Explorer-ing… Dragons – LEGO Explorer Magazine, September 2022

There’s certainly no shortage of mythical creatures in the LEGO world, be that the good old Elves dragons, Ninjago dragons, Wizarding World creatures (Harry Potter et al)or even more generic variations on the theme in Creator 3in1 sets. Heck, they even opened up a new Mythica section in Legoland Windsor and the German Legoland is going to get one next year. They even have a dedicated promotional set for it with a winged lion (set 40556; if anyone knows a good way of getting one cheap hit me up). In light of this over-abundance of potential material, the latest edition of the LEGO Explorer magazine was an inevitability. In fact they could probably do another five issues to cover all of their own dragons alone. For now let’s see what we have here.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, September 2022, Cover

As usual we get a short editorial/ a few info pages roughly covering the most common mythical creatures. Well, at least the ones we all know rather superficially from them being talked about in documentaries on TV and in a very limited, uneducated typical European/ US American way. The old Babylonians would be upset about not even being mentioned and so would no doubt some South American, Asian and other cultures. At best it’s a course starter for kids, but not a complete meal by any stretch of the imagination.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, September 2022, Info Page

The comic follows suit and while I’m not getting much out of it, the depiction of “monster” minifigures, be that just the “guy in costume” variety almost makes me regret I started so late in LEGO and never collected minifigs. It’s really that you kind of develop a taste for it (at least the more interesting specimen from each series/ set) the more you’re exposed to it. I got the Centaur from the Collectible Minifigures Series 21 as a free gift when I bought something in the LEGO store last year, though. Go, figure! ­čśë

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, September 2022, Comic

As mentioned earlier, the poster could be filled with Ninjago dragons alone and that would in fact be true for every year even. I think in 2018 or so there were at one point nine dragons/ dragon-like creatures from two overlapping release cycles and if you count all the Elves dragons they, too would cover the entirety of this poster. Sneaking in the Komodo Dragon is an epic fail, though. The English name for this creature means nothing to Germans, where its correctly called a Waran (Varanus) based on its actual genus.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, September 2022, Poster

The extra unmistakably is modeled after the classic green LEGO dragon, variations of which are still prominently used in the promotional materials for the Legoland parks. The small model is done nicely enough, but does not offer any fancy building techniques and the only “special” parts are the pointed Red wedge plates used for the wings. In fact they make it look like a baby dragon whose wings haven’t fully unfolded yet.

The LEGO Explorer magazine really gives me an itch in places I cannot talk about. I always see the potential of what it could be, but most of the time we get those watered down articles that even as a kid would have bored me. You know, this could be a really fun STEM mag with a LEGO twist, but somehow it ends up being just another weird low brow effort. Well, at least the extras are good and for that I can recommend this issue. If nothing else, the little green dragon will give you ten minutes of good fun.

Bird of Flames – LEGO Harry Potter, Fawkes, Dumbledore’s Phoenix (76394)

As you well know from past articles, I’m anything but a Harry Potter buff nor am I particularly attracted to the respective LEGO sets around the theme. However, every now and then a set comes along that piques my interest and last year’s Buildable Hedwig (75979) certainly was a fascinating offering. i at least enjoyed it ojn several levels and thus it was almost inevitable that I would also get Fawkes, Dumbledore’s Phoenix (76394)

LEGO Harry Potter, Fawkes, Dumbledore's Phoenix (76394), Box

Hedwig in Red?

One thing we need to get out of the way right out of the gate is the all too striking similarity between the two birds. Yes, for all intents and purposes this Phoenix is on some level a rehash of the owl. Major sub-assemblies like the wings are nearly identical in terms of building techniques and layout of the decorations, just in a different color. This even extends to the innards. I had several d├Ęja-vus even just vaguely remembering how I put things together last year and seeing the techniques repeated here.

This is not necessarily a bad thing – Why change something that just works? – and helps building to speed along more quickly, but limits the originality. It really comes down to around fifty percent of the model being identical. So if you are looking for variety in your LEGO diet this is not going to be the most fascinating build, especially if you have built Hedwig rather recently.

Contents and Pricing

Being so akin to the white bird, this red one matches the other properties of that set as well, more or less. The previous model had 630 pieces, this one has 597 and both retail for 40 Euro officially. One major disadvantage with this offering is that it is only available from LEGO directly and a few select retailers. This makes it harder to find in the first place and of course inevitably scarce whereas at the height of its release you could find Hedwig for decent discounts. Only now that the latter has been EOL‘d (end of life) and suppliers run out of stock prices have risen again.

I got lucky in one of the many promotions in recent time (I believe before or after Singles Day, if I remember correctly) and got at least 20 percent off, bringing the cost down to 32 Euro. If it wasn’t for that, I might simply have skipped over this set entirely, though. I wanted it, but not that desperately, if you get my drift. After all, it’s still a lot of mostly small pieces and only a handful of extras adding some more value.

LEGO Harry Potter, Fawkes, Dumbledore's Phoenix (76394), Overview

Minifigure and Bird

As per the last time, this set also only comes with one minifigure and a matching bird. Where once there were Hedwig and Harry, now we have Fawkes and Dumbledore. There’s not really a shortage of the old man with the white beard as he has appeared in many sets, but somehow they still find new variations for him and this figure featuring another print of his ornate gowns is exclusive to this set. His companion bird has been featured only in the Collectible Minifigures series so far, so it’s nice to have one this way. The print quality of the Yellow areas is terrible, though, as you can see. This to me is only tolerable because Orange looks just as good and I don’t care much, but if you really want to collect this you may want to request a replacement from LEGO customer service.

