(Written by William)
Rumors were circulating some time back that LEGO was going to release some sort of Ariel’s Castle for adults. I had picked up a Disney Princess set in the past featuring Ariel’s Castle, so I was kind of interested in what an advanced version for adult builders would look like. I was pretty surprised when the set was finally revealed that it was a massive clamshell! However, thinking about it, the castle in the original film was a location barely used. And I know that the new #43225 LEGO Disney Little Mermaid Royal Clamshell is based more on the upcoming movie, which could be an additional consideration for this interesting choice.
In the new set, one of the scenes is definitely the throne room, and the other two scenes are of Ursula’s lair and Ariel’s Collection Cave. This is not a castle, this is an art piece merging together different locations! Given the fact this is a set for adults, it makes sense that the artistic nature of the model is prioritized. Plus, the scenes chosen are relatable to either the new movie or the original animated film. And this was a conscious choice mentioned by the designer. It is also interesting that minifigures are used instead of mini-dolls as most of the other LEGO Disney sets. I assume this was done as adults tend to prefer the look and style of the minifigures over the mini-dolls.
As an adult builder, I have to say that I was definitely interested in this set from the first time I saw it, but I’m not sure I would have been first in line to grab it when it became available. When minifigures are included in a set, I like to have a bit more play potential. Another feature I’m always interested in is the building experience, so let’s take a look at what this set has to offer, and if this model sinks or floats my interest.
LITTLE MERMAID CLAMSHELL – APPROXIMATE SHAPING
LEGO elements are great at recreating shapes, and with new elements coming out all the time, there are more and more complex shapes that can be made. However, even the LEGO system has its limitations. Sometimes there are shapes that are just so complex that the best you can do is approximate the shape that you are going for. The clamshell in this case is a very ambitious shape to duplicate. So, let’s go over some of the methods that were used to minimize the complexity where it wasn’t needed, and maximize the ways to smooth out the design.
First up, you want to know where you don’t have to work so hard at creating a perfect shape. The back of this model is a great example. Given the scale of this model, one way to keep the complexity down was to choose an angle that the model shouldn’t be viewed from. By doing this, LEGO designers were able to keep the parts count down, as well as avoid having to figure out how to handle all the vertical weight the added pieces would have created. This may feel like cheating to some builders, but it is a skill in and of itself; knowing where to save money, time, and effort.
The next issue to overcome in approximating a shape is dealing with all the gaps. This immediately becomes an issue when you start building at odd angles. Sometimes you can find the perfect wedge plate to minimize these gaps, but if it is done continuously – like in this case, a fan shape – gaps are going to be created. The trick to dealing with such imperfections usually involves layering and/or masking.
Masking and layering are very similar techniques. Both involve placing something to obstruct from someone viewing an imperfection, or gap. Layering will have you simply build over the problem area. But you do have to watch out for stability issues. Many layering techniques involve having tiles to help frame a gap. Then the next layer rests on the tile and since there are no odd studs sticking up, the next layer can lay flat. If done right, you will end up with several studs connected somewhere under the layer. Just make sure you aren’t only using a single stud for this purpose.
Masking does the same thing as layering but it often doesn’t have a direct connection point to whatever it is covering. The trim on the bottom clamshell is a good example of this. Above all the curving elements of the shell, the model transitions into a platform for all the decorations to be built upon. This layer looks extremely abrupt and does not look good at all. So, LEGO designers added curving arches to form the edge trim of the shell. In doing so, they also extended the edge down in order to mask the transition gap. If done right, the transition can look seamless, but it often comes at the cost of being very delicate in nature.
Finally, sometimes there is just no avoiding a gap. It needs to exist because there is no part that will perfectly solve the issue. In cases like this, you can use color blending. It can be as simple as using the same color as the parts that form the gap, so even when you directly look at the gap, your eyes just see more of the same color. Or, you can blend colors in the same color family together. This set uses a wide variety of blues, greens, and grays, which are all cool colors. By creating a marbled look, your eyes expect to see a wide array of elevation changes. In this case, gaps go from a design flaw to a desired outcome.
LITTLE MERMAID CLAMSHELL – FLOATING ELEMENTS
This model has quite a few floating elements. There are a whole host of fish including Flounder all posed around the clamshell. You also get two of Ariel’s sisters swimming around the place. And even Ursula is hovering in her lair!
It is very easy to see how LEGO designers float all these elements. There is often a clear bar of some sort propping up the character. Currently, this is pretty much the only technique we have available to us as LEGO fans.
However, I do want to point out what LEGO designers did with Ursula, as the technique is a little different. Unlike the characters like the fish and mermaids, Ursula is positioned on a transparent brick. Also, unlike the other floating elements it is harder to see what props her up given the fact her base hides much of the brick and her lair limits the view of her.
In other words, the way Ursula is built works off of the same principles as magicians use. If you want someone to be tricked into thinking something is happening, like a person is floating, it helps to focus on what people are looking at. To be clear, this is not at all an easy trick to pull off with LEGO. People can easily look at a LEGO model from different angles and figure out how something is done. Thus, creating blinds to hide elements is only effective to a certain degree. But, if the opportunity does present itself it helps to know how this technique is available to you and how to pull it off. So look for narrow viewing situations, consider novel connection methods, and use a variety of complementary colors to hide connections. As for the subject being floated, make it bold and eye-catchy so people are less likely to look away. If you have all these features in place, you might end up with an interesting build.
