We have now had LEGO®Friends Sets on the shelves for over a decade, and during this time we have seen the girls grow, get rebooted and learn, while seeing each other through good times and bad. The girls who played with those first sets have grown up, and during the second half of the 2022, we have seen our core cast grow up and head off to pursue their dreams: Olivia at Space Camp, Emma at Art School, Stephanie sailing around the world, Mia rescuing animals and Andrea heading out to perform. All of this while welcoming new characters to Heartlake City.
During this time, we have been able to see our own kids grow up, and perhaps there is just a little too much backstory to catch up with, for newcomers to the brand. And so in 2023, we are going to see a new core group of friends, a new logo, and new stories to take place in Heartlake City. This change in direction was teased at LEGO CON 2022, but no further details were forthcoming.
In the 11 years since LEGO Friends was first released, the world has changed quite a bit. At the time, it was still considered possible to squeeze the total of youthful stereotypes into a couple of words (confidant sportsman, insecure artist, confident performer, caring nature lover, and brainy engineer), but the way the world looks at people has changed a bit since then. We are now much more confident talking about inclusivity – embracing diversity in all forms: ethnicity, gender interests, but also embracing neurodiversity, appreciating the underlying nature of people’s personalities, as well as physical disabilities.
Add to this the fact that we are in a post pandemic world, and there is a greater recognition of the ways that anxiety might present itself in kids, and you can see that a refresh might be necessary.
And certainly, with this increased cast of interesting characters, there will be someone for just about everyone to identify with!
But I don’t like change. I accept it, and I suspect I will come to deal with it with time.
Meet Your New Friends
Aliya read her first chapter book when she was only five years old… and after reading it on her own, she immediately flipped to the front page and began reading it again, out loud, for her friends to listen to the story. The only thing bigger than Aliya’s brain is her sweet and gentle heart. But as kind as she is to her friends and family, Aliya is sometimes tough on herself; as the child of two successful parents, she feels the pressure of high expectations. Luckily, even though she spends a lot of time studying or reading, Aliya still squeezes in adventures with her best friend Autumn. Aliya is seen as a leader among her friends and in her school, but her desire to help people can sometimes go overboard, and she’s been known to completely take over group projects, ending up doing everything herself so it comes out ‘perfect.’ Sometimes her friends can talk her down and convince her to take a breather and let others help her, and other times… she crashes hard. Slowly Aliya is learning to use her courage not just to be a good leader, but also to admit she needs her friends as much as they say they need her.
If Autumn had it her way, her bedroom would be outside in a multi-story treehouse rather than indoors. Although her and her family live just a quick bike ride out of town, Autumn spends most of her time on the ranch, doing chores, hanging out with the animals, and exploring the deeper darker woods at the edge of their furthest fields. Despite only being born with a limb difference, Autumn never met a challenge she didn’t want to take on—whether it’s climbing a cliffside for the sweetest blackberries in the state or teaching her best friend Aliya how to climb a pine tree, the only thing that makes Autumn nervous is when her mom asks if she’s finished her homework yet. Although she is a bit of a daredevil and generally sees rules as just ‘suggestions,’ Autumn takes her work on the ranch seriously, and is devoted to animals as well as protecting the planet. Because Autumn spends so much time with animals, she can get a little annoyed with the drama of people, and needs alone time to decompress, especially if she has to make an important decision. Her best friend Aliya understands this need and some of the best times they’ve had as friends is completely silent moments in nature, enjoying the peace and each other’s affectionate company.
New city, new house, new friends and newly renovated kitchen (courtesy of his two architect parents), Leo is experiencing a lot of things for the first time! Growing up, Leo found comfort in the family kitchen, especially at his grandmother’s side, learning how to make his favourite dishes and practicing recipes until the flavours were just right. As the oldest sibling, Leo is familiar with caring for people and diffusing arguments, but when it comes to his peers, he is anxious to avoid confrontation in order to keep up the good vibes of the group, even at his own expense. When he first arrived in Heartlake City, he worried whether his passion for the culinary arts would be seen as cool, or cringe among the other students. That uncertainty pushes him to connect with his friends via their shared love of the beach; surfing, paddleboarding, and kicking a soccer ball around on the sand with his teammates from the Heartlake High soccer team. Slowly but surely, Leo is getting more comfortable with letting people see this other side of him, especially because everyone is OBSESSED with the beach snacks, he brings every week! Leo may not know it yet, but his warmth and caring personality have already gained him close friends who see the real him.
