The last time I was having a chat to adult visitors at a public exhibition (remember those?), something came up on more than one occasion: LEGO® Themes these days are not what they used to be. It used to be pretty simple – you’d build the set (and it was probably Town, Space or Castle. Unless you were a bit younger – then it may well have been a Pirates set) – and you’d pull it apart and build something else. It might be one of the alternate builds on the back of the box, it might be something completely different. It may not have even been related to the original theme.
These days, many sets thrive on 3rd party IP, and the majority of the in-house, story-driven themes are tied in with either an animated series or an overly complicated app.
For those of us yearning for a simpler time, in a world where things have become increasingly complicated, things are looking bleak! Unless you want to go straight to the 4+ sets.
A few weeks ago, we got our first preview of the new ‘Action theme’ in the second half of 2021: Wildlife Rescue. The images were exciting because they revealed several new animal moulds: Lion and Cub; Elephant and calf; new monkeys, as well as the reappearance of other favourites: a recoloured crocodile (with a new, partially hatched egg); and a new print for the snake mould which debuted in 2018.
We also saw some recolours of the new 8x16x2/3 ‘road plates’ – seen earlier this year, printed up as a zebra crossing. How smoothly would these large, very rectangular elements integrate with an African wilderness?
I was fortunate to pick up 60301 Wildlife Rescue Off-Roader and 60302 Wildlife Rescue Operation a few days before the official release date of June 1 (Most of the world. The Americas will have to wait until August).
Rather than review these sets specificially, I would like to look at the animals in-depth and some of the specific landscaping details included. We might look at the minifigures, some of the printed elements included, and some other nifty details along the way.
Every year around this time, the LEGO Group presents its annual report: taking in all aspects of the company. The document always includes a small paragraph or two on which themes performed strongly in a given year.
While the metric used to define this performance has not been presented to the public, it gives us a good idea of the sorts of material that pepople are buying, and which themes are strong sellers. Prompted by some online discussion, I have gone back to 2011, and tracked down the strongest performing themes for the last ten years, as referred to in The LEGO Group’s annual report. What we found out may not come as a surprise at all. Or perhaps it will?
Join us while we look through the last 10 years – we will look at the themes directly referenced in the annual report, look at some of the highlights, and maybe even evoke some mild feelings of nostalgia along the way..
Over the last few weeks, we have started to see images of next year’s sets, and there are some changes afoot for LEGO City. The images, revealed by a Dutch retailer, and republished throughout the LEGO Fan Media, show a new design of LEGO Road based on a new modular plate system, rather than the traditional baseplate. I’ll look at the new system later, including a best guess simulation, as well as a new use for your old plates. But first, let’s remind ourselves of what we have known over the last 40 years or so.
When I first saw the images of the new 60271 LEGO® City Main Square, I was pretty nonplussed. My first response to a casual view was along the lines of “… another quad bike police chase, another helicopter, a new tram, a recycled limousine, some landscape and a couple of buildings. And they are asking $AUD275/$USD199.99 for this?” Please understand, I actually thought in terms of the currency conversion
“And the characters have names now. What?? In the past decade, LEGO City has been the last stronghold of the anonymous minifigure!” Some of the characters might reappear, but I’ve never had anyone tell me what to call them before.
But after closer examination, there are aspects of this set which are worthy of further attention: drawing on some of the characters and situations seen in the animated series LEGO City Adventures, this is one of the largest LEGO City sets ever produced.
It is being marketed heavily as a set for the family to Build Together. As such, it is aimed a a variety of ages, not just something to leave your adventurous 8 year old to work on by themselves. As such, while some builds may feel overly simple (Aimed at a 6 year old), some represent building styles not seen in LEGO City for many years.
Come with me on a tour through the Main Square of LEGO City. You might not enjoy all that you see, but you might discover some things that leave you pleasantly surprised.
You may have noticed that some of the recent (coming in August to North America) releases of LEGO City and LEGO Friends have been cobranded with the National Geographic brand.
The new City: Deep Sea Explorers, as well as Friends: Jungle Rescue subthemes have been developed in collaboration with National Geographic to encourage children to explore the world, and consider their own ways to solve some of the problems that we are facing, going forward.
The recent launch of the the Space X Falcon9, successfully delivering astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard their Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station has renewed public interest in the space program. And at a time when there are so many other problems affecting the world, a little excitement and optimism is what the world needs.
Space exploration has often been associated with this hope and optimism, as we see parts of the universe through new eyes, and discover that we can achieve things that had previously only been dreamt of.
A child excited by the the dream of space travel today might look at the range of LEGO City ‘Mission to Mars’ sets from 2019, and be inspired by such a future, as some of us were 40 odd years ago, when we first saw LEGOLAND Space.
Back in those days, we started with spacemen on a planet somewhere. They had a spaceship, a rover or a base. Or all three. They were all working together: no fighting, just cooperation in achieving the teams goals.
The last week has seen the COVID-19 pandemic declared. Public events around the world have been cancelled, including many LEGO® Fan shows. Even the LEGO House has shut its doors for the time being. Europe has just declared the new epicentre of the pandemic, with borders closing, and quarantine being enforced in many countries. The USA has been declared to be in the grip of a national emergency, and the Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled. Our hearts go out to families around the world that have been affected by COVID-19 – those affected directly the illness, and those whose livelihoods are affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic.
