Heartlake City is a weird little town as is the LEGO Friends universe at large and so over the years there certainly have been a number of rather odd sets and products been associated with the series. Sometimes one doesn’t mind and they are halfway okay and useful like the heart boxes two years ago, other times one can only wonder what substances they must be inhaling in Billund to even come up with this stuff. One of those anomalies are the LEGO Friends cubes that have been around since last year.
I never had much interest in the first two series from the outset. to me it was always clear that this would be just a cheap way for LEGO to cash in with a minimum of effort. Sure, they had to produce the boxes and manufacture those colored animals, but outside that everything just appeared like recycling surplus parts readily at hand in the factory, and not the most attractive ones at that. Even the girls’ dress prints were the standard versions found in the respective wild life/ sea rescue sets at the time. Other than really wanting a Dark Azure llama or teddy bear there was really no good reason to get one of those cubes. I didn’t even like the odd color combinations with the Trans Blue/ Trans Purple lids, sometimes with glitter even.
All that changed ever so slightly with this year’s edition, that finally seemed to add some genuine value to the series and improved upon several aspects. So I added them to my list of things to check out and got four of them. I did not purchase Emma’s Dalmatian Cube (41663) yet, because it is actually the most bland one (which is a bit ironic, given that Emma is still my favorite girl), but I might do so at some point just for the sake of being complete with this series.
Price and Contents
Of course despite my “getting over it” the price to actual value rating for these sets is still terrible. With the suggested retail price locked at 10 Euro, you can’t really put it another way. That’s a lot of dough for two large box pieces, a minidoll and a handful of regular LEGO pieces. Therefore naturally the advice has to be to get them as cheap as you possibly can. In the past prices would dip down to around 5 Euro for the older series’ cubes, but due to the insane demand in the pandemic you should feel lucky if you get them for 7 Euro. That is unless you’re feeling really adventurous and want to wait for that clearance sale early next year with the potential risk of not being able to get everything you want then.
The packaging is the pretentious “bag” type. also used on the already mentioned heart boxes and also quite common for some Ninjago stuff like the various small Spinjitzu play sets. This means that apart from the actual cube there is a lot of empty space in there. Typically there’s one of the bags with the larger pieces stuffed in the tip, but overall still a lot of room for nothing. My impression is that they really could have packaged more nicely into one of the Brickheadz-sized boxes and retailers would likely have been the happier for them not gobbling up so much unusable shelf space.
A little bit of Decoration
A notable difference compared to the previous editions is the introduction of exterior decorations for the cubes. This was a big contributing factor to my decision to have a look at those sets. Granted, I don’t really care much for the cloth pieces, but if you know me, the new bracket elements used on the cat’s and pug’s ears inevitably caught my attention. This goes even further on the cat with the two 2 x 3 curved slopes in bright Pink, a piece otherwise so far only found on the ill-fated Overwatch D.Va & Reinhardt (75978) set. So yes, my obsession about specific pieces kicked in and drove me further toward a purchase.
Soul Mates – The Girls and their Pets
As I wrote earlier, I never had much interest in the surprise animals in the earlier series’ boxes. The concept of taking an existing mold and recoloring it just for the sake of coercing people to buy multiple such sets to collect them all is still extremely foreign to me and, given the cost, really also a bit unfair in my opinion. Okay, people do crazy stuff all the time and you need not look far when you see how some people spend a small fortune on minifigures, but to me it’s just weird. Aside from my financial restrictions maybe I’m just thinking too practically about these matters to be ensnared by any such collectibles stuff.
The animals are what the names of the boxes imply, with the only real novelty being that the pug, the cat and also Emma‘s Dalmatian are the new pup/ cub baby versions for 2021. Only the flamingo and bunny represent adult versions. The flamboyant bird is pretty much the only creature where this color stuff makes at least a lick of sense in that it looks credible and can be used rather universally. It’s as a matter of fact one of the few items from the previous series (with the seahorse being the other exception perhaps) that I wouldn’t mind having all versions of. Anyway, I got lucky on the first try and got the conventional version in Dark Pink, which is fine with me. As you can see, the other animals take some getting used to in these odd colors no matter how cute they look otherwise.