Anyone who says Liann is disorganized just doesn’t understand her organization style! Sure she couldn’t find her blue lightning sneakers for two months… that just gave her a reason to break in her new red lava ones! Liann is one of the few people who can match Autumn’s boundless energy – and you can usually find her at the skatepark. The only time she slows down is when she is hyper focused on a drawing. Although she has aspirations of becoming a comic artist one day, first, Liann has to figure out how to stick with a project for longer than fifteen minutes. Because she’s easily distracted and zones out as soon as she gets bored, she can get herself into trouble occasionally, and her impulsive streak sometimes causes problems for not just her, but her friends too. Liann’s optimistic enthusiasm however means she’s quick to get into a mess, but even quicker to apologize and make things right. She’s always ready to have fun and do something new, and her bad moods never last longer than a moment. Liann is a sparkling, joyful mood maker that nearly everyone in school wants to be friends with.
Zac was destined for the spotlight. He’s smart, he’s cute, he’s athletic, he’s funny, a great dancer and even a decent singer during karaoke nights! He’s talented at martial arts, has won a couple motocross races, the list goes on and on and on. With so much success, you’d think a guy like Zac might be a little bit of a show-off… and you’d be right! Thankfully, although everything comes easy to Zac, he’s happy to share the spotlight with his friends, he always makes sure everyone at the party is having a great time and is genuinely excited to meet new people and learn more about them. Zac is as clever as he is cool and has been known to ace a test without even studying (much to Aliya’s annoyance), but lately, the competition in Heartlake City has been getting tougher, and soon Zac will have to practice the one skill he’s terrible at: dealing with failure! But with good friends like Liann, who joins him when he plays pranks, and Aliya, who always hears him out in the rare moments he’s frustrated, Zac is confident soon enough he’ll be the best at being humble, in addition to everything else he’s the best at!
It’s not that Paisley doesn’t have a lot on her mind…it’s more that she doesn’t even know how to begin to express herself! Big crowds and noisy rooms have always made Paisley feel anxious, and although her confidence is growing, she often doubts if she’ll ever be able to boldly rule the stage like Zac or jump headfirst into an adventure like Autumn. Despite being a lady of few words, Paisley has many talents. Her stunningly beautiful voice surprises everyone who hears her, and as a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, Paisley has recorded hours of amazing music that no one will hear. Music is deeply important to Paisley as her late mother was a recording artist in the 90s; singing and playing music is a way of remembering and connecting with her mom. When Olly encourages her to share her music with a wider audience, Paisley is excited, but she’ll have to work hard on her insecurity and self-consciousness first. A kind and soothing friend, Paisley often can tell someone is having a bad day before they say anything, and her perceptive personality means people often come to her to talk out difficult feelings.
Online, Nova is super popular. Her streaming channel has over five hundred thousand followers, her online handle in the gaming community is well-known, and she gets tons of likes and comments on pretty much everything she posts. In real life, well…Nova is a bit of a loner. She’d rather watch super scary thriller horror films instead of whatever popular sitcom everyone else is talking about in school, and her dead-pan sense of humour and overall blunt personality means she comes off as rude or mean to people who don’t know her well. In reality, Nova is much softer on the inside than her prickly exterior, and she is a thoughtful person, and very eager to help, especially if it’s a problem involving any techy stuff. Nova yearns for deep, close friendships, but has a hard time opening up to people, and because she can sometimes be a little too honest, more than once she’s hurt the feelings of someone she was trying to get to know better. But the best thing about Nova, like a true gamer that will replay the same difficult boss level over and over until they win, Nova is willing to try and try again to become friends with people who will care about her and all her geeky passions.
