30 April 2014

The Simpsons LEGO Review | Bricks of Homer - A Review of 71006: The Simpsons' LEGO House

Earlier this year, The LEGO Movie’s media dominance was briefly outdone by a news story revealing that America’s favourite dysfunctional family, the Simpsons, would be taking brick form in a very special LEGO set designed to celebrate their show’s twenty-fifth anniversary - and soon.

Fans of LEGO and The Simpsons alike wouldn’t have to wait long to get their hands on the family’s 2,523-piece Evergreen Terrace abode. But even before it shipped in February, the online-exclusive superset was being hailed as “the greatest LEGO set ever” based on its publicity material alone, and given LEGO’s forty-year history spanning dozens of themes and thousands of sets, that’s no small feat. Now I’ve not seen, let alone built, every single LEGO set that’s ever come out of Denmark, but of the hundreds that I have - my beloved Death Star and numerous star destroyers of varying size and hue amongst them - this piece de resistance trumps them all.

Various factors have conspired to make this so; perhaps the most obvious of them the Simpsons’ unprecedented suitability to the LEGO form. Not only is the show animated, but its colours are bold and its rendering is simple, which makes its reduction to colourful bricks far more aesthetically pleasing than a live-action Jedi or Hogwarts wizard. Hell, most of Springfield’s inhabitants are even yellow to start with - a colour originally chosen by LEGO for its neutral ethnicity, only for Matt Groening to later take it and make it Springfield’s new white. There are no real losses and precious few compromises here - the transition is within a gnat’s wing of seamless.

Another secret to the set’s success is its scale. Eschewing timeworn LEGO building styles that used to frustrate me even in my infancy, the house is relatively spacious and, moreover, looks like a house from every angle. The number of backless buildings that I used to build that you could barely squeeze a minifigure into are just distant memories now - every room of the house is here, and is still readily accessible thanks to the removable roof pieces and garage, and hinged side wall. The garage alone is the size of most LEGO City dwellings, and the fully-equipped bathroom is just a working flush away from realism. 

Indeed, the level of detail in the near half-metre-wide home is breathtaking. TV-accurate kitchen cupboards are teeming with kitchenware and tiny crockery; the garage is overflowing with borrowed power tools and gardenware, many of which are branded with apposite “PROPERTY OF NED FLANDERS” stickers (LEGO’s first-ever justifiable use of a stickers, I reckon). Bart’s bedroom, complete with Radioactive Man comic books and Krusty the Clown posters, is a work of LEGO art surpassed only by the lounge. The iconic family couch and old-school television set are each stunning to see, with the nearby telephone; staircase; sailing-ship picture and grand piano completing the timeless cartoon diorama.

To LEGO’s credit, they’ve even included one of the family’s cars rather than save it for a separate set. Homer’s pink but deceptively robust automobile is the spit of its immortal title sequence self, complete with radioactive rod, boot and all, and to my delight it can even fit two minifigures inside it side by side, yet still look quite at home beside the standard-issue one-man LEGO City cars. It’s one of the set’s greatest triumphs, and a particular hit with my two-year-old toddler, who’s spent hours playing with it and only managed to break off the aerial on its bonnet (which is more than can be said of Homer, if its dents are anything to go by).

The set is not without its omissions, however. Bart’s trademark treehouse is nowhere to be found, disappointingly, and so will probably form the basis of a future set. Likewise, the family’s long-suffering pets, Snowball II and Santa’s Little Helper, have slipped through the cracks between pencil and brick - at least for now.

As for flaws, whilst the house’s tiled floors offer a polished finish seldom seen in a LEGO erection, posing the minifigures on them is as difficult as building a house of cards. You can’t even sit them all on the sofa together in order to recreate your favourite iterations of the show’s famously fluctuating opening titles as there isn’t enough room for one thing, and Bart and Lisa’s standard-issue Yoda legs don’t bend for another. Purists may also lament the liberties in layout taken by the designers as, for all its stunning features, the rooms aren’t all where they appear to be in relation to one another on television.

My biggest gripe by far though is the minifigures, who, as since proven by the recently-released (and unreservedly excellent) minifigures series, could have been a lot better. Homer, for instance, looks half asleep here, which might well sit well with his work attire, but does beg the question as to why the version of Homer included in the supposedly flagship set is an out-of-the-house variant. Similar could be said of Marge, who looks decidely flighty in her seldom-seen apron, though her removable - if flimsy - cloth skirt does at least allow her to use the house’s LEGO loo in nowt but her white knickers. I’ve no complaints about the more recognisable Maggie and Lisa, save perhaps for the woeful absence of Lisa’s trademark sax (which would accompany her in the subsequent minifigures series), but Bart looks worryingly mischievous, even for him, and even Ned Flanders’ aberrantly open eyes are blighted by an apron that he’s hardly famous for.  

In all though, the set deserves its lofty repute, and having paid a lot more than £179.99 for Star Wars sets of similar size, I can’t even quibble about the cost - brick for brick, it’s an absolute steal. Bring on Mr Burns’ nuclear power plant, Springfield Elementary School and Moe’s tavern!

The Simpsons’ house is available directly from LEGO for £179.99 with free delivery.