Long Term Character Development in LEGO Town and City.
In which we begin our ongoing search for Bill and Mary, by looking through LEGO Town and LEGO City for evidence of long form story telling, beyond the confines of a single set. If we can find it, then we are one step closer to demonstrating whether or not the protagonists of the 6000 Ideas Book could still exist in LEGO City today…
At the end of this year, the 6000 LEGO Ideas Book turns forty. This book set the standard for using LEGO Minifigures to tell a story, and for many people of a certain age, it took up a lot of our time. Especially after school.
We met the central characters, Mary and Bill, last month. A happening young couple in their day, Mary taught at the local school, while I believe Bill worked in logistics at the port. With their distinctive, sticker enhanced clothing, they had a series of adventures: around the Town, in Space and in a Castle (I still can’t tell if they flew back in time, found a world at a more primitive stage of development, or visited a theme park).
But where are they now? In recent years, there have been a few hints at ongoing story telling within LEGO Themes, especially LEGO City. I have noticed some recurring characters, some demonstrating changes over time. Not much time – just a couple of months, maybe or a year or two at best. This has left me wondering about how Bill and Mary might look, forty years down the track. And are they part of our LEGO Minifigures today?
I like to think that the hope and optimism they showed in the face of their house burning down, their car breaking down, and finding themselves on the moon means that they might have been in their twenties in 1979 – making them somewhere in their 60’s now. So, we should expect them to perhaps look a little elderly: grey haired, glasses, maybe some wrinkles. Would they retain their taste in clothes? Are they still together? Did they have children? Do they have grand children? Are they the grandparents of the first LEGO Baby, which we saw way back in 2016’s Fun in the Park.
In Seach of a Crazy Fan Theory…
As much as I would love too, I can’t just find a loveable old couple in a recent set and say “Look…there they are – right there!” That just makes it a Crazy Fan Theory. So, let us look for evidence. Then it can just be a regular Fan Theory! We need to ensure, first, that it is reasonable to suppose that long form storytelling is occurring across years in our LEGO sets. Then we can say ‘Hey, there they are!’
So, what would allow us to believe this is the case?
- We should see that Characters recur in the ‘house’ themes. These are characters that might appear in Classic Town or LEGO City, as well as other action themes such as Adventurers, Atlantis and Ultra Agents, amongst others. Unlike themes such as LEGO Elves, Friends, Legends of Chima, Nexo Knights or Ninjago, the sets are their primary media, and not tying in with a specific series.
- LEGO Characters develop – particularly they might change their appearance consistent with the passing of time – with in their theme. Today we will look at some examples of this
- Bill and Mary Moved between Town, Space and Castle. If they have returned to LEGO City, then they must have crossed themes. So, we will look for evidence of characters moving across themes next month.
In this article, we shall look at a few examples of recurring characters in LEGO City, as well as Classic Town. Can they exist over multiple sets? Can we follow a story for them – across a year and between years? We are accustomed to the idea of long form storytelling in this day and age, but is there evidence of it happening further back in the history of LEGO sets? I went exploring, and was intrigued with my results.
Crime and Punishment: Criminal Recidivism in LEGO City.
If there is one consistent subtheme appearing in LEGO City, it is the requirement for both a fire department, and a police department. Every year, you will find sets relating to these essential services on the shelves of our favourite retailers…
In the early days of minifigures, the police served to maintain order, check on speeding motorists, and occasionally assist in the event of an accident. As time went by, our town grew to become a city. And with this transition, a seedier element came to enter society.
Criminals, acting as antagonists to the LEGO City Police have been making regular appearances over recent years. The closer I look at them, the more I start to realise that the different figures seem to represent distinct characters in slightly different ways: different hair, hats, torsos and indeed facial expressions. Inevitably they get into conflict with the police of LEGO City – Occasionally imprisoned; frequently breaking out and running free. Lets have a look at a few of these characters:
Handlebar first appears in the Forest Police line in 2012, where he had a 4×4 and a crowbar. Later, running with just his wits, a pickaxe and a quad bike, he narrowly escapes from the Forest police. Now known in the backwoods, he makes his way to the city. Armed with his crowbar, he narrowly evades capture when pursued on foot by a motorcycle cop. Evading the helicopter in 60049, he purchases some gold from a colleague, and in turn gets captured while attempting to purchase the Star Sapphire from the Gentleman Burglar who is also captured. They are both broken out by Grumpy Stubble in 60047.7’
Handlebar lies low in 2015, evading detection, and working a variety of menial jobs, out side of LEGO City.
