LEGO Nutcrackers and Toy Soldiers: Tough Nuts to Crack

Nutcrackers and Toy Soldiers are two Christmas icons steeped in holiday tradition. With their distinctive uniforms and classic designs, they have long been a staple of holiday decor in homes around the world—and have each been reimagined in LEGO form several times. Join BrickNerd as we stroll down memory lane to explore the many LEGO interpretations of Nutcrackers and Toy Soldiers.

Nutcrackers: The Tall and the Small

For those who are unaware, Nutcrackers are traditional wooden carvings, often resembling soldiers or royalty, equipped with a lever-operated mouth to crack nuts. Their association with the holiday season primarily stems from the popularity of the “Nutcracker” ballet, a festive story in which a nutcracker figurine comes to life.

In LEGO form, Nutcrackers are a bit more challenging due to the moving function of the mouth. As you will see, most iterations include this play feature while others don’t.

Technically the Best

Let’s start with the tallest Nutcracker, the 2017 LEGO Group employee gift (set 4002017)—the granddaddy of them all! This model celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Technic and is by far the tallest Nutcracker to date, coming in at over 16 inches, including the base.

As expected, the mouth can be opened and closed with a lever and the eyebrows also move when the arms are rotated (two wonderful functions to celebrate the capabilities of Technic). There were even two brick-built “nuts” included. This set naturally had the highest piece count of all the Nutcrackers at 732 pieces. (Read more about this and the other LEGO Group employee gifts here and watch for the 2023 update coming next week!)

March of the Mid-Size

40254 Nutcracker from 2017 was offered as a gift with purchase (GWP) during the holidays, and I think it looks terrific. This version had 230 pieces, including a brick-built stand. The tall, slender proportions closely match those of common wooden nutcracker designs. The mouth (or beard?) moved up and down and the arms could wobble back and forth.

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2023 brought us the latest Nutcracker offering (set 40640) from LEGO. This version had extra parts so you could choose between two hairstyles and two eye prints. Presumably, the closed eyes with long lashes were for building a female version, though this is only suggested and not clearly stated. This model also used medium nougat color elements to depict a different skin tone/wood type than previous nutcrackers. It is also the only box to ever feature… real nuts!

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Comparing the 2017 and 2023 versions side by side, we see that they are of similar height if you remove the base from the earlier model. While the earlier version is more blocky, the newer version leans into more humanoid features rather than leaning into the aesthetics of a toy soldier.

Tiny Tots

BrickHeadz’s Nutcracker (set 40425) from 2020 had a unique distinction. I’m certainly no BrickHeadz expert, but this is the only one I’m aware of incorporating a play feature with an operable mouth! (Kudos to the designer!) The set consists of 180 pieces, including the tree and some gifts attached to the base.

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Towards the small end of the size spectrum, in 2011, LEGO Brand Retail (LBR) stores offered the Monthly Mini Model Build (MMMB) nutcracker (MMMB045), which consisted of 35 pieces.  At these events, children could build a model to take home. There was a small card with a photo of the built model and a parts list.

Store employees were on hand to assist with building the model since it could be a little tricky for younger builders with just the completed model being shown. The use of the minifigure handcuff element as an oversized handlebar mustache is a fun example of Nice Part Usage (NPU), though this one did not have a moving mouth.

Lastly, 2022 brought us the series 23 Collectable Minifigure Nutcracker. This one is spot on with four excellent unique minifigure parts, pauldrons, a sword, and even a walnut print on a 1×1 round tile (that I hope someone uses for a creature’s eyes sometime).

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These six Nutcrackers span from tall to small, but each conveys the cheerful tradition of cracking nuts open with a toy’s mouth—a perfect inspiration for a holiday ballet classic! But what about their stalwart soldier counterparts?

Toy Soldiers: Your Attention Please

Moving onto the other static soldier standing at attention, these toys have nothing to do with nuts but are more reminiscent of actual soldiers standing at attention. Toy Soldiers are usually collected as multiples so kids and decorators can have a small army or contingent of them for the holidays. In LEGO form, there have been quite a few!

Brick-Built “Bootlegs”

The Toy Soldier from 2003 is one of my favorite LEGOLAND California “bootleg” models—as evidenced by there being four of them on our mantle at Christmas. These were originally created as ornaments to decorate the park and then converted into a gift model.

For a bit of backstory, we asked [then] LEGOLAND California Model Designer Bill Vollbrecht about the Toy Soldier he created. He said it was one of six ornaments designed as decorations and then built in larger quantities by the Kladno model shop. They were attached to a faux evergreen garland that was hung around the beginning area of LEGOLAND California in the early 2000s.

