LEGO Monkie Kid 80036 The City of Lanterns review

LEGO Monkie Kid goes from strength to strength in 80036 The City of Lanterns, a colourful build that’s far more than just a dumbed-down 70620 NINJAGO City.

In a theme built on massive, extravagant sets, the LEGO Group keeps finding room to innovate with Monkie Kid. Last year it blessed us with the gorgeous 80024 The Legendary Flower Fruit Mountain, unlike any Monkie Kid set or really any set at all to come before, and this year we have 80036 The City of Lanterns weighing in with an even higher piece count at a lower price, and again bearing little in common with the rest of the theme.

Suffice to say, 80036 The City of Lanterns delights from start to finish – whether or not you’re a Monkie Kid fan. Read on as we explore the highs of this splendid set, explain the flaws (yes, there are a few), and of course point out all of the retro details that call back to the LEGO Group’s history.

— Set details —

Theme: LEGO Monkie Kid Set name: 80036 The City of Lanterns Release: January 1, 2022

Price: £119.99 / $149.99 / €129.99 Pieces: 2,187 Minifigures: 7

LEGO: Available now

LEGO Monkie Kid 80036 The City of Lanterns review 2

— Build —

As far as build processes go, there’s simply so much going on in 80036 The City of Lanterns that it never gets boring for a second. Few techniques as innovative as those employed in the Creator Expert or NINJAGO City buildings are used here, but that doesn’t mean the set feels simple by any means. It’s the sort of build where you can tell what you’re building every step of the way, and be pleased by all of the details and design aspects coming together as you build them.

While building with friends or family isn’t specifically touted as a feature of the build, it is split across two booklets that are separated by the two major aspects of the set: the whole base including the pseudo-monorail in the first booklet, and the semi-modular shops in the second booklet (more on why they are only semi-modular in a bit). Of course, nowadays you could always bring up the instructions on multiple devices as well, if you want to get more people involved.

Before we go any further, let’s take a deep breath… and mention the stickers. We’re all tired of complaining about stickers. They are absolutely essential to the liveliness of the this set. And still… they are a major chore. The set contains a total of 77 individual stickers to apply, and that, quite simply, is a lot. We said it. Now we can move on.

The set as a whole has a fantastic, cohesive vibe that evokes common tropes of semi-futuristic cities with multiple levels, transportation running around and a mix of old and new architecture. There’s a lot to take in, but the colours and designs complement each other enough that it doesn’t look overwhelming or chaotic.

In fact, besides the Pigsy-themed train with its light pink carriages and teal tracks and supports, the whole city actually looks more muted than you might think, even looking at the official pictures. While that could be a negative for some, the predominantly darker shades add a level of grunginess that works for the futuristic city aesthetic.

For a playset, the city would look quite good on display, with lots of space for posing minifigure scenes all around, and tonnes of details to pore over. That said, only the front is a truly good display angle, since the back just has a lot of empty space around the supports for the monorail track and upper levels, lacking much detail.

Speaking of details, let’s go through them. On ground level, we have a little karaoke booth/store with just enough room for two minifigures, though the stand with the screen and microphones can be easily removed for more flexibility. Around the back of the karaoke booth is a charging station for a rental electric scooter, and a very fun sticker with a poster for the panda store, other flyers, and one of many retro references.

The star and giant microphone builds are a bit odd in their placement, jutting out from the side of the whole set, but we suppose the designers felt they needed something to round off that side. They can be easily removed, anyway.

In the centre section we find various vegetation and containers, including boxes and an Octan barrel, which add a lot of life with just a handful of parts. Two excellent stair builds using steps clipped on to small ladders lead up the first section of shops: a small bubble tea counter on the right side and the centrepiece store/hotpot restaurant in, well, the centre.

Everything about these shops looks fantastic, from the sideways trans-clear 2×5 piece filled with purple 1×1 tiles to connote the pearls in bubble tea (a technique also used in 70620 NINJAGO City), to the vertical strip of neon signs above that shop, to the excellent hotpot sign on the restaurant. The awnings of dark green ingots atop regular green also look lovely, adding some older-world charm.

All the way over on the left side of the set is an information kiosk with screens showing a map of the city, an ad, and the monorail timetable, though of course in reality it’s just one train that goes in a loop. Some imagination required. Perhaps this is also where a minifigure purchases their tickets. While pretty simple, this whole section adds a real, lived-in quality to the city. A couple of maintenance items can be found around the back of this section, while a discarded printed menu for Pigsy’s restaurant has fallen beneath the stairs.

