Back to the Woods -LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679)

The supply chain and overall availability issues that affect so many products during the pandemic also persist for LEGO, so it still takes forever until you can get your hands on some products at all or they are more widely available at reasonable prices. That’s why the Forest House (41679) from the LEGO Friends series only now found its way into my home now, almost two months after its May release in these parts.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Box

Price and Contents

One of the reasons I did not rush to the store for this set on day one is of course the usual price consideration. With 326 pieces and a suggested price of 30 Euro the value of this set is not bad right out of the gate, but every bit of money saved helps, apparently. I got this for 23 Euro and would predict that eventually it will level off around the 20 Euro-ish mark.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Overview

No matter the price, as far as LEGO Friends sets go this is pretty good value. I certainly had a number of stinkers in my short time doing this, but you really can’t complain about this set. As you may already gather from the overview image you get quite a bit of bulk here. The tree house is sizable, there’s three minifigures and an animal plus an extra piece of river/ waterfall and a canoe. If every set for 20 Euro was that rich we’d live in a better world.

The Figures

The selection of the minidolls in this set is a bit odd, to be honest, given that Mia and Ava (the kid) were already in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444) earlier this year. Even if this would count as a spare time activity vs. their professional occupation it seems strange how the girls jump from activity to activity without much logic and a consistent story behind it. If this was a movie, you’d complain about the plot holes, if you get my meaning.

An interesting observation also is that the khaki shorts Mia wears at the café would be much more adequate here. A bit of body swap surgery might not be a bad idea if you have both sets/ figures, respectively. Similarly, a different dress color for Ava would have been nice. On the bright side we are getting Sand Blue pants by ways of Ann, which could come in handy as jeans/ worker pants for the few male characters in Heartlake City. Oh, and anyone notice the all three-letter names, anyway?

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Figures

The figures are easily outdone by the single animal in this set, the raccoon. This is a new mold and for the time being can only be found in this set and the Forest Camper Van and Sailboat (41682) also associated with the forest excursion sub-theme. It’s just plain and simple cute and apparently also one of the motivations behind getting this set. The only thing that could have made it better would have been the inclusion of a second raccoon or a baby version of it, but I guess LEGO are going to wait with that to give us a reason to buy more sets next year. 😉

The Side Builds

There are two side builds, with one of them really being limited to plugging the round tile and the foot holder element into the canoe hull. The Magenta is a new color and expands the somewhat limited color options for this mold.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Canoe

The other extra is a piece of river put together from a bunch of simple plates and bricks. Though the wild water rapids are hinted at, it cannot accommodate the full length of the kayak, so it’s not that useful for this. It will work wonderfully as a place to put the raccoon, however, with him having a sip from the clear water or washing his food in it. This little island also features one of the pine trees created from the new Bright Green versions of some elements specifically produced for this series.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), River

The Tree House

The actual tree house isn’t really a forest tree house but rather a somewhat luxurious backyard tree house or lodge as you would build it in your garden. Most notably it includes several “luxury” extras such as the barbecue grill, the large couch and the gazebo-like structure that you likely would not have somewhere deep in the Alaskan woods or similar. Still, the overall design is not bad.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Front Right View

The frame construction also serves as a clever trick to provide extra stability to the whole model and prevent it from toppling over, something many “single pole” tree houses can be prone to if they get too top-heavy. Furthermore it also indirectly reinforces the connections of the plates used for the ground. In engineering terms, it’s more or less a box frame visually disguised. Clever as it may be there is one caveat here, though, as the build sequence isn’t always ideal.

One very critical thing is for instance the 2 x 4 brick used for the grill which according to the instructions will only be added rather near the end of the respective build for this exterior area. I would recommend you jump ahead a little and at least put the brick itself in place early to strengthen the connection of the plates underneath or else you may struggle with the green 6 x 6 round corner plate coming off again and again like it happened to me a number of times. Not a big issue, but one that could have been avoided by shuffling a few construction steps around.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Front Left View

The back of the model and thus the interior of the house loses a bit of fancy compared to the front. I’m not complaining about the shallow depth at only four studs – that was to be expected in this price range – but personally I’m missing at least one cool detail. For all intents and purposes it is very mundane and ordinary. Simple things as an (emergency) gasoline lamp hanging from the wall or a candle might have already enlivened it and then their could be all kinds of outdoor equipment like a butterfly net, a fishing rod and so on as well.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Back Left View

One thing I was pleased with is that the model uses “sensible” elements that are reusable well enough for my own projects. By that I mean that the designers have actually opted to give us as much to build as possible and foregone using those awful elongated 1 x 2 x 5 bricks and similar that you find in so many Friends sets. Instead indeed we have a good number of traditional 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 bricks to build real walls.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Back Right View

This trend is also visible elsewhere with the arch elements being properly embedded in the walls, the number of big “shell” elements to shape the roundness of the tree trunk to an acceptable minimum and some smaller plates and tiles being pieced together to add some texture as opposed to using larger, more monolithic parts. I even like that they used colored windows to make it less monotone. It would just have been preferable if the window frames were Dark Green or something like that.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Detail Grapes

The greenery stuff is adequate, but could be a bit more dense in my opinion. This again hearkens back to this being more of a somewhat luxurious holiday cabin rather than an actual tree house where presumably you’d have quite some thicket coverage after not having been there for a while. that also makes the blue grapes look a bit out of place even if you interpret this as being bramble vines winding around the wood frame.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Detail Toilet

The tree trunk contains a small toilet, which is a little gag, but really not much more. Would people even go out of their way to build such a room or wouldn’t your camping loo or a separate outhouse make more sense? Again this space could probably have been used for storing some utilities just as well. The attic and roof are serviceable, but a bit barren. There’s a single grey tile on the outside on which you are supposed to put a solar panel sticker, but not even a matching light on the inside or a small radio which would certainly have made more sense than a perfume flask. It’s not really logical/ plausible and can only be explained away with the usual “It’s for kids, after all!”.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Detail Attic

For the exterior of the roof it would have been nice if they included some 1 x 4 and 1 x 3 tiles with wood prints to make it look a bit more rugged and improvised as if it had been bashed together from used wood boards originally belonging to something else like a transport palette. just two or three of those on either side would have greatly helped to further this impression.

