Sunday, 5 August 2012

Pirates and Cowboys: Disney in bricks

LEGO acquired the rights to produce Disney sets to much fanfare in 2009. Since then there have been ranges based on variety of Disney characters. They have been met with a varied reaction from fans and varied success when it comes to sales. Read on for some thoughts on where LEGO has been with the Disney license so far, and where it might be going in the future.

Many fans remembered negatively the last time LEGO was producing Disney products, with the Winnie the Pooh Duplo sets languishing on shelves long after they had been retired along with much of the rest of the LEGO range. After the company was back on track, acquiring every license going seemed less of a priority and the focus was on creating strong home-grown themes. In the past few years, with LEGO being just about the hottest toy going, they have been keener to try licensed properties.

This is being done in a more intelligent way than in the past. LEGO seem to be aware that Star Wars is a one-off gift from heaven, and no other licensed line will sustain itself year after year (perhaps Super Heroes will buck that trend). So now, when LEGO release a line such as Toy Story, it is intended as a one-year deal, two waves of sets hit and then the theme is retired. 

Toy Story was an interesting start to the Disney license. LEGO were making lots of new moulds, with characters such as Buzz, Woody et cetera needing special pieces to create their heads and accessories. This led to an interesting question for fans – when does a mini-figure stop being a mini-figure and become something else? Some loved the miniaturized versions of these characters, some didn’t, but the sets were generally well designed and surprisingly affordable. Sales did not live up to expectations, however, and the feeling seems to be that children wanted the actual toys that Andy played with rather than LEGO versions of them. It is a very post-modern line that is made up of toy versions of toys.

Prince of Persia was hard to even call a moderate success, which was not really the fault of LEGO but because the film itself had no critical acclaim and no-one turned up to see it. It is still great that the theme happened, as we now have LEGO camels, ostriches and Dastan’s hairpiece – which the designers at LEGO seem to like. Pirates of the Caribbean fared better the following year, and exceeded sales expectations (although after Prince of Persia those expectations were probably rather muted). This was an impressive feat as Pirates of the Caribbean toys have never been a runaway success, to such an extent that many toy retailers in the UK only really stocked the LEGO this time around. Pirates of the Caribbean was a mixed bag from an AFOL point of view – it was great to get new mould pirate pieces, such as mermaid tails, globes and bottles, but many were hoping for another year of traditional LEGO Pirates.

That dilemma that faced fans with Pirates of the Caribbean is going to frustrate again next year. Many have been clamoring for the return of LEGO Western, which whispers suggested was being worked up in the design offices of LEGO. The rumour is that fans can look forward to Western themed LEGO next year, but rather than as a home grown theme it will be based on Disney’s The Lone Ranger, to be released in conjunction with the film next year. Let’s hope that we get lots of awesome new pieces that can be utilized in the Modular Western Town.

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