Those stairs lead up to a place to board the Pigsy monorail, though there’s no true platform. This section is adorned by more stickers, including inexplicable Bohrok and Hero Factory signs, the monorail logo from 6399 Airport Shuttle, and a big ad for what looks like a Demon Bull skewer restaurant, because why not.

The set has a logical, complete flow for getting a minifigure from the ground all the way up to the upper level. Go up this set of stairs, alight the Pigsy monorail at this stop, ride it around to the other side, disembark and go up the next set of stairs to the top. The monorail stop on the other side has even less of a platform, but plenty of imagination must be used anyway since the train has no doors as it is.

Looming above is a massive 6×6 sticker advertising Chang’e moon cakes from 80032 Chang’e Moon Cake Factory, also available for sale in the store part of the hotpot restaurant, and a superb electrical pole with another digital sign celebrating the LEGO Group’s 90th anniversary.

The top level contains an ample walkway, which is really the top of the hotpot restaurant module, and four distinct shops/areas. On the far left is an outdoor eating area that the LEGO Group deems a ‘restaurant’, though there’s nothing like a menu, till, or employee to be found (a running issue in this set, which we’ll discuss more later).

Nonetheless, it appears to be a lobster eatery, with lobsters represented by red tooth pieces. Believe it or not, this is the third giant crustacean sign in recent years, after 70422 Shrimp Shack Attack from Hidden Side and 43185 Boun’s Boat from Raya and the Last Dragon.

LEGO Monkie Kid 80036 The City of Lanterns review 12 1

Moving over, we have a LEGO Store, a necessity in any city. While the LEGO Group has produced a variety of LEGO Stores as promotional sets and store-opening gifts, this might be only the second example in a standard retail set, after the one included in 60097 City Square from 2015. The Brickley dragon mascot looks excellent, though its build requires applying eight of the same sticker to green pentagonal tiles, and the giant LEGO pieces also look good, matching those found in 76039 Ant-Man Final Battle from 2015.

Next is the Lotus Hotel, which also features excellent styling, especially in the more elaborate hanging lantern build and of course the eye-catching lotus up top. Finally, on the right is a small outpost of the Panda Store chain, with a more simplified version of the panda face build found on the larger Panda Store included in 80011 Red Son’s Inferno Truck.

This smaller version still looks great, and includes all of the same details to match – from the little tree, the colour scheme and the stickers on the door and sign, to the wonderful air-conditioner build found also on the restaurant, the larger Panda Store in the earlier set, and the building in 80012 Monkey King Warrior Mech.

The last aspect to mention before we delve into interiors is the Pigsy-styled monorail itself. It’s whimsical and fun, with a goofy design that matches the numerous other Pigsy-themed vehicles that have popped up across the Monkie Kid line. It’s also a genius repurposing of the LEGO roller coaster track and cart system, and makes a strong case for a full monorail set based on these parts. Airport Shuttle redux, anyone?

Additionally, we love how the train just barely (though smoothly) makes it past the buildings and signs at certain points, which is true to real-world elevated subways like the L in Chicago, which skirts quite close to buildings at some points.

After walking through all those details and design elements, we can talk interiors and play. We mentioned our love for some of the details included at the ground level like the information kiosk, and the fact that there’s a fully thought-out route for minifigures to follow from the ground to the top.

The shops toward the ground have a similar level of detail and intuitiveness: the bubble tea counter has ample space for an employee (not included) behind it to serve, and the market/restaurant has a store section, a counter that can serve as the payment counter, and the restaurant seating area upstairs. Unfortunately, these interiors are all but inaccessible when the modules are fitted into the city, and the upstairs of the restaurant with its wonderful hotpot builds is literally inaccessible, blocked entirely by parts of the structure.

The stores upstairs have comparatively little detail, despite packing as much as they can into the smaller amount of space afforded. The LEGO Store has a Pick-a-Brick wall and a wall full of nostalgic sets (if only this were a real thing!), but no place to check out and no employee included. The hotel lobby has space for luggage, while the upstairs is taken up entirely by a bed and lamp. The Panda Store has drinks on offer, but that’s about it.

All in all, while we appreciate the details that have been packed in and the space left for posing or playing with minifigures, these areas feel a little bit lacking.

Another massive feature of the entire set is that all of the shops can be removed and reconfigured as their own street, set aside from the city base. Extra pins are included to lock them together, and you could even add the buildings from 80011 Red Son’s Inferno Truck and 80012 Monkey King Warrior Mech, if you have them.

This configuration has an entirely different feel, and provides access to the interior to the hotpot restaurant, though certainly lacks the visual impact of the city all built up.