LEGO Harry Potter, Fawkes, Dumbledore's Phoenix (76394), Minifigure

The Model

With this set sharing so many commonalities with Hedwig, of course the model suffers from a few shortcomings and incidentally I find that the overall pose is one of them. As already mentioned I get why they stuck with their guns and just re-used what worked before, but in my opinion it’s not the best option to capture the overall feel and appearance of Fawkes. This is mostly owing to the fact that in the movies he sits upright almost all the time, which makes him look much more imposing. That’s why once more this is a situation where I would have preferred a static, yet more detailed “sculpture” rather than a functional model.

The wings are not only technically the same as on the owl, but also pretty much identical in terms of how the color patterns have been created. However, in my view this doesn’t work as well here since the Red just overpowers everything, ultimately leaving very little discernible texture. I feel that it should be more varied and for instance include much more Yellow/ Gold accents. That would have to be one more criticism as clearly in the movies the Phoenix doesn’t look nearly as doused in Red as here. The colors are much more muted and more of the yellow plumage exposed.

The back and tail use a somewhat different methodology compared to Hedwig to make everything look less voluminous and much sharper and aggressive. That’s okay, but I’m wondering whether they ever considered using these large Ninjago sword blades. this might have looked even better, as judging from available imagery the tail is very dense, but the feathers themselves are more like worn down pheasant feathers. There’s certainly room here for experimentation if one decides to change/ improve this area and lucky enough the blades are available in the necessary colors.

The stand follows the same formula and is basically a repeat of the one found on the owl, with slight modifications of course. The most notable are the golden round pieces, an element only introduced earlier this year for the big Porsche 911 (10295) in White. At its core the build is pretty much the same, though, only that a few cornered pieces have been replaced with rounded ones and the coverings of the underlying suprastructure are different. Again more “I’ve done this before!” dej├á-vus.

Unlike the owl this bird also has reasonably anatomically correct legs protruding from the rear of the body where the pelvis would be. If you care to remember, on Hedwig those were more or less just stubby mouse arms coming out of the upper chest. This necessitated the introduction of a perch for the bird to sit on, but effectively it looks like it’s only a heartbeat away from taking off. Important note: Spend some time aligning the feet properly! The horns used for their claws don’t fit that tightly and will turn into odd positions easily, ruining the illusion.


Concluding Thoughts

While I’m not massively disappointed, I’m also not that terribly excited about this model due to its factory line approach of recycling so many things from its progenitor, understandable as it may be. It’s okay for what it is, but I have this nagging feeling that it’s simply the wrong format for this particular creature. maybe it would have been served better in a bigger set with more pieces around the 70 to 80 Euro mark. Naturally this won’t deter real fans and given how hard this is to come by LEGO will have no problem selling this, but if there are ever other such birds maybe they should come up with a different design.

Textbook Knowledge? – LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384)

As you well know from past articles, I’m anything but a Harry Potter buff, but no matter how you spin it, some of the LEGO sets around the theme are excellent. That’s why I got giddy when I heard about some “classroom” sets last year. My enthusiasm got dampened a bit when I found out that they would be books with foldout assets, but ultimately I still couldn’t resist the temptation and had to at least check them out. So let’s have a look at the Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384).

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Box

Contents and Pricing

These sets, of which there are currently four with some more pretty clearly on the horizon for later this year, come at a whopping suggested price of 30 Euro. That’s quite a lot for around 250 pieces, many of which are small. Some of the sets have a few parts more, others a few less with the Herbology Class one having 233 officially. As usual you have to rely on the retailers to fix that for you and bring the price down to a more acceptable 20 Euro thereabouts. However, the sets are in constant high demand, so if you really want them and have limited alternatives you may need to swallow the bitter pill and get them for a higher price. This likely won’t change for a while, at least as long as the pandemic out there is affecting supplies.

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Overview

Each set comes with three minifigures and the buildable elements for the insides of the book. As you can see in the photo, this also gives away how small the final result turns out. Yes, it’s no bigger than the Disney Storybooks! This is quite a contrast to the box itself, which is almost about four times as large and thus really is a bit misleading even if you allow for the usual “The pieces need room to not scratch so much.” and marketing considerations. I think I haven’t seen that big a mismatch between the packaging and the actual product in a while and from my own experience they could definitely have used a smaller box without sacrificing anything in terms of presentation and safety of the contents.

Minifigures

For this set the minifigures included are Professor Sprout, Cedric Diggory and Neville Longbottom. They are all exclusive to these sets in terms of their outfits and appearance, but of course the characters as such have been available in different shape and form in some other sets. Whether you have to have these then is therefore pretty much a matter of your own collector’s ambition mostly. Personally I quite like these and in particular the headphone/ earmuff piece might also be interesting for spicing up some other figures. The prints for the clothes are also nice and not too specific, so this opens up space for a few combinations.

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Minifigures

Exterior Appearance

As I wrote above already, the actual book turns out kind of small-ish. Definitely way smaller than I had expected. That is, given that is a different system from the Disney books. That is even sort of funny, as initially indeed I was expecting they would simply re-use the molds and just do different colors, which would have been fine, after all. So I have somewhat ambiguous and inconsistent feelings about the whole matter – it’s interesting that they introduced a different way of building this stuff, but at the same time it feels like a wasted opportunity because the outcome is pretty much the same, regardless.

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Closed, Front Right View  LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Closed, Front Left View

I forgot to do a comparative shot, but that would illustrate my concerns even better. The specific point here is that the book once assembled is exactly the same 10 studs wide, 16 studs tall and 4 studs deep as the others. For all intents and purposes, it feels therefore pretty much redundant to even bother coming up with yet another new way to build them. I would have expected it to be at least a tiny bit bigger like 14 studs wide, 20 studs tall and 6 studs thick, which also would have beneficial overall (more on that later).

