(Written by William)
I admit it, I’m a Disney fan, but I can’t say I would have wanted LEGO statues of Mickey and Minnie Mouse at the beginning of the year. But that all changed when I put together the recently released #75551 LEGO Brick-Built Minions & Their Lair set. I really loved the building experience and the large-scale characters, which made me interested in these type of builds. Then, LEGO announced the #43179 Mickey Mouse & Minnie Mouse Buildable Characters, and I wanted to give them a try. I figured that with the even larger size, and over three times the price of the Minions set, it should offer an even more substantial building experience than the Minions.
The building experience was actually vastly different than what I prepared for. Normally, I’d look at the age rating of a set and think that the higher the number, the more difficult it will be to build it. But it’s not the case here, even though the rating is 18+. That’s not to say the set doesn’t have any interesting building techniques, but I wasn’t challenged to connect things in obtuse ways. In fact, the whole build allowed me to de-stress, which is one of the criteria LEGO is going for with its new 18+ products.
I would also add that the finished model is by no means a toy. Of course, you can still play around with some of the parts, but the characters are not poseable. It would require you to entirely rebuild some sections if you really wanted an alternate position. In short, you are building art, rather than a conventional LEGO set. They are nice statues that are perfect for decorating a living space that says you like classic Disney and LEGO all at the same time!
Is this set for everyone? The answer is absolutely not. I’m sure hardcore LEGO fans would love some of the new parts in this set, but the average price trends a little on the high side for a parts-pack. However, if you’re a hardcore Disney fan and also like LEGO, you may want to give serious thought to this model. It doesn’t have a high building curve, meaning even novice LEGO builders shouldn’t have trouble putting this together. Plus, it is designed to be a very collectible piece of memorabilia. If you’re looking for a quirky decorative piece that isn’t garish, the set fits the bill quite nicely. As for kids… eh, they’ll put it together easy enough, but I can see them finding the final result boring. They’d probably scrap the statues for parts as soon as they are done. In the video below, I will share some additional overall thoughts, then we will discuss what interesting building techniques Mickey and Minnie can teach us!
FOCUS ON RELAXING WITH LEGO
Usually, when we plunk down over a hundred bucks on a LEGO set, we’re prepared to have a number of experiences. The thrill of learning new techniques, the excitement of finding parts in new molds and colors, and the challenge of putting something together rather difficult. Rarely are we looking to relax. Sure, there’s a ton of stress relief involved in building a great set, but it’s not necessarily a primary thing we actively seek out.
Well, this model is very much a stress reliever. As I mentioned above, LEGO is employing a new technique with their 18+ line. They are attempting to attract a whole different type of fan base. People who are looking at LEGO not as building challenge, or to geek out over unique parts, but as a relaxation experience. The LEGO company knows their vast library of sets will appeal to the hardest core Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) there is out there. But that is not to say an adult set like Mickey & Minnie is actually made for them. Weird, right? Rather, they know there is a large market of adults who think LEGO is just for kids. You and I know this is wrong on so many levels. Well, this is LEGO’s way of helping to change that impression.
To help with this new marketing strategy, LEGO is putting the 18+ tab on the box. This shows to even casual adults that kids aren’t the intended audience. A serious AFOL can tell right off the bat whether a set is for them or not, but someone uninitiated in the LEGO world may need some coaxing.
Next, comes the building experience. In the case of this set, and many of the other 18+ sets, the focus is on relaxation, not on challenging fans or teaching them new techniques (even though there are some interesting techniques involved in sculpting the figures). So, chill and soothing is the motto here.
Finally, in most of the sets in this new line, the finished models are more like buildable art, rather than play-sets. They are relaxing to build, and look good on display in an adult environment. I’ve honestly never built a set this size and felt so calm in the process. Even when I spied some brand-new parts, I was never gripped by a building frenzy. Since I was building a statue, I could let my mind wander and not need an intense focus on making sure things were perfect.
So then, you might wonder, how can all of this be a building technique? There are two angles to consider. One is to once in a while work on projects that are refreshing and calming rather than challenging. Secondly, this set (and other 18+ sets) demonstrate how to strip away complexity and still achieve an impressive result. In practical terms, this can usually be achieved by focusing on interesting shapes and experimenting with color, rather than on complex working features.
Of course, not every 18+ set LEGO will release will have this focus. Having sat through a presentation regarding their strategy on attracting adults to the hobby, providing a stress relieving experience is one of the design methods that they’ll try with sets like these when it is appropriate. Having experienced it first hand, I say it works.
TILT-HINGES FOR SCULPTING WITH LEGO
When I first heard about the sculptures of Mickey and Minnie, I was interested to see how LEGO designers accomplished creating all the rounded shapes. After all, Mickey and Minnie are basically circles, when you get down to it. Seeing the finished models, I admit there are still points that are rough. LEGO makes a number of specialized slopes, but they also don’t want to make too many special elements with limited usage. For instance, the printed eyes on both characters are a single molded half-dome. They look smooth and elegant. But there are parts of the head that needed to be brick-built.
