You know how in Return of the King, Frodo puts on the One Ring and the Eye of Sauron immediately screams to attention and is radiating unstoppable desire for the Ring? That’s how I felt when LEGO announced there was going to be a line of LEGO Lord of the Rings toys. Seriously. It’s been an excruciatingly long three months since LEGO showed prototypes of the LEGO Lord of the Rings toys at the 2012 International Toy Fair, but I finally found my first set and began building my fellowship this week. I paid the ridiculously marked-up $16.99 for LEGO 9469 Lord of the Rings Gandalf Arrives set at Toys R Us–but having a LEGO Gandalf the Grey minifigure? Priceless.
Some people thought that the Fellowship of the Ring movie was boring. I’m not one of those people. I fell in love with Lord of the Rings during the “boring” first half-hour of the movie in Hobbiton. So the image of Gandalf riding into town with his horse and carriage is a heartwarming one for me that I’m very enthusiastic about. So 9469 Gandalf Arrives was a great choice for an introductory set in my eyes, and I’m very excited I was able to pick it up as my first LEGO Lord of the Rings set.
I know the big attraction of these LEGO Lords of the Rings sets to many is the minifigures, so I’ll begin there. The most famous character in this set (and perhaps all of Lord of the Rings lore) is the wizard, Gandalf the Grey. The LEGO Gandalf the Grey minifigure is a pretty simplistic one, but that’s A-OK because the character design for Gandalf the Grey should be pretty plain. Gandalf includes a beard, cape, wizard hat, and staff. None of the add-ons are particularly notable, but they’re all also crucial to Gandalf’s aesthetic. In essence, the Gandalf figure is nothing flashy, but that’s absolutely perfect because he looks just as he should.
Gandalf is played by Ian McKellen in the films, and I was astonished that LEGO managed to replicate McKellen’s face to an extent that’s almost creepy with this minifigure. We have come a long way from the old LEGO Star Wars figures with faces that looked nothing like their actors, that’s for sure.
The second minifigure in this set is the other most famous Lord of the Rings character: the Ringbearer, Frodo. As a hobbit, Frodo is naturally shorter than a regular-sized human, and as such the LEGO Frodo minifigure has the little person legs used on kids and dwarves and such in various LEGO themes. Like all minifigures using the short legs, LEGO Frodo is huggably cute. This figure represents Frodo from the start of Fellowship of the Ring, so he’s wearing his casual overalls and not his iconic traveling jacket. LEGO Frodo has a great reversible head so that he can be displayed as a happy young Hobbit or a worried, reluctant hero. LEGO Frodo has his uncle Bilbo’s book (“There And Back Again”) to be posed with, which is the ideal accessory for the Hobbit (albeit a little oversized).
One of the most thrilling parts of the LEGO Gandalf Arrives set isn’t a named character at all, but rather Gandalf’s horse. This set features the introduction of an all-new LEGO horse mold, which has the ability to pose rearing up on its hind legs or kicking. It’s a huge improvement and evolution of the classic LEGO horse, while remaining just close enough to the appearance of the original LEGO horse to serve as an homage to it.
The rest of LEGO 9469 Gandalf Arrives consists of Gandalf’s cart and the accessories that are stored in it. The assembly itself was so simple even I didn’t mess it up, and it only took me about 10 minutes to complete the build, even while stopping to take photos. The cart itself is an easy build without much innovation, but it latches onto the horse nicely and it really does look like an authentic rickety old cart. The bag with letter in it is a nice touch, and I appreciate that the three fireworks in the cart are all-different, particularly the “dragon” firework (represented by a red Ninjago snake). The LEGO carrot that comes with the set for Gandalf to feed his horse is downright brilliant and adds additional play-value to the improved LEGO horse.
The only aspect of this set that I feel is underwhelming is its price-point. The MSRP for the LEGO 9469 Gandalf Arrives set is $12.99, although certain stores (*choke* Toys R Us *choke*) are charging up to $16.99 for it. For an 83 piece set, that means you’re paying 16-20 cents per piece for this set. I’ve always said that my sweet-spot for LEGOs is around 10 cents per piece, so this is 60-100% higher than I would consider a good value. Considering I just reviewed the awesome Monster Fighters The Swamp Creature set at 70 pieces for $7.99, the increased cost per part is especially palpable here. It’s still a budget set and nowhere near the rip-off many of the LEGO Star Wars sets have been in the past, but I’m still not real pleased about the price of the LEGO Gandalf Arrives set.
Overall: I love Lord of the Rings, I love LEGO, and I love the scene this LEGO Lord of the Rings Gandalf Arrives set is based upon. So I’m a little biased where this set is concerned. Even so, I don’t expect anyone will disagree with me that this is a fine, well-designed LEGO set to introduce kids and collectors to the LEGO Lord of the Rings line. The LEGO Gandalf figure is an amazing likeness to the actor and looks exactly as I always pictured him as a minifigure, and Frodo is adorable with his double-sided head and little people legs. The new-style 2012 LEGO horse is a true advancement over the old LEGO horse, and the cart and accessories are a fun finishing touch to the set. I think the MSRP on this set is notably too high at $12.99, but that’s my only genuine gripe. LEGO Lord of the Rings Gandalf Arrives 9469 is a marvelous little item that is a must-have for Lord of the Rings fans, and easily earns a high recommendation.