Inside the South African relaunch of LEGO Friends

While modern LEGO is likely best known for its toys based on external IPs like Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, DC and more, the truth is that the toy giant still creates quite a lot of internal IPs under its own umbrella, and few are as popular as LEGO Friends.

This theme has made a name for itself over more than a decade after originally launching in 2012. First met with some trepidation from LEGO fans due to the use of minidolls over the traditional LEGO minifigures, it has become a beloved theme for all ages, especially younger girls which is its main demographic.

In 2023 LEGO Friends has relaunched itself. After focusing for years on a main cast of, well, friends, this new take on theme focuses on a new batch of characters. Interestingly, several older characters return as adults, some of which are parents of the new cast. This is a nice little bit of in-universe continuity and for fans in the real world, who are older after this decade, seeing their favourite characters also get older is a smart decision.

We’re fans of LEGO here at Hypertext but we’re always a bit hesitant of any big company trying to shake up its properties, so we went to see what the local relaunch of Friends looks like for South African customers.

LEGO recently held a media day at the Sandton City Shopping Centre which we attended to get some hands on experience with the new products. Said products, however, have been available to everyone in the country since January and you can see the range here.

Our favourite of the bunch is set 41732: Downtown Flower and Design Stores which is a rather striking angular piece of architecture that bucks some of the softer, traditional design cues that the theme is known for. Most of the new sets, however, have a focus on buildings and we would have liked one or two bigger vehicles purely for the sake of variety.

We’re not exactly the target market for Friends but those who were – the children in attendance – seemed to love the new sets.

Outside of this media event, South Africans can also get hands on experience with the new generation of Friends by attending events which are taking place all through February.

One of the popup stands for LEGO Friends at the public events mentioned above.

Several stores are also offering sales and specials on the brand new sets with the likes of the official LEGO stores, Toy Kingdom, Toys r Us, ToyZone and others. We’re always happy to see new sets sold at a discount, or with a free gift, especially when the market is so tough and buying new toys can be a major expense.

So what’s the final verdict on the new LEGO Friends, both in South Africa and on a meta level? Locally it’s always nice to see special events, sales and overall effort put into a new launch when the country is often overlooked for such things. For the theme as a whole, only time will tell if this new direction is as much of a hit as Friends classic.

For those who want to get a taste of the new version of LEGO Friends, for free and online, an animated series is being released that is freely available on YouTube.

The first batch of the animations can be seen in the embed below. We watched this first offering at the aforementioned event, and it’s a decent use of time, especially for kids. Fans of the LEGO movies may be disappointed to see that this isn’t animated in the same way, as it veers completely towards regular 3D animation.

It’s also a bit baffling that certain items, characters, building and more – which exist in real LEGO – are instead recreated as generic 3D objects. We’re not sure why actual LEGO wasn’t used more often in these animations, but again this is a free product so we can’t complain too much. Some specific LEGO does appear, like the angular building we mentioned earlier, popping up in the background of some scenes.

The audience of both children and adults who saw this in our screening had a good time with some of the jokes landing with the audience and causing laughs. On the other side of things the writing does reach for relevancy, which brought in mentions of the metaverse and at one point someone was revered to as a “unit” which got a cringe from us.

Interestingly this animation mirrors some research done by LEGO which concluded that “Two in three kids want toys to better reflect real-world feelings” which is why the focus of this animation is on several topics like life balance, time management, friendship and more.

Unfortunately of the 18 000 children interviewed for the survey (aged between six and 12), no South Africans were included. No respondents from the entire African continent were included either, which is a shame.


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