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Closed, Left View  LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Closed, Back View

The front and back lid are made from large solid modified plates with integrated hinge bars. the front one is also printed with the Hogwarts crest and some additional decorations in Gold and Black. The odd construct with the rounded 1 x 2 plate and the stud elements poking out didn’t make a lot of sense to me for a long time until I realized that most likely they are simply meant as spacers to connect multiple books and move them as a block, should you so desire. If you don’t, it would of course easy to just leave them off.

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Open, Back View

The spine is built from four 4 x 4 plates with hinge clips that are held together by a long plate in the middle. As you can see, they are in Dark Bluish Grey and produce an irregular pattern, so if you look too long at the whole thing you can’t quite unsee them and it begins to bother you. Not the end of the world and I understand that it would have further added to the manufacturing cost to also produce them in dark Tan, but it would just have been nicer.

That also goes for the “metal” fittings. Would it really have been too much to produce them in Pearl Gold or Metallic Gold even? I’m again torn on this, as I know the cost it would incur plus in addition it still would need to look consistent across all books, but the Bright Light Orange is definitely a bit too much for my taste. It might even have been an option to use colors like Dark Red, Dark Blue, Dark Green and a few others here, so it’s hard to defend the way it looks.

The Insides

The interior of the set holds the “meat” of the set by which I mean a number of smaller ancillary builds and the folded up main section.In its packed state everything fits nice and tight, forming a solid block that gives away its secrets only by the many different colors. in fact that’s one of those things where I wish they had added some big cover plates or tiles to the open side of the “book” to cover things up and further the illusion.

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Contents Packed

You can easily take out the small veggie bed and water faucet pieces, while the cabinet and table can be opened and swiveled down, respectively. In their closed/ up position these elements can even be used to hold the book and magic wands, though the gap is still a bit large and sometimes they fall out, regardless.

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Contents Unpacked

The central set piece attached to the spine section is a glass house front. Not a modern one with lightweight aluminium frames and special glass, but rather a good old-fashioned one made from (used) windows and doors. I quite vividly remember such builds from my childhood. Things were quite different then, even more so here in the former Eastern block regions, where people had to use whatever they could get their hands on from dilapidated, abandoned buildings or green houses were simply already quite old and had existed for a long time. None of them had Mahagoni frames like the Dark Brown color in the set seems to imply, though. ­čśë

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Glass Front, Rear View

The layout of the frames is done in a nice alternating/ overlapping pattern with the random other bits actually being a quite fitting and welcome disturbance. This further supports the idea of how you likely would build it if it were real – differently sized windows fitted together as best as possible with a light wooden support frame and the remaining empty areas filled up with all sorts of wood pieces and other leftovers. The whole thing looks so appealing to me, I’m almost tempted to get more of these pieces and build the entire glass house in this style.

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Glass Front, Front View

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Glass Front, Water TapThe water tap is the most simple affair you can think off with the mini fences on a 4 x 8 plate and then only a handful of tiles and bricks used. It’s perfectly serviceable and the Dark Bluish Grey are kind of valuable, given that they are much scarcer than the Black or Pearl Gold ones.

 

 

 

LEGO Harry Potter, Hogwarts Moment: Herbology Class (76384), Plant BedThe bed for the vegetables is a bit more elaborate in that it uses an upside-down construction techniques to attach the flower pots while at the top it has the new 2 x 4 plate modified with the jumper studs. they technically don’t serve any specific purpose, but of course can be used to attach your minifigures and other stuff for transport.

 

A shallow Affair

As I wrote earlier, one of the things I would have loved to see is if the set just was larger. As the images show, the visual appearance loses quite a bit if you don’t use stickers just as I do. However, for me this extends even further as there is basically no real structure on the large lid plates left at all. This could have been easily fixed if there was just that extra layer of bricks. Point in case: If there were more space, you could have built in more details like actual plants and vines crawling along the recessed areas, arched shelves or even something like a hanger with differently colored earmuffs on it. Combined with more vertical room and width this would have allowed the window front to be slightly wider and taller as well and then perhaps the 30 Euro price point might even have been perfectly justifiable.


Concluding Thoughts

Overall I’m not mad at this set, but I would still not recommend it without reservations, mostly for the terrible value-for-price ratio. If you buy all four books, even with discounts, you have spent just as much money as you would on buying the Hogwarts Astronomy Tower (75969) or the Attack on the Burrow (75980) and those sets have much more bulk to them. So outside satisfying your curiosity these sets are mostly only interesting for Harry Potter die-hards or as that single box you buy as a birthday gift for your child.

There is, however, one caveat here that may ultimately lure me into buying one or two more of these books just as well: Out of necessity – because on a one-layer thick wall you can’t hide anything on the backside – all elements have to be in “nice” colors that fit in with the rest and for that reason there are several parts in unique colors that either have never been done before or at least not in a while. In this Herbology Class set those would for instance be the Medium Nougat inverted tiles on the vegetable bed, in the Transfiguration Class (76382) there are hinge bricks in Tan.

