5 Short-Lived LEGO Themes That Deserved A Longer Run (non-licensed)
Over the years, The LEGO Group has released hundreds of LEGO sets, belonging to dozens of different LEGO themes.
Some have been more successful than others.
For every triumph like LEGO Ninjago or LEGO Friends, there's been something like LEGO Time Cruisers or Galidor that kind of shit the bed. Critically and commercially.
Such is life. Nobody bats a thousand. And even the best laid plans of talented LEGO designers can go awry.
But you can't be too hard on The LEGO Group for making the occasional creative boner.
Because the same company that gave us poorly performing themes like LEGO Znap and LEGO Primo, has also delivered unforgettable themes like LEGO Blacktron and LEGO Pirates, where the sets in question were positively gangbusters!
But to me, the most curious anomalies in the LEGO catalog are the themes that seemingly had the world by its tits, but only lasted for a handful of waves, or a year at best.
Unique and engaging concepts. Builds that were smart inspired. Complete with fresh and imaginative minifigures.
For some reason or another, they wound up as LEGO themes that wouldn't be long for this world.
So while I don't know the reason(s) why these particular LEGO themes got pulled from production, and toy store shelves, so soon as they did, I can say, with relative confidence, that the following list presents 5 Short-Lived LEGO Themes...that deserved a longer run.
#5 LEGO Alien Conquest
The LEGO Group and "space themes" have gone together like rama-lama-lama-ka-dinga-da-dinga-dong since 1979.
While most LEGO Classic Space themes were intergalactic-faction based, or centered around planetary exploration, the LEGO Alien Conquest theme brought the idea of little green men a little closer to home.
LEGO Alien Conquest told the story of extraterrestrial invaders come to earth, looking to rob humanity of its "brain power".
Character and vehicle designs were reminiscent of America's pop/pulp, 1950's drive-in, sci-fi cinema aesthetic; saucer-shaped ships, menacing, mechanical, three-legged war machines, and bug-eyed martians with exposed brains bulging from folded brows.
The flipside of LEGO's Alien Conquest theme was made up from a team of heroic astronauts known as the "Alien Defense Unit", or ADU.
As the name suggests, these brave souls served as earth's last line of defense against this new alien threat.
ADU troopers took the fight straight to these cosmic invaders, with sets that allowed them to gallantly battle back, both in the air and on land.
Ultimately, the LEGO Alien Conquest theme would feature a total of just seven sets, all released in a single wave during May of 2011.
A pair of polybags would hit shelves later that year.
And in June we got an Alien Conquest Battle Back that consisted of two aliens, a pair of ADU troopers, and one civilian.
I can't say for certain why The LEGO Group pulled the Alien Conquest plug after such a short run. But I was bummed when they did.
I loved this theme's fun loving, freewheeling B-Movie vibe.
Its retro look and feel was remindful of all those atomic age, space invader movies like War Of The Worlds, The Day Earth Stood Still, and It Came From Outer Space, that I watched as a kid.
I would have been thrilled to see what kind of new ships and flying saucers future waves might have offered.
It would have been cool to collect and army-build a massive horde of alien soldiers. And I'd have been curious to know what fancy-new and fan-dangled weapons the ADU came up with to thwart those dastardly creatures from beyond our stars.
But alas, LEGO Alien Conquest remains a one-wave wonder. But what a wave it was!
#4 LEGO Pharaoh's Quest
Ancient tombs. Buried treasure.
Cursed mummies and desert adventures.
Pharaoh's Quest was a LEGO theme that spoke to the swashbuckler inside us all. It was a LEGO theme that featured dynamic builds, memorable minifigures and exciting play experiences straight out of a Hollywood action-adventure blockbuster.
When it first appeared in January of 2011*, LEGO Pharaoh's Quest was unlike any non-licensed theme The LEGO Group had debuted before.
The LEGO Pharaoh's Quest theme chronicled the adventures of archaeologist Professor Archibald Hale, explorers Jake Raines and Helena Skvalling and grease monkey mechanic/demolitions expert Mac McCloud, as they set out together in search of Pharaoh Amset-Ra's six mysterious treasures.
Brimming with booby traps, and guarded by flying mummies, Anubis guards, giant scarab beetles, slithering snakes, stinging scorpions, supernatural statues and a stubborn Sphinx, sets from the LEGO Pharaoh's Quest theme delivered big on innovative play features and intoxicating, buildable environments.
LEGO Pharaoh's Quest sets also featured a funky variety of fun little vehicles for our heroes to pilot and steer.
There were souped-up hot rods, tough-as-nails desert trucks, awesome, armored ATVs and even a bitchin' biplane with a neat little "grab function" - perfect for snatching up hard-to-reach treasures.
So, what happened?
