could hold something with a bar-thickness, and its head could move up and down.
Then came the elephant, released in 2003. Even though it consisted of many parts, most of these parts were made specially for that design and the finished assembly looked like a regular, moulded animal rather than a brick-built one. Despite its size and bulky appearance, the elephant was able to move its head, legs, and tail. The special parts were later used in the first Dewback and Varactyl as well.
The Prince of Persia sets introduced us to two new species: The ostrich and the camel (2010). The camel came in two colors, tan and dark tan, and all three appeared in only one set. The bear got re-designed in 2012, having printed eyes, a different colored muzzle, and a nose. Just like the renewed horses, it could now stand on its hind legs as well as on all fours, and move its head like the original design. TLG also kept the mouth the same, so it was able to hold the fish it hunted in its mouth. The same mould was later used to create a polar bear and a black bear (the first one was brown).
Some of the Collectible Minifigures brought their own animals with them, so we had chimpanzees, skunks, penguins, and many more added to our collection.
In 2017, TLG released its first big cats: A panther, a leopard and a tiger. Similar to the newer horses and bears, they could stand on their hind legs. The head could be moved up and down as well. In 2018, the same mould was used to create a mountain lion and a sabertooth tiger, although the head design of the tiger is slightly different.
2018 was also the year we got another elephant! Well, a woolly mammoth, to be exact. Unlike its predecessor, the body of this big creature was a single mould, and you add the head, the trunk and the tusks separately. Now, if the Arctic explorers manage to find a frozen sloth somewhere, we will be able to create our own Ice Age scene!
Reptiles, Amphibians, Insects and Arachnids
I don’t know much about the subject, but I doubt designing more or less minifigure scaled animals is easy. Designing even smaller creatures with much narrower and therefore more delicate parts? I certainly wouldn’t want to do that.
The LEGO animals fall under this category, mainly the insects and arachnids, have one thing in common: They are out of scale. Think about it, as tiny as they need to be, all of them should at least have one anti-stud so it will be possible for minifigures to hold them, or for us to place them on a plate or a brick. Add several thread-like legs, and you get a spider larger than a frog, or a scorpion half the size of a minifigure.
Even with challenges like that, TLG managed to create some beautiful designs, not to mention a variety of animals. Starting in 1997 with the snake (which is probably the only animal that doesn’t have an anti-stud), they made scorpions (1998), spiders (1999), frogs (2000), and ants (2008), some of which can still be found in newly released sets. Of these five, spiders got a makeover in 2017, and snakes had various designs with the most recent one being Nagini from the Harry Potter CMF series. Bigger creatures, like Aragog and Shelob, were also transformed into LEGO, but they are more brick-built than moulded.
Meanwhile in Planet Duplon…
I think it will be really unfair to TLG and the animal kingdom if I finish this article without mentioning the beautiful DUPLO animals. There are some that only exist in DUPLO form, and being designed for smaller children, they are all adorable, no matter how vicious they try to appear. Also, some of the larger animals are just perfect (scale-wise) if you want to have a zoo in your city.
I won’t bore you with details, but here are some of my favorite DUPLO animals.
Thank you for bearing (!) with me as we looked at the evolution of LEGO animals. Once again, the ball is in your court. Which LEGO animal would you like to see in the future? Which of the above mentioned are your favorites? Was there one you wanted to get but didn’t have the chance? Let me know in the comments!
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Image credits: While most of these pictures were taken by me, some of them were carefully stolen from Bricklink and Brickset. My sincerest thanks go to both sites for that.
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Awesome article! Really love shots! 🙂