Parts a Plenty

On the subject of new, recolored and printed parts this set is a well of joy. Some of them are very visible in the photos and should require no further explanation. I also already mentioned the canoe and the parts for the pine trees:

The other parts are a little less visible because they are used on the tree trunk:

Personally I was once more stumped that the 2 x 2 Macaroni never had been done in this color in all those years. Goes to show that there is still room to surprise even for legacy elements. There’s also the  Tile 1 x 3 in Bright Green, an item you likewise would think has existed in this color for forever already, but no, it’s pretty fresh in this color, though not exclusive and not limited to this set.

Concluding Thoughts

This is by all means a nice model and even in my world as a very critical reviewer this would score an 8.5 out of 10 at least, give or take a few minor niggles. There is very little to complain about. The set is full of new useful pieces and color variants, it is very affordable and to top it off comes with a completely new animal. This is basically the kind of set that just by buying it once will give you ideas on what you want to do with the bits from it and it gives a major boost to your parts stock. Could some things have been better? Sure, but for around 20 Euro you can’t really argue.

This is one of those little gems that regrettably have gotten so rare in the LEGO world. Where other (Friends) sets feel they are merely created to deplete overflow part supply or sell expensive extras like animals at ridiculous prices, this one gives the impression that some thought and love was poured into it to make it well-balanced and worth your money. I can highly recommend this set as it hits all the right notes from being very playable and robust to just looking nice.

Soda Stunt Chase – LEGO City Magazine, September 2021

It’s a bit of an odd month where time appears a bit misaligned since many magazines come out a week early. Perhaps Blue Ocean‘s internal holiday schedule necessitates this, but it’s really strange because it almost feels like we get two issues in the same month. This even shows in an advert in the latest LEGO City magazine promoting the Jurassic World issue as “already available”, though it only comes out next week. A clear indication that originally they had other plans. Anyway, since the mag is here already, let’s have a look.

LEGO Magazine, City, September 2021, Cover

The comic is yet again a chase scenario, this time wrapped into a movie-related story with a crook hiding on set and fake mustaches playing a major role. As usual that’s not reinventing the wheel, but serviceable for what it is supposed to be. I had a bit of a personal revelation moment as the Camper Van (31108) trailer makes an appearance and has been conveniently scaled to fit minifigure scale, when in fact it’s quite a bit larger as I was mentioning in my review.

LEGO Magazine, City, September 2021, Comic

LEGO Magazine, City, September 2021, Comic

There are a few scatter shot puzzles and info pages just as well, of course, but I did not find anything standing out that would be worth mentioning for originality or providing a challenge. the posters on the other hand are very tolerable this time with not too much extraneous garbage clogging up the picture. The main poster would be even better had they chosen a color other than white for the color splotches and tread, so it wouldn’t blend with the minifigure as much and offer a bit more contrast instead of “whitening out”.

LEGO Magazine, City, September 2021, Poster

The buggy is more or less just another run-of-the-mill design similar to what we already had two months ago. The designers really have gotten lazy and just don’t seem to give damn. If at least they had given us the Dark Azure wheel hubs from the Stunt Team (60255) set… Incidentally, the driver minifigure appears to be straight from this set, just with a different head and helmet. Okay, but nothing special, either, considering that lately LEGO have revived their fake Vita Rush soda brand and the printed torsos are a dime a dozen. I’m wondering why they didn’t even include a mustache element, given how present it is in the comic.

LEGO Magazine, City, September 2021, Extra

All things considered this is a bit of a weak issue and doesn’t really offer that much. It’s certainly okay, but I really wish they would have exploited the potential better. In fact I almost think giving us the mustachioed character from the comic might have been more fun. Or maybe even a two-pack of characters with the very stereotypically french looking gangster as well…

Ketchup Trooper – LEGO Star Wars Magazine, August 2021

This month feels like it has passed particularly quickly and so here we are already again with the latest LEGO Star Wars magazine for August.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, August 2021, Cover

The comics are again a bit of an acquired taste as it’s back to weird clownery by the evil guys, this time Kylo Ren and Palpatine, and mixing scenarios from different episodes and eras of Star Wars. It’s a bit odd that they keep doing that, as Blue Ocean actually recently did their own survey which indicated that around 44% of all of their magazines are read by adults. I would bet this number is even higher for this one. So perhaps they really need to “grow up”, shift the target age range towards adolescents and grown-ups and stick to canon?

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, August 2021, Comic

Anyway, the comics are not bad stylistically and the secondary one provides a comical, though rather low-brow and predictable explanation as to why Sith Troopers wear red armor. Sandwiched inbetween the two comics are of course a few other pages with puzzles, games, reader feedback and so on, but really nothing special. The games may occupy two pages at times, but ultimately they are still simple “find the way” puzzles, not demanding trivia quizzes.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, August 2021, Comic

At least one of the posters could have been pretty good, the main one depicted here, but I feel that they went a bit overboard with the vignette/ darkening effect. It very much sucks out the life of everything. Even the lightsabers aren’t really glowing. If I were to put it up I’d likely at least cut off a bit of the dark areas to make it pop a little more.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, August 2021, Poster

The minifigures are a case of old meeting the new with the Finn character being a version included e.g. in the Jakku Quadjumper (75178), one of the first sets I reviewed here on this blog. The Sith Trooper on the other hand is from last year’s eponymous battle pack (75266). As always with these things, the value of these figures to you personally will depend on what you have in mind and how much you are a fan of a given Star Wars film. Since The Rise of Skywalker wasn’t that popular with fans, though, I doubt there’s that much demand for additional red troopers, either.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, August 2021, Minifigures

This issue is a bit of a wild ride again and doesn’t have a recognizable through-line nor does it boast anything extraordinary that you shouldn’t miss. As such it will still provide a bit of diversion on the beach during your summer holiday and the sand may even tempt you into re-playing some Jakku scenes, but overall you’re not missing much. Nothing to lose sleep about if you should be unable to obtain this item while away from home…

Not so dead yet? – LEGO strikes back on LEGO VIDIYO

After I kind of panic-posted yesterday, things have rapidly developed within the last 24 hours. LEGO have published an official statement which you can read e.g. here on Brickset.