Why did we only get one wave of six sets, two little polybags and a three figure (plus sarcophagus) Battle Pack before this crazy-cool LEGO theme disappeared forever?
I don't have the answers. All I know is that I miss it.
And I regret that we never got to see what other kind of gnarly set pieces, ancient enemies, mystical relics, over-the-top vehicles and out of control heroes this promising and dramatic LEGO theme inherently had to offer.
*Although scheduled for a January 2011 release, some LEGO Pharaoh's Quest sets, like #7327 the Scorpion Pyramid, began appearing on store shelves as early as mid-November 2010.
#3 LEGO Atlantis
The lost civilization of Atlantis.
The existence, or absurdness, of the sunken island hypothesis has divided scholars and tickled the imagination of inquisitive human beings since Plato first wrote of this fabled location in the Timaeus and Critias.
Myth? Fact? Something in between?
No one knows for certain.
But that hasn't stopped generations of academics, adventurers, skeptics, cynics and seafaring explorers from seeking to either confirm or dispel the existence of this vanished continent.
In January of 2010*, The LEGO Group decided to join in on the fun by releasing the first wave of a new theme dedicated to the legend of, and search for, the fabled land of Atlantis.
The LEGO Atlantis theme featured an attractive lineup of futuristic underwater vehicles, like the Deep Sea Raider and Neptune Carrier, who's mission it was to scour the sea floor in search of the buried city, its secrets - and its treasures.
The equally impressive Atlantis Exploration HQ functioned perfectly as a home base for this team of underwater opportunists.
As a playset with plenty of bells and whistles, the Atlantis Exploration HQ ticked all the boxes for me, and was the highlight of the theme's second wave in May.
The set was even nominated for the ToyAward 2010 at the 60th International Toy Fair Nürnberg in the category of "Games + Action."
Unlike other LEGO underwater exploration themes and subthemes that included shipwrecks and treasure chests for divers to discover, the LEGO Atlantis theme went a step more fantastic.
With LEGO Atlantis, we got ancient ruins. And the remains of pillared, Parthenon-esque structures, suggestive of mid-5th century BCE Greek architecture.
Also, this rich, new underwater kingdom came populated by a cast of original sea creature/characters that would further distinguish the LEGO Atlantis theme as something wholly original, and exceptionally creative.
Atlantean minifigures like the Barracuda Guardian, Hammerhead Warrior, Manta Warrior, Lobster Guardian, Shark Warrior and Squid Warrior made use of exotic new LEGO element molds, resulting in a class of LEGO minifigures like nothing we'd ever seen before.
Even though it ran for three waves and a total of twenty sets, four polybags and pair of activity books that each included a collectible LEGO minifigure, LEGO Atlantis was only in production for about a year.
It's anybody's guess why things didn't last longer.
Maybe it had to do with the theme's connection to history and mythology.
It's not unreasonable to think many kids, ages 7 - 14, had yet to learn about the legend of Atlantis. Or study much Greek mythology in school.
Chances are, the random 9 year old scootin' down the LEGO aisle didn't know what the hell an "Atlantis" was. And was perhaps more confused than mesmerized by all the theme's strange, aquatic and antique accouterments.
I, for one, would have loved to see what kind of zany directions The LEGO Group could have taken with the Atlantis theme.
More sea monsters. Expansion and continued exploration of the theme's larger mythology, and how it could have potentially crossed over with other LEGO themes.
Unfortunately, LEGO Atlantis goes down in history as another of those enchanting LEGO themes that was gone too soon, and never got to reach its full potential.
*Although scheduled for a January 2010 release, some LEGO Atlantis sets, like #8060 the Typhoon Turbo Sub, began appearing on store shelves as early as mid-November 2009.
#2 LEGO Dino
2012's Dino theme* wasn't The LEGO Group's first romp in the Jurassic sandbox.
Dino Island was a 2000 Adventurers sub-theme that featured large, molded dinosaurs like the T-Rex and Stegosaurus.
A year later, in 2001, dinosaurs were a focal point of several sets in the LEGO Studio's theme. That same year, the LEGO Group also introduced a standalone Dinosaurs theme.
The 2001 LEGO Dinosaurs theme didn't include any minifigures. But featured buildable LEGO dinosaurs in both their adult and baby forms.
In 2005 The LEGO Group gave us Dino Attack; a theme featuring strange, mutant dinosaurs that battled a Dino Attack Team and their futuristic vehicles.
But it was with 2012's Dino theme that the LEGO Group really hit their prehistoric peak.
For starters, the theme introduced a number of new, highly-detailed and fabulously-articulated dinosaur molds.
We got the raptor, a Coelophysis, Triceratops, Pteranodon, and a fearsome looking Tyrannosaurus Rex that was absolutely massive compared to previous offerings.
