It’s the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese lunar calendar and LEGO are certainly going in on the theme. Not only are there the usual Chinese New Year sets (Lunar New Year Traditions  and Lunar New Year Ice Festival ), with the latter featuring a person in a tiger costume and the accompanying Gift with Purchase (GWP) also having been a buildable tiger, but there’s also a bunch of the striped predator cats or their relatives appearing in other sets. It could be totally coincidental, of course, but I sure noticed. The Majestic Tiger (31129) on the other hand is likely far from being a victim of pure chance timing and easily takes the crown of the whole bunch and quite deservedly so in my opinion, so lets explore the reasons why this is such a great set.
Contents and Pricing
Unlike last year’s Crocodile (31121), which never got a broad release and therefore is still very hard to come by, this set is readily available from a huge number of outlets. They even managed to have it ready from day one, which in these weird times with all those supply chain delays and interruptions counts for something. I waited my time for prices to drop to what I consider sensible levels, though, and with that we immediately get to the biggest gripe I have with this set: its price.
On paper, 50 Euro for a 755 pieces set doesn’t at all sound that bad and in particular for the tiger this may be perfectly acceptable for many people. However, those metrics skew terribly towards the negative side with the Red Panda and the Koi due to their limited parts usage, as you shall see further down in this article. Another thing to consider here is the fact that we’re talking about a Creator 3in1 set (also) aimed at children and other demographics, not just collectors. At 50 Euro you’re getting dangerously close to some of the more affordable LEGO Ideas sets and those have more pieces and frequently additional exclusive minifigures. Finally, and this doesn’t really need to be spelled out as it’s apparent in the photos, there’s a ton of small 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 parts that should not cause that much of a price hike. Yes, there’s several large elements, too, but those are pretty bog standard and not exclusively produced for this set, so they should not have such a huge impact on cost, either.
With all that said, this is pretty much a 35 Euro set and that is what you can purchase it for after discounts. That’s okay, but ultimately it’s unsatisfying that the retailers always have to pick up the tab and fix the mess that LEGO make with their overpriced MSRPs. In a way it might even hurt LEGO themselves. I’m losing this term very loosely here, as obviously they made just another billion in revenue, but wouldn’t it be even better if we all could just buy three of those sets for a lower price instead of having to perhaps settle on just getting one? I understand that this is how works for the super expensive collectors’ sets, but for this bread & butter stuff it just seems weird that you would limit your sales potential by driving up prices. You know, that math thing. If you sell three boxes and make five bucks on each of them you still have made more than just selling a single one and making a tenner.
Tigers are fascinating and beautiful creatures and I could watch them for hours. When I visit one of my buddies two or three times a year I always try to talk him into a visit of their small local zoo and seeing the tiger is one of my highlights. The zoo serves as a retirement home for older tigers and the cage is built as such that you can literally stand 1.5 m away from the big cat at a specific spot and if you’re lucky, the tiger will lay down and take a nap. I could stand there for hours just watching the breathing and movement of the ever on alert ears. It’s really amazing just as it is terrifying how even those elderly tigers explode and go a bit coo-coo if only they catch a whiff of fresh meat or another of their kind…
Anyway, on to the set. It makes no statement of which particular sub-species of tiger it tries to portray, but the tropical bird suggests that it could be a Sumatra Tiger, the smallest one. then again it could just as well be an Indian/ Bengal Tiger or a Siberian/ Amur Tiger. Who’s to know? At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter beyond perhaps considerations for the color of the fur. depending on the season and their habitat those can vary quite a bit from relatively dark browns to almost white pale sand color and anything inbetween, naturally. For a LEGO model the most appropriate main color would be Dark Orange, but I actually understand why they didn’t go for that. The “scale effect” would have made it look too dark. Those cats also have transitional areas with a beautiful deep and saturated curry yellow, a color which unfortunately doesn’t exist in LEGO‘s portfolio.
The sidebuild for this main model is a super tiny waterfall which really only counts as the smallest rivulet drizzling through a bunch of rocks. there’s a suggestion of some very short bamboo stalks plus there are some dried up branches hidden behind the rock. The bird is hard to classify, but it could easily be one of those many finch species you can find or a parrot-like one. the funny thing here is that they didn’t even have to include it, since almost all of the extra pieces aren’t even used in any of the alternate builds. Typically they would only include these little gimmicks as a sneaky way of providing a few alternate parts. Not complaining about some extra bits, it just feels unnecessary.
