Thursday, July 3, 2014

LEGO KidsFest Atlanta 2014 Recap

Between my preview of the LEGO KidsFest and the Needless Things Podcast I recorded with LEGO Master Builder Chris Steininger you guys should probably know what the event is all about. But even with all of the information I had going into this past weekend, I was simply not prepared for the scale of what LEGO had in store for us. It was a truly special event that had the all-important “Pixar Factor”.

If you don’t know exactly what Pixar Factor is, that’s because I just coined the phrase to describe things that perfectly combine factors that appeal to both kids and adults and make for family-friendly, all-ages experiences. And the LEGO KidsFest did just that.

I took my wife and son to the Cobb Galleria Centre expecting to take some pictures, take some notes, and sit back and watch Lil’ Troublemaker play with LEGO bricks. Obviously I’m no jaded adult or anything – I run a website about toys and nerd stuff. But I did not expect to get as swept up into the worlds of LEGO as I did.

From the moment we entered the convention hall it was like entering a different world. Not Walt Disney World different, but certainly a place where any concerns other than “have fun” and “play well” become secondary. We were greeted by one of several LEGO cubes hanging from the ceiling like some sort of modern, Danish disco ball. Beneath that were some of the incredible life-size LEGO constructs that the Master Builders are responsible for. The LEGO Movie logo was front and center, flanked by characters from Star Wars, DC and Marvel comics, Pirates of the Caribbean, and all of the various license that LEGO has acquired over the years.

Side Note: Special Investigative Reporter Mrs. Troublemaker unearthed a very interesting fact during our visit – the secret behind the Minifigures. I had always assumed that LEGO does not sell individual licensed characters because they wanted you to spend the dollars to buy the sets. This is only part of the story. One of the LEGO operatives on site told my wife that LEGO cannot sell the Minifigures individually because then they would be categorized as action figures and LEGO does not have the rights to sell them as such.

For example – if LEGO sold a Spider-Man Minifigure by itself it would violate Marvel’s licensing deal with Hasbro. Hasbro makes Spider-Man action figures and has exclusive rights to do so. But by including the Minifigures with building sets, LEGO can categorize them as accessories and that’s a whole other license. It’s probably a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

Something like the recently released Simpsons Minifigures represent a different scenario, I suppose.

After checking out some of the character constructs we decided to do a loop around the convention hall floor to see what was available and what activities were priorities.
There were separate areas for a multitude of the different licenses and types of LEGO products – DUPLO, Ninjago, Disney Princesses, Star Wars, Chima, Hero Factory, and more. There were also centers set up for specific activities like the TMNT Pizza Race, the Tower Build, and the Bridge Build. Going in I wasn’t sure how we would find enough activities to occupy four and a half hours of our time (the length of each session). Once we were inside I realized we wouldn’t have enough time to do everything.

Like most of the kids in attendance, Lil’ Troublemaker’s first stop was the LEGO Brick Pile, which confounds me. The Brick Pile is a massive… well, pile of LEGO bricks. To me jumping into such a thing sounds like torture that would almost certainly be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. But every kid at the KidsFest seemed to think it was great (and some of the adults, too). They were running, jumping, and sliding through sharp, pointy LEGO bricks like they were in a snowdrift. It made me cringe. And for the most part the kids were, indeed, playing well. The occasional riffraff would throw bricks up in the air for no good reason, but that was the worst offense I witnessed.

Me and the missus were content to stand off to the side and watch our son play in the Torture LEGO Brick Pile, but we couldn’t resist the next activity center.

There was an area devoted to Marvel Comics characters that had an amazing model of New York set up:
The related project was building a superhero logo on a square white LEGO tile using an assortment of multicolored bricks of the same size. This was a time-consuming process, but we had a blast with it. Obviously I made a Phantom Troublemaker and the staff were thoroughly impressed:
Segue!

This is the perfect time to talk about the one thing that my entire family agreed was the highlight of the entire LEGO KidsFest – the staff. Every single person we spoke with was friendly and well-informed. On top of that, they all seemed pleased to be there and excited to be part of the experience. I mentioned the immersion of Walt Disney World above and the LEGO staff were definitely displaying Disney levels of enthusiasm. From the project centers to the LEGO Store (yes – of course there was a LEGO store and of course we ended up buying LEGO sets there) these were some incredible folks. It seems that most of them were pulled in from the regional LEGO Stores and they all really knew their stuff.

Over the rest of our time we watched the Bridge Challenge – where they test bridges built by attendees using weights, we won a prize from the Cartoon Network vending machine – a DUPLO set; not the most exciting of spoils, and we got tons of pictures with the various constructs:
We were also rewarded with a few different sets for participating in various activities. Given the standard prices for LEGOs I’d say we walked out with around thirty bucks worth of free bricks. And we didn’t even seek out all of the sets the event had to offer.

Out of all of the amazing things on site, I have to say my personal favorite was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mural. It’s one of the most impressive LEGO builds I’ve ever seen:
Speaking of builds again, they did not stop with the superhero tiles. Attendees could build cars, starships, monochromatic constructs, Chima racers, and even houses (or whatever else you want) to go into the LEGO Creation Nation – a massive map of America that spread out across the floor.

We had to participate in this one as well. KidsFest provided a huge selection of bricks and we were able to build pretty much whatever we desired. Staffers would then place the project wherever you liked, given there was available space. Obviously Georgia filled up pretty quickly, but I still managed to squeeze in the worst house ever:
I highly recommend you visit the LEGO KidsFest when it comes to your town, especially if you have kids. There are still stops in Dallas, TX (Aug. 29 – 31), Richmond, VA (Oct. 3 – 5) and Indianapolis, IN (Nov. 7 – 9); so check out the LEGO KidsFest website if you’re in those areas. I have a pretty good feeling the tour will start up again next year, so if you missed it or aren’t near the remaining stops just keep an eye on the site or follow the tour on Facebook.

This was a great experience for the Troublemaker family. Lil’ Troublemaker and all of the other kids there had so much fun interacting, conversing, and building together. I couldn’t tell you how many times I saw kids handing each other bricks and helping each other out. It was such a positive atmosphere, something I would love to see more of. LEGO beyond a shadow of a doubt created an environment where everybody was compelled to Play Well.

6 comments:

  1. Oh my the Mosaic TMNT was awesome!

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    1. Yeah, man - I wanted to take more pictures but I knew I'd just be there forever doing it.

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  2. This is awesome, man! It looks like you had a great time.

    And yes, that TMNT mosaic was breathtaking. I hope one of these comes to Charlotte next year. I'd be there!

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    1. It was a great event. I really do think they'll expand next year.

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  3. What a great right up man! Thanks for info about the mini figures I have often wonder why only minifigs are sold as key chains but now makes sense. I hope one day this will change. I really really want a rocket raccoon but don't want to spend the 50 bucks it takes to get it. Sounds like you all had a blast and some of those pics are just the coolest!

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    1. Check out my gallery on Facebook! There's a TON more cool stuff.
      https://www.facebook.com/PHANT0MTR0UBLEMAKER/media_set?set=a.665919243483708.1073741858.100001969157965&type=3

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