Of course it’s the usual corporate bullshit bingo of a PR department caught flat-footed on a Friday afternoon only a few hours away from everyone being out of office and I wouldn’t put too much stock in that they actually know anything about the future of the products, but at least indirectly it sheds some light on what a debacle VIDIYO must be behind the scenes. If they need  one and a half or two years to re-evaluate it, then you know how they screwed up.

The statement is insofar also questionable as they insist that they tested it thoroughly and feedback was good. RLY? Tested with high-income families that buy their kids new iPhones every year and wouldn’t mind the exorbitant cost and performance issues of the app? Sure, I won’t pretend that getting free review samples and early access to unreleased products always has an influence, if only subconsciously, but did really nobody see how defective the app was and how ill-conceived e.g. the proposed pricing was?

I mean I’ve worked as a Beta tester in the software world for many years and never was never shy about calling out nonsense. Not that my message always was heard, but if I had been involved in VIDIYO‘s early development and testing I sure would have slapped a few things in their face. Not to sound too pompous, but it’s clearly a case of “You should have asked me!” *lol* or to put it more academically, they should have a broader testing base. You know, even poor guys like me who don’t even have a suitable smartphone, are single and have no kids buy this stuff. It’s funny how companies always get themselves into trouble by restricting their testing just because you don’t fit certain criteria. But I digress…

So what does all this mean? Personally I think they should just leave it be. As a brand VIDIYO is burnt. After this debacle, retailers will be extremely skeptical to even touch it if an when new products come out two years down the line. Who knows, even then they may still have stuff in their warehouses from the first wave that still hasn’t sold despite clearance discounts. Any serious brand consultant would tell them that.

And there are of course similar issues with the end customers just as well. I would love to see series 2 of the minifigures to still come out, but after that would I actually wait for more than a year for something else? I consider that unlikely, given how much stuff LEGO fire out and how limited my budget is. It’s not like I would need VIDIYO to part with my cash and couldn’t find something from Ninjago, Friends, Creator and so on to be just as relevant. Many people will find themselves in a similar situation and will simply have moved on…

VIDIYO – Vidi-*duh*?! – The sudden Death of LEGO VIDIYO

Contrary to what some people may believe simply because my occasionally overcritical or even cynical view of some things I do not like writing those swan song posts about failed LEGO products, but sadly I can’t always avoid them, especially when it concerns a series that I actually kind of like. I got burned with Hidden Side and now it seems history is repeating itself with VIDIYO.

None of this is official yet, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, but Promobricks apparently got wind of the series’ more or less immediate cancellation (German, so use the translation functions in your browser if needed) via their connection to some dealers. Even the second series of the Bandmates minifigures is in limbo, as apparently retailers have not been swarming to new orders and even cancelled existing ones. This could in effect mean that the series will only be available in LEGO stores and via a handful of select sellers, potentially making it very difficult to get a complete line-up. That is of course if it does come out at all.

What definitely won’t be appearing as per Promobricks‘ scoop are new sets such as the K-Pawp Concert (43113) that I just reviewed. I was planning to do reviews of the other sets as well now that I have them, but I’m not sure if that is still worthwhile. It’s a consolation, however, that at least I managed to get a complete set of figures from the first wave and I’m only three or four BeatBits short of having a complete deck of them as well.

Now of course the big one: The “I told you so!” moment. As you can glean from my introductory article only a few weeks ago it was rife with skepticism. Despite me liking the artistic qualities, I had serious doubts about the commercial viability and long-term success. The prices for those BeatBoxes were simply too crazy and a lot of other things just felt wrong from the outset. Combined with visibly slow sales in the physical retail locations I regularly roam on the hunt for LEGO it didn’t take much to conclude that this was anything but a success. Sure, the ongoing pandemic-related issues may play a part, but it’s not like other LEGO themes didn’t sell like crazy under the same conditions.

So to cut my ramblings short and get to a point: In my mind it was clear that we’d be lucky if this got to live out its regular two-year cycle and then it would be phased out one way or another, no matter what. Never could I have guessed that things were so dire that LEGO would pull the plug so quickly and radically. Remember: The collectible minifigures came out only in February and the sets in April (here in Germany). Sales must have been completely disastrous with retailers not even ordering the minimum numbers to re-stock their shelves. In the end LEGO may not have had a choice because nobody wanted their product.

This to me is shocking news, on a Friday no less and I’ll still need to let it process and sink in, even if it is only preliminary and unverified and things may still turn out differently. Still, I’m quite sad. VIDIYO may not have been for everyone and certainly it had a ton of flaws, conceptually and in execution, but I really liked many aspects of it and I’m going to miss it…

Neo(n) Pop – LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113)

While my musical tastes are rather eclectic and diverse, I never really got the hang of K-Pop. Even by standards of other commercial music obviously cooked up in a lab this genre still tops it off by being even more artificial and synthetic with the intent of quickly building a fan base and then milking it being a bit too on the nose. Of course on the other hand that despite all this this is a huge slice of the music market and even more so since it got popularized in Western spheres as well in recent years, interestingly a lot in the crowds that are also the target demographic for VIDIYO. Therefore it seemed an almost natural conclusion that LEGO would pick up on this trend and indeed the K-Pawp Concert (43113) is a result of that.

LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113), Box

Pricing and Contents

The set retails for 50 Euro officially, which technically is okay for 514 pieces and within what you would expect to pay for LEGO stuff. In fact considering what a single BeatBox would cost at regular price this is very reasonable. However, you always have to consider how much bulk you get out of it and in this case the caveat is that this is essentially one big collection of tiles of all kinds with a minimalist suprastructure underneath. This set only has handful of actual bricks and otherwise only consists of plates and brackets. That’s not per se a bad thing, just not something special either.

LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113), Overview

Because of these aforementioned points you need to be very sure that you actually want the set for what it represents and don’t have wrong expectations. You’ll really end up with a pile of very colorful tiles and not much else when you disassemble the model again like I regularly do because I don’t have enough space to keep them around long-term. With that in mind, naturally I recommend you get this as cheaply as possible to make it economical. I’m not telling you anything new and by now it may seem redundant, but here it becomes even more of a thing as most of those tiles are dirt cheap on Bricklink and you really don’t want to throw out more money than you have to.

Ultimately I got my package for 36 Euro on Amazon Prime Day, which is okay. There’s a good chance this will drop below 30 Euro eventually, so if you’re not in a rush, you could save even more. I suspect, though, that the popularity of the minifigures will prevent prices dropping too much even during clearance sales, so waiting too long may not be a good idea as you could end up empty-handed. I guess this is one of those cases where you have to trust your gut feeling.

Minifigures and BeatBits

The big core appeal of the whole VIDIYO series is undeniably the minifigures, not least of all due to their flamboyancy, creative use and revival of existing figure parts in different colors and new pieces and prints. This to some extent also applies here, just a bit toned down. Knowing how crazy those bands go with dyed hair, make-up and crazy dresses, the figures present here seem surprisingly tame. For a K-Pop themed set you would expect this to be even more insane than the real human counterparts, yet here it feels a bit like a harmless furry convention where everyone is only wearing their head piece. I attribute this to the set’s design colors being re-used, with the Dark Purple and Dark Turquoise simply absorbing too much “energy” and making things look a bit drab.

This also goes for the minifigure stand and BeatBits holder. It is in fact rather odd to me that they used the cyan color as this would make it harder in the companion app to detect which figure is placed on it. Aside from the three character-specific tiles you get an additional fourteen ones, randomly distributed across each set. I didn’t get lucky and only got pretty standard ones adding to my pile of duplicates, so not much to report on that front.

LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113), Minifigure Stand

The Stage

The stage is based around a “neon” design as you would find it in big cities’ entertainment quarters and shopping zones at night or as a stylistic element in all sorts of “cyber…” themed movies, games or other art. In relation to the K-Pop theme this could be interpreted as representing the respective parts of the city of Seoul or something similar. To that effect the design establishes a strong contrast between the Black and Dark Purple base surfaces vs. the bright border elements. This is on some level even quite realistic, as a lot of stage equipment is covered in black paint, vinyl/ fake leather or velvet/ carpet in order to make it “invisible” by minimizing light reflections.

LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113), Front View

The color choices for the outline elements are okay, but personally I’m not that much a fan of the Dark Turquoise. ever since LEGO reintroduced this color three years ago they seem to run rampant with it and are using it way too much. I would have preferred a friendlier color closer to the Light Aqua elements such as Medium Blue or Dark Azure, but ultimately this is a case where many different combinations would be adequate and could work.

LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113), Front View

The stage design is unfortunately rather conventional and repeats one of the mistakes I was most critical about with Hidden Side – the ever same triptych layout. This is even more regrettable here, as the idea with the squares turned on one of their corners offers lots of potential for more innovative designs.

I would for instance have favored an asymmetrical design with one of the wings being much longer and a square pattern in the central section (where the animal head is) serving as a centralized stage entrance with a proper door/ tunnel. Similarly, another oversized square could have served as a video screen. I also would have added a centralized dance floor (yes, even in the most cheesy 1970s discotheque/ dance club style) as currently the various separate islands are not connected and therefore could not be reached in a logical/ plausible manner.

On that note: There are seven spots where minifigures can be placed which kind of aligns with most K-Pop bands being pretty large squads. However, with only three actual figures many of these locations will have to be left empty unless you have additional ones from other sets or the Bandmates Collectible Minifigure Series 1. Another issue with the islands is the stability. Though the stairs use these brackets and they usually have a tight enough clutch power to provide some stability, it’s still relatively easy to break them off along with the plates attached to them. This is mostly owing to the individual isles not being supported and interconnected with additional “bridge” plates or a centralized big floor as I was mentioning earlier. Not the end of the world, but in my world these “loose ends hanging in the air” constructs are just bad design decisions.

LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113), Detail, Head Sculpture

The set offers only a handful of transformable features with the central head of the unicorn, which can be changed into a kitty face by rotating it 180 degrees, being the most notable. Both designs are executed nicely enough and it’s almost sad that they can’t be shown at the same time (without some extra work, that is). Other transformations include the small markers on the outermost positions and the speaker towers next to the central plate.

The back side does not have that many surprises with only a small recreational/ backstage area in the center section. Interestingly it features a “rhythm game” setup where you have to hit colored squares on an electronic mat/ floor to control a music-based game. Unfortunately this isn’t fully fleshed out and doesn’t include an actual arcade cabinet or gaming console. even just randomly throwing in two of the game controller tiles would have helped to sell the illusion.

LEGO VIDIYO, K-Pawp Concert (43113), Back, Center

Hidden Parts

While it doesn’t bring something revolutionary to the table, this set contains a few interesting parts, mostly used in a way where it doesn’t stick out at first. The most visible of those are the round 1 x 1 studs in Bright Light Yellow, a color variant only recently introduced with LEGO ART and apparently they had enough stock to also use it here. Other additions include the various Dark Turquoise and Coral 1 x 4 tiles and plates. Aside from the printed tiles there’s a unique exclusive item in the shape of the full height 1 x 1 slope attached to a 1 x 2 plate in Light Aqua. Finally there’s two 1 x 1 clips in Medium Lavender used to good effect in the cat’s ears.

