Caution: extreme childishness and dorkiness ahead.
This is going to sound horrendously uncool, but I love Sylvanian families. I don’t own many (just one family- they don’t even have a house!) but I can’t help but pine after their beautiful houses and adorable faces in supermarkets and toy shops (not that we go in toy shops often as university students… No…).
So what’s the appeal of these “1990s fad toys”? I honestly don’t know, but I can guess. I think it comes down to the basic female impulses to both have children and look at really cute animals (excuse the gender stereotyping, but there are such urges in all of us to some extent). There’s also the aspect of “playing house”, an concept poignant across the years, from a kid wanting to play by using a situation they kind of understand to a student who is facing the prospect of living in the real world.
Sylvanian families are magical because they don’t put on any pretence and can therefore remain as appealing to children and adults alike. The brand has been around for 26 years now, and has been through its fair share of decline and reinvention but also, in its early days, both an animated and a stop-motion TV series. That’s enough time for an awful lot of people to notice these little critters, whether the original woodland creatures (‘sylvan’ means ‘of the forest’) or the newer cats/dogs/meerkats etc.
There’s a whole little setting to the story that can be worked with as well: every family/property theoretically live in a 1970s British quaint village in the countryside. So much drama can be created with this, with family businesses competing against each other, different outdoor leisure activities going on in the park or the woods, and garden parties galore- or is that just me? The great thing is that while children can obviously play around with them and play more actively, adults can still indulge in intricately setting up the houses and subsequently maybe just creating a backstory in their heads.
For example, meet Tabitha and Jonathan and children Tilly and Timothy:
On a late night shopping trip to Tesco (the newly-discovered joys of having a car at uni) we discovered them in the toy aisle and, after resisting buying a little family for a couple of years now, I decided to go for it. Frazer even made me feel better about it by buying me the babies.
Very soon, I couldn’t help but create a back story for them all in my head: Tabitha and Jonathan are two bunnies who fell in love and were a rather modern couple who weren’t going to bother with getting married. They did, however, want to create a little family of their own, but when they struggled to conceive they went through the adoption process instead. Happily, they ended up getting pregnant with Tilly but they had already agreed to take Timothy the cat and couldn’t bear to let him down so decided that taking on two babies at once would be no problem at all. This big step did however make them want to marry after all, which is why they’re in their wedding outfits with the babies there too. I should point out that the backstory probably wouldn’t be that elaborate normally, but I had to justify their bride and groom dress as well as the fact that one of their children was a totally different animal.
This may all make me sound totally bonkers, but I’m going to hold off the full works for a few more years and it will seem worthwhile when I can afford the proper houses and share them with a little person when I’m older! For now, I’ll just stay stuck in my childhood dream of dollhouses and cute animals in clothes.