Moving into 2016, Handlebar is involved in an elaborate plan to break several associates, old and new, out from Prison Island. During the main break, he takes Curly and Slick with him in his boat. The following year is also quiet, but he still takes time to help break out Stubble and the Lady Burglar using a Cherry Picker. In 2018, he went to hide out in the mountains, where he also masterminded a daring mountain pass armoured truck robbery(60175)
Grumpy Stubble’s skills lie in Breaking and Entering. As an associate of the Gentleman Burglar, together they staged a daring break-in at the LEGO City Museum in 2013. Pursued by a determined LEGO City PD, they were ultimately cornered on the docks. In 2015 he hid out in the swamp, until he was ultimately cornered by the swamp police, and ultimately transferred to Prison Island.
He was one of the first to break out in the Great Prison Island Escape of 2016. Since then, he has been involved in a number of petty thefts. He also helped to get Slick out from the mountain police headquarters, in a daring helicopter raid (60175)!
Not to be confused with his Grumpy Brother, Happy Stubble didn’t set out to be a crook. He started his life in LEGO City working in the gold mine. Coveting the wealth that could be gained from owning so much gold, he turned to a life of crime: primarily cash jobs. He was criminally active from 2012 to 2014. He was released on a good behaviour bond, he joined the Volcano Explorers in 2016, making the most of his earlier skill set. He returned to work at the mine under new owners in 2018… He is not to be confused with his twin brother, the fireman – Blaze Stubble.
‘Slick’ and ‘Curly’
After years of daring escapades, Slick A.K.A. The Gentleman Burglar, was finally incarcerated in 2014. On arriving in jail, he shaved his trademark pencil moustache, and made friends with Curly. Curly had a reputation for being able to move the unmovable, including peoples opinions, and merely mentioning his name meant that people were often happy to clear their existing debts, leave town, or dob in their mates.
Slick was captured in 2014, and was broken out of Prison Island in 2016 by Handlebar. He was finally captured while hiding out in the mountains, by which time he had grown a full beard. Personally, he was grateful. He had become somewhat tire of life on the run, as you can see by the look in his eyes.
Curly took advantage of the chaos on prison island to hitch a ride back to the mainland with Handlebar, but there they parted ways. But is wasn’t long before he returned to his life of crime.
But Wait, there are more…
There does not appear to be the same rate of recidivism amongst the women of LEGO City. Of course, perhaps a haircut and disguise could do it. I do find myself wondering if #3 and #4 are one in the same, along with #5 and #6. there is also every possibility that #1,2 and 7 are the same character, with a quick hair dye to ensure failure to recognise.
So, at least in recent years of LEGO City, we have some recurrent characters. I have only looked at the criminal element of LEGO City, however, rather than the Police force, fire brigade, or regular everyday folk around town.
Things Change in LEGO City.
There are a couple of other recent examples of character development in LEGO City. These are particularly pertinent, as while we see recurring criminals, we can clearly see ‘the passage of time’ occurring in LEGO City as well:
It’s Pretty Cool Being an Arctic Explorer
The first is the Arctic theme, seen in 2014. Here we have a pilot who appears in 60036 Arctic Base Camp – May 2014 and 60062 Icebreaker – August 2014 . In these sets he is clean shaven.
The Arctic Supply Plane (60064, also released in August) has a pilot who appears identical to the one featured in 60036, except for the development of stubble on his face.
This seems to be a reasonable progression of events, as while working in relatively isolated environments, you would not be surprised to see the pilot to go unshaven for several days – stubble would be expected! indeed, give him time an a full beard might develop.
Our Baby is Growing Up
In 2016, the world became excited as we saw the first LEGO City People Pack: Fun in the Park 60134.. Appearing with its parents: depicted on the box art as a man with a red chequered shirt; with black hair and beard; Mum is wearing a medium lavender cardigan, and has dark orange hair.
Fast forward to 2018, and our family appears to be on the road, in 60182 Pickup and caravan. Not only that, but we no longer have a baby, but a child capable of going fishing.
Now, the parental figures are almost identical here: only the legs have changed to demonstrate that laundry is getting done. We have some time passing to explain the way in which this child is growing up.