Concluding Thoughts

There are some undeniable shortcomings with this set, yet at the same time it is bright and joyful enough to make you overlook them generously. If I somehow was on LEGO‘s “focus group testing” list and had access to their unreleased info I sure would have nudged them towards a few of the things I mentioned, but at the end of the day none of them are critical failures. It’s more my designer mind going crazy in all directions and trying to explore the what-might-have-beens. Would be interesting to find out what alternative designs they had worked on before settling on this one.

However, with all that said I feel that the shortage of minifigures is a major omission and cardinal sin. You just can’t take a play on K-Pop tropes and then come up short with the number of band members. That and of course the “camouflage” colors of the characters that are there and that are too similar to the ones used on the stage itself. In fact I think it would have been an interesting experiment to have say three figures with bright glittery white “suits” to get that feel of “cloned” artists that is so prevalent in these groups.

Ultimately of course it’s up to you. I’ve laid out my reasoning, but can’t deny that the demographic for this set and the others in the VIDIYO is rather narrow. You may want to take your money elsewhere if you want more bulk, but if you want a complete set of the figures and don’t mind getting a ton of those tiles I mentioned earlier as well, this can be an interesting enough option for the right price.

Not a Movie worth watching – LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448)

In my old life before my chronic illness struck I considered myself quite a bit of a film buff and would regularly go to the cinema, buy stacks of DVDs, write reviews of films I liked on my old blog and even attended official press screenings for yet to be released movies every now and then to write professional essays for some media outlets. These days the situation is a bit different for a multitude of reasons, but I still like to obsess about certain movies as much as I can. All the same, that’s why the idea of a LEGO cinema set appealed to me and I was pleased when the Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448) was announced late last year. Now that I finally have it, let’s see what it has to offer.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Box

Price and Contents

I had my eyes on this set from the day it was announced, but never had a real excuse to buy it. I thought the idea was cool and I wanted some of the parts in this set, anyway, yet it never became an urgent matter because otherwise the shortcomings this set would have were all too obvious. Even on the official promotional photos this does not look like you are getting a lot of volume for your money and the idea of using a smartphone as a screen was once more extremely off-putting, because it negatively influenced some of the design decisions that went into this set.

It’s that old thing of LEGO expecting six-year-olds to spend all day with a mobile device and integrating it in their models. True, kids do have access to these things and on the train and elsewhere I see parents letting their kids watch animated series on phones to distract them and soothe them all the time, but it’s not like you would want your pre-schooler spend their entire time doing that unsupervised while playing in their room. I have no kids, but having grown up in a different age and not being one to always chase the latest tech and social media trends I’m pretty much opposed to LEGO bastardizing their products in such a manner.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Overview

The set officially has 451 pieces, which sounds a lot, but at the end of the day it really isn’t. There are many rather large pieces like the rounded shells or the round canopy bricks, but also a lot of small pieces like the 1 x 1 quarter tiles or the Trans Yellow 1 x 1 studs for the marquee lights. In fact there is not that many regular pieces like 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 bricks, so right from the get-go you feel like there is not a lot of bulk. Given that, the original price of 50 Euro seems way, way too much. To me this indeed feels like it should always have not cost more than 35 Euro. Anything above that is a stretch.

Because of the inadequate pricing I leaned back and bide my time until some decent discount would come along. That happened very recently on Amazon Germany. They apparently really wanted to clear up space in their warehouse and wanted to get rid of some stock, so they fired this out in some sort of reverse auction scheme, i.e. one where prices are dropping continuously until the lowest bidder buys a product or the supply runs out. You could literally watch how this set dropped from its already discounted 37 Euro every day. I chickened out after four days and bought it for 28 Euro, representing something like a 45 % discount, but indeed I could have waited two days more and got it for 25 Euro, pretty much an exact 50 % off. Funny enough this pattern was repeating just this weekend on Amazon France.

For this low price the set is still not great, but it became acceptable and for me personally of course this brought it within the range where buying the individual parts on Bricklink would have been just as expensive.

The Figures

The number of figures is way too low for this type of set with only three being in the box. You know, while the promotional materials show the glitz and glamour of a red carpet premiere, in actuality this would be more like a poorly attended matinee. In addition to Andrea who can either be interpreted as a fan chasing for autographs or the organizer of the event, depending on how you feel about that, we only get Amelia in her Dark Turquoise evening gown as a genuine guest of honor.

The only guy in the room, Julian, is apparently one of them poor students who serve multiple functions at once in real cinemas, be that an usher, a cleaning maid, a snacks & drinks seller and whatever else needs to be taken care of. At least they gave him a decent uniform, old-fashioned as it may be. the practical value of the figures is limited, but you can at least some components for a bit of mix & match if you have other Friends or Disney Princess minidolls. It works of course just the same in reverse. The cyan dress would look nice for a ball at Elsa‘s palace or something like that. Other than that the only real highlight is the guy’s hair, which is a recolor of the Superman hair and so far is in fact only available via Friends sets (this one and the Heartlake City School (41682)) in the Medium Nougat color.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Figures

The Building

As you may have gathered already from my first few paragraphs I’m not particularly crazy about this set due to what I consider some serious design flaws. these become most apparent when viewing the assembled model from the top. The front section with the entry lobby and the signage looks actually okay and pretty massive, but the main screening room comes across as if it was merely plugged on as an afterthought.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Top View

The front facade is clearly based on classic 1950s/ 1960s American cinema designs as you probably still can find them in many small towns across the country even today, assuming they haven’t been replaced by a large multiplex. That’s a neat touch and the use of Light Aqua is a nice touch, not just because it’s one of my favorite LEGO colors. It’s subtle and classy enough that a restored old cinema could be painted in this shade without looking too crazy.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Front Right View

The front is divided into three distinct sections, with the box office/ ticket booth being on the right of the building, a central entry section with dual doors and a small “celebrity photo stage” on the left side. While visually it looks nice enough, I got miffed here for the first time. the small protrusions in the middle and the fenced-off pedestal are only attached by a handful of studs and fall off as soon as you move the model. This is for all intents and purposes just bad engineering. Such things are barely tolerable for collectible models for adults and shouldn’t even have been approved for a set aimed at children.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Front Left View