In these troubled, uncertain times, we need someone to turn to. We need a symbol of hope, and reassurance that that although we have a struggle ahead of us, we will get through as best we can as a society.
We Need A HERO!
And so I thought I would take this as a prompt for my next Rambling Brick Habitat Competition.
March the 8th marks International Women’s Day, and I thought I would briefly return to my occasional analysis of Gender Balance in LEGO® City. I haven’t visited the topic for a couple of years, and was wondering if there have been significant changes here.
This year seems to have become unreasonably busy, for reasons I do not fully understand. As such, I have not had the chance to sit down on a daily basis to Build, photograph and describe the LEGO City Advent Calendar’s builds. In this era of binge watching and instant gratification, where we cannot bring ourselves to wait a whole week to see how this episode’s residual issues get resolved, but follow straight on, I have taken a similar approach to the Advent Calendar.
I will almost, but not quite complete the calendar in this post.
A quick recap:
One of the advantages of binge building the advent calendars is that you can see how the narrative threads develop and resolve. Last time, we saw a number of random activities out side, as well as a small boy looking at presents under the Christmas tree, while eating a biscuit. We were left with 2 developing scenes, somewhat like this…
Where will our stories go now? Will we see new characters and situations? Will we see the source of the cookies? And will we understand why the smiling man in blue is carrying a broom, despite standing outside, with lots of snow around? Hang around as we set out to complete the stories over the next couple of days…
This collection of elements struck me as a little odd, until I realised there was a giant target drawn on the frozen lake. It looks like a curling match is in progress: sliding these polished stones towards the target, our man with the broom must be trying to sweep the ice clear to get his closer to the centre of the target.
Behind window number 12, we find ourselves moving inside again: a few telescopes, a chair and some inverse curved slopes: without a doubt, this is a rocking char, and lamp on a table. I certainly remember seeing this kind of set up in days gone past…
And on day 13, we find someone to sit in the rocking chair, by the lamp, and read a book. The Tile, reading “Once upon a Time” looks great and makes it feel like a real book. I wonder if this lady is the cool Grandmother, or aunt, of the child we met earlier in the month. The cardigan torso has been previously seen in the 70657 Ninjago Docks, as well as the recently release 60203 Ski Resort
To add to the effect, while sitting in her rocking chair, Grandma now has a cup of milk, and a cookie, while sitting in her chair reading. Or has it been left for Santa to find by candlelight? I’ll let you be the judge.
A couple of skids, small Technic elements, handlebars and some small slopes brings us a snowmobile: I suspect we aren’t in the lounge room anymore!
A mixture of elements today, including a disk missile launcher and a frying pan, resolves itself into a stove, employing the open studs on the front of a SNOT Bracket as gas dials. Now we know where the cookies are coming from!
Another figure today, but where does he below? Inside our out? This older man might have a real thing against candles. Perhaps he wants to ensure the fire is out before Santa Claus comes to visit. Or perhaps there has been a nasty accident with the snowmobile in the snow.
We have a small, elegant table setting behind the 18th door. With a table wreath and drumstick, it has the makings of Christmas dinner. For one…
Just in time to help us keep time, we build a grandfather clock. This relatively recent clock face tile shows us that it is a little after 10 minutes to midnight. The kids are staying up really late tonight!
Today, we have another figure with a torso from the Ski resort set – calling back to the X-Treme Team sets of the late 90’s. This child is enjoying the chance afforded by the weather to go snowboarding.
It all depends on how you look at things… and this looks like another night time activity: a telescope. Perhaps all the better to try and find Santa flying through the sky in his Sleigh.
Perhaps this is what Grandpa was worried about back on day 17: this fireplace, still ablaze, with a number of NSOT bricks, Stafford slippers and profile bricks, this is a really elegant representation of a small fireplace, with trans orange tooth elements as the fire. (or is is a gas heater… a fire place will be more practical for Santa, wherever he’s gotten to!) We must be pretty close to the end of the story inside the house.
And just to throw us off the scent, day 23 sees us putting together a few clip elements to make a sled, being pulled by a single husky.
And this almost brings us to the end of our stories. There seems to be a fairly coherent narrative inside the house, with the family relaxing: eating, playing, reading, and extinguishing the candles with extreme prejudice, while waiting for Santa to arrive.
Meanwhile, outside, it seems a little more disjointed: we have a number of activities underway, with people well dressed and rugged up to keep warm. We seem to have a disproportionately large number of modes of transport, compared with the minifigure count. We also have a number of activities – snow ball hurling; curling and stargazing/Santa Spotting, as well as snow boarding. We have certainly had some interesting builds, and some quite unexpected. The outdoor narrative is well suited to the design on the box.
Will the next day go inside or out? Will it be a minifigure, or something else?
And I am going to leave it there for now: I want to avoid spoilers for the final build – so come back in a day or so, when we shall be able to see all our final builds, perhaps along with a little something Xtra.