Birthdays are always nice and being gifted a bunch of Amazon vouchers is even better, so the stars aligned and I was able to afford myself the LEGO Avatar Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574) package despite it being way over my usual budget. As I explained in my previous article on the subject the movie is a bit of a guilty pleasure and as I also already mentioned there I simply like the colorful nature of the whole thing. So I couldn’t resist temptation and committed to it – not just for this review, but because I really wanted to have it.
Pricing and Contents
As the biggest set of the first Avatar wave of course this doesn’t come cheap and as usual LEGO are trying to milk the cow by adding a premium because it’s based on licensed IP. The original asking price for this is 150 Euro, which is way too much for 1212 pieces if you apply the conventional metric of 10 Cent per piece. Luckily you don’t have to let them get away with it as those sets are only mildly popular (people seem to want the unique minifigures and a few other things, but not necessarily the actual sets as a whole) and you can get decent discounts even from smaller retailers. I got mine for 111 Euro and currently with the Black Week/ Black Friday promos I’ve seen it drop below 100 Euro. This is reasonable, but nor perfect.
Realistically I feel this is more around the 80 Euro mark, with the point being that despite getting quite a bit of volume on the individual models, a lot of it has to do with the lofty nature of those builds. Yes, the tree is quite large (and so is the Toruk), but that’s mostly down to using some very large/ long elements enclosing/ circumscribing lots of open space. My “kitchen table photo studio” was almost to small to accommodate everything and I had to touch up a few spaces at the edges where I ran out of grey background, but individually each model feels pretty lightweight and like you’re not holding much in your hand. It’s really more that you have to be careful not to break off some dangle-y thing than the models being weighty.
Minifigures & Direhorse
As already mentioned, the minifigures for the Avatar series seem to be reasonably popular among collectors, a lot of which no doubt has to do with their unique appearance due to the blue skin and tall legs. With only for of them this package feels a bit understaffed not only because of the bigness of the set but also more generally based on what the set is supposed to represent. It could have done well with another three to five “generic Na’vi warrior” figures to deck out the scene. The characters in this line-up are Jake Sully again in a different warpaint, of course there’s also Neytiri and the two others are Tsu-Tey, the former’s ex-lover and Moat, the female chieftain of the tribe. The prints are distinct from those of the other sets and well-executed, which no doubt contributes why they are so coveted.
The animals of Pandora so far are seriously underrepresented aside from the big flying beasts and the Thanator, so it’s good to see that be expanded upon as well. I’m not saying that I’m a fan of the Direhorses, though. That whole Ant Eater like appearance and behavior with them licking honeydew from flowers just feels odd and of course the six legs just feel awkward and unnecessary. It has also always bugged me that conveniently these creatures have USB cables to connect with the Na’vi‘s minds. All of that is a bit hard to explain away and rationalize no matter how willing you are to suspend disbelief for the movie. The horse as such is just fine, but has zero posing options. It also looks a bit too uniformly colored for my taste and should have some more organic patterns, especially in the “mane” and the rear section as they can be seen in the film.
The Landscape Pieces
The landscapes of Pandora are their own character in the movie so it’s only appropriate that the corresponding LEGO sets also at least make some effort to render at least parts of it in brick-built form. I already mentioned the pros and cons of how well the translation into this miniature format works for me in my other review and this is no different here. While the landscapes are certainly colorful and other-worldly, they have very little to do with how this stuff is depicted in the movie. The building techniques are very restricted without any recognizable effort to actually re-create plants from the film and the color choices are not anywhere close to how most of this looks and feels. It’s all rather arbitrary and gives the impression of “As long as it looks different enough, it’s good enough.”.
This is still tolerable for the smaller pieces, but for me the wheels come of the cart on the big one. This is supposed to be the entry “gate” to the glade where the Tree of Souls resides and even if you’re only superficially familiar with the movie you will immediately recognize that it looks nothing like it does there. Many of the rock formations on Pandora clearly have the appearance of lava frozen along the magnetic field lines (due to the floating mountains and the Unobtanium) , which makes them look like actual arches. None of this is present here and one can’t help but feel that the designers didn’t even try. Yes, it would not have been easy, but there are enough curved/ arched elements in LEGO‘s portfolio to at least hint at this on some form.
On the bright side this large assembly is quite stable and thus easy to handle. You can literally just grab it in the middle and carry it around like a suitcase on its handle. This robustness is of course needed in order to perch the huge Toruk Makto on the short axle on the “floating” mountain piece.
Tree of Souls
The Tree of Souls is mostly a simple affair. It’s very obviously based on a Weeping Willow constructed from a bunch of arches, slopes and Technic connectors with the base being pieced together from different rounded and cropped corner plates. It’s really not too advanced or fancy and if you inspect the images closely you can see the simplicity of the build and the overall symmetry. It’s just disguised by the dangling boughs/ twigs and the cyan-green vines on the ground that represent the “magic” moss/ lichen used to transfer souls into a new body or revive someone.
