It takes two! – LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699) and Pet Playground (41698)

There’s some things that just don’t work all by themselves in isolation and on the rare occasion that can be true for LEGO sets all the same. While within the individual themes and sub-series they of course are always designed with a consistent story or “group logic” in mind, you rarely find yourself in a situation where buying two at once seems inevitable because getting just one would feel incomplete.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Box

Those are the sentiments I had with the Pet Adoption Café (41699). Something was seriously missing and I just couldn’t avoid getting the Pet Playground (41698) to make up for those shortcomings and, at least in my mind, improve the overall value. It literally takes two (sets). Ever since I came up with that headline I can’t get the Tina Turner & Rod Steward song with that name out of my head, but that is perhaps a story for another time.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Box

Price and Contents

Both sets are in the more affordable range with the café clocking in at 30 Euro suggested retail price for 292 pieces and the playground at 20 Euro for 210 pieces. As you would expect, that’s not necessarily the “real” price and they can be had for notable discounts. The café can be bought for 20 Euro or less and the playground will set you back a mere 12 Euro if you’re lucky. Aside from my usual Scrooge-y-ness out of necessity this seems much more in line with what you expect, as the original prices seem rather random and arbitrary. One set is basically just a simple house cubicle while the other is a collection of small objects to decorate a scene. The official pricing just does not compute in my head in terms of value for money, regardless whether you pin that on the number of pieces, their size or the overall volume of stuff.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Overview

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way right away with the café is the shortage of animals. If this is an adoption opportunity, a measly three creatures just doesn’t cut it. This would then be a “take it or leave it” scenario and people would be disappointed. That’s like going to the animal shelter and only being shown the “problem dogs” nobody wants. There should definitely be at least double the number of pets in this set and this really shouldn’t be a problem, given that there are enough molds and color variants available. Incidentally, the playground fares much better in this regard and getting two baby kittens and a dog almost feels luxurious for such an affordable set.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Overview

The Café

Right away I have to admit that the LEGO version of the adoption café is nothing like I would have envisioned it. I never had any pets myself for a million reasons that are too boring to go into, but I’m friendly with most cats and dogs and have been playing around with the idea on and off in my head. That being the case, I also had a pretty clear picture of what I would the adoption process to be and what the potential venues for this should look and feel like. This certainly does not meet those criteria I envisioned!

Most importantly it just doesn’t have that positive, cosy vibe I’d expect. I basically would want to sit quietly in a corner and watch the little buggers from afar, waiting for a few of them to come up to me and then see how we respond to one another. None of this feeling is present here. It feels like a normal walk-in shop where you’d just pick an animal and then take it home. It all looks rather sterile and there’s neither enough room for the humans to actually sit down nor the pets to perch themselves or get engaged in activities. this could easily have been avoided had they designed it similar to Emma’s Art Café (41336) from a few years ago. Extending at least on side with an additional 6 x 8 plate or something like that to get an L-shaped design would have worked wonders!

This is another gripe I have here – everything looks terribly symmetric/ mirrored, in particular from the exterior. An asymmetrical design in line with the Golden Ratio rule would have looked much better. Conversely, if at least they had decked out one side of the front with, say, three windows, things would look quite different. That also goes for the color scheme. Even if it’s not the most pleasing combination, using Lavender and Magenta stripes could have worked when limited to one side. The other side could then have had a different stripe pattern or a wall in a simple single color. On that note, I also think that the Green floor does not work that well. This should be in Dark Tan or even Light Bluish Grey to not be as distracting, as the model already is way too colorful for its own good.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Door

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), FiguresA small, but noteworthy detail is the new door type with the cat/ dog flap. It apparently appeared first in White in the Home Alone (21330) set and debuts in Dark Purple here. On the subject of colors, there’s a new skin color in the LEGO portfolio, used here for Priyanka (right figure), clearly a girl of Indian/ Bangladeshi descent as the name implies, clichéed as it may be. I have some more thoughts on the color itself and the reasoning behind it in a separate paragraph at the end 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Schnauzer Dog I still try to collect as many LEGO animals as possible, so I’m always pleased to see new molds appear, even if lately I prefer the crisper, sharp-edged City versions over the more softly rounded Friends variants. The little Schnauzer/ (Scottish) Terrier is a nice addition to the catalog and should prove popular.

