Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lego Elves

Lego Elves appears to be the third installment in Lego's unofficial Lego for Girls line of merchandise.  As with the first two installments (Lego Friends and Disney Princesses) there's nothing wrong with the line in itself, it's just that dividing Legos into Legos and Legos for Girls is wrong and fucked up and full of bad messages and so forth.

I've been watching the gradual unveiling of the line since I learned about it and the biggest surprise came when the "official trailer" turned out to be a full blown episode.  Apparently that was a mistake because what's now shown in that spot is in fact a trailer with a trailer appropriate length of a minute and 25 seconds.

The episode that they, apparently accidentally, released before was timed so that it would fill a half hour slot on TV which makes me wonder if it's going to be a TV show because it's kind of weird to cut precious minutes out of your show so that commercials can fit into it if you're not going to actually put commercials into it at some point.

On the other hand, I've never followed Lego's online animation, maybe that's just their standard practice whether or not there will ever be commercials.


Anyway, the site has already gone live and tomorrow you can start buying to your heart's content and the thing is ... Lego is really good at making pretty fucking cool things even when it's a part of their sexist bullshit overall strategy.

I give you the cheapest set in this new line: Aria the elf who thought jet-packs were too "meh" and so built a wing-pack with which to fly around.  Sure, she's not going to win any races against Falcon, but she looks at least 11 times as awesome as Falcon does in the only set he's in.  (Note that Hulk and Groot are the only ones who get quasi-realistic sculpting in the Marvel Heroes line, but everyone does in Friends-Princess-Elves continuum.)

It's hard not to like Aria with her wing-pack and really there's no point in trying because while Lego as a whole might be a sexist thing, their products have always been a great equalizer.  The munchkin-weasel who said "They have Lego Friends for the girls and regular Legos for the boys," wants me to buy her Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Castle and the Knowwhere Escape Mission because she has no idea about how lacking in money I generally am in spite of me telling her, multiple times, that I'm broke.

What do girls want in a Lego set?  "I am Groot" and "Let it go!"*

What are girls advertised in a Lego set?  Only the latter.

That's the problem: the marketing.  The sets themselves are fine.  I, for one, can't wait to see the Elsa and Groot team-up where she stands on his arm shooting ice magic at the interstellar bad guys as he plows through other bad guys.  (Why his arm and not his shoulder?  Because his shoulder doesn't have any studs for her to stand on where his arm is made with the intention, see the pictures, of someone, say a raccoon with a rocket launcher, standing on them.)

So, anyway, Lego Elves.

There are 25 regular lines of Legos that are marketed to boys, men and, notably, the boy-man unit that is a father and son.  When I say "regular" I mean that in spite of how they are marketed there's nothing about them that ought to be specifically male.  Munchkin-weasel loves her Groot and Rocket as much as the next person.

(The fact that the raccoon and space Ent are both male is Marvel's fault**, not Lego's.  The fact does not prevent the little weasel from liking them; strange that children should be so much more open minded in what they want to play with than advertising execs think they will be.)

Lego Elves brings the Lego lines marketed to girls up to three.  Since three girls lines are supposed to balance against 25 normal male people lines, it's worth taking a look at this newest line.

Like I said re:the wing-pack, it's not bad.

Lego may be horrible when it comes to how they present and market their products, but they're still very good at making the products.

Though there are some ... oddities.  Lego is marketing the entire line based around that episode they released and then apparently unreleased when they realized that instead of a trailer they'd put up the entire episode.

That episode goes like this:
Human character Emily is really broken down over her grandmother's death and her mother gives her a pendant that said-grandmother wanted her to have while suggesting that Emily might feel better in said-grandmother's garden.

Already I'm a bit confused because it seems to me, and I could be wrong, like going to the place where someone's absence is most strongly felt might make the pain of losing them worse.

Regardless Emily does so which allows her alone time where no one will notice her absence and she is promptly sucked into a magical portal.  (To the world of elves, of course.)