Those are all items that will be highly coveted by people doing MOCs of houses or just ones seeking to replace less than ideally colored versions of these pieces in other sets. One could say that LEGO got us and got us good, but you’ll likely be caught between flood and fire on that one, as prices on Bricklink and similar sites will reflect this and the elements be expensive. Just buying those sets, no matter how reluctantly, may still be worthwhile…

Flappy Bird – LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979)

As I’ve pointed out occasionally, one of my weirder LEGO obsessions or sub-genre collecting ambitions is to scrap as many animals as I possibly can together on a budget. Not all of them necessarily, with one obvious reason being the cost for mammoths, dinosaurs and some others and their rarity, another being that sometimes they simply not look good, but still, I have this dream…

In doing so I also try to be complete for at least some species and one of those are owls. This also means that occasionally I’ll stumble upon sets that I may just buy for the critters, but that thematically are still related, even if only tangentially at times, and the LEGO Harry Potter Buildable Hedwig (75979). Phew, what a long segway! So let’s have a look at this set, but before we do, a few thoughts on another matter or a bit of a rant, if you will.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Box

Harry Potter gets Owls wrong…

…as in completely wrong. It has always irked me massively that in the movies they are depicted as servile pets while outside those few specimen specifically trained by their handlers the reality is quite different. Okay, there are a number of docile small owl species that indeed are adorable when they dorkily move around and look like they need extra special care and attention to even survive, but for most other types of owls that isn’t true, in particular for the medium to large size ones relevant here.

Most of them are fierce and sometimes rather nasty predators that wouldn’t flinch at pecking your eyes out in defense of their young just like they are not necessarily friendly with each other when fighting over food or on a more general level even. Most are just loners going about their business on their own except when it’s mating season. The proof is in the pudding, as they say: Only last year I saw a bunch of Snow Owl adolescents fighting over food with their mother sitting nearby and guarding them and you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of that group. Oh, did I mention that those owls are much larger than they appear in films and on TV?

So for what it’s worth, as appealing as it may appear, given the mystique and mystery that surrounds owls, the notion of them being mail carriers of some secret underground postal service and Hogwarts students’ best friends is kind of far-fetched and ridiculous and sadly has led to a lot of misunderstandings and mistreatment even of real birds because inevitably too many people wanted one after reading the books or watching the movies. I therefore can only urge to leave those creatures in peace, even if you encounter their tamed versions in a wildlife park or zoo. They deserve to be treated with respect and not as a movie prop come to life!

Big and Small

The contents of the set are pretty straightforward – aside from the main build for the big bird there’s only one minifigure and in addition the small version of the owl, a new mold with spread wings for 2020 where older versions only had their wings folded and were perched in a resting position.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Overview

As someone who these days doesn’t care much about all that Harry Potter stuff anymore I won’t even attempt to pin down the exact canonical use of the Harry figure, though I believe it could be The Prisoner of Azkhaban ‘s winter-y setting, given that he apparently wears blue gloves and a scarf. Beyond that there isn’t really much to say except that it’s a good thing that someone had the idea of allowing everything to be integrated in the stand, so you don’t have items floating about separately and getting lost.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Minifigure

Is it a plane? Is it a bird? Is it Superman? It’s an owl!

Of course the most pressing question with this set is whether the designers were able to capture the shape and appearance of Hedwig appropriately. This is a bit of a two-fold issue to me. Did they manage to replicate a believable owl in the general sense? Absolutely yes! Did they manage to re-create a snow owl in particular? Totally not! To me this very much looks like a Small Owl or Kauz, as we call it in German. In fact if you took this at face value it would even match the actual size of these little critters, as most of them barely are taller than 20 to 25 cm.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Left View

The mismatch in proportions becomes very noticeable when viewed from other angles with the thing that stands out most being the lack of volume/ bulk in the main body, the shortness of same and also the wingspan not feeling right. In simple terms, everything feels just too small relative to the head size and the big eyes.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Aft Left View

The color scheme is built around an almost full winter plumage, meaning it’s nearly completely white with only a bunch of darker feather tips sticking out. Again, this is sort of the idealized “pure” Hollywood version, with most real examples showing a broader variety, including some of them looking very checkered with lots of gray feathers even after their seasonal changes. It’s perfectly fine for a movie-based character, after all, though. From a technical point it also allows them to keep things relatively simple with larger elements used in many places instead of having to add yet another ton more of those 1 x 1 quarter tiles in different shades of grey.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Right View

Speaking of which – don’t be under any illusion that despite the moderate size this would be a quick build. There’s lots of small elements being used here which can get finicky. they all need to be aligned properly to look the part and on top of that even some of the larger sub-assemblies have to be carefully put together and put into their final location to not block other elements as well as looking good. This can get quite a bit frustrating as for instance the tail feather parts attached to hinges tend to mess up at the slightest touch and you have to spend some time fanning them out correctly. The same applies to the wing tips, which depending on the actual pose you decide on may need to be tweaked to look accurate.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Right Top View

One thing you have to be clear about right from the outset is the fact that this model only really looks good from the top or for that matter any angle that does not allow you to see the undersides and the parts of the mechanism. This isn’t so much a criticism, as the designers really tried to keep these things sleek and to a minimum, but rather some preemptive advise. This may not look good on the highest shelf and instead should be placed at eye level or lower angles.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Right Bottom View

The mechanism is very well designed and I was actually quite impressed what kind of natural movement and wing positions it produces. This really cannot be stressed enough, as of course they simply could have settled for basic hinges and ball joints that have to be posed manually of even designed this in a fixed pose.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Top View

The wing positions basically go from a gliding position with the wind also bending the wings slightly to a prowling position shortly before landing or grabbing the prey during the hunt. Other positions are certainly possible, but, and that’s a bit of a shortcoming here, may require to actively block the mechanism somehow or completely change it.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front View, Wings Raised