The most notable thing however this time around aren’t even the pets, but rather the girls themselves. Someone at LEGO must have realized that in order to compel people to buy this expensive stuff you have to give them something unique to make it worth their while and lo and behold, all of the girls have custom shirt designs reflecting their association with their animal! Of course that doesn’t preclude that those same prints may be reused later in regular sets as well, but for the time being you only can find them here. don’t get me wrong – I have limited use in my life for normal minfigures and even less for minidolls, but for a kid there could be some value here if they e.g. play with their vet clinic or similar. A distraught Mia having her injured pet checked out and arriving on the scene in a matching shirt has its value.
Olivia’s Flamingo Cube (41662)
The individual cubes are pretty much what you would expect – serviceable play scenes with a minimalist approach to the details. However, this series has netted us some unique items that also should be useful in the long term.
The first of those is funny enough the minifigure head with the watermelon print. This will make many people happy who are looking to spice up their grocery stores, organic café or garden. It’s really one of those little items that makes you wonder why it took so long, considering that we had the matching printed quarter tile for forever already. Another nice addition is the yellow leaf element after they were introduced in the Modular Buildings Bookstore (10270). And finally of course the pink frog, but as you may already know you can easily get heaps of them by just buying the Bonsai Tree (10281). A nice touch, but as I wrote in my various frog-related articles such as this review I’m still waiting for that Strawberry Dart Frog. 😉
Mia’s Pug Cube (41664)
The pug cube is easily the most mundane of the ones I bought. If it wasn’t for the ears and thus the brackets they are built with I likely would have skipped over them. There’s a bit of a crossover with the pug costume figure from the current Collectible Minifigures Series 21 with the Dark Turquoise bone chewing toy being present. I guess this connection could be incentive for some minifig collectors to buy this set as well.
Stephanie’s Cat Cube (41665)
The cat cube is again all about the ears and the brackets, but some additional value is easily found in the blue bird. They are still surprisingly scarce, only being included in a handful of sets. Would be good if LEGO really used them more often and also produced them in different colors so one could enliven your models. It’s almost tragic that you can buy expensive Modular Buildings, but for the life of it can’t have a flock of sparrows populating them. The other thing of value, and this is going to sound extremely crazy is – *drumroll* – the small white feather/ quill. You can look it up on Bricklink, but apparently these small minifigure head accessories fetch a high price as apparently they are in demand for restoration of old pirate-ish minifigures or Harry Potter stuff, among other things.
Andrea’s Bunny Cube (41666)
The bunny cube again has one of them yellow leaves along with two orange ones and some nice Dark Brown (!) elements. In addition, there’s also a recolored Red BB-8 droid head/ dome as a mushroom, a new variant for this year. As far as I know this can only be found in the Heartlake City Park (41447) otherwise.
The Bracket Mystery
I’ve mentioned it a number of times, but indeed LEGO introduced a new bracket type element just for these sets to be able to create the ears on some of the cubes. For now they only come in Bright Pink and Bright Light Orange, which limits their usefulness for more generic projects right out of the gate, but beyond that there is also the lingering question of whether you would ever need them?! I have thought about this quite a bit and while I won’t claim to have considered everything, I can’t quite see where this would fit.
Point in case: In regular models without the challenge of having to build over a curved brick you would just use the regular perpendicular brackets and only use the curved pieces left and right of this. So far there really seems no advantage in using this piece other than using this as an option to create specific patterns or loosely attach stuff as I was pondering elsewhere already. We should find out soon if there are sets that put this to use and then perhaps things will click with me. For the time being it’s just a bit of fun doodling around. At least to those who were interested in this: Yes, it really fits of the arched bricks and not just on the cubes as the image sufficiently illustrates (I hope).
Make no mistake – while this year’s edition of these cubes is considerably better than the brainless efforts of the past, this is still not something I would consider in any way essential. It’s nice that they are investing a bit more into the series, but overall the concept strikes me as too limited to really go anywhere. This is typical fare you may want to bring along as a small gift for birthdays or buy for your child on a holiday when you are in a generous spending mood, but as “serious” LEGO this is simply missing too much.
It’s extremely likely that you can always find a 10 Euro City or Creator set that offers far more building fun and play value, not to speak of competitors’ offerings, which ultimately may be the crux of this product. It doesn’t feel that much like a brick-based toy, yet at the same time it would also be pretty poor choice to take on a trip to a sandy beach for instance. It’s stuck between those two sides and if the collecting aspect for the colored animals doesn’t even matter to you, it has very little going for it.