I always try to resist the temptation of squandering my money on these Disney sets, but alas, here we go again with another review of one of them, this time for the Raya and the Last Dragon movie. The specific set in question is the smallest one from the line-up, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184).
Important Note: Since I don’t have a Disney+ subscription I haven’t seen the full movie yet and all my info is based on the trailers, clips, reviews and synopses of the film. Hence I may not get a few details right or mix them up. So please be forgiving and feel free to add any corrections via the comments.
Contents and Pricing
As usual, the set is technically too pricey. I’ve said it before and I make no bones about it here, either. With only 216 pieces, a regular 30 Euro price simply doesn’t make that much of an impression. The only consolation here is that the set uses a lot of large elements, resulting in the finished model(s) having some noticeable size and volume. At least on that level you could therefore get a certain satisfaction out of it and feel like things are acceptable. Of course I still didn’t pay the full price and relied on the usual discounts, regardless. At around 22 Euro things are simply more tenable. there’s likely some more room toward the 20 Euro mark, but I would not expect things to go much lower other than on clearance next year or so.
There’s only one figure in this set, a minidoll of Raya herself. While that’s okay in terms of the story, it feels a bit too sparse, contributing to the not so great price-to-content ratio. The specific point here is, that in a set dedicated to Sisu I would have expected that at least they would also include her in her human disguise. That appears to be one of the funnier moments in the movie and it would have made for a wonderful over-the-top colorful figure. It’s really regrettable that this opportunity was missed.
The Raya figure is done well enough, but ultimately nothing special. If it weren’t for the Jade sword and the printed tile with the map showing Sisu in her “sleeping” form as a river, there really wouldn’t be anything special here. Another miss is the new wicker hat. Don’t get me wrong – I love the design – it’s just too bad it’s integrally molded with the hair, thus preventing it from being used elsewhere. It would have nicely complemented the versions known from Ninjago. Maybe we will get a separate variant one day?
The first model is a small section of the waterfall and the hidden shrine/ cave behind where Sisu and Raya first meet, if I’m correct. This is pretty much a no-frills affair using the most basic techniques you could imagine. As such it is serviceable, but not much more than that. An unwanted side effect of the oversimplification is that the model is actually kind of difficult to build. With the tall bricks and golden pillars you just don’t have too many stable connection points when adding the arches on the top and it’s easy to push them away when using too much force.
I also would have hoped they’d at least try and include a bit of the rock/ cave somewhere to make the model look a bit more interesting. The area behind the water curtain appears very bland and empty and at least a narrow plate to extend the surface “inwards” would have been a nice touch. On that note, the transparent piece for the water sometimes gets stuck a bit, again owing to the basic construction not being able to ensure consistent tolerances and not being stiff enough to avoid those tiny variations in gap widths and angles.
The Temple Entrance
The second model is a section of the temple, more specifically one of its entrances. This is again built with many large pieces and simplified considerably to the point of not even making an effort at e.g. covering up the angled plates. It’s really just purely functional, though with limited success. I found the connection far too unreliable as the large panels with the small arched windows used on the sides simply don’t exert enough clutch power. It’s really easy to break off the plates at the bottom. It really wouldn’t have hurt if this had been shimmed over with additional plates or at least there were some extra curved slopes to clamp in the V-shaped elements.
As usual I did not use the stickers, so the walls look plain white an uninteresting. If I did things might look a bit more interesting. I still can’t wrap my head around this, though. On one hand LEGO seem to go out of their way to dumb down the building process for young kids while at the same time they expect those same children to accurately place large decals. Just doesn’t make any sense.
The back side, or more accurately the inner courtyard side, is equally barren not just because the absence of stickers, but also not having that many details. You know, it just would have been nice if there was more to do and play with. There is provision to connect this smaller section to the big Raya and the Heart Palace (43181) with the blue ratcheted hinge piece at the end of the walkway. The big set has a matching element hidden underneath its central round floor disc. You can easily verify this by studying the PDF instructions. Just hope your kids don’t find out or thy’ll keep bugging you about buying the expensive package to complete their model…
The only real play feature here is the hidden box with one of the gem stones in it, but even that feels half-hearted and doesn’t offer much in the way of playful interaction. they could at least have come up with some decorations for the hinge plate…
At the heart of the set is naturally Sisu herself which sadly also turns out to be the biggest disappointment. Where to even begin? There’s just so much wrong. First off let me preface this by saying that I’m fully aware that it may be extremely difficult to re-create a creature that is basically a flow-y, water creature with glowing skin in a medium such as LEGO bricks. inevitably there have to be some compromises and actually making good use of the 2 x 2 curved tube piece, new here in Medium Azure, isn’t the worst idea. The problem is how and where it is used.
For starters, there could be more segments and the body be much longer. Nothing too excessive, but inserting an additional three or four such segments would have gone a long way. Yes, even if you merely watch the trailer you can see that Sisu is indeed that slinky and has a very elongated body almost like a snake.
Now of course this brings up the second problem: The whole trunk is effectively completely rigid due to how the tubes are connected directly. This more or less limits any poseability to the default, baked-in stance, an issue further exacerbated by the tip and the feathers/ water plumes attached to it also having a fixed curvature. Without some manual intervention to actually re-plug pieces, the sway to the left cannot easily be changed. Well, at least not without things looking wrong.