The point here is that, while the gear works well, given how small the overall construction is, it has a very noticeable cusp/ climax point at which the torque gets so much, you can feel the resistance before it tips over to relax. Again, this is simply owing to the smallness of the mechanics, not an intentional flaw. Getting smoother movement would have required to use larger gears and more intermediate steps to even out the forces.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front View, Wings Drooped

Cranky Pedestal

The crank for the gear train is attached to the pedestal/ stand, which is built as the first item separately from the owl itself. Building the stand is just fine, but connecting it to the bird’s torso turned out to be a bit frustrating even for me. This isn’t even to blame on the Technic axle on the drive shaft, but in fact on the basic plates with which you join the top to the bottom and the brackets used to secure things into place with tiles shimmed over later. If things are misaligned even by a tiny amount, things just won’t snap together as intended and you have to try over and over again. It also doesn’t help that the instructions have an error that displays exactly this step wrongly.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Crank Gear, Left View

The stand is an okay affair and the way they construct the angled part is certainly interesting, but otherwise not much to write home about. It’s also once more utterly unfathomable why they didn’t include a single printed piece, not even for Hedwig‘s name plaque. Given, that this clearly is more are collector’s model than an actual play item this should not have been an issue at all

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Stand, Right View.


Concluding Thoughts

This set should appeal to many users – Harry Potter fans and owl lovers alike – but is not without its flaws. Most notably, and sorry for beating this to death, it’s “just some type of owl” and far removed from a reasonable rendition of the real Hedwig. You have to be aware of that just like the slightly tedious build process. I wanted to sit down for a relaxing, simple evening build and then reached a point where it ultimately took way longer than expected and I got very tired.

The price should not be much of a concern, as it starts out very reasonably at 40 Euro and you can pretty much get this set everywhere with at least 10 Euro off. Once you figure that in, all you can say that for those 30 Euro it’s pretty good in it’s own right, no matter what else. So if you haven’t made up your mind already, you can’t really go wrong with this set. The result is rewarding enough, the build is a manageable and it doesn’t cost too much if you just looking for something to kill a bit of time during this pandemic…

Color of the (K)Night – The Knight Bus (75957)

Don’t you love it when just hearing about a specific set gives you crazy ideas? Sure enough that’s the case for The Knight Bus (75957) from the LEGO Harry Potter series. Well, for me at least, anyway. So what could it be?

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Box

Contrary to what my recent frequent excursions in Harry Potter territory may suggest, I still don’t care much for the series and its lore as much. I just happen to like some of the models. That’s why The Knight Bus couldn’t be further from my mind, but then LEGO actually made it valuable by including the new 3 x 3 windows and in Dark Purple, no less. Seeing as I’m also quite into LEGO Friends and already had a bunch of of windows in different sizes and flamboyant colors, the more I thought about it the more it made sense that this might make for an interesting use in a building one of these days.

After that it merely became a matter of math and waiting for a good price. There’s 34 of those windows in the set and while I might never need all of them, I quickly figured out that buying this set as a whole would not be more expensive then ordering a bunch of the pieces individually from Bricklink and I’d get a few more parts on top. Of course this is entirely subjective and depends on how you might potentially re-use those items plus the price. For 26 Euro this was pretty much a no-brainer for me, but at the original MSRP of 40 Euro I’d think twice about it.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Overview

With the bulk of the contents being dedicated to the bus itself and of that a major fraction constituting the windows, there’s little else going on in the set. There’s inevitably yet another Harry figure, of course the conductor and the driver, an elderly chap. The latter to me is perhaps the most valuable, as its generic nature makes it perfect for using it in a Modular Building or City scenario as well. Interestingly enough that could also apply to the overall construction, as cunningly this is a 6 wide model that would fit on standard LEGO roads.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Front Left View

On the other hand the narrowness is perhaps also one of my main criticisms. I looked up pictures of the real thing and man, is it bulky and bullish even. Compared to that the model looks very lanky and excessively tall. That is to say the proportions are not captured that perfectly from that standpoint. Trimming off one level would still make for a dainty little double-decker bus in a small town in the 1950s or so, though.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Aft Left View

Aside from the novelty of the 3 x 3 window elements the construction is rather straightforward and does not provide any challenges nor shows off any cool advanced techniques. It literally is just like you and your kids would build it – a row of bricks as the basis and then a row of windows on top, secured with a bunch of other elements like strip-shaped plates.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Front Right View

I’m not particularly friends with the way the topmost front windows have been constructed This is one of the few places in the set where for once I think that using the more conventional existing wind shield elements would have done just fine, ideally of course with the frames already printed on. It seems odd that they were so fussy here with a hinge-based construction when likely nobody really would have complained about the simpler and still better-looking method.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Front View

A little bit of finesse has however still been added with the large opening side wall. This provides generous access to the interior. Not that it’s that essential. Unfortunately due to the scale chosen the play value remains very limited. The “rolling palace” feel found in the movie is barely present and even if the model were bigger, you wouldn’t really be able to enliven it that much with only three minifigures.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Right Side Open

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Right Side Open

Interestingly, a lot of emphasis has been put on modularity and openness, which to me seems a bit silly and unnecessary, given the limitations. I could have done without a removable bed in favor of a more detailed internal space. Even the reverse could be argued – the bus being kind of a camper van to just stow things away and then you pull out one piece of furniture or utilities like from a bottomless chest to decorate your scene. It feels neither here nor there and is overall unsatisfying.

 

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Top View with Roof removed

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Upper Level separated

All things considered, this is an okay model, but if it wasn’t for my super-secret plan regarding the use of the windows in a future project, I would have completely ignored it. The funny thing is that LEGO could bring out a two-level variant of this in another color and it would probably sell reasonably well, but as its stands, the Dark Purple otherwise is difficult to get accustomed and will limit the attractiveness for certain crowds.