The tiger itself is just gorgeous and nicely illustrates what you can do with LEGO pieces today and some clever building techniques. There’s a lot of places with unexpected directional changes and stuff being built upside down, only to be attached in rather original ways using hinges, clips and ball joints. This in particular applies to the abdomen/ chest consisting essentially of a conventional stack of plates and slopes, then fixed at an angle to get this bulging out at the bottom. However, there’s one big disadvantage to all this: Many times the build process just drags on.
It took me much longer to finish the model than I had anticipated due to a ton of 1 x 1 elements that needed to be placed and aligned carefully and similar finicky stuff consuming my time. The result is rewarding, after all, just don’t underestimate how long it may take to get there. This in particular applies to the legs and stripe pattern on the flanks. Interestingly, it uses some of the techniques using the new curved slope and inverted slopes I was exploring back then with Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184). The top is capped off with printed 1 x 2 x 2/3rd slopes. This works quite well and even having dedicated printed pieces in a Creator 3in1 set is something that doesn’t happen that often.
As you can see from the images, the tiger can be posed in a multitude of ways – within certain limitations. You can’t really get him to lay down or do that typical back bend when cats stretch, but you can make him stand and walk with the head allowing to be turned in the right direction as well. This should be sufficient to find an interesting stance for it on the shelf.
A minor complaint I have is how skinny the orange biggie is. This is not really a problem, as in nature they can go for weeks without food and get very thin from the starvation, I just would have preferred if he looked a bit more rounded. Easier said than done, though, as at this scale it would be difficult with a three studs wide back. You’d need a lot of extra elements to compensate the extra thickness and different offsets.
The belly area is structured as well with teeth elements hinting at clumped up fur areas and some inverted slopes providing a bit of additional shaping.
The head uses a lot of illusion painting as it actually has quite a few noticeable gaps and open areas. In the end it just works, however. I’d personally perhaps try to close the parts around the ears and in the process also create a slightly smoother transition to the back.
The paws are identical for each of the legs and use the semi-circular 1 x 1 tiles to good effect. The underside is constructed from uncovered brackets, which gives this effect that a real paw would have – slightly elevated by the padded zones with the fur not always touching the ground for this floaty feel and subtle soft walking they are known for.
A somewhat contentious item and subject of some ridicule on the Internet is the inclusion of an actual anus. It’s not that far fetched, as naturally cats have poop hole just like any other animal, but including the extra Dark Pink flower element indeed feels like someone went out of their way to make it visible when otherwise there would have just been a pin hole from the ratcheted hinge element holding the legs.
The Red Panda
The second model you can build from this set is a Red Panda. Biologically of course these creatures bear no relation to the big Pandas, but are just as cute. This makes it even more disappointing that this is actually the weakest of the three options. But let’s adhere to established procedures and do this in the right order.
The sidebuild is some kind of flower/ blossom, obviously. I’m saying “some” because I actually haven’t really figured out what exactly it is supposed to represent from a simple cherry or almond blossom to a specific orchid this could be anything. It’s fine that they tried to maximize parts usage, but ultimately it feels forced and once more rather superfluous, given that it doesn’t look very realistic and offers no additional value.
The Red Panda itself is a lot smaller than the tiger by comparison. This becomes immediately apparent just by the absence of any of the large hinge/ ball joint pieces. instead it uses the smaller ball joints all the way, which isn’t really that advantageous here. Despite being not as big and overall rather light, the joints can barely hold the weight. This in particular affects the feet, which tend to bend upward under the pressure caused by the weight. I had to correct them a few times just for the photos. This isn’t helped by the legs being stiff as a brick and having no knee joints. Poseability is seriously limited here. Trust me, if there had been a way I’d certainly have tried for some more dynamic arrangements.
The legs are also identical, which is a recurring theme on this little guy – everything is way too symmetrical. Not only are the legs the same, but the main trunk also has a front-back mirror symmetry. This already bothered me massively during the build process, as due to their long, dense fur these creatures look pretty bulked up instead of the skinny thing you are building here. Point in case: Where the real animal goes thicker and wider, the model actually tapers and gets narrower to accommodate the convergence zones of the various joints.
