Due to the pandemic the new year is only taking off slowly in LEGO land and by that I mean really slowly. Whereas last year many sets of the new wave were readily available long before Christmas or on the first day of the new year, this year it feels like everything is stuck in molasses and barely moves forward. You couldn’t go out there and buy some sets even if you were willing to pay quadruple their MSRP. Neither LEGO‘s own supply chain hasn’t caught up nor that of the retailers themselves and that’s not just because of many stores being closed under lockdown. That’s why I’m all the more glad I could at least snatch up some new releases such as the LEGO Friends Heartlake City Organic Café (41444). Let’s see what it has in store for us.
Contents and Pricing
The set contents is what one at this point would call “typical” Friends fare – a main building, another little side build for a vehicle and a bunch of unimportant “filler” extras along with the figures. After that the simple question is how much it’s worth to you and in this case it means 30 Euro official retail price. I’m almost inclined to call it acceptable, but only almost. While there have been sets with less content for the same or a higher price, my main issue here is that everything feels very “lofty” and doesn’t have enough volume and weight. There’s many small parts and a bunch of large ones, but very little in-between that typically would constitute the bulk of a set and gives you that feeling you got your money’s worth. Five Euro less definitely wouldn’t hurt anything but LEGO‘s revenue. Thankfully street prices are a bit more moderate and I got this for 22 Euro off Amazon. It might therefore in fact drop below that magical 20 Euro mark some day.
The LEGO Friends figures/ minidolls have long been stagnant with the ever same Mias, Andreas, Emmas, Olivias and so on dominating the scene and being in every package. This was then further exacerbated by the fact that they always looked nearly identical with barely any variations in their clothing or hair styles. This already had slightly improved over the last two years with more varied attire and the girls sometimes even diverging considerably from their associated color schemes, but was still very limited. It seems that this year LEGO have finally heard the uproar of the crowd and plan on improving the situation with a much more diverse cast.
The first thing of note is of course that now we get actual kids, i.e. little sisters and brothers to the teenage girls. These are apparently based on the smaller dolls introduced last year for the Disney story books. I haven’t dug those out, but it might be interesting to substitute a few components and outfit the little girl who goes by the name of Ava with Elsa‘s dress or something similar. She’s cute either way, so she makes for a nice addition to the family with her blue dress with the floral print.
The same can however not be said for the “grandfather”. I don’t quite know where even to begin, but the name is as good a starting point as any. Marcel is a pretty uncommon name here in Germany and to boot, a “young” one at that which only proliferated here in the 1970s and 1980s. So for all intents and purposes, a grandpa with that name would be in the mid-forties like me and that just doesn’t track. Now of course this may be all different once you consider other regions and their cultural background like in Poland and France, but this little conundrum perfectly illustrates that having explicitly named characters is not always the smartest thing to do.
The more important thing, however is that Marcel does not at all look like an elderly person. This is really a case of “What were they thinking?”. It’s ridiculous. He looks like a teenager in a costume with a bald cap and there’s really no way to put it nicer. This is an epic fail on pretty much every level. It does not at all enhance the set and is kind of creepy like one of those scary clowns.
Bits and Bobs
The set comes with a number of loosely scattered extras such as a diner table, some stools and a Bagel. It’s ultimately all pretty useless and the separate nature of the bits will only ensure that those are the ones that get first swallowed by the carpet monsters. I can’t quite understand how LEGO gets away with their EU-compliant small pieces warning, but then is able to put such stuff in the sets. Clearly another small plate to plug on everything wouldn’t be too much to ask for?!
The Juice Cart
The juice cart is a familiar sight and has been done to death in many City and Friends sets in one form or another. The only real difference here is that this actually uses the proper tricycle frame that has only been around for two years and so far has rarely been used in place of the older conventional bicycle found in some earlier versions. That and of course the new for 2021 wheels with a Trans Bright Green spokes disk and Bright Green rims. Not much more to say about the matter. It’s done well enough, but nothing special.