I’d also guess that for Harry Potter fans this is equally not on top of many people’s lists as it doesn’t offer much play value nor a load of figures. That and of course again its color may just look odd on a shelf or in a showcase. In the end it’s an acquired taste in many ways and once the gags from the movie are stripped away there’s not much remaining other than a barren bus that could mean nothing to you if you haven’t seen the film…

Pony Carriage? – Beauxbatons’ Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958)

As someone not particularly into Harry Potter it surprises even myself how many of the respective LEGO sets I have bought lately, so here we go again with another one that ties right into The Goblet of Fire and the Trimagic Tournament. Specifically it’s themed around those short few moments when the contestants from other schools arrive, so we get Beauxbatons’ Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958) to represent the eponymous French school of magic and sorcery.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Box

As a non-fan I don’t put too much emphasis on all the details and my buying decision is merely driven by whether I like the overall appearance of a model and/ or how I may re-use the parts later. In those regards the set ticks a few points on the list with lots of pieces in useful colors and the overall design of the carriage being a nice generic baroque-ish coach.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Overview

The most noteworthy part about the figures is perhaps Hagrid which is not contained in too many sets. Of course there’s also Madame Maxime and two of her students, though the latter is a bit like that old Stormtrooper problem in Star Wars – you never have enough of them and some versions of them are extremely rare. In order to re-create the actual scene from the movie you’d need a lot more Beauxbatons.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Figures

Before we move on, let me get the most disappointing thing about this set out of the way – the horses. For the life of it I can’t fathom what madness drove LEGO to include thirty years old horses in such an otherwise beautiful and elegant set. This completely ruins the overall impression. Not only are the horses kinda child-ish looking and blocky, but compared to the carriage they look like ponies and not like the mighty steeds you see in the film. It’s really ridiculous.

Creating a dedicated new mold may sound a tall order, but given that LEGO sometimes come out with new animal molds where and when you least expect them, this idea doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it may sound. One can only wonder why they didn’t do it. In fact looking through Bricklink I’m almost inclined to think that this would have been a wonderful opportunity to dust off those old Belville molds, give them a work-over and use those horses.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Horses

The second, but much less bothersome caveat is that the carriage is more a generic one that would fit the European Baroque and Renaissance eras instead of being in any way representative of what’s actually in the movie. Of course a fair argument would have to be that this could be a more than valid interpretation strictly based on the books and that’s just fine. However, where the film is concerned it doesn’t capture the “flying palace” feel that the carriage evokes in the few shots where it can actually be seen. You know, not unlike with the Tardis from Dr. Who – larger on the inside than on the outside.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Aft Left View

The failure to communicate the actual “bigness” can mostly be attributed to the window arrangement. A quite conventional layout was chosen as opposed to the large tiled windows on the film prop that lead you to think this is more built like a tall (factory) hall with huge, multi-storied windows. Doing so would of course also have necessitated a larger chassis as well, so aside from the specific issue with the horses this also seems to me like they were trying to keep it at a specific smaller scale to also not have to worry about things like larger wheels and the pieces count reaching a level that would make it too expensive. All sensible measures, just not in line with what you get to see on screen.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Aft Right View

All that said, the model is still pretty gorgeous once you move on and ignore all those issues. Due to our history of Germany once having been a patchwork of smaller countries and regions and the kings, counts and earls trying to outdo each other, there are a lot of these pomp-laden, mostly decorative and representative carriages still to be found in museums and I’ve seen quite a few of them. It’s all lots of gold on black or white accentuated with gem stones and other colors, including lots of red velvet for the seating to represent royalty.

I’ve not yet seen a specific one in light blue (that would likely have been more of a Prussian mail coach or something like that), but it’s not impossible that something like that may have existed. In that regard if you are into this sort of thing the model would be more than an adequate representation. Conversely it may be more than fitting as a basic design for English, French or Italian carriages of certain historic eras. The details would differ and there would be a lot of specific customization and decoration, but overall this is so good you may just want to download the instructions and give it a try to build from your own parts.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Front Right View

The build process is quite enjoyable. A lot of it is of course building the left and right walls and while there are lots of repeating steps I found it never too tedious or boring. There are some interesting building techniques as well. Not particularly challenging and extraordinary, but well executed and used where it makes the most sense. One of my concerns for instance was that the “horns” might fall of easily, but they snap into place just fine and stay there unless you handle the model too roughly. There’s no denying that some of the parts require some extra care, though. The lamps and some of the other golden elements can easily be whacked out of alignment and need to be placed properly to look “nice” in the first place.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Open, Overview

The interior is nothing to write home about, but sufficient to accommodate the three representatives of the school, i.e. Mme. Maxime and the two student girls. The idea with the entire wall lifting up deserves some accolades and they even went so far to outfit it with a cabinet. It’s crammed, but lively.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Open, Top View

Once you dismiss the Harry Potter context and can do away with those awful horses you get a nice generalized carriage that can fit into many scenarios. However, it’s definitely not worth the 50 Euro LEGO are asking for. I may have been pulled in by the Bright Light Blue parts, many of which are available in this color for the first time in this set and I sure don’t mind getting a few nice golden and wood colored elements on top, but clearly even the 35 Euro you get this for with discounts still feels like a bit of a stretch, given the circumstances. Things would definitely look different if they had included more adequate animals, that’s for sure….

