For a certain subset of LEGO fans, LEGO Ideas is a dream come true. The theme uses a dedicated website for people to submit their own LEGO designs. If they can gather enough support, these designs can become bona fide LEGO sets for everyone to enjoy.
With a decade of models under its belt, LEGO Ideas has certainly stood the test of time. Submissions have also exploded in number; today’s review stages typically look at dozens of sets. However, only a handful arrive on store shelves, making entry in the theme a rare honour indeed.
LEGO Ideas history
LEGO Ideas began life as LEGO CUUSOO, a Japan-only initiative. The first set arrived in 2011 and recreated the Shinkai 6500, a Japanese research submarine. It was followed a year later by a recreation of the Hayabusa spacecraft, which was used to collect samples from a distant asteroid.
The theme soon widened its focus, and LEGO Ideas sets began to slowly appear on shelves worldwide. These early sets were relatively small, with none of them breaking the 600-piece mark. Licensed Ideas sets were commonplace, and continue to be a feature of the theme even today.
Fans could pick up models inspired by Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and even The Big Bang Theory during this period. Some even went on to inspire much broader themes. 21102 Minecraft Micro World: The Forest was followed by three similar models, as well as a successful minifigure-scale theme.
By 2017, the LEGO Ideas theme was becoming much more ambitious. 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V features a whopping 1,969 pieces, in reference to the spacecraft’s launch date. It was shortly followed by a highly detailed fishing store, and a massive Voltron robot that pushes the limits of LEGO construction.
The ballooning piece counts were mirrored by ballooning submission numbers. To earn a spot in a LEGO Ideas review stage, a set must receive at least 10,000 votes within a specified time period. The first 2021 review received a whopping 57 submissions – a new record for the Ideas theme.
LEGO Ideas sets
Unlike most LEGO themes, Ideas sets aren’t really united by common features or design philosophies. The range often functions as a space for one-offs; for sets that – while meritorious – don’t quite justify an entire theme. That said, early sets in the line-up had to observe strict rules around parts usage. They couldn’t create new parts for their models; they had to work purely with off-the-shelf elements instead.
Still, LEGO sets are – to a greater or lesser extent – about working within constraints. As such, this restriction hasn’t stopped the theme from flourishing. Early favourites include 21103 The DeLorean Time Machine and 21108 Ghostbusters Ecto-1. The latter would inspire a full-size base of operations, 75827 Firehouse Headquarters, which is among the LEGO Group’s most lavish licensed sets.
The theme’s fan-driven nature has inspired a number of other licensed sets. 21303 WALL-E recreates a large-scale version of the lonely Pixar robot, complete with working treads and tiny LEGO plant. 21306 The Beatles Yellow Submarine depicts the iconic vehicle from the 1968 animated movie, and features numerous subtle references to the movie itself. The theme even birthed 21314 TRON: Legacy, with a pair of light cycles from the sci-fi sequel.
Sitcom sets have also proved a running theme of the Ideas product collection. The Big Bang Theory ran from 2007 to 2019, with a LEGO incarnation hitting shelves in 2015. 21302 The Big Bang Theory recreates Leonard and Sheldon’s living room for fans of the show, with numerous iconic elements preserved. It’s been joined by sets inspired by The Flintstones, Friends and Seinfeld; another set, inspired by The Office, has been recently approved as well.
21109 Exo Suit was one of the first examples of this. A throwback to the Classic Space theme, it features a retro mech suit and two new Classic Space astronauts. Other sets – like 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay – are even stronger nods to LEGO history. This 2-in-1 set reinterprets the legendary Black Seas Barracuda as a shipwreck, and also allows fans to build a seaworthy version.
Several other sets have taken LEGO in unusual directions. 21305 Maze recreates old tilting wooden maze toys, thanks to a sophisticated internal mechanism. 21313 Ship in a Bottle offers a tasteful interpretation of the famous craft project, and earned a rare re-release two years later. To take a more recent example, 21327 Typewriter offers a full-scale writing tool. While it can’t write letters, it does feature working keys and even a bespoke ink ribbon.
The continuing popularity of the theme has led to bigger and bolder Ideas sets. 21323 Grand Piano includes more than 3,500 pieces and a lavish pearl gold interior. With some help from Powered Up accessories, the piano can link to a smartphone’s Powered Up app, and ‘play’ along with in-app music. Expect LEGO Ideas to go in similarly ambitious directions going forward.
LEGO Ideas minifigures
Minifigures are an uneven presence in the Ideas theme. Some sets do perfectly well without them, while for others they’re an essential part of the experience. As such, many Ideas minifigures are both rare and highly desirable.
The restrictions on parts usage meant that Ideas minifigures were subject to certain design constraints, at least to begin with. Certain minifigures had to make do with sub-optimal pieces, although they would – on rare occasions – receive improved versions as part selections improved. 21103 The DeLorean Time Machine and 21108 Ghostbusters Ecto-1 saw Emmet Brown and Peter Venkman use the same kind-of-accurate hairpiece, albeit in different colours. They would receive new, more accurate iterations through the Dimensions and Ghostbusters themes.
