Monday, 13 July 2015

Does LEGO Disney Product Need Some Pixie Dust?

LEGO have been releasing Disney product for six years now, but it has somewhat underwhelmed fan expectation. Classic characters have been missing from the line up, and some of the movies that LEGO produced product for didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. It won’t be long until next year’s plans are unveiled, so in the meantime, here is a look back at LEGO and Disney.

The very first LEGO sets developed with Disney was back in 1999, when Winnie the Pooh licensed Duplo sets were released (and continued until 2001). They are very typical of Duplo sets, with the exception of the fun concept of a pop-up book with bricks, Build and Play in the 100 Acre Wood (2979). The characters never went further than Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger. Winnie the Pooh would return to Duplo in 2011.

An entire Mickey Mouse theme was released back in 2000, although the word ‘entire’ means four sets. These were rather uninspiring builds similar to the 4 Juniors line with just a few big, chunky pieces. They were perhaps intended more to provide some basic bricks in a licensed fashion, as they are closer to the buckets of the time than the other sets. There are some nice ‘cartoony’ specialised pieces in there, that look like they have come straight out of Toontown in Disneyland.  

There were also LEGO Baby sets in 2000, part of the ill fated off-shoot of Duplo. Primo style figures of Mickey and Minnie were included with sets that were marked ‘Baby Mickey’. They included various decorated blocks and specifically moulded play accessories for the figures. They may have been fun for very little ‘uns, but they lacked any AFOL appeal.

It was in 2009 that Disney first announced their catch-all deal which would allow LEGO to produce construction sets based on their properties. This was greeted with great enthusiasm as fans considered the possibilities, but when reflecting on five years of LEGO Disney, there isn’t a great deal that has taken advantage of the deal’s potential. Looking back at Star Wars over its first five years, fans had gotten lots of great classic trilogy product and UCS sets inbetween all of the (less interesting to many) prequel product.   

For a time it seemed that LEGO was keen to have a live-action movie represented. First in 2010 was Prince of Persia, followed by Pirates of the Caribbean in 2011 then The Lone Ranger in 2013. Of course the difficulty with this approach is that when LEGO do not have a live-action movie out that will resonate well enough, there’s nothing for the sets to link up with. The Prince of Persia and The Lone Ranger themes were not successful, which probably means LEGO and Disney are unlikely to risk product based on any untested movies such as Tomorrowland.

Despite Toy Story and Cars sets being released, it seems LEGO are avoiding Pixar when it comes to regular sets. Thanks to LEGO Ideas, Wall*E is coming later this year but not in minifig scale or as part of a broader theme. Cars seemed to suit Duplo better, along with other Disney properties such as Planes and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. 

Disney Princess seems to be a regular theme now, in the same way that Super Heroes is (the deal with Marvel was signed separately to the broader Disney deal). Princess allows different characters from Ariel and Cinderella to more recent royalty such as Anna and Elsa. Some of the Princess sets capture an excellent balance between a well executed build and fun intricate details, other sets have been much less inspired. It’s a themes that actually celebrates classic Disney (to an extent), and the only disappointment to LEGO fans is that the figures are minidolls not minifigs.

With only Disney Princess having been representing Disney in System scale LEGO for 2015 – until Wall*E makes it out – perhaps it’s a good time for LEGO to be thinking outside the box about what could come next. If licensing for a round of Collectable Minifigures could be worked out, that would cause huge excitement in the LEGO community. Even better would be a range of sets based on classic characters and movies. Whatever comes next, let’s hope that Disney are not content with Star Wars and Marvel alongside Princess… let’s see LEGO really exploit this license to the max.

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