Love them or hate them, but you have to admit that the Despicable Me movies and their so far single Minions spin-off have been huge successes, both commercially and to some extent also critically. Personally I still prefer the original first movie with its heart-warming and funny story, with the sequels losing some of that charm, but others may feel differently.
Now the thing is that the set discussed here is actually a tie-in for the latest movie that was supposed to have come out early last year but due to the pandemic has ultimately been postponed to July 2022 (assuming they don’t change it again), which is an eternity. In that time they could have produced yet another complete film just as well. That’s why we essentially know squat about the exact story at this point and will have to judge this just on how well it captures some generics from previous movies. So let’s see if the LEGO Minions Brick-built Minions and their Lair (75551) would be worth your time and money.
Contents, Pricing and Availability
The sets have been on the market for quite a while, meaning since March/ April 2020 in fact. That is of course down to the fact that you can’t time these things perfectly and production and distribution has considerable lead-in time before the products are physically available, so LEGO evidently had pretty much pre-produced large numbers of these sets. They therefore released them despite the movie being pushed to later dates again and again so they would not clog up their own storage and logistics.
The downside to that naturally is that there was no recognizable marketing for the movie to bolster sales and to people not following the latest movie news it may even have appeared like those sets appearing out of the blue with no rhyme or reason behind it. As it is, overall sales therefore have been somewhat slow, though the first wave of this particular set last year sold out relatively quickly, regardless. I guess there’s enough die-hard Minions fans that don’t care for a specific reason, after all.
Another unfortunate side effect of this whole kerfuffle is that some sets from this line already have been earmarked as end-of-life (EOL) by LEGO, which could lead to the paradox situation that when the movie finally rolls out in theaters next year, you may no longer be able to buy and collect them all. For the time being, this set, it also being the largest from the series is not affected by this, but you never know. Holding off a purchase for forever may not be a good idea.
That said, of course I’m just as guilty of exactly that, having waited for prices to drop for almost a year. My reasoning here always has been that the suggested retail price of 50 Euro just never seemed good enough. Granted, you get two full buildable figures and technically there are 876 pieces, but it just didn’t feel right.
This boils down to two things: Many of the elements used in the construction of the models are 1 x 1 or 2 x 2 plates and bricks. This can easily be deduced from just looking at photos and can also be verified when downloading the digital instructions. The other point is that also very recognizable the models would turn out kind of small-ish. They are larger than Brickheadz, given that they are built on an 8 x 8 base rather than 6 x 6, but they are still not that huge. Both of these factors made me feel that the volume of stuff just isn’t there. Add to that that in theory you would need to buy a second box to build all three characters at the same time and you know where this is heading.
Basically my gut feeling has always been that this should have cost 35 Euro MSRP. That would have made it more feasible to buy those two packages right away and it would have felt better. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be and so my dream pricing is only available via discounts. Still, even that is not as easy as it sounds as due to circumstances prices are relatively high. My time to strike came when an unexpected Amazon voucher dropped into my lap, bringing their discounted 40 Euro price down to 30 Euro. It’s not the ultimate irresistible temptation, but was good enough.
In summary this set feels expensive, a lot more expensive than it should, but factually you as the costumer can’t do much about it. It’s not that easy to come by at all and when you spot it somewhere, you may have to pay more than you might like.
The Minions of course have a very distinct pill/ capsule shape, which in and of itself is part of the appeal and quite ingenious even from the viewpoint of a 3D animator. It’s one of those “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” things that feel so obvious once you realize the awesome potential. That by all means also includes how these little annoying creatures would translate to LEGO – you almost expect that they would just use a few existing round bricks, put some prints on them and then call it a day. This is however not the case and indeed they produced some new custom parts which indeed may have the advantage of working in reverse just as well should one day they decide to produce them in other colors without prints.
This set only contains characters based on the 2 x 2 round elements with them being Stuart, Kevin and Bob, but there is a 3 x 3 version representing Otto in two of the other sets. It is also worth pointing out that in those other sets the recurring characters have different prints, so if you want to collect them all you may have to spend quite a bit of money one way or the other even if the general design is always similar. This even extends to the 1 x 1 tiles used for the eyes with different irises and eyelids in the sets. Building an entire army and customizing each individual could become quite a challenge. The basics are al lthere, though, and aside from the opacity of some prints leaving a bit to be desired they are executed well enough.
Of course I’m not revealing anything new when telling you that at one point Mega Construx had a license when the Minions movie was released some years ago. In fact that’s one of the reasons why I was rather skeptical about whether this theme would even be mildly successful when it was announced. It felt like everything already had been said and done and there was little room for anything to add to that. That is in a way true, given how few sets LEGO actually designed, but of course in light of the movie being unreleased we don’t know anything about future plans.
Anyway, given the overall design approach for the Minions it would be inevitable that their minifigures would turn out similar and that can easily be proven with a direct comparison. I had some of the Mega figures from two or three sets I bought back then so this was easy enough to do. Objectively the Mega versions do have more sculpted details and overall look more “realistic” with LEGO taking a more simplified approach more in line with regular minifigures or for that matter for instance the buildable Super Mario characters that also make use of the pin-based arms.