You would be correct in guessing that many of those large areas are supposed to be covered with stickers, but as you know I never use any of those. This also goes for the marquee area. Personally I don’t mind, but it’s not much of a stretch to conclude that at least some parts should be printed. Either that or they could and should have included a solution where some posters or marquee text could be dynamically substituted by stickers applied to flag/ tapestry elements, a technique used extensively for instance in the big Ninjago City (70620) set.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Front View

The back side or interior by comparison looks extremely simple and barren. The lack of actual walls on the side is one thing that contributes to this feeling, but not using the space on the top and housing in the film projector are too blame just as well. that and of course the absence of am actual screen box/ stage and only some flimsy Technic liftarms serving as the holders for a smartphone.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Back Left View

I’ve already criticized this, and it becomes even more upsetting the more you look at it. It’s not like they didn’t have options here – a slide frame into which to place some printed cardboard screens with famous film scenes recreated in LEGO style sure wouldn’t have been too much to ask and could by itself have added quite a bit of coolness. If the graphics were done right, people might even have hung them up as posters or used them as postcards and LEGO could have made a quick buck on selling extra packs…

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Back Right View

Another thing that bothered me massively is the overall fragile construction due to the hinge mechanism. It’s not done very well with only two hinges on either side and, which is the real problem here those hinges barely being locked in by other bricks. As a result the model is prone to warping when opening the sides to the point where you can literally just break things apart by applying too much force and Archimedes‘ law of the levers taking effect. I found myself pressing stuff back in place way too much for my taste.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Open Wings

The details intended for play scenarios are sufficient, but not great. There’s simply not much to do and for instance the box office/ snack bar has far too few items. Even just adding a few ice cones would have gone a long way, not to speak of things like a popcorn machine, chocolate bars and so on.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Detail Box Office

The bathroom is also devoid of details. Don’t mind the toilet being placed so oddly, that’s entirely my own mistake. Anyway, they’re not using this space very efficiently, as most of the curved space remains open.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Detail Bathroom

Once you study the details and put your mind to it you also realize that LEGO have been playing it cheap and not recolored elements specifically for this set. Having all arches in Light Aqua as well would have made things a bit more harmonious at least.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Detail Screening Room

Concluding Thoughts

This is by no means a good set by any measure. The idea is actually great, but the execution suffers from that nonsensical mobile device integration at every turn. Unfortunately it’s also not as simple as saying “Buy a second set and create a better model.” because many things would need major restructuring and you still need to dig into your own parts supply. It’s really regrettable, as this could have been something really great, but LEGO completely squandered the opportunity.

I can hardly justify buying it for the massive discount I got it for and would definitely not at all recommend it at full price. This is once more a case of where the math worked out for me because I wanted the pieces, but this wasn’t much fun building, it’s not much fun to look at and quite likely it wouldn’t be much fun to play with, either. Your money is definitely spent better on other sets.

Blue and Yellow – LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902) and Toyota GR Supra (76901)

I’ve had a few really bad days this week with my chronic illness having drained all my energy and to top it off one of my cooling fans in my computer decided to quit, so I didn’t really get much done and this weeks review is a bit late. For this article I decided to combine two sets from the Speed Champions line, the McLaren Elva (76902) and the Toyota GR Supra (76901) to keep things a bit more efficient. After all, these models are for obvious reasons always somewhat similar and there’s no point in turning this into lengthy descriptions of every little detail.

Contents and Pricing

The Speed Champion sets, at least the ones with only a single car, usually offer some pretty decent value for your money. I didn’t exactly regret the switch to the wider eight stud format like many others, but of course the price hike associated with that move still had an impact and made these sets a little more expensive.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Box

That notwithstanding, 263 (McLaren) and 299 (Toyota) pieces for 20 Euro is still an excellent value-to-price ratio in the LEGO universe. Once you figure in the discounts from most major retailers, which push the price to a rather stable 15 Euro or thereabouts, this ratio becomes even better. Of course the mileage still varies depending on what parts you get and how large they are, but overall I have very little qualms with that. If all LEGO stuff was priced that reasonably, we’d live in a better world and could enjoy our hobby more stress-free.

LEGO Speed Champions, Toyota GR Supra (76901), Box

Arguably the economics are a bit worse for the Elva since it doesn’t have a glass cockpit part and a lower number of elements, but that should only be a minor consideration.

McLaren Elva

The McLaren Elva is a super car taken to the extreme and as someone who hasn’t a particular obsession about cars to begin with, this one has me baffled a lot. At the end of the day all of these vehicles are over-designed in the “design for design’s sake” sense as if to prove something, but even by these standards this one is a whole other level. Outside the eternal wank contest of the super-rich you’d probably have quite a WTF? moment if this were a regular car you can buy at your auto dealer simply because it looks so usual. You would likely get tired of it once the novelty wears off.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Overview

As you may have concluded already, personally I do not think that this is a particularly pretty car, but it’s in an odd way still interesting if only to prove a point. With regards to LEGO the challenge immediately becomes how well you could express the complex surface structure and that is what got me curious.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Polybag Comparison

Interestingly, there are in fact two models available, with the small polybag already having been available since February of this year. For the photo I actually had to rebuild it, as I’d already sorted the pieces into my parts collection. On its own merits this small model is pretty okay since it has a reasonable number of parts and provides enough complexity, so I can always recommend you get it, if you want to present both versions in your showcase.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Front Left View

The model is distinctly split into three segments when it comes to how well the details from the real thing have been translated into miniature form – front, middle/ cockpit and the rear. they all have various degrees success in that department. My personal favorite is the frontmost area with the complex cooling intakes/ lip, which are nicely represented using a good number of curved 1 x 2 wedge slopes.