Of the six models, the soldier, snowman, and stocking were also mass-produced in Kladno and given to LEGOLAND employees as a holiday gift—one each per year. The soldier was also packaged as an exclusive holiday set (unglued) that you could buy at the park.

Keen eyes will notice the kit is slightly different due to availability issues with the 1x2x3 inverted blue slope element for the legs. Instead, Technic bricks and half pins were used for a sideways Studs Not On Top (SNOT) build. (Oh, and whatever happened to Bill? He’s living happily in Billund, Denmark working as a Senior Designer at The LEGO Group!)

Speaking of LEGOLAND models, one toy soldier with limited availability was the 2022 employee gift from LEGOLAND New York. Some extra copies of this glued model, with several different color versions available, were sold in the park to raise money for charity.

I was quite pleased when a friend got an extra for me! It can easily be used as an ornament or used as a Minilander-scale holiday display.

Hanging Ornaments

Speaking of ornaments, the 34-piece toy soldier 5004420 was a GWP in 2016 intended to be hung on a tree. This was one of four ornaments offered over the course of five years and the only one that can salute. The others were 5002813 in 2014, 5003083 in 2015, and 5005253 in 2018. (What happened to 2017, LEGO!?) While I like these types of different product offerings, I wish “annual” products such as this would have longer runs and not be changed or abandoned after just a few years—think of the collectors!

The 853907 Toy Soldier ornament from 2019 was one of several ornaments that could be built and placed inside a spherical clear plastic bauble. The design proportions were obviously constrained by the bauble size, but the subject is certainly recognizable with a hat, pauldrons, and some excess presents around the base.

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2019 also brought us a small Toy Soldier ornament within the Friends 41382 theme Advent Calendar. While recognizable and constrained by parts limitations to fit inside an Advent Calendar window, I would say this version is a bit unremarkable, though a little reminiscent of the marching band of brick-built soldiers located just outside of LEGOLAND Billund.

Minifigs and Microscale

One of my favorite Toy Soldiers is the minifigure version from the Minifigure Character Encyclopedia. This is a terrific representation with four unique elements! In addition, there is a wind-up key on the back. The only downside of this version is that the availability was somewhat limited by being included with the books. Many people include this in their CMF collections, though it truly is unique.

There have also been several even smaller microscale Toy Soldiers that appeared as components of sets over the years. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are a few examples of how just a few parts can convey the essence of a toy soldier:

40602 Winter Market Stall GWP 2023

31105 Townhouse Toy Store 2021

40106 Toy Workshop GWP 2014

Royal Guards: Guarding Tradition (and the Monarchy)

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I’m adding the bonus category of Royal Guards since these items are closely related to Nutcrackers and Toy Soldiers. Depending which LEGO database you use, some of them may even appear under a Toy Soldier listing.

In 1988 set 1929 was offered as an exclusive to celebrate BR toy store’s 25th anniversary, a chain of toy stores in Denmark. The simple polybag model consisted of 13 pieces with two printed ones for detail.

Perhaps more well known, in 2013 we saw a second exclusive from BR toys, the 5001121 BR Royal Guard Minifigure Polybag. If I’m doing the math correctly, this one was to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

Along with the BR Royal Guard, another British toy shop also had the honor of a custom minifigure. Hamleys, “The Finest Toy Shop in the World,” offered the 5005233 Royal Guard polybag in 2018. Its version was very reminiscent of the Collectable Minifigures (CMF) Series 5 Royal Guard (COL067) from 2011, though with white gloves, no rifle and a smile.

These three minifigures are a good illustration of why I like to collect some LEGO products because they involve the best part of the community. The CMF version was opened during one of our family’s “minifgure lotteries” (a story for another time). The BR version was sent to me by a Norwegian AFOL I met during the LEGO Inside Tour—I gave him a small set that was only available in the USA and he reciprocated with the BR toys exclusive (and chocolate!). And finally, the Hamleys exclusive was purchased by my children when they visited the UK on a trip. While the minifigures are nice, it’s the memories that make them special!

The Tail End of the Nutcracker Story

To wrap up this article, would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the LEGO version of nature’s original nutcracker—the squirrel! This squirrel (80679) was introduced in 2022 and is currently produced in three colors. They are wonderful for adding a little wildlife to any city or nature scene (or used as an army of mech pilots, too).

Of all the LEGO Nutcrackers and Toy Soldiers, there are so many to choose from to guard your holiday display. I’m curious if any of you leave them up year-round or if they really are just festive decorations. Either way, these brick-built toy versions of… toys will remain on my mantle in silent solace keeping watch over all the holiday festivities, no elf on the shelf required.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of our BrickNerd readers!

Which LEGO version of the Nutcracker and Toy Soldier is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

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