I played with Lego when I was a kid. I’m sure we all did. It was always a source of envy between my brother and me. Even though I was the boy genius with a wall full of honour roll awards, it was my brother who could get his hands into the Lego bucket and just build. He could always make the best aircraft. Airplanes, helicopters, those were his domain when it came to Lego. But me? My Lego creations sucked. It seemed like all I could make were bigger blocks. Slap some wheels on a bigger block, and there! I made a car. Slap some wings on. Now it’s an airplane. Make a really, really big block, leave some gaps for doors and windows, and I could make a house. But generally, my Lego creations sucked.
That’s why I always gravitated towards the sets. The specific sets of blocks with specific sets of instructions telling you how to build the specific toy that was on the box. Those were very hard to screw up. The final Lego set I got was for Christmas when I was about 12 years old or so. It was the (first) Lego space shuttle. I put it together and swore I would never tear it apart and put it in the bucket. It’s still sitting on my desk. Of course, it’s been knocked off the desk and smashed back into its component parts about a dozen times. I keep threatening to tear it apart someday and put it back together with model cement. But I digress.
I mentioned the Lego bucket. That was the ultimate destination of all our Lego sets. The concept is simple. When we tired of our Lego creation we’d tear it apart and its components would go into the bucket. When it was time to play with Lego, we’d spend hours digging through the bucket looking for just the right parts we needed to build our creation. Well, that was the hard way. My brother eventually got the bright idea to spread a beach towel on the floor, and then dump the bucket out onto the beach towel. That way, we could spread out every little Lego piece we had and more easily sift through it looking for “the right part.” And, as my dad will tell you, it also makes a great booby trap for parents when they get up in the middle of the night to use the washroom. Yup, I always felt a twinge of sadness when a Lego creation got torn apart and thrown into the bucket.
I also remember how simple Lego was when I was a kid. There were only three kinds of Lego sets: town, castle, and space. Then…I’m not exactly sure what happened. There was a paradigm shift in the early to mid-1990s, and now there’s a hell of a lot more than town, castle, and space. Now, there’s pirates and cowboys and ninjas and adventure and even licensed properties. What irritates me about all these sets is the amount of specialized pieces that are being made for them now. When I wanted to build a Lego boat, I’d look through the blocks and try to figure out how to put them together to make a pontoon. Now, they just have pontoons. If I wanted to make a domed building, I’d intricately arrange the blocks in a dome shape. Now, there’s just one huge dome piece. I seriously wonder if it’s stifling the creativity of today’s kids.
Especially these licensed properties. Take a look at the Lego aisle of your toy store now. We’ve got Spider-Man Lego, Harry Potter Lego, NBA and NHL Lego. Look in the discount bins and you might still be able to dig out some Jurassic Park III Lego. And it all started with Star Wars Lego. I remember when the Star Wars Lego came out; I thought it was all so cool. Now, I think it’s all so overkill.
And now there’s this Bionicle stuff. I remember reading the news in ToyFare. Essentially, the action figure market got so big that Lego figured they wanted a piece of the action. So, they came up with Bionicles. Using heavily-modified Technic Lego, and some of those specialized parts, Bionicles are kick-ass warriors and demons that you build. And then have them fight each other. It’s been a massive hit for Lego, and now there’s another Lego action figure development coming along called Kingdom Knights. I tell you, it’s not my Lego anymore.
What spurned this on, you may ask? Well, my niece and nephew are visiting, and my nephew is getting all into Bionicles. As such, he’s joined the official Lego club, and he brought his latest issue of the mail-order catalogue. I was leafing through it, and just marvelling at all the stuff you can buy straight from the Lego Company. In their mail-order catalogue (and their online store), you can buy vintage sets. They were boasting an exclusive re-release of the Town Lego Main Street set, first released in 1980. Ah, such a simpler time in Lego; when the figures just had simple smiley faces painted on their heads. You can even buy bulk bricks. Need some more red blocks to finish your house? Buy a sack of 50 for $5.99. But what amazed me the most was their selection of Train Lego.
Train Lego always held a certain mystique for me when I was a kid. It was always there in the catalogues that came with the sets, but I knew no one who actually owned it. I rarely saw it in toy stores, even. And, being a kid who always held a fascination for trains, a Lego train set seemed to be a penultimate toy achievement. And there it is, available for all at the Lego online store. For $250, I can get a complete train starter set. It’s got your locomotive, 6 rail cars, and track. I should point out that Train Lego is fully motorized. You put a battery in that locomotive and it’ll run. Man, I still want a Lego train set. Some day, when I’m rich and famous and have a nice, big basement to set it up in.
But until that day, I’ll have to make due with my Lego sets. Without them, all I can build are bigger blocks. Maybe that’s why Lego has evolved so much over the past 15 years. There were too many kids like me in the world, frustrated by older brother who were able to make such cool things, while all we could make were bigger blocks. We wanted it all to be easier. So, they made it easier. Lego’s slogan used to be “a new toy everyday.” Now, it’s just one toy in the box, and you’re stuck with it.
Unless your older brother happens to be around.