Brain Candy: With LEGO Friends Like These
One of LEGO’s more popular franchises of late is the LEGO Friends line.
This line proved popular enough to spawn a series of videos and specials, chronicling a quintet of (teen? Tween?) girls: Mia the animal lover, Emma the beautician/martial artist, Andrea the music enthusiast, Stephanie the social butterfly/party planner and Olivia the brain, who lived in fictional Heartlake City where they…did stuff.
However, in 2018, something changed. One fateful day, Jason and I were shopping at a Target store when we came across a LEGO display in the toy section. The LEGO Friends had been transformed from this…
-No joke: when we first saw this display, we thought that LEGO had replaced the cast.
But no, it’s the same set of characters, they’ve just been radically redesigned. Some of the characters’ standout traits/shticks have either been exaggerated or changed altogether, and their adventures and the overall tone of the stories have been ramped up considerably, with more fast-paced, frenetic action and favoring sight gags and slapstick. Furthermore, the Friends do more than just plan surprise parties or go on nature hikes and cruises; they’re now the resident do-gooders of Heartlake City, thwarting criminals, saving the townsfolk, doing good deeds here and there…
How do I feel about this? I’m not too sure yet. On the one hand, I approve of the comic exaggerations and the new zaniness; after all, the original LEGO Friends’ stories were, let’s face it, kind of dull and generic, but on the other hand, I didn’t think there was anyone wrong with the original designs. There wasn’t any reason to change so much, but at the same time, there’s no harm in changing so much either. About these new designs:
Andrea has always been my favorite LEGO Friend (tied with Mia), so I’m glad LEGO didn’t make a ton of changes to her; the alterations to Andrea’s design are merely tweaks, no need to fix something that wasn’t broken. All LEGO did was give her a different hairstyle and alter her decal/logo from a multiple magenta musical notes with cream circles to one large note with wings beside 2 smaller ones. They also made Andrea’s skin tone a shade darker than it was before, which normally I’d probably object to, but here it seems to work, as the darker brown contrasts nicely against the yellows, purples and magentas of her daily outfit, and thankfully her skin isn’t so dark that one can’t make out her facial features. Her basic character and shtick is also still basically the same: she’s still a music lover and very confident.
Honestly, the only real objection I have with Andrea 2.0 doesn’t concern Andrea herself, but the world she inhabits: would it kill the producers to put some other People of Color in the backgrounds as extras and whatnot? In all the LF 2018 videos I’ve seen, it seems like Andrea is the only POC in the entire town. I think I saw one other black kid in the background of the “Meet Andrea” spotlight video, but that was it. Come on guys.
Mia likewise hasn’t been changed all that much; her daily outfit is just a tad more rugged and less hippy-dippy, she’s lost her freckles and she’s still the only LEGO Friend who wears pants instead of a skirt for her usual daily outfit. Her decal has been switched to a lightning bolt, which I have mixed feelings about (lightning bolts are cool, they’re one of mine and Jason’s favorite decals, but I also liked the paw print decal), and she now rides a lightning bolt-studded skateboard, which is kind of cool. Thankfully, she’s still the resident animal lover and nature enthusiast.
Like Andrea, I only have one real pet peeve about Mia’s new look: it’s that she now wears sneakers instead of sandals. I liked the sandals.
Stephanie (the only LEGO Friend whose name doesn’t end in ‘a’; means nothing, just something I noticed) is one of the Friends who has received something of a personality makeover. Admittedly, the whole ‘social butterfly/party planner’ shtick probably wasn’t the easiest thing to represent visually and it was arguably not particularly funny or entertaining at least not in terms of animation, so now LEGO has apparently turned Stephanie into Sporty Spice, which kind of overlaps with Mia’s character, as she’s always the most tomboyish of the Friends, but whatever. One’s a nature and critter lover and the other’s an athletic baller, so they’re not 100% the same. Despite Stephanie’s being a sports enthusiast, she still dresses kind of girly, with a daily outfit which kind of resembles a Japanese schoolgirl outfit/sailor suit, which I do kind of dig.
LEGO has also modified Stephanie’s decal from multiple stars and circles to a single star. Admittedly, the multiple stars-and-circles decal might not have been the easiest thing to replicate or put through the process of animation, so I’m OK with the simpler symbol. Her star symbol here is in the form of a necklace. I’m fine with that.
OK, I’m not going to mince words here: I like Olivia, but hers is my least favorite of these new designs. LEGO has exaggerated Olivia’s intelligence to full-blown Master Inventor/Genius Engineer/Math Whiz, to the point where she can see numbers and make immense calculations on the fly and even possesses a little robot buddy of her own creation which doubles as her scooter (so it’s also a Transformer!), and I’m fine with that; I’m totally down with Mad Science and Super Tech; I don’t even mind the glasses (True Story: Olivia’s re-design is so different that several fans actually emailed LEGO to complain because they thought Olivia had been replaced), but that outfit and the overall aesthetic…just why?? Olivia 2018 now looks too much like a stereotypical nerd, which ironically was one of the things I liked about Olivia originally: that despite being the “smart one”, she looked and dressed like she shopped at the same Justice as the other girls.
Then there’s this new symbol, the gear necklace. Eech. Again, I see what they were trying to do, but that’s just not clicking with me. There wasn’t anything wrong with the hearts. I’ve already said this in an Unpopular Opinion, but just because a kid is smart doesn’t mean they have dress like a dork; smart kids like cool clothes too.
Emma 2.0 has gone from beautician (again, probably not the easiest or most entertaining thing to represent visually) to full-blown artist; she also no longer appears to know Kung-Fu. Ironic then that the artist of the group possesses the most mundane and least visually dazzling design of them all. Emma’s look isn’t bad per se, it’s just so…basic compared to the others. I’m not the biggest fan of Olivia’s new look, but it at least stands out and is distinctive, even if I’m not particularly fond of it. Emma’s overall design, while pleasant, is a tad too ordinary for her to be a vibrant, visually inclined artist.
Emma’s decal (a paintbrush) doesn’t even appear anywhere on her daily outfit. Just polka dots. Polka Dot??
Now, onto the new story structure.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Friends saving lives and stopping bank robbers. Their original adventures were very mild. Granted. But I’m not sure if having them foil crimes is the way to go. For one thing, these have to be the dumbest criminals on record, wearing dark clothing and watch caps in broad daylight.
For another, are the LEGO Friends the Powerpuff Girls now?
To be fair, everything seems to be exaggerated now, so maybe how these 5 young girls with no powers or special skills beyond their hobbies and likes are able to accomplish so much could be part of the joke.
So overall, while I see some hiccups in the LEGO Friends makeover, I’m curious to see how this new style will pan out. This change was abrupt, but hey, at least LEGO is still willing to do stuff with their girl-centric franchise, unlike some companies I could mention…
R.I.P. Pop-Art Pixies