New Parts Galore
Before moving on to the main attraction, the Café itself, let’s have a look at the new pieces it comes with or more specifically some new color variants. Some of them are actually parts that have long existed, but surprisingly never have been done in Bright Light Orange or Dark Pink. There’s also some new elements in White. For the sake of efficiency here’s a simple straight list:
- Arch 6 x 3 1/3 in Bright Light Orange
- Slope 1 x 2 in Bright Light Orange
- Slope Brick 2 x 3 in Bright Light Orange
- Slope Round 1 x 1 in Dark Pink
- Cone 3 x 3 in Dark Pink
- Bracket 2 x 6 in White
- Tile Round 3 x 3 in White
In addition there are the green wheels I already mentioned plus the White gazebo arches with the decorative elements, that haven’t been around for a while. There’s some more 1 x 1 round slopes in useful colors like Tan and Medium Nougat and finally the 1 x 2 slope for the cash register comes with a new, more contemporary print, something we’re going to see for a lot of printed standard elements this year.
The building pretty much follows the standard Heartlake City formula – a central pavilion with curved windows in the center, extended on the sides. As I already wrote, this one feels very light and air-y because in large parts it is built as an open kiosk with a pergola on one side. The absence of more solid walls and frames with “glass” certainly can be felt when holding the model. It’s rather light and the main contribution to the weight are the plates everything is built on.
As you can see, on the left side of the building there’s a small “vertical garden” with some vines creeping up the pergola and a small raised plant bed in front of it. It’s an interesting touch, though arguably the space could have been used even better and the bed extended more forward with more “cabbage” leaves and carrots. It also would have made a ton of sense if they had expanded it in the back as well with a small greenhouse or similar, as effectively this area isn’t used for anything else. This also becomes clear in the reverse view.
The small kitchen/ food counter is okay, but doesn’t really do much for me. Neither does the food selection, which kind of brings me to a point: It’s called the Heartlake City Organic Café, but all they seem to have on offer are sloppy sandwiches and Bagels with tomato slices and lettuce. This is in particular disappointing, as they easily could have spruced up things with a number of existing parts. After all, there is an existing green minifigure head with melon stripes just as there is a matching 1 x 1 melon quarter tile. Similarly, there is a pineapple minifigure head, a banana piece and an apple. It should have been pretty much a no-brainer to include those items. They also could have used the cloud puff piece for blue grapes like they did in the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379) and at long last there might also be value in having the cherry pieces in Yellow or Orange to use as Lychees or Physalis. They certainly missed some opportunities.
The center section comes with a small seating area with the new round 3 x 3 tile serving as the table top. That solution is clearly going to become standard pretty soon, superseeding all previous ways those tables were built. My point, however, is a different one: Given, that the loose bits mentioned further above are stylistically identical, wouldn’t it have been perfect for the plate here to be just those three or four studs deeper to put them there? I really feel a massive *facepalm* slap noise approaching…
Pink is the weirdest Color?
As you well know and as is pretty much self-evident with someone buying Friends sets I have no issues with the sometimes all too flamboyant colors. Yet, as an graphics artist I still like things to be reasonably tasteful and therefore I have a minor peeve with this set. As I already wrote when reviewing the Panda Jungle Tree House (41422) I just hate it when they throw on those Dark Pink elements as if to scream into everyone’s face “Yes, you are holding a LEGO Friends set in your hands!” and that seems to have happened here as well.
I can’t shake the impression that this may have been designed in other colors initially and then the switched around stuff after the fact, but in a very sloppy, unsophisticated way. What makes this so bad is that the answer is really so simply: Use the brighter pink! To illustrate my point, I’ve created some mock-up graphics based on one of the photos. It looks so much less obtrusive with Bright Light Pink, don’t you think? They could easily have gotten the best of both worlds this way. Of course it could have looked even more awesome in the Dark Green variant, but one shouldn’t expect too much.