It only loses its appeal once it transitions into the center sections because LEGO did not have nor did not produce a new wheel well with a nicely curved top and then it transitions into the angled side walls, which unfortunately are much too straight and don’t even come close to the faux aerodynamic profiling of the original.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Aft Left View

The rear end is somewhere between the two other section in terms of realism with the overall shape and stand-out details being recognizable, but the overall shape simply being too straight. The latter is insofar disappointing, as this section already uses a sideway building technique where a whole block of pieces is mounted in a ninety degree angle, which should have made it relatively easy to sneak in a few curved slopes, be it just to create the illusion.

This area also contains the single, most valuable “new” part on the whole model – the minifigure candle in Pearl Silver, used here as the exhaust pipes. This should prove popular for all sorts of piping, rails, gun barrels and so on in custom builds. The Dark Pearl Grey armor plate used in the middle between the humps as the engine cover is not new as a part, having appeared first in the large 1989 Batmobile (76139), but it’s a first for me and I’m always glad if I can add such “realistic”ally machine parts to my collection.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Aft Right View

The humps themselves are an element where I’m a bit torn. Apparently they are way too angular to pass as the genuine article and my prevailing feeling is that this would have required a different approach like building them up from more gently curved smaller slope and bricks. However, I’m also pretty sure that this would require some major re-engineering of the whole aft section and a lot of experimentation. It would be a major undertaking. Since I cannot offer a simple, better solution I’m therefore giving it a pass for now, but I sure would be interested to see an alternative approach one day.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Front Right View

The cockpit is a reasonable rendition of the original, given that it goes for a reduced design similar to old open racing cars from the 1930s. That is of course within the given “normal” luxuries in that class of cars like everything being covered in expensive leather. To that effect we even get some printed curved slopes mimicking the white inlay patterns the seats apparently have. I would have preferred them not to be blue, though. Using Medium Nougat or Dark Tan would have provided some contrast and added interest just as it would have disguised the lack of opacity on the white areas. Sadly this seems to become more and more of a theme with LEGO and they really need to fix it.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Elva (76902), Cockpit Detail

Toyota GR Supra

Moving on to more mundane territory, we have the Toyota GR Supra, though of course that in itself is not exactly true. Versions of car are being used in serious racing series, so it’s in and of itself not your mom’s everyday car which she takes you to school with.

LEGO Speed Champions, Toyota GR Supra (76901), Overview

The appeal for me is more or less defined by the color and the weighty appearance, not so much the car’s design as such. Yes, this is my OCD about wanting to have as many color options in my parts portfolio as possible kicking in and I just don’t have any yellow wheel wells yet. 🙂 We are also getting the 2 x 2 triangular tile in Yellow for the first time here, which is something I certainly don’t mind, either.

LEGO Speed Champions, Toyota GR Supra (76901), Front Left View

As far as I could determine from photos, the overall proportions are just fine, but as usual the devil is in the details. The original is much, much, much more rounded. not as crazy as the Elva, but certainly distinctly enough that compared to that this model feels like a square block. At the risk of repeating myself, but this is one more example where I would have expected more curved slopes and wedges to be used in several places. again, it would take time to figure this out, but I really think it should have been possible.

LEGO Speed Champions, Toyota GR Supra (76901), Aft Left View

The rear section doesn’t look anything like the original, not even in the “Close your eyes and imagine it!” sense. I mean, as stated I’m a moron when it comes to the finer points of cars, but even I can see that the actual shapes are dramatically different and the model does not have the “droopy sad face” appearance of the real thing.

LEGO Speed Champions, Toyota GR Supra (76901), Aft Right View

One thing this model has going for it are the interesting building techniques. There is a number of moments where during the build I found myself surprised by how some things were used in a way I never even considered before. At least from that standpoint there is something to learn here. However, cool stuff never comes entirely free and there is a cost attached to such wild kriss-kross upside-down and sideway building in all directions.

That is the fact that as a result some gaps are wider than they would be with more conventional techniques. This is first and foremost owing to some of the brackets used in the process ending up with free-swinging ends or blocks attached to sideway studs not being locked in place with other elements, in turn causing some push & pull on the tiles used to cover everything. It’s not crazy or anything, but certainly noticeable in some places.

LEGO Speed Champions, Toyota GR Supra (76901), Front Right View

Admittedly, the front got me riled up a bit. The illusion painting of the lower air intake/ spoiler is okay, though the struts appear way too thin and are not angled. However, I completely lost it when it came to the headlights. You are supposed to place three separate tiny bits of sticker on the individual slopes on each side and even then it wouldn’t look correct, because on the real car it’s a long continuous slit. Now I don’t use stickers as you well know, but even if I did , this would have me screaming at the wall. It is just plain and simple stupid. By all means those elements should be printed or this section designed differently so users only have to put up with a single sticker on separate slopes or tiles!

LEGO Speed Champions, Toyota GR Supra (76901), Front View

The interior of the cockpit uses more illusion painting and is apparently meant to ideally be only viewed through the glass piece and/ or with minifigures in place. This actually works, but I still wish this was a bit more realistic and believable and didn’t rely so much on the “black cavern” illusion.

No Tires, but Wheels?!

One thing that has caused quite a bit of controversy and caused a stir in the LEGO community are the new wheels. They are no longer constructed from separate tires and wheel hubs, but are a solid single plastic piece. Whether you like it or not is of course your own preference, but personally I like this move. It makes a lot of sense for something that is supposed to be a display model and eliminates this uncertainty of the synthetic rubber having weird interactions with the plastic (and causing stains on your furniture) as it ages and degrades. You know, when it starts to “sweat” and smear, things can really get ugly. Now the worst that can happen is that the wheels crumble just like the rest of the model after ten years or so.

Naturally, this won’t be used for every model as clearly there are enough cars out there that have wheel hubs in all sorts of colors and different tires that may not be possible to represent with this method even if dual-molding is used, but it is absolutely serviceable for a lot of these cars, even more so since black hubs appear to be sort of a trend currently. My only peeve is that the included decoration spokes (also a new mold) are also completely black and do not have a hint of silver on them. It would have been ace had they those small chrome edges like on the originals.

