Prairie Tree House – LEGO Creator 3in1, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116)

After my experiment with the Wild Lion (31112) left me rather unsatisfied I didn’t think I would delve into the subject again so soon, but the more I kept pondering whether the Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116) would be worthwhile, the more I became enamored with some of its details and so I ultimately took the plunge and bought it

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Box

Pricing and Contents

Right out of the gate I got two packages of this set to not only facilitate this review and make it more efficient, but also because there are quite a few pieces in this set that might prove useful in the long run. The assembled contents of these two boxes can be seen in the image below, minus the redundant duplicate minifigures. You may already notice that the plane build uses considerably less pieces than the primary build of the tree house, but more on that later.

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Overview

I got my sets with “the usual” discounts for 20 Euro per unit, but I feel that the original 30 Euro aren’t all that bad, especially if you only plan on buying a single box. You get almost 400 pieces and while many of them are admittedly very small ones, there’s also a good helping of bigger ones to even out the overall balance. My only real problem with this are the “useless” pieces like the large green leaves plus some all too obvious “standard” pieces in places where I would have preferred that they included items more in tune with the set and perhaps in some new and exciting colors.

One of those missing items is definitely a grass bush element (or two or three) in a “dry” color like Tan or Dark Tan for the lion to hide behind and as additional decoration on the house. Similarly, the set could perhaps have had a different approach to doing the trees, but that’s also a topic for later.

The Minifigures

I’ll be straight up about this: The minifigures in this set are very much a disappointment. Unlike you might have expected, they don’t feature any specific outdoors/ safari apparel and only have standard attire mixed together from pieces of existing designs of other minifigs. The only bit of innovation, if you wanna call it that, is the use of the leg pieces. The regular Medium Blue legs haven’t been done in a while and the short kid legs in Dark Turquoise were only introduced last year in the pre-Christmas season. The torsos on the other hand have been used over and over again and are easily recognized like the red jacket in the Townhouse Toy Store (31105). One really wishes they’d made this a bit more specific to the theme of the set.

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Minifigures

The Animals

The animals were one of the aspects that helped to win me over and make a decision towards buying this set. They are pretty simple in their appearance and builds, yet very effective and super adorable. This naturally hinges a lot on a somewhat realistic appearance and while LEGO didn’t go out of their way to produce parts in new colors or even include some fancy pattern print pieces, the overall color scheme is consistent and believable with no all too off-beat colors disturbing the visual harmony.

The giraffe is pretty cute and they even simulated the mane along the neck, the horns on the head and the hooves. The only shortcoming here is once more the lack of actual knee joints, so the posing capabilities are limited by that. Less of a problem for the front legs, as those remain straight many times on the real animal as well, but the hind legs could have benefited from being more flexible. On the other hand this may have messed up the scale of the creature due to everything needing to be bigger and therefore I’m not sure how you would solve this little conundrum.

The lion, while still nice and funny, feels mostly a bit too compact. It’s too flat and too short and this is one of those moments where it seems a bit too miserly that they didn’t include e.g. two 1 x 4 bricks or something like that to stretch out the trunk and bulk it up a little more. Don’t get me wrong – it works as a comic version of a male lion, it just could have been that bit more elaborate and thus a bit more realistic.

The flamingo is essentially a play on the vulture in the big lion set and very obviously employs similar techniques. Of course it would have been nice if he actually had pink or orange legs, but I guess LEGO recoloring this antenna bar element just for this set was too much to hope for. At the same time, though, perhaps there is some African egret or crane species that would fit this color scheme, so I guess it is fair game, after all.

An Extra Tree (sort of)

If you get two sets like I did, you get the opportunity to build a second smaller tree or large bush to decorate your scenery. This isn’t a fully formed tree, more like a theatrical tree where you only see the one rounded side facing the audience. Still, better than nothing and more than adequate for what it’s supposed to do. Even the little bird is okay, though being built from leftover Sand Green elements it’s almost camouflaged a bit too well and doesn’t stand out much.

The Tree House

The tree house isn’t a fully functional house, but more of a safari lounge where you might want to spend an afternoon perched up high on a (dead?) tree, observing the wildlife around you while sipping cool drinks. It’s clearly modeled around those somewhat luxurious stopover locations that some more expensive tours seem to offer.