 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), BicycleThe bicycle should look familiar to regular readers of my blog, as it was included in White in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444). For the time being this Bright Light Orange version is only available in two sets, certainly someone with a permanent LEGO city might appreciate having it to add interest to its bustling streets.

 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Outdoor Table The small table for the outside is an okay build, but really only your boring standard stuff. You’ve seen it a million times and this merely varies the them by using transparent round bricks, not solid color ones.

 

 

 

 

I’ll never make friends with stickers on brick-built models, but at least I can appreciate some of the effort that goes into designing the artwork, so this is a situation where once more really wish at least some of these motives came as prints on the elements. The thing that baffles me the most is that in a set called Pet Adoption Café they couldn’t manage to print the “Adopt me!” poster at least. If nothing else (considering that it’s on a separate standee, anyway), it would have been a nice gag. Of course it would have been equally nice if the round tiles were printed. I still have a hard time imagining kids in the target demographic putting on those stickers perfectly centered.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Stickers

The Playground

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), FiguresSince there is so little actual play content in the café, either digging out extra pieces and animals from your own stock or buying more sets will be required. For the purpose of this review (and my own ambitions for absorbing the pieces in my collection later) I opted for the latter, which might be LEGO‘s devious plan here, anyway. Doing so will give you another two minidolls and three more pets and that alone is a major improvement. The figures are just your standard Andrea and her sister Liz, but they have at least new prints.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), TrashcanThe smallest side build in this set is a little trash bin for collecting the dog poop. While it may not look like much it is already notable in that a) the Lime Green trash can is a new color for this piece and b) the dish element in the same color also hasn’t been around since 2017 according to Bricklink.

 

 

The seesaw and carousel are extremely basic, but do what they are supposed to. They’re built onto the new 8 x 8 round plates in Tan, an element previously only seen in White in the DOTS Creative Party Kit (41926) where they serve as the lids to the “cupcake” containers. The interesting observation here is that likely we’re only getting them in this set, because they’ll also be used in the upcoming Orchid (10311) plant set (inside the pot) and LEGO already have produced large batches of them.

The counter-thesis to that is the gate with the turnstile where they cheapened out and have you assemble the base from two of the Lime Green half-plates that have been around forever. In this case it works okay, because ultimately there is not that much here that would necessitate a more robust construction, but it would have been nice. Maybe the situation changes once the stock of the half-plates has depleted and they switch production. On the positive side, they actually managed to include the only textured element, the signage on the entry gate, as a print. I guess there’s a threshold where printing a single tile is cheaper than producing a sticker sheet, after all.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Gate

The main attraction is the play castle, of course and this is full of little surprises in terms of what pieces are used, even if the build itself is just as simple. I was really taken aback, when I realized the 1 x 1 x 3 brick in Medium Nougat was a new color. They’re used in droves in every Friends set and I could have sworn I’ve seen them before! Other such recolors are the corner panels used for the sandbox and water pool, respectively. The rest is standard stuff and this builds in a breeze. I don’t know much about dog training, obviously, but personally I’m missing a bridge/ balance board on the whole thing where you would condition your dog not to be afraid of heights.

The New Color

LEGO are pretty bad when it comes to “representation” in the broadest sense with many product series propagating outdated tropes and stereotypes, parts of the populace being underrepresented or ignored, their weird pretentious “family friendly” policies just sweeping things under the rug and occasional cultural appropriation having some funny side effects. Now of course the Friends theme is guilty as charged and a prime example for many of those things such as adhering to outdated role models for girls and women.

Portraying different ethnicities and people of color has also been a particularly weak point not just in Heartlake City, with a sweeping majority of minifigures and minidolls being girls of the Caucasian type, i.e. having white/ pale skin. The irony here is that this is a problem they created for themselves a long time ago when they started moving away from just using yellow minifigure heads for licensed themes such as Star Wars and they had to find a way to accommodate all those skin tones. Heck, before it was deemed inappropriate and they gave them the Nougat moniker (though here too it could endlessly be argued what Nougat actually is, given that the same word means different things in different countries), they were even called Flesh.