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What’s left of the city is mainly an empty bit with a train running around it, but the fact that the set is built this way could appeal to people who want a restaurant or two as they come and the rest of the set to go to their parts collections, or want to build their own modules to attach on to the city base.

In theory, the modules included could be rearranged on the base in a variety of configurations, but in practice not many work out sensibly. The modularity concept is severely inhibited by the inclusion of the stairway atop the bubble tea counter and walking space atop the hotpot restaurant. For kids and others who don’t mind stairs to nowhere and unusable walking space, other configurations might be tolerable, but for us only the one arranged as officially instructed works out sensibly.

— Characters —

With so much love and care evident in the city itself, it might come as a surprise that the minifigure line-up contains relatively little to wow us. To be fair, three out of four Monkie Kid team members included have exclusive components – new torsos for Pigsy and Mei (along with a new 2022 head for her), and Monkie Kid himself is all new and all exclusive besides his hair.

They’re all fun, well-designed characters, and for the MK completionist they would of course be essential, but nothing about them sets them apart too much from variants in other sets.

The other three true minifigures look comparatively bland. Despite all three being exclusive to this set in terms of who they are in the Monkie Kid line, including the named female characters Huang and Han, they are all composed of existing parts, so don’t feel terribly special.

If the two robots look a bit retro in design, it’s because they’re a direct callback to the robot in the mid-1990s Time Cruisers set 6494 Magic Mountain Time Lab. The LEGO Group already introduced the head in 31111 Cyber Drone, but has now replicated the entire robot build from the Time Cruisers set. These tie in well with the various nostalgic stickers in the set, though since they were designed in 1996, they do by nature look a bit outdated.

When posing the minifigures around the set, a serious question looms: where are the shop workers? We have a restaurant with no servers, a bubble tea kiosk with no-one behind the counter, a convenience store with no clerk, and so on.

Suitable minifigure designs already exist for most of these roles. Two versions of Lee, the Panda Store employee, have been released, in 80011 Red Son’s Inferno Truck and 80026 Pigsy’s Noodle Tank. LEGO Store employee minifigures exist. Various bellhops exist for the hotel.

Since the ‘new’ named characters are mashed up from existing parts, and the Monkie Kid team members play the role of customers in the city, swapping the other minifigures out for shop employees and maybe including another one or two would have been a preferred option to enhance the minifigure line-up for play and display.

— Price —

80036 The City of Lanterns has such a good price in the US, that even its price in typically expensive regions like Denmark (1199 DKK) and Australia ($229.99) feels okay at full RRP. The set packs in 2,187 pieces, including numerous large elements, for just £119.99 / $149.99 / €129.99. That’s a steal!

— Pictures —

— Summary —

80036 The City of Lanterns feels like an exceptional set in an exceptional LEGO theme. To some it might seem like a dumbed-down NINJAGO City, but to us it is its own thing: a fully-realised, kid-friendly but also detail-oriented city littered with fantastic details, nostalgic references and fun designs.

The set isn’t without its flaws. All built up, some of the interiors aren’t accessible at all without taking off those modules, while the interiors of the top level feel slightly lacking. The modular aspect works for turning the buildings into a street rather than a multi-layered city, but not for rearranging the modules within the city. Finally, the minifigure selection would be better if it dropped the extra civilians and included some employees.

However, compared to all of the strengths of the set, those flaws are relatively minor. It’s a blast to build, and a joy to behold. Offering tremendous value in any region, 80036 The City of Lanterns gets a wholehearted recommendation from us.

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This set was provided for review by the LEGO Group.

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— FAQs —

How long does it take to build LEGO Monkie Kid 80036 The City of Lanterns?

It took us around four hours to build 80036 The City of Lanterns. Applying the multitude of stickers slows down the build process a bit, especially all of the tiny ones for the LEGO Store.

How many pieces are in LEGO Monkie Kid 80036 The City of Lanterns?

There are 2,187 pieces in 80036 The City of Lanterns, including parts large and small, and numerous accessories, which are sure to delight any LEGO fan.

How big is LEGO Monkie Kid 80036 The City of Lanterns?

Built in the configuration shown on the front of the box and main product images, 80036 The City of Lanterns measures over 38cm high, 43 cm wide and 23 cm deep.

How much does LEGO Monkie Kid 80036 The City of Lanterns cost?

80036 The City of Lanterns is priced at £119.99 in the UK, $149.99 in the US and €129.99 in the EU. No matter where you are, that’s a terrific price for a large, detailed and vibrant set.

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