The first of the big characters is Stuart, representing the most prototypical Minions type in terms of size and proportions. Only his singular big eye makes him stand out. As you can see, the shape of the cross section is not actually round but rather an elongated rounded corner block. One could of course make up any number of rationalizations as to why they have opted for this approach and yes, some of it is necessary in order to actually be able to build something and get in some details, but for the most part it likely boils down to the simple truth that LEGO just doesn’t have enough rounded parts beyond the usual 2 x 2 quarter “macaroni” bricks and shells, the matching 4 x 4 cylinders, round plates and the large 5 x 5 bits. They have begun to address this with a handful of newer 3 x 3 elements, but there are still notable gaps in the portfolio.
Personally I don’t mind it too much though, as it has the advantage of making the characters look a bit stocky and clumsy like they do in the actual movies and just as well it also prevents too many large gaps appearing where elements are plugged on externally like the big eye. It’s also strangely enough much more presentation-friendly as you have a clear orientation for each model and don’t need to fiddle that much with getting them lined up nicely as you would with genuine cylindrical builds.
The interior has a functional area, i.e. “lair” but again without the context of the film we do not know if a) it’s real and b) what function it serves or c) if the LEGO designers have made it up entirely to add interest to models that otherwise would just be static hollow shells. For me it doesn’t do that much due to the restrictions of the limited space and how things can be put together, but I guess it’s okay. Regrettably this is also once more a case where you are supposed to use a lot of stickers, which I never do, so it looks a bit barren. It would have helped if they had decided on using a few different colors here and there to add interest. also the large knob in the middle to rotate the eye feels a bit superfluous, given that you can rotate it manually by grabbing it just fine.
Kevin is the tall guy of the gang and also the smartest, which is sort of visible by his less crazy behavior and somewhat nerdy overall look. The build is in large parts the same as for Stuart, only with some additional rows of bricks inserted and of course the conventional “goggle” style pair of eyes.
The interior plays on the nerdiness by representing a large control room with lots of computer screens and that’s why it looks particularly dreary without stickers. With there being eight screens it is slightly disappointing that LEGO couldn’t be bothered to at least print some tiles with a TV static/ noise, a “No Signal” message or a generic test pattern. This would have been useful and in fact those prints could have been re-used in the future for many similar scenarios. This is one of those small, repeating aggravations where I really don’t understand why they haven’t sat down a designer creating these tiles a decade ago already and could have had them in stock now…
When you’re done building the original two main models you’re left with a bunch of extra parts that are meant for a conversion of Kevin into Bob. initially I was loathe to the idea and really didn’t want to do it, but then I got over myself and spent an evening transforming the model.
The reason why I was so teed off is the way you are supposed to do it. You are meant to basically rebuild the whole figure from scratch, which makes this even more repetitive than the whole process already is. I kind of hacked it, trying to keep large sections intact and only exchanging bits as needed and removing what would no longer be needed, but it was still time-consuming and frustrating. This is not very well thought through and not good engineering, even if you allow for the designers having to compromise due to lack of space and the specifics of the shape.
Point in case: It should have been as simple as lifting off the top section at some pre-determined separation line, removing the extraneous bricks and clipping in a new “module” for the interior decoration, give or take a few extra steps like replacing the tile for the differently colored eye. A more straightforward way of doing this would also facilitate and encourage people to build other variations of them little critters.
Bob‘s interior is apparently some martial arts dojo/ training gym and overall rather simplistic. It might have benefited from a pinch of extra gold by ways of throwing in some Ninjago stuff or some golden tiles on the floor.
Build Observations and Special Pieces
One of the things that became a bit annoying and literally also the reason why I built each character on a different evening is the tediousness of the actual build. As mentioned earlier there are tons of 1 x 1 elements and I really mean it. There’s around 70 1 x 1 plates in Black, Blue and Yellow alone for instance and they need to carefully be placed into some gaps left by other elements.
Another point that makes the build process a bit of a chore is the lack of vertical stability. Since you are essentially stacking elements directly on top of each other like a toddler with not many of them overlapping there is always the risk you may inadvertently crush your model when holding it too tight or grabbing it at the wrong position. This is all manageable, but you have to pay attention all the time. The construction just isn’t flowing along as nicely as with some other sets, even more so since some of the techniques and the order in which to build some sub-assemblies also feel odd. Also, even after you have finished the model you have to be careful to not push to hard or some stuff will warp out of alignment and expose some larger gaps.
Upon its initial release last year this set was the first to feature some notable new parts and recolored elements. One of those is the 3 x 3 rounded skinny plate without which these models probably would not even have been possible. At the same time they are not used as much as you may think or as I would have liked. I also think the new 8 x 8 rounded plates as found in the VIDIYO sets might have come in handy to mitigate some of those problems, but it did not (officially) exist in 2020 or only as internal prototypes, of course.
The recolors almost all relate to the pants/ dungarees as apparently there was not much of a chance to hide alternate colors underneath when you only have walls that are one brick thick and thin plates and they had to be consistently Blue. That includes the inverted curved slopes as used for the bottom, both in 2 x 2 and 1 x 2 flavors, the tall 1 x 1 x 2/3 brick modified and the 1 x 1 bracket.
The eyes are new parts in both versions with the 4 x 4 round brick and the 5 x 5 wheel only having appeared in a handful of sets at all so far. Of course those and the mouth panels are also the only areas where we get actual exclusive prints.
Should that deter you from buying the set? No, not by any means. If you are even remotely a fan of those small, obnoxious yellow creatures and you can get over the slightly too high price this can be a nice addition to your collection and would look good on the shelf even next to some “real” collectible Minions figures. You just have to be aware that building them may not be a walk in the park and would also not be the easiest activity for children. In that regard the 8+ denomination on the package is almost a bit too optimistic even…