They’ve certainly made some progress on that in the last two years with more more figures having darker skin tones and more diverse hairstyles and facial expressions, but it is still a far cry from encompassing some demographics. One very obvious omission from the color book was the very specific skin tone prevalent in the South Asian regions, meaning India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar and a few other countries. It’s not quite the dark browns and blacks of African Americans, but also not the lighter orange-ish/ light brown color that Hispanics and people of mixed heritage often have.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Skin ColorThis little problem has now been rectified by introducing a new color. LEGO calls it Medium Brown and it’s placed somewhere between Reddish Brown and Medium Nougat. I tried, but my camera definitely is quite limited, so the specifics of the color don’t come out as clearly in a photo, but you’d definitely see it when you have it in front of you. The color itself actually feels more like a Dark Brown (rightmost brick in the top row) that has been lightened with White since it does not share the reddish tinge of the neighboring colors. It’s more of a “cool” or “neutral” color like the aforementioned Dark Brown or for that matter also Dark Tan.

Now of course as always when LEGO introduce a new color there is a grander plan behind it and while using it for figures only for a while would be just fine, they’ve already expanded its use. The LEGO ART set Elvis Presley “The King” (31204) already features 1 x 1 round tiles in this color as well. That gives me hope that not too far in the future we may also see other elements like plates and bricks appear in this color in other packages, as not too long ago someone seems to have had some sort of epiphany and realized that “skin colors” look nice for other things as well when used with care. The Boutique Hotel (10297) is proof of that. With that in mind one would hope that Medium Brown will be used to similar effect as yet one more option for wood elements, facades, trees and so on or as a substitute e.g. in the Architecture series when Dark Brown might look too much like Black due to the scale effect. If LEGO are smart about it and commit to this, I can see a multitude of uses here.

Disclaimer: None of this is meant to be in any way racially or ethnically insensitive, so please let me know if I used poor wording or wrote something offensive while trying to explain my train of thought.


Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately this is one more case where LEGO just didn’t get it right. You could argue about the subject and how they have infantilised something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but that’s not the point since the children won’t make much of it, anyway. However, you can question their design and business decisions and this is where for me things don’t really work. The smaller playground set is okay and could be used in conjunction with other sets as well, but the adoption café? That’s why I feel it would have been a much better decision to merge these two packages into one, refine and change a few things and sell it for 40 Euro as a more wholesome set. Given how things are currently, you would have to spend that money, anyway, and that’s basically what you should plan for: If you want to get the café, you can’t possibly avoid buying a complimentary set. The playground would be one of the more affordable options, though not necessarily the only one.

Organic, but unhealthy? – LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444)

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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Box

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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Overview

Figures

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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Figures

Bits and Bobs

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Extra Bits 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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Juice Cart, Right View LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Juice Cart, Left View LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Juice Cart, Front View

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:

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

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Front Right View

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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Front Left View

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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Rear Left 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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Rear Right View

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…

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Center Section

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.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Alternate Colors


Concluding Thoughts

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…

Kiosk x 2? – LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426) and Olivia’s Flower Garden (41425)

In today’s review we’re going to have a look at two relatively small Friends sets. I’ve rolled them into a single article to make it worthwhile in terms of volume and because there’s a potential little twist to this.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Box

The first set is the Heartlake City Park Café (41426). The name sounds grandiose, but in fact it’s really just a tiny waffle stand – of sorts.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Overview

The point why I’m using “of sorts” is that while the whole thing is modeled after those little shallow sheds you can indeed find in parks or on the sidewalks of cities like Paris for instance, which really aren’t more than boxes, it doesn’t quite qualify as a waffle stand or even “café”. A newspaper stand? A flower stand? Just fine, but not anything to do with food. There would be some serious hygiene and safety concerns.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Front closed

This becomes clear once you open the doors. On the real thing those wouldn’t even be glass doors, but rather just solid doors with all sorts of little utilities, hooks, compartments and so on on their inside, so once opened those could be filled with goods for presentation, i.e. newspapers, flowers or souvenirs.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Front open

The actual working space would make any safety engineer’s hair stand on end (and a hygiene inspector’s as well). Things would topple over and fall down all the time, the workers would constantly bump into their kitchen appliances and furniture or burn their fingers. All those very adult concerns aside, the thing that bothers me most is that the model just doesn’t breathe that sense of a busy food-related kiosk.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Rear, Left View

You know, if this were real they couldn’t keep up with demand with only one waffle iron, There’s no mixing machine for the batter, there’s no coffee brewer, no fridge and the selection of fillings and condiments is at best sparse. Point in case: It would have been easy for LEGO to throw in at least an apple, banana or cherry and extend the model further in the back to add some more stuff. There’s no reason it only needs to be eight studs deep.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Rear, Right View

Getting to the good parts, there’s of course the new 1 x 1 heart tiles with the waffle grid print along with the older square tile version of similar ilk. Having had some Magenta window frames ever since the Heartlake Pizzeria (41311) from way back then I figured having matching door frames might come in handy one of those days – whenever that may be.