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Tree House, Front Right View  LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Tree House, Front Left View

A good chunk of the work goes into the platform and the tree underneath before you ever get to actually building the hut on top. This feels a bit awkward and tedious at first, but is required for stability. If there’s one good thing about it, it is that after sandwiching a lot of those plates the model becomes extremely robust. I accidentally tipped it over multiple times while preparing the photo shoot and you almost cannot break it (within reasonable limits, of course). This makes it well suited for kids and should spare you from having to fix broken off bits over and over again.

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Tree House, Back Left View  LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Tree House, Back Right View

Building the hut/ bungalow is a bit too finicky for my taste with the designers having opted for a lot of small 1 x 1 elements for reasons of having reusable elements for the alternate builds. It’s not particularly challenging, just kind of boring to plug on those Dark Red round tiles to those Orange bricks and similar. In fact even building the white sofa feels oddly longwinded with those many 1 x 1 elements as do the railings.

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Tree House, Front Lower View

One thing that really bothered me is the roof. the sub-assembly itself is very sturdy, but it needs to go on some free-standing pillars and the walls of the hut that due to being built from 1 x 1 elements have a lot of room to wiggle around. this makes it quite annoying to get the roof plugged on correctly. In reverse it has the adverse effect of dragging some of those structural elements with it if you try to remove the roof again. I really wish they had considered this better and constructed it more like the removable sections in Modular Buildings of for that matter even the roofs of their camper vans.

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Tree House, Toilet DetailsPoint in case: The tiny toilet. While technically it is accessible enough via the door, actually getting a figure in there would be a pain, if you feel so inclined to play out that scenario. And yes, having a removable roof would have potentially allowed for making the whole thing generally a bit larger without having to worry too much about leaving room on the balcony for the figures to walk around the house.

At the bottom of the tree you can find some succulent plants which could be some specific species of Euphorbia or Eccheveria in a blossoming state. It’s not quite clear what they are supposed to represent and certainly they could have done something different, but at least the use of the green sausages and tooth elements is interesting.

One thing is of course glaringly obvious: The tree is far from the typical gnarly Acacia trees you would find in the African savanna. It’s very symmetrical. That’s good for the overall stability as already laid out and facilitates easy building, but is at the same time a bit boring and unrealistic. I feel that they could have taken a clue from the Bonsai Tree (10281) and designed something a little more organic using the new curved tube elements in conjunction with some other pieces.

The Plane

The plane is the B model for this set and represents a slightly odd amalgam of different ideas. The basic concept is of course a traditional biplane, but both the skids and the uncoated linen look of the wings would make this a very, very old  machine. This is more like 1890 than 1920 even and really looks like those first experimental aircraft way back then where everything was DIY and new. Even the use of the large door frame reinforces this impression as it could indeed just be an creative use of an existing wooden frame. to top it of, the front section feels like there is a steam engine or old hot air/ gas one (as in real gas, not petrol or diesel) under there and covered with some old blackened tin panels from a used oven.

All things considered, this doesn’t line up that with the more contemporary themes of the set and the figures would feel out of place when used in conjunction with this plane. It’s not any worse because of that, it’s just a bit of an outlier and breaks the consistent internal logic that a 3in1 set in my opinion should always have. I’m sure they could have come up with something that would have looked a bit more modern or a different build entirely. This of course becomes a point in and of itself when you consider that e.g. the long Dark Blue slopes are nowhere to be seen. they surely could have been used to good effect for shaping a stretched out fuselage. Now that I think about it, even using them upside down to build floats and turn the airplane into a water-enabled variant might have been an idea…

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), Plane, Bottom View

The Parts

LEGO Creator, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116), PartsAs mentioned here and there, this set comes with a healthy selection of pieces in useful colors. Most notably there is a number of items in Bright Light Orange with the 1 x 3 tile modified with the two jumper studs making its debut in this color in this set. The Dark Orange variant is also nice to have, so far having primarily appeared in expensive Harry Potter sets. The printed tile is exclusive to this set and is both somehow very specific in terms of reflecting the set’s theme, but also on a broader level generic enough to be desirable as a decoration for other builds. like having a commemorative holiday photo as a canvas print in your living room.

In addition to those elements there are a number of other parts that, while not necessarily rare or exotic, are desirable to have in your arsenal. One of those is oddly enough the mundane headlight brick in Orange, which outside last year’s Diagon Alley (75978) and some sets from around 2017/ 2018 (Overwatch etc.) hasn’t been used in larger numbers for quite a while. Granted, we’re talking about minutia here and the element is often used in hidden positions, but at some point the time may come when you have to use it in an exposed place and then it’s so nice when colors match the rest of the model.

The Color of…?