Graveyard Double Shift – Graveyard Mystery (70420) and The Rise of Voldemort (75965)

With Halloween imminent, I figured it might be a good idea to focus on reviewing some spooky-themed sets by ways of being built around graveyards – or sections of them at least. This includes the Graveyard Mystery (70420) from Hidden Side and The Rise of Voldemort (75965) from the Harry Potter line of LEGO sets.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Box

As you know, I’m quite a fan of Hidden Side – the sets are done well enough and to boot also very affordable because LEGO are pushing them so aggressively and there are discounts at every corner. This makes it easy enough to add them to the menu even if you are on a budget. The Graveyard Mystery can be had for as little as 20 Euro, which to me seems just about the right price. The full 30 Euro feels a bit out of proportion for what amounts to a rather slim model, on the other hand, and I’m not sure if I had picked it up then.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview

The set comes with the standard Parker and Jack figures along with Spencer, the ghostly dog. On the other side of the spectrum there’s a skeleton and the groundskeeper/ gardener, the latter of which is essentially the only really interesting bit in that department as with his overalls and all he could also be interesting for other uses e.g. in a City play scene.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Everything Closed

Being designed with the Augmented Reality app intended to be used with these sets in mind, the graveyard/ cemetery is kind of a panoramic arrangement, so that most parts are visible all the time and the camera can capture the entire scene. The layout in and of itself however is more or less a towel strip walkway with a linear progression. You enter through the gate, pass by a bunch of graves and then arrive at the angry tree with the keeper’s little storage shed underneath.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Markers Exposed

Since I don’t have the app, I can’t enlighten you about the specific meanings of the colors in the game, but there sure are a lot once you open up the respective areas and expose the insides and undersides of some elements. In fact I believe even the big green slope on the central grave may have some bearing even with the lids still down. The problem is of course that without the fancies of a mobile device the play options are ultimately limited. You can barely hide a minifigure in the central grave and even placing someone inside the little shed is finnicky. Doing a hide & seek┬á and guessing in which grave someone is hiding would not pose much of a challenge.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Back Side

A stand-out piece is naturally the angry tree with its “face” and “arms” being clearly recognizable. From what I’ve seen of the game it doesn’t seem to do much, though, and is merely whipping around. That is presumably not really useful. the same could be said for the mechanism on the real model in a sense. While I can appreciate the facial expression changing and the arms going up it still feels gimmicky. This is once more a case where a static, more detailed and more refined tree would have been preferable over such a very limited action feature IMO.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Front Side

On the bright side, the set is full of pieces in very usable “natural” colors ranging from the various browns and grays to Olive Green. Nice to see that LEGO still can do such sensible stuff without them going bonkers or some higher-up instructing a designer to include bricks in crazy colors only to clear out the left-overs from previous production runs of other sets. There are no particularly unique or rare parts in this set, however. Thus there would be little point in getting this set for anything but buildings or indeed landscaping and cemetery building.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Back Side

A small shortcoming, if you want to call it that, is the unattractive back side. Even with the emphasis on the panoramic effect it wouldn’t have hurt to have a few details here or at least the floor plates extend beyond the graves’ rear edges. To me it really feels like they chopped it off a bit too harshly.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Gate

After my experiences with the Hidden Side side I kept having this weird idea running in my head that perhaps one day I might want to build a larger custom graveyard, perhaps with a small chapel and crypt, so naturally I stumbled upon The Rise of Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Box

The point is not so much that I would be a particular fan of the series – quite opposite, as now 15 years later I look at these films and wonder how I could ever have been so foolish to buy the DVDs – but regardless, they are not without merit in terms of production design and at least some of the less WTF?-ish story elements. I know, I seriously need to read the books one day for a fair comparison.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Overview

Anyway, on of the key things that also made me consider this set is that when doing churches, graveyards and similar you have a need for some specific extras, that being large numbers of grey minifigure elements and decorative bits and bobs for the slabs/ grave stones. Lo and behold, this set comes with a fully formed angelic figure in Dark Bluish Grey, which of course is twisted into representing the Grim Reaper and there’s also a frog in that same color.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Figures

What also made the decision to buy this set easier is the consistent color usage compared to the first set. This means that you can easily mix & match and expand the ground thanks to the Dark Tan being used in conjunction with the same contrast colors for other elements. Or in simple words: You can buy multiple sets of both models and need not worry that intermingling parts would result in odd color combinations.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Closed

The set represents that scene where Harry Potter gets accidentally transported to an alternate place during the Trimagic Tournament in The Goblet of Fire, to witness the resurrection of He who must not be named, so there are all the figures relevant present. Personally I don’t care that much for them and for my taste in the context of the set there are simply way too many minifigures. In a sense it feels overcrowded due to the smallness of the available play are vs. the number of figures. That’s in my view also the biggest shortcoming of this set.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Open

One of the side-effects of this lack of space is that it doesn’t really capture the mood of the scene. There is no sense of dread and feeling lost because everything is crammed together. This also isn’t helped by the simple construction with only a central part in the middle and the small side extensions clipped on with hinges. This inevitably limits the options for disguising some gaps and open areas, which painfully becomes obvious with the insides of the grave. It just looks extremely shallow and indeed a figure doesn’t even fit into it without the lid remaining ajar.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Front Right View

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Back Right View

At the end of the day both sets have their flaws and issues, with the Hidden Side Graveyard Mystery at least offering a better value for money, however, due to being larger to begin with. I guess the ultimate test would really come once you actually start combining things, possibly based on multiple such sets, to build a more elaborate cemetery. The irony is of course once more that basically all the ingredients are already there, but LEGO trimmed away to many things in the interest of being “economical” to make either of the sets genuinely great. As a consolation, both sets are very affordable at least, so it would not be impossible to grab a bunch of them and make your dream project a reality, assuming you, too, have a thing for graveyards…

Coral, Corals, Amusement, Space

The rumour mill had of course already been busy and some thumbnail resolution leaked images had popped up here and there already, but this week we finally got some official, full size images for us to inspect and dissect every pixel of the new Architecture, City, Creator 3in1, Friends, Harry Potter and even Duplo sets from LEGO.