The yellow flowers are indeed actual Yellow, not the usual Bright Light Orange. That’s a pretty funky thing and one of those “I thought they had been around for years already.” moments, when in fact the color has never been used for this element. It seems trivial, but such is the world of LEGO and their inconsistent usage of colors.

Speaking of which, and this will come as an even bigger shock and you may not believe it, this set is also the first time in over forty (!) years the 1 x 1 round brick is available in Medium nougat. Given how suitable it would be for building plants and some other things and that e.g. the complementary palisade 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 bricks with their wood stem imitations have existed in this color since forever, one can really only wonder about the company’s logic in these things.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Printed Tiles

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), TableTo cap things off, there’s a small table where potential passers-by could perch and chit-chat while eating. You know, those annoyances that the kiosk owners always put smack in the middle of where you walk and you have to navigate around. Nothing special to see here, but it’s good that after quite a while at least the squirrel is available again and with a new eye print to boot.

 

 

Now for that “special twist” I hinted at earlier. There may actually be a way to turn the waffle stand into that little flower kiosk with a relatively cheap investment. That’s where Olivia’s Flower Garden (41425) comes in. But first let’s look at it on its own merits.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), Box

Did I say merits? Well, sadly it doesn’t have any. This set literally feels like someone at LEGO took a tour in their storage facilities, discovered a few leftover pieces from other production runs and then told the designer to make something of it. Each of the separate items could just as well be one of those models you get in the various LEGO magazines’ foil packs. They have been reduced to the bare minimum.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), Overview

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), CartThe little cart is reminiscent of those electrically powered baggage carts you see at airports or wholesale markets. It wouldn’t really make much sense outside those scenarios, but who knows? Maybe Olivia is running a big greenhouse like the ones in The Netherlands covering acres of ground that you can see from the airplane when approaching Amsterdam?

 

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), Flowerbed

Unfortunately this isn’t the case. All you get is a tiny, tiny piece of elevated flower bed/ gardening table under an angled glass window. What makes this even worse for me is that there is not a single new piece in this set (at least they use the new binoculars piece on Zobo, though). By that I especially mean some newly colored plant piece, naturally. You know, had those leaves been Dark Green or Sand Green and we finally got those daisy blossoms in Medium Blue or another new color I’d be much happier.

Now back to my original argument: Combined with the leaf elements of the waffle stand the contents of this set could be used to re-dress it as a flower stand and if you have some extra parts from other sets to throw in, this may be even more feasible. At least in my world this would make much more sense.

As a conclusion I have to say that neither of the two are extraordinary sets by any stretch of the imagination. While the waffle stand at least tries to be a bit original and when remodeled and repurposed could actually look quite nice, the supposed “flower garden” is just a bad joke at the cost of the customer. The irony is that I get what they were aiming for, but again LEGO‘s laziness and forced cost-cutting rear their heads, preventing the sets from being much better.

Especially the “flower garden” is in no way the 10 Euro they are asking when the actual value feels like 5 Euro. Naturally, lower prices on the open market mitigate this somewhat, but even then it still feels unwarranted. This could just as well have been a 4 Euro polybag. The waffle stand fares a bit better as it boasts at least some new and unique parts. For a 15 Euro street price at a MSRP of 20 Euro that’s okay. Not great, but okay.

Dinner served Pink – Emma’s Art Café (41336)

A set I’ve wanted for quite a while, yet never made it to the final checkout with one of my online orders (that old budget thing and other sets always being a higher priority) is Emma’s Art Café (41336). Luckily a big supermarket chain had a promo pre-Christmas where you could collect rebate stamps with every purchase and got discounted LEGO sets in return. With the discounted prices matching the then best online pricing and the number of stamps required for eligibility being reasonably low it wasn’t much of a stretch to collect them on the weekly grocery shopping.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Box

As I said, the price clocking in at around 22 Euros is very much okay and you can get the set for something along those lines at many online outlets and might even find it in a local store not costing much more. I wouldn’t expect it to go much lower than that, though, since it contains a lot of large parts that simply tend to be more pricey. On the other hand the original 32 Euros MSRP feel like a bit of a stretch.