Back to the 80’s
“But Rambling Brick,” I hear you cry. “The world has changed in the last 40 years. Television has moved from episodic drama, with very little consideration to changes occurring from one episode to the next, to long form stories where you might lose track of what is happening. These days, if you missed an episode three years ago, you might never understand what is happening.
So, did we have any evidence for recurring characters back in the dim, dark days of the 1970-80’s Classic Town?
There are multiple sets with variations of these tops, arms swaps, leg swaps and hair styles.
This is of course one of the intrinsic challenges of Classic Town. It is hard to work out if there are any specific ongoing relationships between minifigures. Certainly there are some characters that appear to recur, but are they the same?? And are the relationships consistent over time?
It is easy to get a little confused, but I will see if I can find a couple of examples of stories being told here…
If the 6000 Ideas book taught us anything, it is that hairdressing is an option in our LEGO Town. I wonder if perhaps hair colour and style are not required to be consistent between years, or indeed sets!
However, we do see some consistency with our blue jacketed traveller flying in and out on different planes, and visiting the airport. Of course, there is no evidence to support whether or not he is travelling with the lady passenger: it might all be a coincidence that they are travelling at the same time. Or they ALL might be different characters.
It is difficult to track the story across the years in the 80’s, but less difficult to find one within sets of a single year.
Perhaps there is another story to be found in 1990: Jill has been living away from her family, due to work commitments. We see her eating alone, upstairs at the Breezeway Cafe (6376, 1990). Where she decides the time has come for a break. She catches the Airport Shuttle (6399) prior to getting her flight to her family’s home town. After arrival, she travels with her brother, Murray, to the family holiday house.
This is the first time they have spent any time together since their parents had passed away: Its a nice retreat for both of them. They go for walks, and bicycle riding (one at a time, as it happens).
They develop a new understanding of the things that drive each other, and come away from the time away with a better understanding of each other, and a new resolve to move forward in their lives. Or perhaps I am reading too much into it. Still, I believe there are some recurring characters, if only between sets in a year to believe that story telling between LEGO Sets has been a valid presumption for some time.
The Amazing Time Twisting, Theme Traversing Timmy.
Before I finish today, I would like to consider another example of recurring characters in World City, as well as one of the First theme Traversing Characters: Timmy
Timmy made his debut in Time Cruisers, an adventure theme beginning in 1996. After spending the year in this theme, assisting Dr Cyber to save the world from the Time Twisters.
A freckled youth, with a curious, optimistically naive world view, Timmy is possibly much younger than he looks. He makes his way from the Time Cruisers into Freestyle range in 1997 and 1998, adding a bit of minifigure life to these sets. Now, let us remember that at this time, freckles were often used as a marker of childhood by the graphic designers, as short legs were yet to appear.
And then we jumped forward to 2003. Short legs have appeared both in LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Harry Potter. And now they make their way into World City, a short lived city theme, that was only with us for a couple of years before LEGO City became the metropolis we know it to be today.
He arrives on an airliner in 2003, as a short legged child. In 2004, he is found having grown and is now riding the trains, – carrying a backpack, and normal adult legs. Timmy has decided to go on the road, to explore, and to gain insight into himself…
Next time, in the Quest for Bill and Mary
And that is where I will leave it for today. We are searching for evidence of ongoing long form story telling in LEGO Sets, in the hope that we can find Bill and Mary from the 6000 Ideas Book are Alive and Well today.
We have explored LEGO City, and looked for evidence of character developement, and found some. Specifically, we looked at the Bandits from the Police sets in LEGO City. We have seen how the pilot in some of the Arctic 2014 sets grew stubble as the year went on. We have also seen how the LEGO baby, introduced in 2016 has started to grow up.
Such story telling was not so obvious back in the early days of LEGO Town, but as time went by, seems to have become more obvious.
We have also seen that characters can move between themes – If Bill and Mary are represented today, they must have moved from Ideas Book – with Town, Space and Castle – and back to either LEGO City, or the Creator/Creator Expert line.
Next Month I shall explore this further: looking in other themes where story telling within the bricks has been an important aspect. It won’t be exhaustive, but it will hopefully help us to assure the validity of our quest, to see if Bill and Mary are around today.
Do you have any further examples of story telling in LEGO City? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below, and until next time, Play Well.
Images of sets were obtained from BrickLink.com, Images of minifigures were sourced from Brickset.com and Bricklink.com