Here's where the odd bit comes in.  All of the sets are being marketed as get them so you can play through getting Emily back home.  Emily is only in one of the sets.  Somehow I don't think a lot of parents are going to start their kids on the most expensive set (fifty bucks.)  So how you're being told to play with them (which, why are you being told how to play with them?) is something you can't do.

Well, the first recommendation is something you can't do unless you pester your parents into getting you the most expensive set, because the first thing is:
In LEGO® Elves, teenager Emily Jones has been transported to a magical world. Children must help Emily find her way home
Not going to be easy to get her back home when you can't even afford a set with her in it.

The pitch does go on to say:
The rich LEGO Elves fantasy world also means childen[sic] can easily create their own epic quest with the elvish companions.

I hope so because, spoiler, Emily gets home with almost no effort expended in the first episode.  If the only playing you get to do is trying to get her back home you'll be done in twenty three minutes and forty seconds more or less.  Less if kids don't waste time on stilted dialogue, more if the kids make the quest actually interesting (which kids are, fortunately, likely to do) unlike how it was in the episode.

So that's one sort of weird thing.  The other is that lego seems to have, for some reason, gone out of their way to make their characters look unlike the mini-figures of their characters.  Naida, for example, has absurdly distinctive hair and given that elf-ears necessitated making a new mold for her hair piece it seemed vaguely plausible that the mini-figure might in some why approximate that.  Not so much.

That's the most obvious one, though one that gives me a slight case of WTF? is that Emily insists upon always wearing her ponytail in front, Elsa style.  If you look at the link to Elsa you'll see that not even Elsa gets to wear her hair Elsa style in Lego-land.  And, sure enough, neither does Emily.  It seems to me like if you can't or won't do a certain hairstyle you'd probably not want to make an original character that always has that hair style.

But, anyway, back to the non-oddities.  The sets look cool, seriously look at them, including a ship for epic adventures, a tree fort, and a bakery with a nice nearby lava-fall which doesn't cause you to die from the heat because, I assume, magic.

And, unlike the princess line (where Jasmine is exotic as compared to the other princesses royal, romantic, magical, creative, and sparkling adjectives), they appear to have avoided eating their foot via completely unnecessary bullshit with regards to naming.

I think that Lego's done a good job with these sets, I'd certainly think they look cool.


Now, back to the episode they mistakenly released, which I watched in large part because by the time I went, "Damn, this is a long trailer," I'd already gone far enough in to ... what's the non morbid equivalent of wanting to see a train wreck through because, what the hell, you've already started the process and is it really worth stopping if that might leave you wondering how this, of all things, ends?

It wasn't bad in the right way for me to watch it because it was bad, and it wasn't good enough for me to think "hooked" is the right term, and it wasn't wrong enough for me to describe it as "morbid curiosity" but something kept me watching.

I think part of it is the obvious room for comparison to the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Both are pilot episodes of product shilling shows aimed at girls.

And both follow essentially the same plot: Stranger comes to down, makes friends, they work together to do something, and at the end the person who shows up to be antagonistic is converted via compassion from a family member.

The first episode of MLP wasn't the worst episode of the show, but damn did it fall below all expectations set by people talking about how good the show was.  It started on kind of a ... note that's sharp or flat by an amount smaller than a quarter-tone thus sounding completely off and annoying and not inspiring confidence in what is to follow.

The Elves episode did more or less the same thing for arguably the same reason: you can't pull that off in the allotted time.

In the first episode of MLP Twilight is supposed to form not one but five strong friendships and then each of those five friends is supposed to prove themselves the worthy inheritor of a key virtue of Equestria.  You could make ten full length movies out of that plot (one for each friendship forming, one for proving each virtue) and still not have covered any aspect in sufficient depth and you still wouldn't have reached the climax of the episode.

Elves has a somewhat smaller task in that Emily only has to make four friendships, and each of the friends merely has to use their elemental powers (Elves operates on the ancient Greek elemental system) but it's still completely rushed.  There's an exchange where someone goes from an attitude of, "I think I might possibly be able to do this ... maybe," to one of, "I am totally going to get this done; I give you my word and that means IT WILL HAPPEN," in the time it takes another character to ask her to clarify her first statement.  Totally believable character arc.