So, between all the quarter domes there are various curved slopes to help with the shaping. However, none of these curved slopes should be able to reach the angles they are in if they are used straight on a flat surface. That’s where the tilt-hinge bricks come in handy. A tilt-hinge brick consists of two parts. The bottom, which is roughly the size of a 1×2 brick, and the top, which can sport either two or four studs. Put these in the right spaces and you can achieve some impressive curvy shapes.
In order to use the tilt-hinge bricks the most effectively, you’ll want to keep two things in mind. First, keep the elements attached to them relatively small. Like it or not, a tilt-hinge is not the most secure of building surfaces. So, leaving only small areas exposed means you don’t have to worry too much about knocking off whatever is attached to them. Second, consider carefully where to add stops to limit how far the hinges can be tilted. Defining how much a tilt can move gives an inherent amount of stability to your sculpture, which also helps with the first concern.
The end result is the ability to remove harsh edges on your models in key locations. Keep in mind that this is more of a finishing step. The tricky part of this technique is planning out how to leave studs open for your tilt-hinges when you’re ready to do your finishing touches. My best advice is to try to add in rough plates as placeholders for what you plan to build on the tilt-hinge. This will allow you to figure out things like stops without dragging your building process to a dead halt.
TILTING THROUGH LEGO TECHNIC
Okay, so maybe you need a tilting element for your sculpture and it needs to be a bit more stable. Perhaps you want to build something a bit more substantial on your tilt, like the top of Mickey and Minnie’s mouth. Or maybe you want to design your entire sculpture on it like the angled feet of Mickey and Minnie. That means you’ll need something a bit sturdier than just a plain tilt-hinge brick. You’re going to want some LEGO Technic parts.
What you want out of the angle will determine how you might go about using Technic elements. For instance, a decorative piece that is just a bit larger than some slopes you put on tilt-hinges may require basic friction pins added to a modified plate with pinholes. The friction of the pins is often sufficient to handle minor tasks like these.
Now let’s say, you are planning to put significant weight on the tilted elements. However, you aren’t planning to do anything too crazy with what goes on top. For this you’ll still use basic pins on a modified LEGO Technic plate, but you’ll craft slopes for the entire tilted section to rest on. Just make sure whatever the tilt is resting on is reinforced, since it is handling the real weight of the design. Minnie’s foot is a great example of this. Since her leg is relatively straight and is not trying to do anything too fancy, the support under her foot is built in this manner.
But why stop there? You’re the ambitious sort and want your cake and build it too! Take Mickey’s right leg as an example. Not only is the foot tilted so he’s on his toes, but his knee is bent. And it is one of the main supports of the model. This requires a much more serious way to tilt the underlying support.
To accomplish this, LEGO designers used two sets of modified Technic plates. They are essentially 1×2 plates with a pinhole on the underside of one of the studs. These are then stacked one on top of the other, thus offsetting the holes by one plate. Now, when you add pins into these holes and then add Technic bricks to those pins, you can tilt them until they are side-by-side and only one plate apart height-wise. Adding a plate to make up this difference, and building it into a solid structure like a display base, means you created a tilt that is hard fixed. Sure, it can still give way, but you’ll probably have to break quite a few parts to do it.
APPLYING WHAT YOU LEARN
Somewhere along the way, I found that subconsciously I build things as if I’m afraid of them falling apart. This is probably due to how so many LEGO sets are designed with certain principles in mind. Particularly, that the models should be sturdy enough for play. But when that’s no longer the goal, and instead of play the idea is to relax, the principles of building I held most strongly don’t seem to be as important as before.
On the whole, these creations are rather fragile in their overall composition. Tilting hinges through a model don’t scream “stable play toy” to anyone. But I still really enjoy the end result with this set. Plus, the elements that are the most fragile are kept easily accessible and fixable. By changing my underlying mindset for building, I found I can create vastly different models than I’m used to.
Working with angles is an important skill. I know many fans who stick with regular LEGO System parts and are not inclined to explore Technic all that much. To them, Technic is a world of gears and very unattractive elements. But I assure you, when it comes to skeletal structures, LEGO Technic is your best friend.
In the end, whether this particular set appeals to you or not, try changing your building focus and see what comes from it. You don’t even need to have a particular goal in mind. Maybe there are some parts out there that you think have an interesting texture. Try to use that texture in some sort of pattern just to relax. Or, if you still need more structure in your relaxing, why not think of the most impossible angles you can imagine. Then try to create them out of LEGO bricks. All of this can lead to some interesting things you can hold onto in your mental toolbox. If you’re interested in the set, it’s available for pre-order at the LEGO Disney section of the Online LEGO Shop.
What do you think? How do you like the LEGO Mickey & Minnie Mouse set? Is this something that interests you? Are you planning to get it? And what do you think of LEGO’s new 18+ collection and focus on using LEGO as a relaxation experience? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!
And you might also like to check out the following related posts: