Is it just me, or was LEGO really awkward for a decade and a half? I entered my dark ages just as the 1990s began, only to return some 15-20 years later with my son, so I missed out on the 1990s and early 2000s LEGO completely. I’ve been making up for lost times on and off again by browsing Brickset and the like and it just strikes me as a bit of an odd LEGO period so far. I think LEGO was pretty cool in the 1970s and 1980s, and again now very true to its origins, but I’m not sure what to think of the 1990s and earlier noughties. Is it just because it is new to me? Or is there something to it? Were they lost?
So, take LEGO Castle for example, the topic of my first quest. One of the first AFOL terms I learned was “jelly-bean knights”, referring to the Knights’ Kingdom II of 2004. This was when they introduced the new and hated bley color scheme (to make LEGO look more modern), but also weird, pastel colored, cartoony Castle meets Bionicle characters that earned said nickname. When I took a peek at this theme, it just looked wrong. But these kinds of colors are not completely without precedent, the awkwardness seems to have started already in the years prior as castle LEGO introduced blue colors, so off in a castle theme. Compared to the 1980s LEGO Castle or the 2010s LEGO Kingdoms, the between-years were weird – they introduced the hated BURPs and LURPs as well.
Another example would be LEGO Trains, the topic of my second quest. While the 1980s featured some really great and realistic trains, as does the present-day LEGO, what were they thinking back in the 1990s? I know the 9V LEGO Trains system of the that time is universally praised as the second best LEGO Trains technology, and much used by LEGO Trains enthusiasts, but I think many people equally agree this third-generation trains theme was just plain weird for many of its years. Starting with the packaging that looked like the train is inside some cartoony ice cave or, well, literally space. Also, some of these trains were extremely futuristic and really strange to witness outside of a space theme. I think LEGO Trains too got its sanity back in the noughties, luckily.
Last, but definitely not least is LEGO Town, now called LEGO City. Had I not known anything about the preceding years, I would have thought nothing of it. The current LEGO City theme is a very worthy successor to the 1980s LEGO Town, just a more modern, evolved interpretation of the same solid idea. Compelling stuff, perfect execution, one of my favorite LEGO themes ever. However, what happened between 1990 and 2005? Not only was LEGO dabbling with seemingly dozens of different, short-lived themes in this area, some of them were quite strange indeed. Replacing LEGO Town with a simplified Town Jr.? Paradisa, really? Well, I guess the last is at least understandable as a relative of Belville and Friends. (And let’s not forget LEGO Baby and LEGO Quatro, tried and dropped.)
Maybe the dark ages were a blessing after all. Looking at the present-day LEGO, it is easy to trace their lineage back to the 1970s and 1980s. I can’t really say the same about some of this stuff that came out in between. I wonder if the kids who grew up in the 1990s still miss it, I guess they would – it’s all about the personal perspective.
Your thoughts? Is it just me having been away and thus not feeling the love? Or was LEGO indeed a little lost in the wilderness?