The standing down of Emily's great-aunt is done with all the grace of the redemption of Princess Luna.

All of that said, I have a feeling that while MLP vastly improved on its initial offering Elves is probably going to remain vapid and uninspiring.  But that doesn't really matter since the point of Legos (which would might surprise the aforementioned munchkin-weasel and her brother the ... other-weasel) is not to watch animated shows about them.

Even if the show continues to be the opposite of fun, kids are going to have awesome adventures with the ship and the tree fort and the lava bakery and the wing-pack.

If the show is meant to inspire a feeling of, "That's boring, give me the characters," (which means 'buy me the sets') "and I can totally do better with this premise," (which I highly doubt) it arguably succeeds.  I'm sure most children can come up with way cooler adventures that involve the basic outline of: Emily meets elves, they search for the magic keys, Emily is able to go home (with the option to come back at any time.)


A last thing that I'd like to point out is the weird inclusion of fantastic racism in the animated show.  Well, reverse fantastic racism since it's on the part of the elves toward the human.  It isn't the kind of racism that says, "You're lesser than me," it's the kind that says, "You're weird because you're different than me."

It makes a certain amount of sense, as Emily is presumably the only human the elves in question have ever seen, but it's dialed up to 11.  It's all about Emily's ears.  Made all the stranger because, as a Lego figure, Emily doesn't have ears.  The elves do as part of their hair pieces, but Emily doesn't because Lego humans don't have ears.  So every time someone takes a closer look at Emily's ears in the animation it's a scene that you can't come close to replicating with the figures because as a figure she has no ears.

Why you'd draw attention to a part of anatomy your product fails at is beyond me.

But, anyway, here's a quote:
I love meeting new-- whoa!  What is with those ears!?  Wow. *pause* That- that was rude.  Sorry.  But how did they get like that? *touches one without permission* Is it a costume? *steps back* Ugh.  I'm sorry.  Super inappropriate. *pause* But they're weird.
And so on.  It's finally cut off by the statement, "Little-ears-Emily needs our help," but it wasn't the first time the ears were brought up and it won't be the last.

"Not with those ears, no way!" *grabs half of face, without warning, to get a closer look* "Can you even hear?" stood out as another good example of how the characters treat Emily.


* Random note: Guardians of the Galaxy was a film with one female hero and four male (but one of the male ones was a tree who didn't say much) Frozen was a film with two female heroes and three male (but one of the male ones was a reindeer who didn't say much.)  A movie with exclusively original characters about a queen and a princess who are both good only does slightly better than a movie staring superheroes thought up in the seventies and (for Groot) sixties.

(Though note that heroes were assembled into a team in 2008 and the team had a ratio of 5 male to 3 female so in the winnowing process Marvel threw out two women and only one man.)

** Rocket is a character who was established as male before I was born so he was going to be male, I get that, but Groot is a plant.  Why was this the voice of Groot?  When they picked which characters were going to be in the movie one was definitely female and three were definitely male and Groot was Groot.

It's mentioned in the movie that Groot doesn't get gender, and that makes sense given the way plants tend to reproduce, but they still gave the role to male actor.  Why?  Groot is a plant, they could give the role to whoever they wanted and they were already male heavy.

Also, I'm impressed with Vin Diesel.  I didn't realize he was Groot's voice and I have to say he did it well.  Best acting he's done since Pitch Black.  Maybe the best acting of his career.

Although ... looking at his thing he did the Iron Giant too which I have not seen (well, I think I caught maybe a minute of it once) but have heard good things about.  Maybe voice acting is where his talent really lies.


  1. I, for one, can't wait to see the Elsa and Groot team-up where she stands on his arm shooting ice magic at the interstellar bad guys as he plows through other bad guys.

    Me too OMG.

    And you should see The Iron Giant.

  2. Iron Giant was pretty good, from my childhood memories of it.

  3. Vin does do better when it's just his voice involved.

    The Elves line is being marketed to girls. I'm more than a mite pissed about that, just on behalf of my younger self, who would totally want Elves in their play sets. And who could do better than simple fetch quests, too.