LEGO LITTLE MERMAID CLAMSHELL – FINAL THOUGHTS
Older LEGO fans will enjoy the fact that the #43225 LEGO Disney Little Mermaid Royal Clamshell comes with minifigures and not mini-dolls. The three scenes are also nice choices in that they can be related to either the new live-action movie or the older animated film. (Collectors will have to look back to the LEGO Disney Collectible Minifigure Series 1 to find a version of Ariel that matches the animated style in minifigure form.) It is also worth noting that Flounder and Sebastian are different from the animated version as well. Fortunately, there are some LEGO Disney Princess sets out there that have the versions of the animated characters if you’re looking to modify the set in that way.)
However, the biggest draw of this model is the clamshell. I do want to state, that this set does not photograph very well. With a high-definition camera, the gaps are very hard to ignore. And the sharp focus and harsh shadows do not favor the overall look either. But in person, these flaws are minimized.
As for the construction itself, I found myself thoroughly entertained. The entire build comes together in a way that feels unique from anything else I’ve put together in recent memory. Most large LEGO models rely on LEGO Technic elements for their core stability, but instead, this set mostly uses a wide variety of sideways building techniques combined with some heavy arch and slope elements. It’s unexpected how things come together, and by the time I finished building it, I had more respect for the model knowing what went into it. Additionally, I felt very intimidated by it as I felt that this set is above my own skill level. But it ended up being a blend of a minifigure-sized set mixed with an art piece installation. And on top of all that, given its price, I’d say it makes a pretty decent parts pack for those looking for some rather interesting elements.
Before wrapping up my thoughts on this set, here is the video where I talk about it in a bit more detail. And if you want to check out the set, it’s available at the LEGO Disney section of the Online LEGO Shop.
If I hadn’t gotten this set as a review copy, I would have still put it on my wanted list. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it would be something I’d eventually get around to buying. Having built it does raise my opinion of the set a bit and I would probably push to get it sooner rather than later. The only thing holding me back from making it a top pick is knowing that this is more of an art piece. I do like playing with finished models and this is not that type of set. Also, models that get to this size might be hard to find display space for. But if you’re fine with that, then this one might float to the top of your list!
What do you think? How do you like the Disney Little Mermaid Clamshell? Do you have the set already? Or are you planning to get it? Are there any other interesting features or building techniques that you noticed? Feel free to share and discuss in the comment section below!
And you might also like to check out the following related posts:
- Three New LEGO Disney Little Mermaid Sets!
- Two New LEGO Disney Sets Coming!
- Brick Breakdown: LEGO Disney Up House
- Brick Breakdown: LEGO Disney Celebration Train
- LEGO Disney 100th Anniversary Sets
- More LEGO Disney 100th Anniversary Sets & Minifigs!
- LEGO to Celebrate 100 Years of LEGO Disney
- LEGO Encanto The Madrigal House Alternate Versions
Out of curiosity; do the two sides of the shell mirror each other. In other words, could they be potentially closed if you take out all the stuff in side?
Unfortunately the answer is no.
First, there is no hinge element for the back part of the shell.
Second, there is no back to the shell. So even if it could close it is not shaped like a shell in back.
Now if you remove all the elements you will still need to leave the ground as it covers up a lot of the connections underneath to make the bottom shape work. Even still, you’ll have to deal with a lot of odd gaps. Much of the decoration is there to cover up the worst looking gaps in the model.
If you are set on building a closed clamshell I think it could be done with two copies of the set, but it would be up to you to create a sturdy enough hinge and completely design the top part of the shell.
A big reason they didn’t do this is that it would have to be an extremely dense model to stand up to movement. I wouldn’t call any of the current connections strong enough for the task. Instead, they made sure to put all the structural integrity in holding up a stationary model.
Good review, William. And I appreciate that you showed the back in the video. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it might. And the gaps don’t bother me much. Like you said, they blend in with all the other stuff that’s happening. I still don’t think it’s for me. I’m not too much into display sets. But I like how it’s done.
Yeah, I can definitely say this can be an easy pass for many.
With that said, it is a remarkable building experience. I’d just prefer it if a person was buying it that they’d have both a great building experience and they really liked what they built in the end.
I would love to build this! The shape is so unique! And I love that they included minifigs and not minidolls.
The minifigures were a very nice surprise. I guess they realize adults tend to prefer a minifigure over a minidoll.
And if you’re looking for an interesting build experience this is the set for you. I was captivated the entire time I was building the clamshell.
It’s interesting that they went with mostly system elements instead of technic to build the shells internal structure. Do you have any suggestion on when to use which?
Usually you choose one over the other based on asthetics and/or weight.
LEGO System will always be the prettier end result. Its core design is to really capitalize on shape and color. So, if your foundation calls for an extremely odd shape and you don’t want to compromise on how it looks then you can usually make System your choice for a good foundation.
However, LEGO System can’t escape weighing more than Technic. Technic offers the structural integrity without all the weight. You will also have to work around the fact it doesn’t look the best.
So in the end things that are stationary and can weigh a lot are often good candidates for LEGO System. But if you have a model that cares about weight, like if an arm has a thin connection or it’s a model that needs to move like a vehicle, then Technic is probably a better choice.
Most advanced models these days will try to be a combination of the two so they can have the best of both worlds. This model in particular is a bit odd in that they were very particular in its shape. Technic only made an appearance in the back where the overall structure was thin, thus weight was an issue.
I’m thinking this would be a great set for an underwater scene even without the Little Mermaid reference. I like the shell.
Agreed! There is actually very little that needs to be removed or modified to make this happen.
I’d remove the thrones and the shelves of potions behind Ursela should be modified to be more natural and you’re pretty much done.
Oh, and maybe some of Ariel’s collection can be slimmed down as well.