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…

Cube-ism – LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662 through 41666)

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.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

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.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

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. 😉

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Interior

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Builds

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.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Interior

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Builds

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.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Interior

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Builds

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.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Interior

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Builds

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).

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), New Bracket

Concluding Thoughts

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.