Hello and welcome to what is perhaps the second Belville review ever to hit Eurobricks! Yes, after you've read my review you have to go search for Seigfried's disturbing Belville review, but for now, it's time to turn your attention toward…
Set Title: Garden Playmates
Set #: 5840
Minifigures: 1 - Belville style
Year of Release: 1995
Price at Release: USD $20
Buy it? Inventory? Bricklink Peeron
Browse the pics, skip the review? (Of course not!) Flickr set
So, this is the second time a chap like me has reviewed a girl set.
If you found yourself agreeing with the above sentence, you must be horribly sexist. Though you may not be into the color purple or lot of hearts or cuddly animals, you are (hopefully) into LEGO, and Belville is a wonderful way to get both rare pieces and regular pieces in rare colors. Not to mention accessories, and some other cool things.
Even though all that is true, I myself would not actually buy Belville, since I don't care much about rare pieces of colors anyhow. That's where thrift stores come in. Thrift stores present you with a lot of junk that you never know you needed, and some things that aren't junk but you wouldn't have been willing to pay full price for anyway. Needless to say, it was a thrift store that delivered this set into my hands for a good price, and made me able to present you with this review today.
The thrift store where I found this set is one of those ones that doesn't even care about its own merchandise, and slaps tape everywhere and writes the price on everything. Please pardon the ugly tape and price.
I don't really know very much about Belville circa 1995, but I'd guess that this packaging is pretty representative of the whole theme at the time. It's clearly meant to appeal to girls, with that lovely pastel background and those hearts that dot the purple border. The set itself also consists of bright colors, and features cuddly puppies. My sister for one hated cuddly puppies when she was younger, but I suppose girls like them in general? Maybe some of our female members can share their thoughts.
Before I even get further let me pause to compare this packaging to one from the same era but of a "boy" line (pardon my sexism, but that is how LEGO markets). Yes, Majisto's Magical Workshop came out two years earlier, but its packaging is representative of the Castle line throughout the '90s. What strikes me is how comparatively "busy" the Belville box is. While the Castle set has a plain picture and really not much else, the Belville box has an oddly-shaped border to the picture, plus the hearts. Did LEGO feel its packaging had to pop more to appeal to girls?
Onto the back. The photographers themselves must've gotten fed up with that annoying cloth skirt, as they took it off for all of these "action" shots. Even for a set this simple they made alternate models back then. How I miss it! (And there are more hearts.)
The different sides were pretty standard for the time; the set name only appears on the top of the box, there's a note that it comes with instructions only for the main model, and there are a few pics. What is odd, though, is that the box doesn't say "Contents made in…" as most sets did at the time (and still do). Instead, it merely says "Made by LEGO Systems… Billund, Denmark."
Of course I'm not surprised that the set comes with instructions, but honestly you don't need them. With only 87 pieces (and some of those are accessories), this set is a as simple as it looks from the boxart.
There are no part call outs or things like that, but the build is so freaking simple that you get some puppy love pictures on every single page spread. It might not be easy to tell on my picture, but the background is a very light pink.
There are no ads or anything like that, but on the back there is… this So what is that for? Writing your only little puppy love stories? I don't get it…
It of course isn't a minifigure as you're used to; it's a Belville style figure, which seems much closer to action figures than normal minifigures due to the level of moulding detail on the head and the numerous points of articulation.
Please note before I show the pictures of her that she is supposed to come with little light violet bows on her feet, which come off of this type of sprue. Since the set is supposed to come with the sprue, Bricklink lists the girl as wearing the headband from it as well in this set, though none of the boxart or pictures in the instructions show her with the headband. Unfortunately, I have neither the bows or the headband.
Now onto what I do have. The girl wearing the skirt is exclusive to this set, but both the skirt and the girl herself come in other sets. I really find the figure rather ugly. Her skin color makes her look like she's been spending time in a tanning salon, and her passive face is just a bit creepy. The skirt is really a nuisance; the elastic on mine is a bit worn out, so the skirt always falls down. It's pretty enough, but it's annoying as heck.
The drawback is that the girl's crotch area looks really strange without the skirt, but she's just a plastic toy, so what does it really matter. With thirteen points of articulation, she is pleasantly pose-able.
Since she does have those attachment points for accessories, you can have fun dressing her up. The plumes don't quite fit into her feet, though.
I also noticed that this size figure is the realistic size for normal minifigure accessories, which are always charmingly way out of proportion to normal minifigures. I love the hugeness of normal accessories, but they look good against an appropriately scaled figure as well.
