Plant a Tree, Save the Planet? – LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707)

It’s been a minute since I last reviewed a LEGO Friends set and that has a lot to do with the rather atrocious “Magical Funfair” theme that just didn’t appeal to me both in terms of value for money and overall design aesthetic. The new early 2022 releases at least improve upon the latter, but not necessarily the former. It’s probably safe to say that unless it falls out of the sky for free, I won’t be reviewing a 150 Euro set like the Main Street Building (41704) and I’m not too certain about the Canal Houseboat (41702) and Friendship Tree House (41703), either, given that they have a lot of large compound parts like ship hulls and “tree” shells that I have no use for. Anyway, we’ll have top see how that goes, but for now let’s see what the Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707) does offer.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Box

Price and Contents

Sadly, LEGO have become very greedy lately and the pandemic with its supply chain issues and high demand because everyone is at home has been playing into their hands. This is also manifest in this set.

A 30 Euro price tag for 336 pieces may not look that unusual at first, but you can tell just by looking at the official promo images or my overview shot that many of these are just either small 1 x 1 pieces or insignificant standard elements that can be had for cheap on Bricklink. Except for a few more special parts it could be scraped together from other sources relatively easy for almost the same price. Our German LEGO price comparison site Brickmerge states a part-out value of around 45 Euro and that pretty much can only be blamed on some parts exclusive to this set like the Medium Azure slopes and a few items only found in other expensive sets like the 3 x 3 cylinders used here for the flower pots from Bowser’s Airship (71391).

With that said, of course the whole package thankfully can be had much cheaper at your favorite retailer. I got mine for 20 Euro, representing a 30 % discount, but lately it has dropped as far as 17 Euro for a 43 % price cut. As usual I would definitely recommend to get it as cheaply as possible, but I don’t feel bad about what I spent. While it may not offer a large number of pieces, it builds into two reasonably large models

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Overview

The Glasshouse

The first build in the set is a glasshouse/ greenhouse in which the sprouts and saplings are grown until they can be planted in the wilderness. My problem here is that while it captures the feeling of such a building, the model is way, way, way too small to count as a professional operation. In fact this looks more like one of those greenhouses a hobbyist gardener would bash together from used doors and windows of dilapidated houses, something I remember well from my youth growing up in Eastern Germany where building supplies were always in short supply and people had to make do with what they could find.

The whole situation isn’t helped by how the plants are represented – a few vines and lots of large leaf-based builds just don’t give that sense of actual trees, but rather cabbage and flowers being pre-grown. That said, the greenhouse is nice in its own right, but for all intents and purposes this is more a conventional garden house than anything seriously to do with growing trees. On the bright side, this is the first time in a long while where the triple-split large window elements have become available in White again and the angled roof windows come with transparent glassing, not Trans Light Blue, so there’s that. If you need multiples of those, buying this set more than once certainly could be an option with the right discounts.

As they say “The lady comes apart” and the individual sub-assemblies can be placed separately for play such as they are. It doesn’t necessarily make that much sense, but is always a good option for the kids. That being said, the feeling that there should be more definitely lingers, in particular in terms of actual trees. There easily could have been another bit of soil with some tree stalks on it. This becomes even more apparent once you actually start to play with the two potted bushes/ trees to place them on the truck or elsewhere. This goes so far as the underlying plate assembly breaking up since the pots are also used as a structural element to hold the round plate and an extra 2 x 6 plate together. This is genuinely a major design flaw!

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Glasshouse, Separated Parts

The Truck

We’re seeing trucks a plenty across all of LEGO‘s series and this therefore could easily be just another one of them. However, no matter how tired this trope may be, this little truck feels fresh enough to be interesting. I in particular like the compact, short design which makes it look cute. It’s a bit too large in scale to truly count as one of those small utility trucks such companies or public service providers maintaining parks and such often have. This is even more obvious since this is supposed to be an electrical car and the engineering metrics don’t make sense then. Still, not the worst LEGO truck I’ve seen.

