4 Juniors Figures: A Reappraisal

Jack Stone cops a lot of flak. At the forefront of the juniorized playsets from the early days of the 21st century, he was all that kids had to turn to when there were no new sets to be seen in LEGO Town. And I will be the first to say that the Jack Stone and 4 Juniors sets were symptomatic of greater problems at the time, as playsets become increasingly simple, with large, single-purpose elements, often at the expense of resemblance to any real-world vehicle that they were purportedly based on. It also coincided with the greatest financial crisis that the company had ever faced.

But it wasn’t all Jack’s fault. The company was overreaching in many different directions, far beyond its core expertise >cough< clothing >cough< TV Production and Action figures >cough< Theme parks.

So, was Jack in the wrong place at the wrong time or, were the 4 Juniors sets a significant retrograde step in character design? As I wandered around our local trash and treasure market this morning, I saw a collection of minifigures on one of the stalls – including a selection of Jack Stone and other 4 Juniors figures. The stall holder noticed my interest and proposed a price when I expressed interest in “Three from this box, please.” A discount was quickly applied, without any further haggling, when they realised exactly what I had in my hand. Neither of us needed to say anything more.

I wandered around for a while, found some other items of interest, along with a bag of hot jam doughnuts and returned home.

While eating a doughnut (for the record, it was delicious, but induced significant guilt), I took a look at the figures I had bought: a fire chief (JS001), Jack Stone (JS013) – Both probably came from from 4621 Red Flash Station. There was also a pirate cook – Harry Hardtack (4j010). In the absence of other pirates, I suspect set 7081 is the most likely.

And the more I looked at these figures, the more intrigued by them I became. The level of detail present on them was quite remarkable. Torsos were printed front and back, the faces had molded noses, and the quality of the printing was on a par with many things you might pick up 20 years down the track.

Checkout the detail, both in the molds as well as in the printing. Now, Jack and the Fire Chief do NOT have rotating wrists, but our piratical friend does, along with a hook.

These figures are 5 1/2 bricks tall – about 4-5 plates taller than your standard Minifigure. You can make out the figures moulded in their hands. Compared with minifigures, they cannot be pulled apart, without a significant risk of permanent injury. The hips are attached, their necks are attached, and their hair and heads are fixed. Jack and the fire chief have a ‘normal’ shaped nose, as well as fairly flat ears. The pirate’s nose is a bit more of a cartoonish button, and his ears stick out a bit further.

I find myself considering the advantages of these figures compared with minifigures: they are a fixed configuration and you cannot readily lose components. They are nicely detailed. They are unlikely to fall apart under normal play conditions (abnormal play conditions are another thing).

Jack and the fire chief feature detailed sewing, and moulded knee pads, with associated printing. Jack has a utility belt, with a walkie talkie around the back, while the fire chief’s radio in his pocket. I am impressed with the pocket detail on both of these figures. The black arms of Jack and the fire chief are both moulded with extra padding around the shoulders and elbows. The fire chief’s helmet is fixed to his head, and has 01 printed onto a silver badge on the front.

The Pirate Chef has a cleaver hanging around his neck, which I think is very brave, especially since it probably explains why he only has a hook for a hand on the left! On the reverse side, he has a rolling pin tucked into the belt on the back of his vest. There is a dishcloth hanging from his belt and his left knee has a patch on. Both shoes are fastened with buckles. On top of his head, he has a tricorn hat, which has a socket for a 2.8mm bar. I used it to place a feather in his hat! One thing that I did have difficulty reconciling is just why his moustache is in continuity with his eyebrows?

I set out to do my best to recreate the figures using a bit of creative fig-barf: pulling my existing Minifigures apart, and swapping elements around. Where there is a printed accessory I have tried to replace it with a Minifigure accessory. Except One. It turns out that there does not appear to have ever been a rolling pin as a Minifigure accessory.

Let us take a look at my ‘best attempt’ to recreate these figures with the elements I have available today. I was surprised at the number of Minifigure heads I have available with a white moustache only. Only the one, it turns out.. The Yellow fire chief is perhaps best matched by the flame yellowish orange uniform from 2019.

Somewhere in my house, there is a white torso, printed with red stripes, from a pirate set I bought a few years ago. For the life of me, I cannot find it today. Those who know my workspace will not be surprised. However, finding a stripy shirt, covered by a vest was my next best effort. I swapped in a pirate captain’s hook for a hand and borrowed a tricorn hat from another errant pirate around the house. The dark brown trousers with the dirty apron on are from the pirate chef in the Brick Bounty (2015). I cannot find any face prints in my collection that even attempt to achieve what Harry’s moustache is doing.

As for Jack, the blue pants with belt and torch are from Power Miners, and the torso has appeared in many city sets. There are so many options for him: even the standard Agents uniform is probably in character for Jack Stone. The hair is probably the most distinctive feature, and this was taken from Han Solo, as included in the new Millenium Falcon Microfighter set. But even Han Solo’s comical quiff cannot match Jack’s in full flight!

The detail in these 4 Juniors figures stands up reasonably well in the face of contemporary graphic design, and its use on minifigures. Perhaps the larger figures were almost too detailed for kids at the time to enjoy? These figures are around 1.2 x the height of a standard Minifigure, but are essentially the same width. They probably represent a more realistic height to width ratio than the standard Minifigure, even if still not quite as tall as might be considered ‘human’.

How do they rate for flexibility?

Leaning backwards and forwards, they are virtually identical. The major difference is than the 4Juniors figures can reach past their head, should they need to. The lack of wrist is a drawback in some, but not all of the 4 Juniors figures.

How About Printed and Moulded Detail?

Check out the level of detail in the fireman’s face: he has blue eyes, a black pupil, complete with a reflection. The eyeliner is well defined, as is the border for the eyebrows. Jack, for some reason, has no black pupil. And what is going on with our pitate’s

These figures are also moulded to include pectoral and abdominal muscles. The level of detail printed on the torso is also impressive. the lines are quite natural, like the material is folded, or the pocket is bulging. the pirate does not have this level of accurate moulding. Unfortunately, the pirate torso was unsculpted, just straight up and down, front and back.

All in all, after taking time to try and put aside my pre-existing prejudices, I was impressed: the level of detail produced on these figures is quite remarkable. Jack Stone and the fire chief were both impressively detailed, and while there was detail present on Harry Hardtack, he came across as a bit more cartoonish for my liking. Looking through the list of 4 juniors figures, this torso and arm mould combination always seemed to be coupled with the button nose/ poking out ears mould – although with 2 hands. Spider-Man had a different head mould again.

I can see what was intended by introducing these figures, but to have such realistic figures coupled with vehicles that looked as though they were improbable in their simplicity was probably a little bit of a stretch. The minifigure probably presented a better scale to build vehicles with a higher level of detail, rather than attempt to redefine the scale that builders were thinking in by introducing new figures. Along with Belville, Galidor, Scala, several types of Duplo figure, and the plain vanilla minifigure, the LEGO Group had 7 different types of figure representing humans during this time. To say nothing of a dozen different Xalaxians in Racers. Perhaps it is possible to have too much of a good thing?

So, after looking at these figures again, what do you think: Was Jack Stone just in the wrong place at the wrong time, to forever remain a symbol of the Dark Times? Or were these figures ahead of their time in design, and innovation – let down by multiple other scales in use, and poor supporting material?

I’d love to know what you think: why not leave your comments below, and until next time…

Play well!

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