Coming full circle on this subject, it’s time to have a look at the garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656) from The LEGO Ninjago Movie.
I have a soft spot for many aquatic creatures and certain shark species in particular. I love their elegance, some of them even look cute to me (try to stare a shovelhead in the eye and tell me it isn’t a cute lovely critter) and quite generally I think sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet due to their historically bad reputation based on many false facts and myths. In any case, to me it was almost a no-brainer that I would get this set one day.
Making it happen was another matter entirely, however. This is an “exclusive” set that you can only get from LEGO directly or whatever remnants of Toys’R’Us are left (here in Germany they operated independently, so thankfully they’re still around). This eliminated any discussion about price or the need to wait forever to get a discount. You would have to pay full price eventually and the best you could hope for were a few percent off during a TRU sale. This opportunity presented itself when I got a refund from my health insurance after years of legal battle and I jumped the chance.
As can be seen in the overview image, the shark is quite large. After all, it’s supposed to be Garmadon‘s walking attack submarine. Comparing it directly with snippets from the trailer or the movie itself reveals however that it’s nowhere near as big as it’s used in there. It’s more like one-third of the actual size by my estimate. As a matter of reducing the cost it almost inevitably had to be shrunk down, though. Building it at the original size would likely have ended up as a 3000 pieces set with a near impossible price. Therefore the downscaling is okay, even if I would argue that it still could have been bigger, even if only by a tiny amount. It simply looks nowhere near as impressive and aggressive as the movie version to the point of feeling completely harmless.
For an exclusive set the selection of figures isn’t much to write home about, as basically you already have them all if you bought a few other sets from The LEGO Ninjago Movie or for that matter even the regular Ninjago line. Having the umpteenth version of the Green Ninja or Lord Garmadon certainly isn’t particularly attractive. I know, on the surface of it they seem logical and inevitable, but you know what? I could have perfectly lived with this being a diorama from the secret volcano dock compound and instead would have loved to see more variations of the Fish Gang.
Therefore to me the only truly original figures are the girl with the exterior braces and the hot dog guy (along with his little cart/ stand). The latter is a bit of a tired trope as well, though, since by now I have seen so many variations on the theme in any series from City to Friends that you could make some really bad jokes about LEGO being a hot dog stand company. Perhaps they should have opted for a fresher, less clichéed subject?
As is evident in the photos, the reduced scale both has benefits as well as disadvantages. One of the positive effects is that a bunch of pre-existing large standard wedge pieces could be used to shape the contours efficiently, which also nicely serves as a reminiscence to the smooth skin of a shark (which of course actually is rough and coarse and only looks silky smooth).
The downside is that in particular the tail fins look overly thick. These also represent a bit of a weak spot, as they come off rather easily. The large back fin on the other hand still feels too thin, as on the movie model it is used as the submarine’s command tower. So in a way the overall proportions look okay, but the details are factually a bit wrong, at least as far as I can tell, still not having seen the movie in full.
Naturally, many of the details suffer from the scaling just as well and they have been simplified considerably. Most notably the lift props are way too small to have anyone believe that this thing could make even a tiny assisted jump. Similarly this would crawl like a snail with those small drive propellers. At least the gills are kinda there and the idea with using the car spoiler wings is actually pretty nice. Still, they do not adequately cover up the somewhat barren interior, so when viewed from specific angles the whole illusion falls apart.
Good news: There are two compartments to put your figures in. Bad news: They kinda suck because they come off all too easily. Both of them are effectively only held by two studs each, so this isn’t much of a surprise. It will be okay if you put up the model as a static display item, but for actually playing not so much. And that’s where things get really ugly.
Yupp, my friends, you basically can’t really play with this set. All the virtues it may have in terms of its aesthetics on the upper side are betrayed by the awful mechanics on the underside. First there’s that thing with the exterior (!) liftarm and gears that drive the opening of the mouth. How could they? Not only does it look ugly, but it’s also utterly superfluous.
Kids wouldn’t care for this stuff and simply move the lower jaw with their hands as would anyone who poses it in his showcase. And what if you actually care? then the mechanism still belongs hidden inside the body, as clearly in the move it’s built as an inverse hinge/ lever mechanism. The way it’s implemented here is even more frustrating, as not using this approach would have allowed to use more bricks for shaping the underside.
Restructuring the underside likely also would have allowed for a better solution with the legs. Don’t get me wrong – the model is heavy and you have to applaud the designers for making it so that the model actually stands straight on just two chicken feet. Balancing these things can be delicate, after all. However, as far as I’m concerned there was no reason to over-engineer this. Yes, using two of these large ratcheted Technic joints on either side in connected form is way, way too much.
I as a grown-up man can barely move them without grabbing the model so hard that something comes off or at least moves out of place, so imagine how unhappy children will be if they cannot move it at all. Just using one of those joints on each leg and stabilizing it with a different construction like e.g. using a linear actuator or a trapeze construction with liftarms would have made this much better. Incidentally they also could have left out the large arrow shooters.
Overall I have very mixed feelings about this model. I kinda like it a lot despite it not being in the least representative of the movie version. It still looks the part and if you don’t know anything about the film, it still works as a nice, large shark model with a few shortcomings. What I don’t like are the “playable” features. Those once more feel like they were thrown on like an afterthought and are to a good extent unworkable and useless.
It was more than obvious from the outset that this model likely should be first and foremost a nice-looking display model, not a play set for kids. So in that regard LEGO got it wrong and judging from how few people actually seem to have bought this set (based on the low number of actual reviews you can find on the Internet compared to other sets) messing with this stuff hasn’t done much for them.
If there was any hope of that I’d advise you to get it as cheap as possible, but alas, that isn’t meant to be. So your options are limited to either swallow the bitter pill of buying it directly from LEGO or you just completely ignore this set. I can only hope that my short little review makes that tough decision a bit easier.