That said, it could be argued these limits work in some sets’ favour. 21316 The Flintstones recreates the home of the Stone Age family. The distinctive faces of these characters – particularly their noses – presented a challenge, as noses are typically absent from LEGO faces. The solution was an ‘implied’ nose, which in practice is rather charming.
By 2020, LEGO Ideas had torn up the rulebook… or at least crinkled the pages a little. 21324 123 Sesame Street features a slice of the iconic neighbourhood with a number of exclusive character pieces for Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Ernie and the Cookie Monster. Oscar the Grouch, meanwhile, appears courtesy of a repurposed BB-8 body.
Disney and Ideas are completely intertwined by this point, and the most recent set to come from that partnership – 21326 Winnie the Pooh – follows a similar path to Sesame Street. Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit and Tigger benefit from new head pieces, while Eeyore uses an entirely new piece for his body.
LEGO Ideas’ nods to its own history produce some great minifigures for the older LEGO fan. The aforementioned Exo Suit features two Classic Space minifigures in green for the first time, and preceded a miniature revival of Classic Space in other themes. In 2021, 21325 Medieval Blacksmith brought us a new version of the Black Falcon knights. These date back to 1984, and have since appeared in 31120 Medieval Castle as well.
LEGO Ideas Saturn V
The Saturn V was a powerful rocket built by NASA, with the ultimate goal of transporting humanity to the moon. The rocket was used for a number of test flights and other space missions from 1967, but it wasn’t until 1969 that mankind would land on the moon itself. The last Saturn V rocket launched in 1973, carrying the Skylab space station into orbit.
LEGO Ideas released a model of the rocket in 2017. Measuring exactly a meter long, 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V is approximately 110 times smaller than the real thing. It also boasts many unique and desirable features for space buffs to enjoy, including a piece count of 1,969 – a reference to the famous moon landings of the same year.
The base of the rocket features five engines, with fine details like fuel pumps and heat exchangers. The rocket’s body also preserves the texture of the real Saturn V and its smooth cylindrical shape.
Like NASA’s Saturn V, the LEGO Saturn V can break apart into distinct stages. In real life, this allowed the rocket to reach outer space; each stage has its own engines, which would be activated when the previous stage’s fuel was exhausted.
In addition to the Saturn V itself, the set includes several smaller builds – a command module, a lunar module (complete with astronaut nanofigs) and a trio of blue support stands. These latter builds enable you to display the rocket horizontally if you want.
Three years after its initial release, the Saturn V was re-released for LEGO fans – a very rare occurrence for any LEGO set. 92176 NASA Apollo Saturn V is identical to the original version, preserving its shape and numerous design features. It’s due to retire for good at the end of 2022, so keep an eye out if you’re looking to buy it yourself.
LEGO Ideas Home Alone
In 1990, a new entry arrived in the canon of Christmas films. Home Alone was directed by Chris Columbus, with music by Star Wars composer John Williams. It went on to become one of the highest-grossing comedy films ever released, and an annual Christmas tradition for many families.
Kevin McCallister – a precocious young boy – is accidentally left behind when his family goes to Paris for Christmas. While Kevin enjoys his newfound freedom, he discovers a pair of burglars are operating in the neighbourhood… and he is their next target. In response, Kevin rigs his house with various booby traps to repel the burglars for good.
Just in time for Christmas 2021, the LEGO Group released a new set inspired by the first film in the series. Focusing on the McCallister house itself, 21330 Home Alone is one of the theme’s most ambitious sets. It includes almost 4,000 pieces and retails for a hefty £219.99 / $249.99 / €249.99.
Opening the front of the house reveals many famous scenes from the movie. These include the fake partygoers in the living room, Kevin’s lonely meal of macaroni and cheese, and Buzz McCallister’s cluttered bedroom.
Certain elements of Kevin’s traps are also preserved; a blowtorch is positioned above the back door, while a red jewel stands in for the red-hot doorknob of the front door. A paint can (or is that pain can?) can also be deployed from the banisters on the landing. Kevin’s elaborate plan of attack can even be found in the attic, where he is banished at the start of the movie.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its similarities to the original, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is similarly beloved. As such, there are some subtle nods to the sequel in this set. A pair of birds (representing turtle doves) can be found on the Christmas tree; this references the pair of Christmas decorations Kevin receives in Duncan’s Toy Chest. A leaflet for this shop can be found on the desk in Buzz’s bedroom, and a poster of the Empire State Building is another crafty addition.
A handful of minifigures populate the set. Kevin himself is an obvious inclusion, and the alternate expression mimics his famous ‘scream’ face. The Wet Bandits (who attempt to burgle the McCallister home) are also included, as is their plumbers’ van; Marv’s face captures both his clueless nature and run-in with a burning iron. Rounding out the selection is Kate McCallister (Kevin’s mother) and ‘Old Man’ Marley, a misunderstood neighbour of the McCallister family.
Although Christmas has been very well-represented in LEGO, this Home Alone set may be particularly desirable. Its impressive attention to detail and recreation of a beloved Christmas film are likely to win over many a fan – LEGO or otherwise.
It remains to be seen if the other Home Alone films inspire LEGO sets. To date there are six films in the Home Alone franchise, though only the first two star Macaulay Culkin. The newest entry, Home Sweet Home Alone, debuted on Disney+ on November 12.