The best part about this is the face, which is adorable. That’s probably also one of the reasons why they picked this creature as the go-to for the Turning Red movie which coincidentally just started streaming on Disney+ on this very day as I’m writing this. I can easily see why they would have opted for this.
Now for Creator 3in1 sets the way in which the pieces are (also) used on the secondary and tertiary models matters a lot and has a huge impact on buying decisions and unfortunately the Red Panda fares terribly here. There’s just so many leftover parts that are not being used anywhere, including many chunky ones like the joints/ hinges used for the tiger plus a considerable pile of the usual mass of smaller parts. That makes the economics pretty bad.
The third model the package allows you to create is a Koi. This is, however, the “fancy” version as you often can see it in paintings rather than a realistic carp. This mostly pertains to the more rounded front portion, which somehow seems to be a desirable result of breeding so it looks more like those Asian goldfish. That aesthetics debate aside the fish just is another nicely done model.
Similar to the Red Panda there’s another flower build here, this time more recognizably meant or be a water lily or lotus. It’s okay, but somehow one wonders why LEGO just didn’t commit and included a bunch of these wedge slopes in Dark Pink to make it even more clear. Otherwise it’s just as extraneous as the other sidebuilds and I gladly could have gone without it.
The build employs similar techniques and follows the same pattern as the tiger in that you build it up from multiple segments that are snapped together with the small ball joints. this allows for an efficient construction process without ever having to handle an unwieldy large solid block. The overall shaping is nice if you disregard that the belly is completely flat for a moment. If you were to perch it on a stand you might need to add some volume there as well with a few plates and inverted slopes.
The Koi is apparently meant to represent one of the tricolor variants, but if you have the pieces just downloading the instructions would allow you to build other versions as well. The beauty of the model is that it does not use any super advanced building techniques nor any rare or exotic parts and everything can be substituted easily. In fact many pieces could even be replaced on this already finished model without too much trouble.
One area that deserves a bit of attention is the head. By that I mean the two large round plates and the bits attached to them. They are affixed to 1 x 2 x 2 SNOT brick clamped between hinges and on their back they’re supposed to butt against two 1 x 1 x 1 bricks with a stud on the side to stay at an angle. This arrangement has some clearance and can wiggle around, which is something I’m not friends with.
Therefore I “enhanced” my version by adding some of the spare U-shaped tiles with the curved end pointing forward, so the hinges are always spread rather widely. However, and this is an important warning, this is an “illegal” technique by LEGO standards as the resulting angle is just ever so slightly too large and the round plates can only be mounted under tension and with slight gaps, putting stress on the elements. That should explain why it wasn’t designed that way out of the box. For me this is at best a limited concern since I already know that it won’t be long when I have to disassemble the model due to lack of space for keeping it around, but you should be aware of this and not use my hack or at least consider removing the tiles again after a while to avoid long-term damage.
There are slightly less leftover elements on this one, but the piles are still pretty massive. It’s on some level only a swap where pieces used in the Red Panda are not needed anymore, but some others take their place. This again doesn’t speak in favor of the set solely on the merits how efficiently the parts are used, but on the bright side if you really e.g. buy a second set for these models you’ll always get a good amount of universally usable extras for your own custom builds.
As you may have noticed already I really enjoyed this set and in my not so humble view thsi could easily be a contender for Model of the Year, other, even more impressive stuff coming out notwithstanding. It’s really amazing how much detail they were able to get out of this and in a “mundane” Creator 3in1 set at that. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps, but this is truly sublime.
Not everything is roses, though and once more we need to discuss why LEGO just can’t put in enough pieces in the box to build the two alternate models at the same time. Given how the parts usage overlaps it really is very frustrating that you potentially have to buy a third package only to end up with heaps and heaps of spare parts. The irony here is, that the answer is basically in front of our eyes – re-allocate the parts from the sidebuilds to this and you could almost do it.
In such a case I might not have been as pickish about the price or even paid 5 Euro extra. That’s also why I would subtract points and give this set a 8.5 or 9 out of 10 rather than a full perfect score. Had LEGO put a more thought into this aspect I wouldn’t have much to complain aside from the minor criticisms I pointed out. Even if you don’t like any of the actual creatures, this set is great fun building and it’s also somewhat educational, showing how great results can be achieved with conventional techniques applied smartly.