All that said, the apparent question hitting everyone is “Why aren’t there any intermediate segments or joints?”. I do get that it may have cost some extra effort to produce a few existing pieces specifically in this color for that purpose, but would it really have been that much to ask? Somehow one can’t help but feel that no consideration was even given to this and the whole budget burnt on the custom head.
This also extends to the legs, which ended up being the most basic build imaginable. They really only contain the bare minimum of pieces required to hold everything together, aided by the introduction of the new curved slope that allows them to use even less elements than might have been necessary before.
Point in case: The legs are so flimsy, barely hanging by the tiny ball joints that is indeed somewhat tricky to even get them aligned and touching the ground at the same time. The toes/ paws are downright pathetic – a simple 1 x 2 plate with a hinge clip and a 1 x 1 rounded slope on top of it. They couldn’t have been any lazier with this! Again, this is clearly a zero effort thing.
What really broke me is the ugly head. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. The horn is way oversized and the hair feels more like a thick helmet. Whoever was responsible for sculpting this apparently did not understand that in order to get across the wispy feel of the fur in the movie you would have to reduce it, possibly even separating it into individual strands or breaking it up into multiple pieces that could be attached separately along the neck. As it is, this is more the stuff of nightmares than the funny, quirky face of a slightly annoying magical creature unaware of its own powers. It’s just upsetting that an expensive, triple-molded piece was ruined by utter ineptitude and bears no resemblance to the real thing.
One thing the set has going for it is the considerable number of unique parts. Some of them are genuinely fresh, others are recolors and revised versions of parts that have existed for a while. In the color shifting category there are a few Bright Light Yellow elements that to some of you may be familiar already from the Fiat 500 (10271).
Not quite unexpected, as you often can see these color waves ripple through the different series, meaning LEGO produces millions of millions of those elements for their stockpile and then uses them in as many sets as possible as a way of streamlining their processes. Yes, annoyingly this also means you get the “color vomit” hidden inside some models just because they use up their leftovers.
The hinge plate in Blue and the inverted slope in Light Aqua haven’t been around for a few years, so it’s nice to see them become available again, too.
In the genuinely new department in addition to the already mentioned 2 x 2 tubes and “shoe” curved slope is the new 2 x 2 tapered and curved tree trunk/ creature tail element as well. This has also been sighted in screenshots of the Vidiyo app and with LEGO‘s recent obsession about selling artificial bonsai trees and similar I’m pretty certain we will see it in more colors soon-ish.
The same goes for the 4 x 4 inverted dish, which in my opinion should actually be sorted as a round “pancake” brick, given that it has fully formed anti-studs on the underside and can be used for regular builds without resorting to pins and axles. This item, too, is prominently used in the Vidiyo BeatBox sets to represent the headphones/ ear muffs and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of it being used elsewhere, too.
The final minor addition is at long last a 1 x 1 brick with an axle hole, matching its brother with the pin hole. I don’t expect it to do anything revolutionary, as it still needs to be clamped in with other bricks to actually be useful, but it may occasionally come in handy when you don’t have enough room to use the conventional 1 x 2 brick of same ilk.
While I have bashed it for being used in the most terrible way just as an excuse in this set, the new part 70681 is actually something to welcome and applaud. It closes a noticeable gap in the line-up of the different N x 2 x 2/3rds curved slopes that have been around forever by matching the inverse curvature. This allows several new creative ways to enclose those other slopes and can be used to design patterns just as it can be used as a new method of fixating some items without actually connecting them. Furthermore, since the slope also has a one stud inset/ undercut at its base, it can also double as an alternative way to get stuff locked in place with the added benefit of then still propagating the stud it covers up to its top and freeing it up for use. I bet it won’t be long because we are seeing it used everywhere.
Unfortunately this set does not deliver the goods. It’s one of those “You had one thing to do…” situations and in messing up the most important aspect, Sisu, the LEGO people pretty much ruin it for everyone. It is clear that all of this was likely a rush job (and from the looks of it so are the other sets in the series) that was caught up in the chaos of the delayed release due to the Corona pandemic. Nobody is faulting the designers for working off (possibly unfinished) concept art and not getting some things right, but they could at least have made an effort to make a “nice” dragon within the LEGO realm and bring it up to an acceptable level.
Now of course the detractors might argue “But it’s for kids!” which is a fair point and sure enough many of them won’t mind the shortcomings, but a short search on the web suggests that there are simply better toy tie-ins for the movie, including much better Sisu figures that actually look the part. One really has to wonder what went wrong here and it comes across as a non-effort on LEGO‘s part just as it makes you question the sanity of whoever signed off on this at Disney‘s licensing department.
Unless your kid insists it needs to expand its collection of brick-built dragons this is one of those moments where you are really being served better by other vendors. This set has not much to offer in play value and it looks at best mediocre. If you don’t have a taste for nerding out about specific pieces like I do, there is really no good reason to buy this even as an adult. It does not even come close to even the lamest Ninjago dragon and that in and of itself means a lot. Or to put it directly: If you’re looking for a dragon, you are being served better elsewhere.