Sadly it could have looked even better if LEGO had placed more emphasis on a consistent coloring. Especially the black parts on the tree trunk draw too much attention and overall there’s just a few too many different colors used with the real irony once more being that of course a lot of them were/ are available in Reddish Brown or could have been manufactured in this color. This is again this weird dichotomy with LEGO where somehow they seemingly cannot be bothered to consider these points even if sets like these would be more relevant to adult collectors that want things to look coherent than children who play with it.
The construction of the tree overall is rather tedious and after I was done with it, I didn’t feel like I wanted to finish the set that evening. It really helps to spread out the build process across multiple sittings on different days or else you get a bit aggravated. In particular the repetitive nature of plugging together the transparent antenna pieces is not very enjoyable and i even forgot some on the inner three petals. If you don’t know it, you won’t see it, though. Unfortunately it is nigh on impossible to make everything hang down perfectly straight. My gut feeling tells me that this would require treating the leave elements and the whip/ leash pieces with a hot air fan to relax them or bend them into place.
The Toruk Makto, which translates to The Last Shadow (because it’s the last thing you see before you die) is the evil big bad of the movie in terms of the animals. Unlike his scrawny distant cousins, the Banshees/ Ikrans, he’s a lot harder to catch and does not as easily bow to your will. That’s why anyone managing to do so is highly revered among the Na’vi. That of course is the only reason they are even willing to listen to him (or his remotely piloted Na’vi avatar clone, more precisely) after the big disaster of the Home Tree being destroyed by Quaritch and his goons.
The model of the indomitable creature is quite ginormous, not least of all due to the enormous wingspan. However, also the body has more “flesh” and is much more voluminous compared to the wiry Ikrans. This helps a lot to make it actually threatening and also presentable. It has real legs and the wingtips can be folded backwards. underneath it all is still an awful lot of Technic axles and connectors, though, which isn’t my favorite. It always reminds me that LEGO perhaps should have developed a Ribs & Spars system not just for this, but also for their Ninjago dragons and similar. You know, something that looks more like natural bones or bent swords, not ugly fat tubes.
There’s inevitably a dedicated new head piece and with the ones coming up in the second wave this shows that they invested quite a bit of design effort and money for the molds into this. The feet with the huge claws are quite a bit of building and feel massive. Interestingly enough, while absolutely not accurate to the film, this still feels natural. It only turns the logic of thee creature on its head a bit. Whereas in reality it would mostly use the claws to balance on rocks and trees or hang on walls, here it makes the Toruk look more like it would walk around on the ground as well similar to a dinosaur. Indeed a rare case of where the limitations of brick building still resulted in an accidental positive outcome.
While all this certainly sounds a lot more positive than the Ikrans, I’m still not convinced this is the best way to go about this. Somehow I can’t shake the feeling that if they had gone the full mile and created molds for the body and legs I would have liked it more and even perched the creature on my shelf. Sorry for the language, but this seems a bit half-assed and even more so given the price.
Pieces from another Planet
As you well know one of my considerations for buying a set is the potential harvest of pieces I can add to my own stock, in particular new ones and interesting recolored items, and in this regard the set offers quite a bit. The most visible new elements are inevitably the ones on the Tree of Souls such as the Trans Dark Pink antennas, the Lavender leashes/ vines and the Light Aqua clips and tail/ Bionicle spine pieces. Underneath it also has one of the newer 8 x 8 round plates in Reddish Brown. I also babbled on about the new column piece in my last article and it appears here in Trans Clear, which will be super useful for building nice presentation stands. Of course there’s also the new whip/ connector cable pieces in Black and Bright Light Blue. The Toruk has a few hidden surprises. One of them is the inverted rounded plate for the first time in Red plus there’s a completely new double-curved 4 x 6 slope piece.
Compared to the two smaller Avatar sets I reviewed earlier this has been a much more satisfying experience overall. You’re actually getting a bit of volume of stuff and everything looks reasonably nice. The only thorn in my side is the price or else I’d give this a full recommendation. At 80 Euro or thereabouts this would be some nice fodder for multiple evenings during the winter, but at double the price this doesn’t really work out. It’s simply too costly for what it offers and in particular people who have no relation to the movies nor a love for weirdly colored parts won’t get much out of it.
That said, I still believe these sets would work better if LEGO had just made them as nice display sets for adults instead pretending they would be play sets for kids, most of which likely never even won’t get to see the movies due to their age rating. The models are a bit too fragile for serious play and the functions too limited to really make it worthwhile. The thought of a five year old running around with the monstrous Toruk is equally odd, though it would probably be funny. so for what it’s worth, LEGO missed the mark on both these fronts. Again, this is for fans of the movie, but won’t hold much appeal for the uninitiated while at the same time being unsuitable for kids.