But first things first: For many people the most important news is that LEGO finally came to their senses and will no longer limit specific seasonal or exclusive sets to regional markets. The negative backlash about the Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner (80101) and the Dragon Dance (80102) sets, the The LEGO Movie 2 Brickheadz and most recently the Darth Vader Bust (75227) really seems to have gotten under their skin. Since those sets were already in short supply in their intended markets and outsiders leaching some of them exacerbated the situation further and┬á left many people frustrated there. Perfectly understandable, as even I would have wanted a Dragon Dance set. It just looks cool. Anyway, expanding production of such releases globally should avoid some of that craziness and guarantee better access to the products in question.

Moving on to the new releases, first let’s quickly get the for me least relevant series out of the way. I never was much of a Harry Potter fan and in fact nowadays I think there’s so much wrong with those books and movies, it would warrant its own article to explain it all, but regardless of my personal dislike for the subject matter you have to admit that for those who love this stuff the sets will be amazing. Lots of minifigures, a consistent design philosophy and they even thought of making the Hogwarts Clock Tower (75948) match up with last year’s Hogwarts Great Hall (75954) and Whomping Willow (75953) building segments. Perhaps some people’s dream of one day having the complete castle made from modular components in this style and scale might still come true, after all?

In the Architecture series we will get the Trafalgar Square (21045) and the Empire State Building (21046). They look okay if you are into this stuff, but neither model is a must-have for me. The Empire State Building in fact turned out as I had feared and is a mass of Tan grille tiles plugged onto a solid core, so this will be extremely daunting to assemble and a test of patience. I suppose the achievement will be having assembled it without having an angry outburst from the repetitive build more than actually having it on your table as a show piece.

I have no kids of my own and I’m past the age of playing with certain toys (despite trying to keep my inner child alive), but I have to say when I’m strolling through the aisles of a toy shop I’m always tempted to pick up random bits and pieces because they are just so adorable and cute and have to restrain myself very hard. Duplo sets with animals always have been part of that crowd and the feeling of wanting to own some of them already is coming back just looking at the new sets. now if only they would bring back that crazy shark from a few years ago I might actually be compelled to buy a submarine set… ­čśë

Speaking of cute, colorful things, of course Friends is my go-to series. As hinted in my article on the new Coral color, the ocean animal rescue themed sets for the second half of the year are full of elements in this color, so you should easily get to a point where you have a healthy base supply of pieces to work with. As if that weren’t enough, we also get a ton of new pieces like baby sea animals, the coral plant element and the complimentary mini sea creatures. The latter are likely a separate standardized bag similar to the garage tools or cutlery that are included easily in many sets and hopefully soon will also be available also in colors than Coral. You know, Yellow Butterfly Fish, White or Tan clam shells and Dark Orange octopi make totally sense to me. We’ll see.

The amusement park sets on the other hand are mostly not my thing, though they, too, are based around oceanic themes. My problem here is that they too much feel like the similar sets we had three years ago, the Heartlake Swimming Pool (41313) or even the current Heartlake City Resort (41347). Not necessarily in the sense that they are redundant or identical, but that it would not be impossible to build large parts of the new stuff from sets you may already own, give or take a few specific parts. This becomes even more of a pickle as the Creator 3in1 series also caters for this with the Carousel (31095). Too many options! This can really burn a hole in your purse. Perhaps they should have coordinated this better or consolidated it into a overaching crossover them in both series.

More commonalities in Friends and 3in1 come by ways of two buildings – the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379) and the Townhouse with Pet Shop and Caf├ę (31097). Both are highly welcome, as you can never really have enough houses in your little city and in recent time we haven’t seen that many halfway fully formed buildings in most series. You’re likely going to need at least two sets of each to make them halfway compatible with the Modular Buildings, regardless, but something is better than nothing. That’s even more the case for the Friends restaurant, as it is chocka full with interesting new parts and its Southern European architecture style has been rarely seen. It’s really unusual and quite unique to the point of not looking like a Friends set at all if it weren’t for some parts in Lavender that give it away.

Finally let’s talk about City. By now you might have guessed it already, but yes there’s a bit of an amusement park theme going on here as well. Nothing major with just a figure pack and some little doo-dads, but should you indeed decide to go full batty and want to build a giant park with all the sets mentioned already, this will be useful. The rest is pretty mundane with the continuation of the fire patrol theme and more generic sets, but I couldn’t help but notice the huge donut and think it’s awesome. Really too bad it’s included in a more expensive set that otherwise doesn’t have anything that would interest me.

On the matter of things that interest me – I’m of course a science fiction and astral science nerd on some level, yet the City Space Port sets leave me completely emotionless. Except perhaps for the large rocket set it all looks completely boring to me. It seems that their cooperation with NASA resulted in trying to be too factually exact and of course everything had to be white and gold for thermal insulation and reflecting radiation. Also it looks like they just ticked subjects off some list and kept the designs to a bare minimum. I mean by all accounts at least that space station could have been a lot larger and more complex and those shuttles a lot more detailed. It’s disappointing.

In any case, no matter what there are some interesting sets lined up and even buying the ones I consider essential or even mandatory will be quite a chase, so there is little to complain. This wave of new sets overall is pretty good and in addition there are already some sets on the market I haven’t caught up with yet, making for plenty of entries on my ever-growing wishlist…