Whether it’s setting up the Heartlake High fashion show, organizing a bake sale for the equestrian team, or video editing a clip for Isaac’s Grocery website, Olly is always the hardest working person in the room. His charm and charisma matched with his gorgeous outfits make him a memorable person in Heartlake City, and he often has an influence on the biggest and best events. Growing up in a working-class family, Olly was not able to afford designer brands or private classes, but there is nothing in the world that can stop Olly when he sets his mind to something. With a few online videos, he taught himself to sew, design t-shirts, how to edit film and photos, and in just a few years Olly has transformed from kid with a dream to young man with a (detailed and color-coded) plan! Sometimes however, his willingness to help can turn into meddling in his friends’ interests—but Olly means well, and simply sees the potential in everything. His persuasive personality means he usually gets his way, but friends like Zak and Aliya keep him on his toes, as those two are even more headstrong than himself! Between his up-and-coming YouTube channel, and his growing fashion finesse, Olly believes one day he can turn Heartlake City into a global fashion hub.
Here’s the formal press release:
Billund, Denmark : A decade on from the launch of LEGO® Friends, the LEGO Group has re-imagined the Friends Universe, with the introduction of new diverse characters, to enable more children to feel represented during play. This next generation is designed to celebrate diverse friendships in the modern world.Because the LEGO Group values children as its role models, this next generation of LEGO Friends has implemented input from kid testing, research and feedback from letters sent to the company, which all found children had a desire to see themselves, their friends and their families better represented.
The brand-new universe of authentic, interesting, passionate, and diverse characters includes additions of multiple skin tones, cultures, physical and non-visible disabilities, and neurodiversity. The new sets and series will feature characters with limb difference, Downs Syndrome, anxiety, vitiligo, and a dog with a wheelchair. The new friends also explore and work to overcome modern challenges that they face, passions, obstacles, and differences, all while trying to create friendships
“At the LEGO Group, we understand that children want the characters they encounter to be more like the diverse personalities they meet in real-life”, said Tracie Chiarella, Head of Product, LEGO Friends at the LEGO Group. “We’re continuously evolving our products so that they’re reflective of society today and that’s why we’re proud to launch this brand-new generation of LEGO Friends. We want children to see the new LEGO Friends Universe, both in the physical product and the content we’re launching in 2023, as a reflection of their own friendships and to see the characters as authentic. We have chosen to evolve the LEGO Friends Universe and TV show to be more inclusive in order to give parents and kids more tools to navigate friendship and their emotions as they grow and learn.”
The re-imagined LEGO Friends Universe aims to help kids become better friends to themselves and others while providing emotional and social development through play, to help them better understand individuality, diversity, and the modern world.
Beyond research and insights from kid testing and designers reviewing letters from children, the LEGO Group also revealed recent research that further highlights children’s need for representation.
The LEGO® Play Well Study 2022* showed an overwhelming desire for more representation in play and more discussion on diversity and revealed that parents (97%) believe it is important to discuss the unique individualities between us all, especially mental health (91%), physical disabilities (82%), mental disabilities (81%), and ethnicity (75%). Moreover, parents (85%) say that play and toys can have a key role in helping children learn about diversity (84%).
The research also found that 3 in 4 (73%) children felt that there were not enough toys with characters that represented them and similarly, that 8 in 10 (80%) children would like there to be more toys with characters who look like them. Moreover, children themselves are asking for a fairer, more equitable world with 9 out of 10 (91%) saying they care about everyone being treated equally.
The LEGO Group wants children across the globe to experience the entire Friends Universe as relatable and representative of the real world, both when it comes to products and content. As a result, the storylines of the LEGO Friends TV show have been refreshed in collaboration with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media** helping to develop the character’s narratives to ensure they’re relatable, inclusive, and reflective of the difficulties and experiences that children face today, including the ups and downs of friendships.
The new LEGO® Friends sets will be available from January 1, 2023, while a LEGO®
Friends TV special is due to air in February 2023 – kicking off the new TV series.
The First Wave of 2023 Friends Sets:
41724 Paisley’s House
41727 Dog Rescue Center
41728 Heartlake Downtown Diner
41730 Autumn’s House
41731 Heartlake International School
To be honest, I quite like the look of these sets. I think this new direction is a positive one, building on the traditions developed over the previous decade. The New color palette will take a little getting used to, and I haven’t yet worked out if the buildings have a palette to go with each character, the way they did in the first years. Time shall tell. It certainly looks like teal and azure are getting a solid workout. I can’t wait to see them in real life.
As you may have seen in these sets, Mia is back…this time as a mother! I’m sure all will be made clear with time, and I hope that we shall see the other members of the original team appear from time to time.
I’d love to know how you feel about this revamp. A leap forward, or a step back? Why not leave your comments below, and until next time,