The sets themselves were exquisite.
It was a brilliant mix reconnaissance vehicles like trucks, hydroplanes, helicopters and jeeps alongside a pair of magnificent playsets.
Pteranodon Tower packed plenty of playability into a mere 136 pieces. This LEGO set included a new mold for a tranquilizer gun, original, printed computer screen tile and even a nifty little jet boat.
But the mack daddy of this seven-set Dino wave was hands down the Dino Defense HQ.
This absolute stunner of a set came with a little bit of everything.
Four minifigures. Three dinosaurs. A helicopter. A car.
And then there was the headquarters itself!
Four corners of fun, phenomenal building and play equipped with laboratory, tranquilizer refilling station and communications center.
It really was a thing of beauty. And proof positive a great LEGO theme doesn't require a license.
The true all-stars of this dynamic LEGO theme, without question, were the dazzling new LEGO dinosaur molds.
Nothing the LEGO group had ever produced, in the way of molded animals, could compare to these new dinosaurs at the time.
The size. The level of detail. The articulation. Everything about these new LEGO animals just worked.
So what went wrong? Why did Dino 2012 disappear?
I've got no way of knowing. But I can, and will, speculate.
Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World was still three years out. But obviously in the works.
And the LEGO Group had previously produced sets affiliated with the Jurassic Park IP through their LEGO Studios theme.
Maybe 2012's LEGO Dino theme was an audition tape of sorts. A prototype. Their way of courting Universal. The LEGO Group's way of demonstrating what they could do if given free rein to exploit the franchise.
I'll always value evergreen and original LEGO themes over licensed ones. Because a license immediately puts a creative cap on theme's potential.
An evergreen or original theme exists without restraint. A licensed LEGO theme will always be bound the constraints of its IP.
E.g. LEGO Star Wars = a new X-Wing every other year. But with something like Dino, anything was possible.
I love them both. But still wish this Dino theme had gotten a little more love and lot longer run.
*Although scheduled for a 2012 release, some LEGO Dino sets began appearing on store shelves as early as early November 2011.
#1 LEGO Monster Fighters
Talk about a LEGO theme I never thought we'd ever see.
Vampires. Werewolves. Ghouls, ghosts and gill-men. All the best monster movie tropes were in full effect.
While the LEGO Studios theme first flirted with these kind of creepy concepts and devilish designs back in 2002, it wasn't until May of 2012 that the LEGO Group leaned in the classic horror aesthetic full tilt with their fiendishly fun Monster Fighters theme.
At the center of the theme's story was Lord Vampyre, a menacing bloodsucker on his quest to capture all the mighty Moonstones, and the magical powers they possessed.
On his march towards the Moonstones, Lord Vampyre would be assisted by the likes of a Swamp Creature, Mummy, Crazy Scientist and his Monster, plus several other recognizable stalwarts of the spook genre.
Lord Vampyre's Moonstone maddening mission would not go unopposed.
The LEGO Monster Fighter's theme also introduced the titular Monster Fighters themselves; a band of fearless heroes dedicated to thwarting Lord Vampyre's hunt for the storied Moonstones - and ridding the world of any and all monster-related threats.
The team is lead by debonair Dr. Rodney Rathbone. Part aristocrat, part explorer, all Monster Fighter; the good doctor is sworn nemesis to Lord Vampyre and all the terrors of the Monster Realm.
Then there's hunky, motorcycle rebel Frank Rock. He's got real beef with the Swamp Creature, who may or may not be responsible for the disappearance of Frank's pet dog.
Ann Lee is an expert pilot and handy in the ancient martial art of broomstickajitzu. She hates ghosts.
Jack Hammer has a vendetta against the Crazy Scientist, the man responsible for amputating his arm.
Rounding out the team is Major Quinton Steele. He's the big game hunter of exotic prey looking to add the Werewolf to his collection of uncanny trophies.
The LEGO Monster Fighters theme invited LEGO fans into a fantastic and original world of play that managed to be both fresh and familiar.
The minifigures delivered functional new prints and molds. The sets featured unique play features and imaginative, atmospheric settings. Vehicles were fun and funky and there was heaps of variety across the entire theme.
So why was it cancelled the same year it premiered?
Maybe the LEGO Group felt they'd already exhausted the lion's share of classic movie monster characters and set pieces with a single wave?
Maybe they worried a theme like Monster Fighters teetered too near the edge of what might be acceptable from a children's toy?
Whatever the real answer was - it was the wrong one.
Because Monster Fighters was definitely one of those short-lived LEGO themes.....that deserved a longer run.
Well, what do you think, AHOL?
Do you miss these 5 Short-Lived LEGO Themes...that deserved a longer run...as much as I do?
Which LEGO themes do you think deserved a longer run? Let us know in the comments!
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