LEGO Ideas 21308 Adventure Time [Review]

Unless you’re just tragically unhip or have been living under a rock, on Mars, then you’ll no doubt have heard of the critically acclaimed, Emmy winning, noodly limbed, gender stereotype breaking, cult followed, totally mathematical, pop culture phenomenon that is Adventure Time.

It’s now been 10 years since the original pilot aired, and with almost 250 episodes under its belt (including a new 8-part special Islands coming next month) the show remains as popular as ever, thanks to its groundbreaking style, the diversity of its characters, and massive merchandising empire. And now it is finally a LEGO set, 21308 Adventure Time. Not bad for a cartoon inspired by D&D and videogames!

What time is it? Adventure time!

With the wealth of Adventure Time gear available these days, it’s hard to understand why LEGO didn’t get in on the act ages ago. In fact, it’s only through the persistence of fans that LEGO has done anything at all. In 2013 the LEGO Ideas team reviewed a fan-created design for a range of minifig-scale sets, but rejected it. The appearance of Adventure Time minifigs in LEGO Dimensions this year was little consolation. Then just recently, the Ideas team reviewed a collection of brick-built character designs by another fan builder, Ludovic Piraud, and this design did get their blessing to be developed into an official set. And here it is…

What’s in the box?

Ludovic’s original concept included 15 of the show’s characters modelled around a blocky template with a 3×2 stud footprint. The final set sticks to that basic pattern, but narrows the field to just 8 central characters. Fortunately, since many of the show’s characters are non-humanoid, there is very little repetition across the models, so this set offers a very rich variety of designs, pieces, building techniques, and colors (23 different ones in all). The end result is a fun build and a great looking collection of figurines.

Like most Ideas sets, the box is a higher quality affair than the cereal packets that most LEGO sets are stuffed into, since it has a re-closeable lid. Inside, there’s a nicer-than average instruction booklet that includes Bios of the fan designer and his LEGO counterpart, as well as some rather peculiar descriptions of the set’s characters (for example, it doesn’t mention that Marceline is a vampire, even though the LEGO designer is a bass player from Transylvania and that’s his favorite character!).

Most of the figures have stubby arms attached via Mixel-style ball and socket joints. While this offers some degree of posability, the joints only come in gray so they don’t match the color schemes of the characters. They also look a bit crude – like penguin flippers. Which is ironic since the one actual penguin in this set doesn’t have poseable arms at all.

The figures in this set are all instantly recognizable – thanks in part to all the wonderful colors that LEGO comes in these days (believe me, five years ago building stuff like this was a very different story). They are generally to scale, and look really cool. I particularly like the chunky construction of the hair, which helps break up the blocky-ness of the humanoid models.

The faces on several models use printed 1×3 bricks, and while this really helps bring them to life, I was disappointed that LEGO missed the opportunity to make these bricks reversible, with alternate facial expressions on the back, like so many minifig heads have nowadays.

It’s ok, it’s personality that counts

Inaccuracies and omissions are fairly minor… BMO’s limbs are all black, which was probably unavoidable as LEGO prefers not to commit to producing new part/color combinations for Ideas sets. However I’ll take any chance to snag a few more of those rare “burned hotdog” pieces; the last time I needed to order bunch of those, they had to come all the way from a guy in Stuttgart. The parts used for BMO’s controls look kind of odd – I think a printed brick would have worked better.

Princess Bubblegum lacks a waistline, but I imagine a detail like that would have overcomplicated the design. Marceline also lacks the signature bite marks on her neck. Her guitar and Finn’s sword both have annoying gaps on them when detached from the characters’ hands, which makes them less appealing to display separately. Lady Rainicorn’s fully-jointed construction is very ambitious, although sadly she has been made too wide for the other figures to properly sit on her as they do frequently in the TV show (but I was able to sort of balance them).

Other than these nit-picks though, the models in this set capture the essence of the show’s characters perfectly. And the effort put into the designs of the Ice King and Lady Rainicorn are particularly impressive. All the figures are sturdy, don’t fall over, and assembling them was pretty straightforward.

Are we having fun yet?

The deliberately blocky nature of these character designs won’t be to everybody’s tastes, but in my experience that’s just the nature of small-scale brick-built characters …especially if you want to make them easy to build, not fall apart when handled, and use only readily available parts. I can already hear the cries of “these are ugly because they are neither minifigures nor ten times larger and more detailed”, which kinda of misses the point; they’re supposed to look like they’re made of LEGO bricks and also look like the characters from the show. That’s the delight of brick-built characters.

And unless LEGO’s Brickheadz product line actually pans out, this represents a rare departure by LEGO away from minifig-based characters. And as a long-time LEGO character builder, I am very excited about that. While the nature of the Ideas platform means that this will almost certainly be the only Adventure Time LEGO set we ever see, I feel it’s gonna be a very popular set, and I hope it opens LEGO’s eyes to the possibilities of a building style that has been already popular amongst the LEGO fan community for a very long time now.

This set is almost guaranteed to sell like hot cakes because it combines two hot properties: Adventure Time and LEGO. But the question is… Is this really a play set, or is it a collector’s item?

I think it works great as a display set, and any self-respecting Adventure Time fan is gonna want a copy. But since its likely to be a one-off set, that means no follow-up sets featuring additional characters from the show, which I think will disappoint fan collectors.

As a play set it has more limited appeal, though I expect younger fans will certainly enjoy even the limited playability features offered, as the array of characters in this set still offer plenty of opportunity for role play. But if you want buildings, vehicles, accessories or additional characters, you’re gonna have to build them yourself. But then again – isn’t that kind of the whole point of the LEGO system? I’m actually interested to see where people take this concept, given the sheer immensity of the Adventure Time universe.

So to get the ball rolling, I decided to have a go myself…

LEGO Ideas 21308 Adventure Time contains 495 pieces and will retail in the US for $49.99. It will be available in LEGO stores from December 26th, 2016. Which begs the question… Why wasn’t LEGO able to get it on shelves slightly ahead of Christmas, so fans could maybe get this under the tree? Maybe the answer to that question lies buried on another of the Ice King’s videotapes. Let’s gather round the fireplace and find out!

Update: 21308 Adventure Time is now available from the LEGO Shop Online.

The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.