The point here is that I genuinely wanted the set for its parts, but ultimately if you’re not the person to build stuff with those extremely colorful pieces it is of limited use. That and some parts like the Medium Lavender bricks with the rounded edge are simply not easy to integrate in many builds, regardless of what color they are, due to the limitations they impose.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Overview

What makes the set so nice is that it actually represents at least an attempt to capture the real structure and appearance of a small pavilion/ bungalow style café constructed from light materials as you can often find them in recreational facilities and parks, most of the time of course only open during summer/ holiday season. This is not least achieved by including some useful exterior details thanks to some generous space being provided on a large 16 x 16 plate plus some smaller plates as appendages/ extensions.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Exterior Corner open

This is nicely illustrated by the small extra corner on the hinge or the cobble stone pavement being hinted at in front of the corner door. as can also be seen the set is relatively rich with vegetation, which when used right can enliven a scene considerably and set the mood (unlike with the many faux trees in Friends sets that often are just a sad excuse). Point in case: You’d feel welcome in such a nicely decorated restaurant or café.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Exterior Corner closed

The artsy aspect is mostly carried home by the arrangements with the colored windows, which gives everything a vibe of this being a kind of club where people meet to discuss art, attend exhibitions and watch performances. I never use them, but the irony here is that applying the stickers would more or less ruin that atmosphere, as they look a bit too childish to be taken as serious art. In my view it would have been sufficient to just substitute the white tiles used to represent the image canvases with something colorful and it would have worked just the same.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Exterior Wall

Of course they would have had to think of something different for the large panel then, too. Naturally it looks a bit barren with nothing on it and one might need to replace the entire wall to create something interesting without those little adhesive buggers. This applies to the inside just as well.

While at it, I would likely also do something about the color scheme. It kinda bothers me that the Dark Pink is used so extensively. It really should have been reserved for the colored window frames. Most annoyingly even the window blinds are in that color. why can’t LEGO just be nice to us and produce them in a color that would look fine on a regular building as well like Dark Red, Dark Green, Dark Blue or one of the browns. *sigh*

The interior as such is functional, but not much beyond that. It feels like a lot of space has been wasted and the details could have been more refined plus there should be more of them. This should feel a lot more busy and to me it looks like the space is there for a second table or some stools on a longer counter. You should definitely consider pimping this set and rearranging the furniture, in a manner of speaking, should you keep this set around more permanently.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Interior

For me it was once more first and foremost a simple way to get some parts in interesting colors that are hard to come by otherwise. If you need some ideas: Those Dark Pink and Light Aqua window frames would look pretty gorgeous on a building in one of the dark colors, weird as it may sound. Yes, Black and Pink go well together as not only Lucy shows in The LEGO Movie(s). And those wedge plates for the sandwich pieces in Medium Dark Flesh are just sexy. They should be super useful on buildings with visible “wood” structures and similar things. Conversely, one can never have enough large plates in Tan.

So at the right price this is quite a well of pieces – within the limitations of any Friends set, that is. That being the case, it’s also one of the better, more useful sets in this series that would be easy to expand and improve upon, most simply by buying a second set and cannibalizing the pieces. Due to the large plate it’s reasonably stable and therefore should also be easy to handle by your little ones and offer a decent play value. As a bonus, this is also one of the few sets that actually has a male mini doll included and one of your girl gang can actually have a boyfriend (though given the terrible overall boys to girls ratio in this series, not every one of them will get a guy most likely…).

The big caveat is that despite my having built it now and being aware of its positives, oddly enough I still don’t consider it a high priority item. The things it does it does very well, but it’s overall a pretty mundane model and I guess I didn’t have that “Wow!” moment when you discover an original building technique or solution you may not have thought of yourself. Or in other words: It’s perhaps a bit too simplistic to tickle your adult nerves. So if you feel like it, pick it up, but otherwise you’re not missing much and can skip it. No big revelations of any kind in this set, just solid, if a tad boring conventional LEGO.