Concluding Thoughts

The Speed Champion sets always offer good value and building fun on a reasonable budget. However, it feels like they do not seem to be that important to LEGO‘s overall strategy and revenue and thus do not get the attention they would probably need. This is most notably felt in the fact that the designers have to make do with many existing parts and don’t appear to have that much pull to request new custom parts. That however is the crux of it: Many of those models would benefit from a bunch of those small wedge/ pancake pieces like they are available in Mega Construx sets to better represent the complex shapes and curvature of contemporary cars.

As it is, it feels to me like despite their best efforts and some pretty creative building techniques the designers have reached a hard ceiling on what they can do with current parts and it really shows with these two models. The inefficient rendition of the Toyota‘s headlights by ways of segmented stickers is a prime example for this. A single printed slope from Mega could have elegantly replaced this somewhat hacky solution and looked ten times better. The same goes for the humps on the McLaren and its curved posterior.

Regardless of those limitations, the models still look good enough from three feet away and the originals they are based on are recognizable. I also thoroughly enjoyed the building process and had some “Aha!” moments due to the clever construction techniques used. At the same time, however, I’m also teed off by LEGO‘s laziness. It seems just weird that a series aimed at collectors does not put in the effort and resources for printed parts or for that matter a more user-friendly design that avoids some of the issues. So for me it remains a mixed bag. Car aficionados may feel differently, of course.

Explorer-ing… Cars – LEGO Explorer Magazine, August 2021

As I’ve probably already written a hundred times I’m not that obsessed when it comes to cars, bikes and other motorized vehicles, but oddly enough I do watch the occasional race on TV. Summer is of course racing season, so it’s not the worst idea that the latest LEGO Explorer magazine deals with some of that subject matter.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Cover

Of course as usual the topic is tackled way too broadly and generically for my taste with everything from actual racing cars to super sports cars to electric vehicles thrown into the mix. Perhaps a bit too higgledy-piggledy for its own good and I maintain my position that a narrower focus in each issue would help. The future of cars could be worth its own edition as could racing cars and then there’s still enough room left to include the fancy cars from Speed Champions.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Info Page

There’s some additional info pages with a few tidbits such as the speed records depicted here, though I feel that kids cannot really relate to the numbers. A proper diagram translating everything to relative speeds like you find it in more scientifically-minded literature would probably have helped.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Info Page

There’s a small coloring page based on the Lamborghini Siàn, which of course LEGO have in their portfolio as a 400 Euro Technic model, so it’s not hard to see where this is coming from. Not sure, though, whether coloring a plan view is that attractive. A proper perspective drawing shouldn’t have been too difficult to create, or should it?!

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Coloring Page

The road-based game map offers some potential for creative play outside the original rules, so it’s regrettable that it isn’t actually a separate oversize poster.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Road Game

The actual poster presents some specialty machines, including the super expensive LEGO model of the Liebherr excavator, but is ultimately not much to write home about. You know, that old “I’ve seen this stock photo a million times.” thing. They really should put in more work to create their own photos and artwork.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Poster

The buildable extra is kind of okay, but at the same time also a bit lame. You know what it’s supposed to represent – a Formula 1 or Indycar car – but it’s way too minimalist to really look good. Mostly it’s simply too flat and I can’t really understand why they didn’t use e.g. this 1 x 1 curved slope for the dorsal spine’s air intake at least, among other pieces they could have chosen to better represent the curved shapes of such a vehicle. 

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Extra

Overall this is a somewhat lackluster issue of this particular mag. It doesn’t enthuse you and “just exists”. The editors seem to not quite have known what to focus on and what to emphasize, so this feels like a bit of everything thrown in and ending up as an indistinguishable blob of something. Let’s hope that the next editions will be better again…

Magnetic Dive – LEGO City Magazine, August 2021

It has become standard practice for the LEGO City magazines to go for a dive in the summer-ish editions and this year is not an exception. Yes, pretty much exactly after one year we are getting another underwater-centric issue featuring a diver.

LEGO Magazine, City, August 2021, Cover

The overall repetitive nature of the subject matter notwithstanding, the story of the comic is okay, though again perhaps a bit too wacky and overstuffed for its own good. I find it hard to imagine how kids are supposed to keep the story straight. You’re on a sunny beach one moment, then suddenly underwater and then there is a weird twist with a big horseshoe magnet. not my kettle of fish, no pun intended.

LEGO Magazine, City, August 2021, Comic

On the bright side, the oceanic scenes look great and I’m really waiting for someone at Blue Ocean and LEGO to see the light and use those for a poster one day.

LEGO Magazine, City, August 2021, Comic

Speaking of which… The posters are acceptable and in fact the one on the reverse page is probably even better than the one shown here. Outside that there’s not much to do bar the usual super simplistic puzzles and some promotional pages on sets and some minifigures’ “history”, but I guess you’re not buying this mag for intellectual content.

LEGO Magazine, City, August 2021, Poster

The diver is interesting in that it appears to be a completely new figure so far not yet contained in any set. Its design is similar to the older Deep Sea Explorer series, but with some notable differences, so I don’t quite know what to make of it. It would be funny if LEGO put out a figure before it was ever properly introduced in a full set. The rest isn’t really worth mentioning. It would have been much cooler if instead of the old and overused big crab they had included the hermit crab from last year’s collectible minifigure series at least.

LEGO Magazine, City, August 2021, Extra

As far as “summer editions” go, this one is okay, but of course nowhere near as impressive as the one with shark last year. On a general note it seems they should mix up the formula a bit. Clearly there’s enough summer and outdoor activities they can borrow from and from having a guy sunbathing at the beach to the highly desirable swimming innertube to an ice stand there would be so much to choose from. There’s even a good chance people would be perfectly content with the printed “can” or the wheelchair skater from the Skate Park (60290). You know, just something different at all…