Despite its other qualities, the color scheme of the truck slightly bugs me. I get it – with Olivia being the main protagonist they had to have her color scheme somewhere in this set, but clearly there is an over-abundance of Medium Azure in Heartlake City due to this color being used by multiple girls and I feel that they could have changed up the formula here in the interest of presenting something fresh. In keeping with the ecological subject I think this would have been a wonderful opportunity to give us a Yellowish Green vehicle. My reasoning here is that many electrical cars have very fashionable colors to distinguish themselves from conventional fuel cars, anyway, plus the color would help to communicate what it is all about. Alternatively Bright Green would also have been nice, as many such companies and agencies purposely use it.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cockpit

One advantage of the oversized car is that both figures fit in it, further adding play value. The roof can easily be removed for full access. Now of course the short car has to have one disadvantage and that is that despite there being provision for two attachment points, not both flower pots can be loaded onto the cargo bed without getting in the way of each other or the small hydraulic crane interfering. The latter is also rather awkward to use and cannot be extended far enough for actual loading, so you may want to consider just leaving it off. Removing the crane would free up the one extra row of studs you’d need to move the jumper plate forward and then finally you could plug on both pots. This may have more play value for your child than clinging to the crane.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cargo Bed

Concluding Thoughts

The elephant in the room is of course a simple question: What does this set actually have to do with tree-planting? It seems LEGO intentionally mislabeled this set to cater for the zeitgeist of presenting an eco-friendly image. Only too bad that things aren’t that simple even if the package actually resembled what it promises. We can plant trees all we want, but it won’t save the planet without other measures alongside! This really kind of riles me up…

My personal peeves aside this is certainly a pretty decent set if you take it for what it is – an interesting spin on (professional) gardening and green keeping that just can’t quite decide what it wants to be. A larger greenhouse would have improved this massively and if you have the cash, I would definitely recommend to at least try and buy a second set to bash something together that has a little more space. Otherwise it’s just fine and has enough play value for the intended demographic.

Similarly, the truck is good, but still could have been better with minor changes and a different color scheme might even have attracted people that don’t buy Friends sets otherwise. It really feels like a missed opportunity to bring something new to the Heartlake community. So for better or worse this set is “just fine”, when it could have been really great…

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…

LEGO does something right with Ideas for a Change?

As I’ve said a couple of times I’m not the biggest fan of LEGO Ideas. It’s simply way too inefficient and the number of sets it produces is laughable, least of all ones that would interest me/ be relevant to me. That’s why I usually approach those official LEGO Ideas Review announcement days with more than just a bit of skepticism. Surprisingly enough, this time it seems this was unwarranted, at least on some level. Equally surprising this time two sets made the cut, so this is even better.

The first is the gianormous Treehouse. There hasn’t been any decent treetop-themed set ever since the Ewok Village (10236) if you don’t count smaller stuff like Mia’s Tree House, so this will be more than welcome. Personally I would just love to spend my weekends relaxing in such an abode, falling asleep with the wind gently rocking the tree and rustling the leaves, watching animals on the ground gather at sundown and all that good stuff, but here in Germany there are apparently not that many big forests to begin with, let alone enough hunky trees that could hold up such a contraption plus there would be all kinds of legal red tape, too. Therefore building such a set is the next best thing. Other interpretations are of course just as valid, as the design is more than just a tiny bit reminiscent of the Elves stuff seen in the Lord of the Rings movies. Lets just hope that the final polish and conversion to a producible set doesn’t kill off that magic by downsizing things too much.

The second set elected are The Flintstones. While the set overall is designed nicely, I’m a lot less enthusiastic here. It just feels like out of its place in time with even the last, rather bad live action movie (Viva Rock Vegas) being so far in the past. I also barely have any recollection of even a single actual episode beyond all those awful 60’s stereotypes and clichés and mostly remember it from the opening sequence. Strictly speaking from the LEGO side of course it comes with a ton of minifigures, which I don’t have much interest in, either, meaning half the set would be kinda wasted on me. Mind you, I like the stylized nature overall and it really has lots of lovely detail, I’m just not sure I can get behind the theme as a whole. If at all this will probably have to be a case of finding yourself “Aww, that’s cute” when seeing the actual built set in a LEGO store or so…

All things considered, however, this is quite a good turnout this time. The sets are significant and appealing enough to a larger crowd which means they should sell well and in turn perhaps not be super expensive. Should be interesting to find out when they hit the shelves!