BIONICLE is a strange old LEGO theme. It deviates significantly from what LEGO sets are typically viewed as; the sets are not boxes of bricks. But the sets do contain compatible pieces that can be put together in different ways, so the creative aspect is there. The LEGO DNA is deep within this theme, which was actually a spin-off from Technic.
That doesn’t stop LEGO purists from disregarding BIONICLE though and that’s fair enough. Each to their own – not everyone who enjoys building traditional sets is going to be interested in building action figures.
Here’s the BUT though – even if you’re a LEGO fan who doesn’t care for BIONICLE, you’ll love the story of how it was created. When BIONICLE came along, the LEGO Group was in the doldrums. Star Wars had boosted the company’s income for a year or so to hide the structural problems that were causing huge losses during the late 1990s and early 2000s. But the LEGO Group needed to figure out how to appeal to children with original themes – and World City was not the answer.
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A group of talented creatives, from inside and outside the LEGO Group, came together to innovate. They didn’t just dream up the concept of contraction figures though, they came up with the concept of embedding an action-adventure theme with deeper story. They figured out how to appeal to older children than LEGO products tended to reach. They created an entire mythology that would capture the imaginations of a generation.
The legacy of what they did continues today. Success stories like NINJAGO come as a result of the work that was done in BIONICLE, being built upon. Shorter run themes like NEXO KNIGHTS and Legends of Chima do too. Even weird experiments like VIDIYO were in some ways influenced by BIONICLE, as they seek to take the concept of LEGO creativity and apply it in a new way.
Blocks magazine Issue 85 celebrates 20 years of LEGO BIONICLE, with an in-depth conversation with Christian Faber, Bob Thompson and Alastair Swinnerton – three of the creatives who came up with this enormous LEGO success story. If you love the constraction theme you need to read it – but even if you’re a traditional LEGO fan, you still need to read it. Either way, you’ll find yourself with a new appreciation of what it takes to develop a LEGO theme from the ground up.
Oh, and the feature is illustrated with rare concept art – you won’t want to miss it.