In which we visit the rebooted world of LEGO Friends and see how Olivia has changed. I at a two of her vehicles from recent years. I then find myself wondering about how they manage to fit two minidolls side by side in a standard width car, but that seems to have eluded minifigures in LEGO City. I’ll wait until next time to try and solve this problem.
We have long recognised that one of the challenges of teenage years is fitting in with your friends. “What if they don’t like my hair style? What if we’re all wearing the same earrings? What if I want to…? What if…? And so on. Total. Drama.
Friends has come a long way over the last five years, and this year we have seen new episodes and new stories of Heartlake City. Today I also look at several vehicles, which demonstrate ways in which two minidolls can be sat side by side.
Our friends in Heartlake City are pretty good together. After five years, several subtle artwork redesigns and, now, a solid reboot, they are still a pretty tight group. Whether baking cupcakes, celebrating birthdays, going sailing or taking on a robot army and saving the local community, we have seen them come to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, with the power of friendship winning out at the end the day!
Girls on a Mission
This year we have seen an update to the look and feel of LEGO Friends: a new look for some of the girls, new colour schemes and a new clubhouse. I had not paid close attention to the animated media for the new series until recently, and was rapidly found myself sucked in to following their adventures. As well as ten minute long episodes, we also see a number of wider reaching story arcs stretching out across the series. Each episode is nicely self contained, but there are a couple of payoffs for those who last the whole distance. The series has been released on YouTube on the LEGO Channel, and a playlist for the entire series can be found here.
While previous series had shown the girls to be worried about regular, everyday things, playing on their weaknesses as well as strengths Friends: Girls on a Mission sees our characters adopt the characteristics and dreams of a teenage girl, but provides all of them with a degree of competence in their areas of strength that most girls would only dream about: the ability to customise a van, as well as performing chemical analysis at well beyond a school leaver level; performing amazing feats of athleticism; painting a city mural; performing with the latest teen pop sensation and wrangling an anxious horse in the middle of a forest fire and riding it to safety. To say nothing of the sheer amount of underage driving which is taking place.
I would like to look at a couple of sets today: from either side of the LEGO Friends reboot. One from 2016 – Olivia’s Exploration Car 41116 and Olivia’s Mission Vehicle 41333 . The Mission Vehicle was provided by the LEGO Group’s AFOL Engagement team for review and discussion. All opinions and ideas on them are my own.
Olivia has undergone the biggest transformation following the reboot: while she retains her role as the go to science and gadget girl, she has become far more outgoing in personality, flaunting her inventive skills where she can. She has also had the most dramatic change in appearance: with a change in skin tone, and now wearing glasses. I spent several episodes dreading a potential Scooby Doo/Velma type moment (“My glasses, I can’t see without my glasses”). Mercifully, it never came.
To go with her new character, her colour scheme has changed from a variable combination of bright reddish violet/light purple (you know, the pink colour)/medium lavender/ dark azur/ to a more consistent bright purple, cool yellow and dark azur combination.
Olivia’s Exploration Car 41116
Let us start with Olivia’s Exploration Car 41116, which was released in 2016, and has 185 parts. The set is now retired, but had a retail price of $AUD22.99/€14.99/£12.99/$USD15.99. The set comes with a pickup truck, measuring six by twelve studs, and also comes with a small treehouse observatory, as well as a starchart and Zobo the robot, to keep Olivia company while exploring. As a pre-2018 set, it features Olivia’s “Old” colouring.
As an older set, the colour scheme of the car is predominantly bright reddish violet and dark azur, with a tan tub at the back to carry the starchart or Zobo. If Zobo rides in the back, we can see the advantage of the smaller size of the Friends minidolls: their shoulders fit within a two stud space, so by adjusting the position of their hands, you can sit two, side by side, in a four stud wide space. While this is a little cosy, this allows a friend to travel up to the telescope and check out the night sky.
Stickers which can be applied to the car include a model of an atom, with hearts taking the place of electrons and the nucleus (which also matches Olivia’s shirt). This logo is matched with stickers which may be applied to the side of the observatory. ne sticker that I find particularly appealing is the GPS: I think it is disappointing that this could not be a printed 1×2 cheese slope, as it would have great reusability across all LEGO vehicles.
I love the tree, as well as the small observatory platform mounted there. I think it would get very cold at night, and as such am glad that Zobo has prepared a mug of hot chocolate for Olivia to enjoy in the chilly evening. Olivia’s StarChart, however is another sticker which needs to be placed in order ‘work properly.’ However, a star chart element has a high level of reusability – as a chart, on a wall in a laboratory or on the blackboard in a school or university. I was not able to identify a previous animation that it might have appeared in. If you can help me, I would love a link. I give this set four out of five arbitrary praise units.
Fun Fact: Each Friend has their own special symbol. In the old world order they were subtley displayed on the box:
Andrea: Musical notes
Mia: Paw print
The Butterfly was used as a unifying Friends Emblem, flying over the letter ‘s’
Now, the emblems are more frequently either printed on their clothing or fashioned into a pendant.