This is an odd set and I’m torn between liking its bright, friendly appearance, but also disliking its run-off-the-mill construction, the lack of size/ volume and an overall simply weird approach to that healthy food thing. You can kind of feel that there once was a good idea behind it, but the execution leaves quite a few things to be desired. However, as someone obsessed with wanting to have as many pieces as possible in as many as possible colors, my consolation is that for a relatively low price you get a lot of previously unseen parts/ color variants and despite a certain lack of finesse the rest is at least useful in a broader sense.
At the end of the day you can buy this set relatively risk-free as it fits many scenarios and will blend in with pretty much any existing Heartlake City buildings you may already have. It just has limited value on its own. And seriously consider having a talk with your kids about actual healthy nutrition…
After the 2018 reboot, there really was a glut of the same five main characters. So much so that it was easy to predict when a certain two would be packed together (mainly Andrea and Emma). Before that, I remember that even though their “friends” were pallette swapped versions of the main girls (Kate, Marisol, and whoever else existed in those days).
I’m glad to see the smaller dolls from the Disney books graduate into Friends. Unfortunately, I’m starting to see that the outer circle friends (Ethan and Roxy) show up over and over again in the same outfits. Is it prohibitively hard to paint different details onto a mini-doll, I wonder?
I’m surprised they gave Marcel the “dad” body rather than the typical Friends Boy torso. For a granpa, he sure looks jacked.
The cafe design, as far as I can see, is meant to echo Emma’s open-plan Art Cafe from a few years ago, but ends up sitting in the same lane as the Park Cafe from last year instead. It’s nice, but not the best.
I agree about the color scheme. Green would have worked just as well, and it isn’t a color that would scare off the target audience as far as I can see.
By the way, what do you think of the updated box designs? They feel sparse to me. I’d become quite used to see it a lot of nonsense everywhere on the boxes.
I don’t particularly care for the box designs either way. They’re all kinds of terrible no matter whether you prefer the old style or the new one. At least not having those patterns in the purple makes things a bit easy for editing and color correcting the images from my cheap camera, but overall it still just doesn’t feel “classy”. Agree that the set would fit nicely next to Emma’s Art Café (41336) in the same park/ recreational area or even as an extension of the same, but I guess one would have to find a compromise on the roof colors then.
With regards to the figure prints I think it’s just a bit of laziness combined with LEGO‘s mass production process. You know, they produce them in such large quantities they always have massive leftovers that need to go somewhere. I think that’s why they stuff them in every box of a annual series. Cost should not be an issue, given that the technology is so sophisticated at this point, that some knock-off brands have sometimes better print quality at much lower price points. If at all actually designing the print templates would be the cost driver because someone/ a few people has/ have to sit down and conceptualize it, do a clean drawing and then create the separations for print just as well as someoen has to set up the machine, of course.
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I wonder why they don’t have the designers do a few decent full-on designs rather than having them come in and out once in a while. It’s not as if I’m looking for trendy clothing, I just want a decent amount of variation in outfits for everyone.
I bet the reason that the simplified design doesn’t feel “classy” either is the prominent deeper purple combined with the significant orange elements. I don’t think the colors go together all too well. The orange is also a problem on it’s own; it’s as if all the characters are standing in a spotlight for a mugshot.
I think it’s the usual – in such a big company everything becomes and academic exercise of obeying the hierarchies and working within fixed structures. If they were to design new character figures, someone has to allocate a budget, someone else check the designs for copyright issues, another person doing the production planning and God forbid it’s all done without the “story editor”‘s blessing or the marketing people not being in the loop for all that merchandise… Those complications easily add up and I’m pretty sure even the new kids dolls took forever to get off the ground.
Where the package design (and by extension other marketing materials) is concerned I think they’ve simply run out of ideas and they also have no good people doing this stuff. I always get worked up over colors not matching exactly, sloppy photo editing and bad CG renders. Perhaps it would be time to hire someone else who turns this stuff on its head and rejuvenates it as well as introducing a consistent design philosophy.
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