Another important aspect of the set is the animals, since it couldn't be called "Garden Playmates" if the girl had nothing to play with (that sounded wrong).
We get the big black dog, two identical puppies in a playful pose, and the printed parrot that was quite common. Both types of dogs only ever appeared in Belville sets, and thus aren't very common. Though the moulds are nice enough, without any printing the dogs look rather strange. It isn't too bad on the puppies, though, since they have some expression in their blank faces.
The lack of printing is much worse for the big dog. Since his mould is pretty simple, the fact that there is nothing on his face makes him rather scary, or at least unimpressive. This dog mould did come with some different printed patterns which give it much more character.
How big is this dog, you wonder? Well, it's about the same size as the newish cow. If you want to create MOCs in normal scale with giant dogs, this is certainly the way to go.
What would a Belville set be without great accessories? For some reason, the yellow case that I got came with the stickers on it that it features in Prize Pony Stables, but not in this set, I don't think. The baby bottle is nice but not too wonderful, but I love all the plates and brushes I can get (especially in "medium green"). And then the bucket… No way! They won't even chrome a lightsaber handle these days, and they chromed a freaking bucket?! Awesome…
The case does open up, and can hold some of the other accessories, though only one at a time.
For once, I felt I could actually lay out all of the parts for you (though I forgot the green bush). Yeah, there sure aren't very many, but there are some lovely bright colors that you don't see too often any more. Please note that both sets of flowers are supposed to be that lighter shade of pink, but one of the ones that I got is what Bricklink calls dark pink.
You're supposed to learn from your students when you teach, and so I was inspired by Brickdoctor to use this technique of giving the amounts of each part for my interesting parts pic. The sink isn't very rare, but it is pretty nifty, and I always like curved pieces and arches. The gate is actually two parts, and it meshes wonderfully with the eight light violet fence pieces. The dark pink roof pieces are great as well.
Since you could build this set blindfolded, build pictures would certainly be extraneous. So let me proceed directly to the "model," if you could call it one.
Though it's really simple, the finished set does invoke a sunny, warm feel. With the outdoor sink and palm tree, it gives me a strong Florida vibe. For those who might not know, Florida is just a very relaxed, warm and mildly humid state, in my mind anyway. Also, you won't see the parrot anywhere in this picture. The instructions forgot about it.
Even a model so simple can have design flaws. Who knew, right? I'm talking about the lack of fencing under the little doggy hut. I know that LEGO sets often have open backs, but this seems like the kind of set that shouldn't.
It only gets worse from the back. Why did the designer not decide to add fencing all around? It's not like you couldn't have played with it if there was fencing in the back as well, and without it the model just seems unnecessarily unrealistic. The chair is nice, though.
Since there isn't much going on in this set, I felt I might as well show off what a kid might actually want to do with it in order to better understand it. It also gives me a way to highlight a few more design flaws.
First, the girl shows up at the doggy area to play with her favorite little puppies. "How aw woo doing today, Mistew cuddwes?"
The girl then decides to check and see if the doggies have enough water, but since she is way too tall for their hut she smashes her head into it. "%@&#!"
Seeing that the dogs have left her some 'special treats,' the girl carries them out in the shiny bucket. "Ew."
After such dirty work, she needs to clean herself up.
She suddenly has the urge to climb the tree. "Polly want a cracker?"
Meanwhile, the adult dog decides it's time to escape their annoying playmate, and she ushers her puppies out of the unfenced portion of their pen.
Well, from this example I'm really not all that impressed by Belville. Apparently LEGO feels that girls wouldn't want actual models to build before playing with, so the company throws just enough pieces together to be able to still call it a LEGO set. It's great that there are some cool pieces in cool colors and nice accessories, but overall the set is a disappointment. This set feels worth ten bucks tops; twenty is too much.
Parts: 7/10 - The parts that you get are pretty nice, but there really isn't that much there.
Design: 6/10 - If the pen was completely enclosed, there would be nothing wrong with the design. But the way it's left open is lame.
Minifigures: 6/10 - She's ugly, and the skirt is annoying. She can pose, though.
Price: 5/10 - Twenty bucks? No way LEGO.
Playability: 7/10 - I can see this set keeping kids involved for a little while, but there aren't enough parts to rebuild it into anything exciting and faceless dogs have to get boring after a bit.
Overall: 6.2/10 - That's a pretty poor score where I come from; a 'D' grade. Belville just really isn't worth it, but if you happen to come across a set or two of it for dirt cheap, then be my guest.
Until next time!
Edited by WhiteFang, 25 January 2011 - 05:05 PM.