My daughter was sent a trio of LEGO Friends products to try out – Mia’s Beach Scooter, Emma’s Photo Studio, and Stephanie’s Friendship Cakes.
I’ve not been the biggest fan of LEGO Friends in the past, but have been impressed with how the brand has broadened the type of sets they offer.
Previously, it was mainly passive themes of spas and the like, but now there are more active themes, with more complex building required. Pink & pastels remain dominant colours though.
These three sets kind of fit the more active label, but it is a little bit of a stretch overall.
LEGO Friends Emma’s Photo Studio (41305)
Emma has her own photo studio, and appears to like taking pictures of cats. But her studio is well equipped with an SLR camera, lights, props, and some kind of printer. She also seems to have an accessory table for the cat, with a bow, flowers, and even a tiara!
As a theme this is kind of a mixed bag – there are many stereotypically girly elements, however the set is about someone being a photographer, and taking their craft seriously – even it is is mostly about cats!
LEGO Friends Mia’s Beach Scooter (41306)
This was my favourite set. Mia seems to be a lifeguard, or perhaps she just likes hanging out by the lifeguard station. Either way, she also has a scooter with a sidecar for her dog (a pug?), and a surfboard. There is another surfboard on the lookout chair, which also has binoculars and flippers.
This is a nice active theme, with some quirky details – like the dog having sunglasses!
LEGO Friends Stephanie’s Friendship Cakes (41308)
This is probably the most traditionally ‘LEGO Friends’ set of them all, but it is also an active theme of Stephanie baking in a pretty well equipped kitchen.
Again, the cake/baking theme is stereotypically girly, but it is an inventively put together kitchen, with mixer, stove, fridge, and other culinary elements.
These are on the cusp for me, as they are either on – or even the wrong side – of playing up to gender stereotypes. However, there’s a nice range of themes and it could clearly be a lot worse.
Our daughter really liked them – and was at pains to tell me that these are for boys as well as girls. She’s obviously been paying attention to me.
All three sets have an RRP of £8.99. We were sent them free of charge for the purposes of this review.
The Force Awakens has been frequently dismissed as a lazy rip-off of Star Wars, and it’s easy to see why – Death Star type threat, desert planet, stolen data in a droid, etc. But it’s clear to me that another story has been a key influence – The Wizard of Oz.
In Rey we have a female protagonist – whose life on Jakku is like Dorothy’s depression era great grey Kansas prairie. She is also – essentially – an orphan, and Dorothy’s quest to get back to her family is mirrored in Rey’s yearning to be reunited with hers. Like Dorothy, Rey also thinks nothing of dropping everything to help the friends she has just made.
Leaving Jakku and heading to Takodana, Rey is overwhelmed by the greenness of the planet, much like visitors to the famed Emerald City in Oz. We then meet Maz Kanata, who like a good witch advises our young female hero on her quest.
In Kylo Ren, we have the Wicked Witch of the tale. In Oz she wants the slippers that belonged to her sister. Ren meanwhile wants the lightsaber that he feels he should have inherited. Both resent the young female protagonist, who posses far greater power than they initially gave them credit.
Ren kidnaps Rey, like the witch took Dorothy. In both stories, the new friends of our female heroes group together to mount a rescue. Finn, like the cowardly Lion, is seeking courage – and realises he has it when it comes to saving his friend.
What about the actual Wizard? Visually, the most obvious connection in The Force Awakens is Snoke. We see him in a cavernous hall, a looming giant who is a source of knowledge and power. The ‘Wizard’ of Oz is famously all smoke and mirrors, and perhaps this gives us a clue to Snoke – who we only see via a holographic projection. What is he really like? What is he hiding about himself?
But the real ‘wizards’ of the Star Wars universe are the Jedi. And while the Wizard of Oz is a mysterious figure who can save our heroes, in The Force Awakens we have Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi who it is hoped can save the galaxy.
In both stories, the quest to reach these ‘wizards’ is the big narrative driver of the story. In Oz, the heroes have the yellow brick road to guide them. In The Force Awakens, there is a map – and when it is finally revealed, what do we see? Yellow blocks leading to ‘the Wizard’.
This map is the virtual yellow brick road leading to the Wizard, in this case Luke Skywalker.
Ok, so the big question is ‘So what?’
For me, this isn’t about extrapolating what how the plot of The Last Jedi may unfold. These connections may offer clues, or simply red herrings.
What I really wanted to highlight is the power of the narrative in this movie. It’s more than a simple rehash of Star Wars with a girl.
By being so clearly influenced by The Wizard of Oz, a classic female lead fantasy adventure, The Force Awakens has tapped into a collective storytelling consciousness, and one with a girl hero at the heart of it.
While the filmmakers were obviously keen to bring back Star Wars fans, hence the links to the original trilogy, it now seems clear that they were also reaching out to female cinemagoers – of all ages.
Little girls have loved the adventures of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz for generations. Perhaps the filmmakers of The Force Awakens deliberately tapped into a tried and tested female driven narrative as well – to ensure that this new Star Wars saga would also appeal to the girls that had been previously discouraged from engaging with the galaxy far, far away…
I have a strong memory of riding my bike for the first time without stabilisers. We were at our old house, so I was no older than 6. It was on the street outside, which was safe as this was a time with far fewer cars. And my dad was holding the bike as I tried to balance. I kept asking for reassurance that he was holding on, and he assured me he was. Only at this moment he wasn’t, and I was still keeping upright. I was cycling.
While I was happy to be cycling without stabilisers, I still remember that moment of being lied to by my father. Sure, you could say it was for my own good, but I think it’s telling that I still recall this deception decades later and it remains the dominating aspect of the memory. If this were the Pixar movie Inside Out, this would be a core memory – and a bittersweet one.
As I still carry this memory of being lied to with me, one thing has always been clear in my mind as a parent – I will never lie to my daughter. Sure I may be disingenuous at times (“Daddy, is Father Christmas real?”, “Well, I’ve never seen him” I reply), I do not lie – and with riding a bike I tell her when I am going to let go.
I recall growing up with stabilisers on my bike, so was always of the mind that our daughter will learn this way too. I ignored the balance bikes that most parents seem to favour these days. But I now realise this was probably a mistake. Learning to balance is the key aspect of cycling that she simply couldn’t master, and wasn’t going to be able to with stabilisers. I recently read that children learn to ride despite having stabilisers on their bikes, not because of them.
So, we recently thought screw this – and ditched them. And within a few sessions, our 5-year-old daughter had learned to balance – and ride her bike for real. This photo isn’t the moment she learned – that was series of incremental incidents that extended in length from split seconds upwards, and they likely first occurred with her mother – but it was the first one I captured.
And I explained to her I was going to stand back and take a photo before she set off.