On that subject we of course have to talk about the coloration overall. Personally I’m not a fan of the Red windows and supports. In my view you would try to avoid this on the real thing to not attract predators or other invasive animals and on the other hand not turn away the creatures you are trying to watch with aggressive warning colors. Similarly I take some issue with the dark roof. You wouldn’t do that in order to avoid overheating. Rather you would use a bright color to reflect sun light and presumably somewhere in the middle of nowhere you would use local resources, meaning read grass for thatched roofs.

The answer to all that? Yes, more Tan or more specifically Dark Tan to give everything that slightly weathered, yet natural look, perhaps complemented by more Dark Orange, Medium Nougat, Reddish Brown and Dark Brown pieces with some Olive Green and Dark Green sprinkled in. Then of course arguably more Red pieces would have made for a better-looking plane. Ah, the agony! It’s an imperfect world…

Concluding Thoughts

Despite my usual overly critical view of things I would fully recommend this set. There are some easily discernible omissions and oversights that could have been changed and fixed just as easily, but let’s not lose sight that this is more aimed at kids and they either will be completely ignorant of those “old people problems” or find ways to deal with them creatively. It’s perhaps really more that I see the potential, yet the set only manages to get an 8.5 or 9 out of a perfect 10. That’s still not bad by any standard.

The facts are that you get quite a lot of stuff for your money, the models look nice and are stable and that within a certain crude logic things still work out despite some anachronisms. However, I would not necessarily buy three of those sets. As the B model of the plane already illustrates, a lot of parts go unused and the C model, a catamaran, doesn’t fare much better in that regard. In other words: You cannot improve the value of the tree house model that much by throwing more stuff at it. Unless you plan on building a group of trees around your safari lodge and want to have a whole group of lions, two of those boxes is plenty.

The one thing that is now missing is another set to build some nice rhinos, hippos, warthogs antelopes and termite hills to go with this set. Imagine what nice diorama you could create with some people sitting on the white sofa and watching animals peacefully graze in the sunset…


4 thoughts on “Prairie Tree House – LEGO Creator 3in1, Safari Wildlife Tree House (31116)

  1. I’m surprised the roof isn’t easily removable. I’m so used to builds employing the modular system that it’s a bit of a surprise when they don’t. I’ll keep in mind having some 1×4 modified tiles with two studs on either side handy to fix such things.

    That dark red torso has been everywhere lately; CITY, Creator, Speed Champions, you name it.

    I think LEGO doesn’t truly thrive with small spaces like that bathroom in terms of “use” as a play feature, but I like looking at details like that anyways. The sausage plant is a stretch too far for me.

    I love Creator planes, but this one is a miss for me. Too compact. Strangely enough the length feels more visible and robust on the underside that with the right side up.

    I wonder if Vidiyo will make printing tiles a bit cheaper for a while due to the economy of scale, and we’ll see more random individual printed tiles like the one in this set for some time to come.

    I don’t like the roof design overall. It’s quite haphazard in appearance. I prefer roof designs like the one from the Outback Cabin a few years ago.

    I do agree that this is a great set overall, regardless of the issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Printing is cheap, even silkscreen/ pad printing on plastic. I think that’s one of those misconceptions people have. It’s more that LEGO really don’t want to because in their thinking they are afraid to have too much surplus stock that they then couldn’t use in other sets. A generic tile like the elephant photo in this set can be used for forever over and over in different sets, a too specific pink VIDYIO tile may not. Given how big they are, this could easily mean they’d have to dump hundreds and thousands of leftover bits at some point. Smaller competitors of them have it better. They have smaller production runs to begin with and would not have to trash as much product. LEGO are caught between a rock and a hard place in a sense and I understand it from that abstract viewpoint, but it’s still annoying as heck to have to put up with stickers so often.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I hadn’t thought about the sticker-versus-printing conundrum like that. What you’ve said makes a lot of sense.

        Yeah I’m not a great fan of stickers, but I understand why they’re deemed necessary. Still, seeing Mega Construx print five or six pieces for a simple tie-in set like the Tesco truck makes me think LEGO could try a bit more in that regard. Maybe print more things that are general purpose across themes at least.

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      • Yepp, of course LEGO could simply try harder. IMO it’s not even a case of doing more generic prints, I see it more as an issue of their scattered logistics. They simply may need to ensure to produce more sets in a single factory instead of scraping together pieces from different factories. that way they would have shorter lead-in times and more control without affecting the rest of the chain. Funny enough that’s perhaps an advantage for Mega and Cobi – since they basically only have one main factory, they have full control over this and can print a lot more.

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