Let’s face it: Many of us long-time collectors ran out of space to display our collections a long time ago. Now, as we face the quandary of where to put giant toys like Hasbro’s Star Wars Jaba’s Sail Barge or the Haslab Marvel Sentinel Robot, some collectibles manufacturers are coming to our aid by going small.
Tiny toys are not a new phenomenon. They date back to popular toys of yesteryear like the buckets of soldiers, dinosaurs, or cowboys that were available at every five-and-dime store or to order from the back of a comic book. In the ’80s, we saw the rise of tiny toys such as Polly Pocket, Micro Machines, and Kenner’s short-lived Star Wars Micro Collection. And with the continued rise of blind-box collecting and the popularity of unboxing videos today, we are starting to see shrinking playthings across categories, including toy pets, heroes, food, games, and more. My personal favorite tiny item to collect is shrunken-down versions of other toys — or as I like to call them, “toys for my toys.”
Super Impulse has been a leader in the field of mini-toys for several years, starting with its World’s Smallest line. World’s Smallest had a strong launch in 2015 with licenses from classic and modern toys, released individually and in blind boxes. In the first wave, toy fanatics could get miniature versions of Perplexus, Rubik’s Cube, Etch A Sketch, Duncan Yo-Yo, and Little Green Army Men. Over time, the line continued to expand with other popular toys and games, such as Stretch Armstrong, Barbie, and Hot Wheels. Originally made for kids, the World’s Smallest line was also embraced by adult collectors. Super Impulse further catered to the toy collecting community by starting a sub-line of Micro Figures within the World’s Smallest brand. Although this expansion brought in several classic toy lines such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe, it also recruited some other options, including Hello Kitty, Garbage Pail Kids, and even a tiny Richard Simmons action figure. Each figure comes packaged with a miniature retro card and a collector-friendly door in the back to remove and replace the figures without destroying the packaging. I distinctly remember discovering Super Impulse at Toy Fair New York the year they launched the World’s Smallest line. I was immediately drawn to the brand’s tiny nostalgia and from then on, I always make sure that Super Impulse is one of my first appointments at the show.
Drawing from the success of World’s Smallest, Super Impulse launched its sister line, Tiny Arcade, in 2018. Using many of the original read-only memory chips (ROMS), this line features miniature replicas of classic video game arcade cabinets that play just like their full-sized counterparts. The line initially launched with many classic games, such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Galaxian. It’s worth noting that the tiny Pac-Man game is so accurate that it’s playable up until the legendary 256 level kill screen. Over the years, other classic games like Pole Position, BurgerTime, Tetris, and Dig Dug have been added to the line, with recent additions including a scaled-down version of the multiplayer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game and a tiny version of Namco and Sanrio’s best collab, Hello Kitty Pac-Man.
One of the biggest contributors to the tiny toy market is ZURU and its powerhouse 5 Surprise Mini Brands and 5 Surprise Toy Mini Brands. These Mini Brands follow ZURU’s classic unboxing strategy, with each of the five items individually sealed inside a plastic ball to extend the unboxing experience. Fans can open miniature versions of all the familiar grocery store items they love to buy, as well as accessories like shopping carts, shopping baskets, and shopping bags. Recently, the company expanded its Mini Brands to include playsets. Mini Brands fans can now display their stash of teeny items in a miniature grocery store or toy store playset, elevating their collection into a full-on interactive display. I don’t know why it’s fun to own miniature versions of the packaged food you would find in the supermarket, but I know that as an adult, I find just as much delight in opening and owning these as my 6-year-old daughter does. ZURU clearly has a cross-generational hit on its hand.
Gentle Giant Ltd. was ahead of its time in 2016, launching a series of Micro Figures based on a pair of vintage toy lines: Kenner’s DC Super Powers and Mattel’s Marvel Secret Wars. Both lines were picked up by Walgreens, but neither caught on quickly enough with collectors to move on to a second wave.
From the case files of “toys that never were,” in 2013, Gentle Giant tried to do micro carded Star Wars action figures and even managed to sneak a proof of concept micro-sized Boba Fett figure into the sack of its Jumbo Santa Yoda figure. Unfortunately, either Lucasfilm didn’t understand the idea or Gentle Giant was afraid it would infringe on its licensing agreement with Hasbro; either way, the line was never approved and didn’t go any further.
In 2020, Jazwares announced a licensing deal with Hasbro to bring the beloved Micro Machines brand back to toy shelves. Micro Machines hadn’t been seen in its classic car format in almost a decade. Hasbro absorbed the Micro Machines license when it acquired Galoob in 1998 and has occasionally brought the name back as part of its Star Wars line. This time, Jazwares went all out with the launch and included a new version of the Van City playset, as well as other themed multipacks and playsets.
For those who aren’t enthralled by the tiny food packages, toys, cars, and arcades, Factory Entertainment’s Kuzos line offers miniature die-cast metal prop replicas of some of the greatest props from sci-fi, horror, and fantasy TV and film properties. Despite their small size, Factory Entertainment treats these tiny replicas with the same respect as their full-size counterparts. The company even provides fans with inspiration on how to display and protect the teeny replicas, including a multitiered stand with a glass cover. If there isn’t room in your collection for a full-sized replica of Captain Kirk’s chair from Star Trek — or rather, you can’t talk your spouse into purchasing the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones — these tiny replicas are great space- and money-saving alternatives.
One of the newest entries to the tiny scene is Basic Fun!’s Tiny TV Classics line. These tiny, working TVs feature more than 10 clips from iconic TV series and films, including Back to the Future, South Park, and Friends. Tiny TVs are available at Walmart, with two new titles — Jurassic Park and Jaws — expected to launch in the next few months.
The tiny movement shows no signs of slowing down. It’s like they always say: Don’t sweat the small stuff — embrace it and collect it instead! Whether you’re looking to start a small collection or you want to manage a tiny grocery store, the micro movement has something for you. I’m all in and can’t wait to see what toymakers make tiny next.
This article was originally published in Issue No. 12 of the Pop Insider. Click here to read the full issue!