Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Disney Princess, LEGO style

With a young daughter in the house, I am forced to admit that several of the more recent retail sets I have built are from the Friends theme. Introduced a few years ago, the line has become a favorite of my daughter and she frequently enjoys just looking at pictures of the sets online. Most of her collection is from polybags, although she did score the sweet Heartlake Pool for Christmas. Of course, I ended up building it, but she was quite happy with the finished product.

Now that LEGO has tested the waters a little with a girl-focused theme and had some success, they have moved on to a more licensed approach with the loved and hated mini-dolls. Hitting store shelves in 2014 is a line of Disney Princess inspired sets, complete with little versions of some of the franchise's most well-loved characters. LEGO and princesses is not exactly new of course. They have had DUPLO versions of the characters out there for a few years, and that line appears to be continuing. But moving them in to regular brick form greatly expands the audience and the final results look quite nice.

Let's take a look at the sets serving as the introduction to this line in their "big kid" brick form.

41050 - Ariel's Amazing Treasures - The smallest entry in the line, this set features the mermaid version of Ariel and a Flounder piece. It's only 77 parts, and most of them are pretty basic. Of note are the trans-purple starfish, pearl gold gates,  and a light purple arch and slopes, which are all unique to this set. Clocking in at 77 pieces with a $12.99 price tag, this is a relatively horrible deal on the price per part front. It's not totally unexpected, given the licensed nature of the set, but the build itself is also fairly plain. The Ariel figure will probably drive sales of this set on its own, but I can't see myself picking this up unless it's discounted below the $10 mark.

41051 - Merida's Highland Games - For just $7 more, this set feels much more substantial than the Ariel set and actually has quite a bit of activity going on. You get a decent sized castle wall, several little game stations, and a very nice looking Merida figure (along with her three bear brothers). From a parts-pack perspective, you get some very useful tan bricks and plant pieces. The light purple door and gold bow appear to be unique to this set. The latter is likely far more useful from a MOC perspective. It's still suffers from the licensed curse of a weak price to piece ration, but I'm a little more forgiving of that simply because there are far more useful parts in this set (as long as you leave the stickers off). This is probably an easy pick-up if it sees any discount at all.

41052 - Ariel's Magical Kiss - Ariel gets a second offering in the opening salvo of princess sets, this time in her human form and paired up with Prince Eric. This is a cute little scene that seems to recreate Ariel's room from the movie, while also pairing it up with the boat scene as well. Outside of the pink boat and figures, nothing is really unique to this set (although a few parts are pretty close). There are still quite a few very useful elements present though, including a wide selection of plants. At 250 pieces for about $30, I'm sure the Amazon reviews will be filled with the usual "not as big as I expected" complaints I usually see, but there's actually some pretty good value here.

41053 - Cinderella's Dream Carriage - Full disclosure: My daughter has the DUPLO version of this set and the carriage is probably one of her favorite LEGO pieces ever. It has been used to give many characters a ride around the play room. This will probably be one of the sets from the line she ends up getting early on and I think it's one of the better offerings. The carriage itself is actually a fairly impressive build that makes good use of SNOT techniques to give the finished product its curves. The heavy use of white and medium blue helps to significantly cut down on the presence of pink and purple that seem to dominate other sets in the theme. The golden wheels of the carriage are something completely new and I'm already looking at them as a possible wall decoration piece for MOCs. They are very well done and quite impressive. My only complaint is that there's no fairy godmother figure included, which limits some of the play activity with the set.

41054 - Rapunzel's Creativity Tower - The good news is that $40 gives you a fairly decent sized castle-style tower that's packed with play features and actually evokes some sense of Rapunzel's home in Tangled. The bad news is that the majority of the tower is built using panels, which leaves most of the detail work to be done with stickers. I would feel a little weird spending $40 on a 299 piece set as well. Favorite things about the set: There's a Pascal figure/piece and there's a unique tan 1x12x3 arch. If I was going to go with the more castle-like entries of the line, I would probably go with the flagship of the theme that I'll be talking about next.

41055 - Cinderella's Romantic Castle - At about $70 for 646 pieces, this is actually one of the best priced sets of the entire theme. It's also packed with a ton of rare pieces, which are appearing for their first time in gold, light blue, and even in tan. The castle itself still relies heavily on the use of panels to build the main structure, but there is far more detail work done using actual bricks than what we see in the Rapunzel set. Height-wise, it's actually only a few bricks taller than the Rapunzel tower, but it's also more spread out and features a well done garden area. I can easily see this being a hard to find set by next Christmas, so it might be worth watching for sales over the summer if you want to pick this one up for a little princess fan.

Overall impressions: While I'm not terribly excited by the heavy use of wall panels to build most of the structures in this line, I think all of the sets have some well thought out play features that will make them very well received. The use of some bigger pieces will actually make it easier for younger builders to do several steps on their own as well. While my own daughter is a little more obsessed with My Little Pony than princesses right now, there are plenty of girls in the target age range for these sets who will probably eat them right up.

These are a smart move by LEGO and I can see the theme carrying on for quite some time. I actually find myself hoping we get some of the villains from these stories as well, although my guess is the line will remain relatively conflict free.

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