After the Reboot: Olivia’s Mission Vehicle 41333
Following the changes described at the start of 2018, the girls find themselves a new clubhouse. In fact, its an abandoned fire station, with a red van in the garage. Technically, I think they become squatters. Is this a sign of how much more civilised a town Heartlake City is compared with the standard LEGO City? No longer is every second building incorporating some form of active emergency services. As the girls claim the space as their own, Olivia adapts this old fire engine to become Olivia’s Mission Vehicle (41333). This set was released at the start of 2018, and comes with 223 parts. It retails for $AU29.99/EUR19399/£14.99 and UDS19.99. This vehicle becomes a key element of the series, as it transports the girls around Heartlake city.
As well as the van, we get new Olivia, Zobo (riding on the roof of the vehicle) and a tree. We also get a calico kitten (named Vega, apparently), presumably to leave stranded in the tree until Olivia attends to rescue it.
The vehicle is a relatively simple build. Wheel base and seats, as well as opening doors. The roof attaches across four studs, and has a secret compartment holding a hidden map of Heartlake city. On top of the roof we put Zobo’s lookout and workstation into position. Some neat SNOT work completes the front grill and bumper bar.
There are stickers which may be applied, including plans for a hamster ball powered battery charger to be applied on interior panels (seen later in the series, powering Zobo), as well as some markings reminding us of the vehicles previous life – fire hoses etc. Some feel a little trite – such as the number plate, while others (BFF[Heart] Girls Rule) seem to be designed to simulate preteens prediliction to put stickers all over everything. Derelict firestation, adapted vehicle? Who are we gonna call? (A running joke in the Series Friends: Girls on a Mission involves the difficulty the girls have coming up to describe their collective ‘Scooby Gang.’)
We also get a great printed piece: a modified book cover printed to look like a mobile phone/tablet
The overall colour scheme works well, particularly in fitting in with Olivia’s colour vibe this year. I do feel however that without placing the stickers providing the detail of the retired fire truck, the van resembles an ice cream truck, but with more seats.
Unlike any other vehicle I have ever seen in this post minifigure era, this vehicle will sit FIVE, yes count them: Five Minidolls: two rows of two and a single on in the rear of the van. In the animation, seats are lined up along the side of the vans, but that would not have been entirely practical, if you were to retain some storage space. On either side of the rear most set, we have wheel arches intruding into the luggage space – a neat detail I would not have anticipated. It is important to note, at this point, that I have not previously seen the bus from 41134 Heartlake performance School (which manages to seat seven) in real life.
Of course, it is important to note that as you fill the back of the vehicle up with minifigures, it does feel quite crowded, and positioning or removing a single figure is quite a challenge. The Mission Vehicleis quite generic in design, and the wheels base is a great starting point for a family car, minibus, station wagon or any other vehicle you might think of.
I quite like this set: it has the potential for multiple figures working together; the tree is simple, and includes some of this year’s new leaf and flower elements. The calico cat is also a great addition. Zobo is Olivia’s frequent companion, and he rarely disappoints. I find it a little odd that his ‘command centre’ is on the roof of the van. It does make for easier play than moving him in and out, however.
To be honest though, I find this to be a very busy set: there is so much happening with the van: seating many minidolls; busy stickers; the rooftop radar dish and the hidden map of Heartlake City. And for all her high tech resources, the kitten stuck in the tree feels a little incogruous – to me – but I can see the value of including them in the set. I give this set three point five out of five Arbitrary Praise Units. I love the inspiration for building that the van provides for further vehicles, and feel that Olivia’s rebooted design adds to the diversity in Heartlake City.
Some might criticise the reinforcement of the ‘nerdy kid wearing glasses’ stereotype. However, this also provides a new colour of face wearing glasses, if you are looking to mix up the figures to populate a town layout with minidolls. The concern I do have with the new designs is that the use of each character’s logotype on torso prints does make it a little hard to mix them up without being thought of as being part of Team Olivia/ Emma/ Andrea/ Mia /Stephanie and so on.
The Spectacles of Heartlake City
The reboot of LEGO Friends, With ‘Girls on a Mission’ has changed the look of many of our favorite characters, perhaps none so much as Olivia. Her new look emphasises her ‘science/engineering interests more than the old. The characterisations in the new series also help to accentuate their characteristics, even if they become more aspirational, with a higher level of personal achievements than we have seen in the past.
These sets ( Olivia’s Exploration Car and Olivia’s Mission Vehicle) continue to provide good value for story telling: these both providing a vehicle, some scenery and accessories for our characters to interact with. If I had to make a call for my favorite out of these two, I’d opt for the Explotation Car rather than the Mission Vehicle, because I find the notion of astronomy more appealing than rescuing a kitten from a tree. But it’s not all about me! At last count, I don’t fit the target demographic. The fact that two figures can fit into a standard width car is also great, and an intrinsic advantage of the minidoll design over the iconic minifigure. The way that this is made to work has given me an idea, and I suspect I shall develop it further next time.