Sunday, November 12, 2023

Goodbye again, Totally Normal Town!!


Sorry for the lack of "spoiler alert", but -- as you might guess! -- in the next episode of Totally Normal Town, the town gets demolished again!!!

(You'll have to watch "A Totally Normal Christmas Carol" to find out how and by whom.)

But, before destroying the town, as usual, I took some pictures so that I could tell the tales of the various builds in the city.

In its most recent incarnation, Totally Normal Town has been a Christmas village for about a year. Last year we re-built all of our Christmas sets and then made last year's Christmas special: "A Very Special Totally Normal Christmas... Special"

(We're not planning any more Christmas specials after this year's -- since Totally Normal Town isn't a Christmas village anymore...)

But why did we build it as a Christmas village in the first place?


There's a simple reason for this choice: Lego's "Creator: Winter Village" set is the best set of the year every year.

You're probably aware that Lego makes various series marketed to adults that aren't compatible with their iconic mini-figures and cities: huge, elaborate models of various things done in Legos. Those series don't interest me in the slightest.

When I make things out of Legos, I want to build a city with lots of interesting buildings -- using their various little pieces in creative ways to build all of the miniature details. That's why all of my favorite sets are from the "Creator" series.

(Note: this is not a paid ad for Lego, I'm just a fan.)

The "Winter Village" sub-series is the best "Creator" category because it's clearly designed for my exact demographic: families where the parents and (older) kids build cities together.

The intention is clearly that the set either appeals to the parent, so they buy it for the kids for Christmas, or the kids (probably with the help of the other parent) buy the set as a fun Christmas gift for their Lego-loving parent(s).

The latter is essentially the situation at my house. Naturally, I'm hesitant about so much plastic being created, but I do love these little cities as a guilty pleasure!

The designers pull out all the stops to make a clever set full of interesting design ideas for this special yearly gift.

So this Christmas village is an incarnation of Totally Normal Town in which everything is a purchased set, and (almost) nothing is an original build. Contrast this with Totally Normal Town of 2022 which was almost entirely original builds. That's what I'm planning for the next one.

And now that this one is destroyed, I'll tell you a bit about all of the various buildings.

The one pictured here is the 2022 "Holiday Main Street." This one has some great details -- I love the irregular patterns of the collected snow on the roofs.

(Note that my kids added a bunch of characters and items that are not part of the original set.)

As you can see from the little trolley in front, this is one of the few Lego sets that includes urban public transit. As a passionate urbanist, I was thrilled when my kids got me this one.

In the next incarnation of Totally Normal Town, I'm planning to narrow the streets and have them be exclusively bike, pedestrian, and public transit (plus some emergency and delivery vehicles) because I want my little city-under-the-stairs to be a wonderful place to live.

This little blue house is my newest set. It's the 2021 "Santa's Visit" set. My kids got it for me for my birthday this year because they saw it in the store, and we didn't have it yet.

This set is a fun one because it's got some really nice interior details like the open-plan house with a long dining table set with a red tablecloth for Christmas dinner.

Since it's "Santa's Visit" the chimney is designed to be wide enough for the Santa mini-fig to slide down.

This one is the "Winter Village Fire Station" from 2018. It has some very nice design elements such as the irregular grey brick on the lower level as well as the decorative windows and trim.

This one is the absolutely adorable "Gingerbread House" from 2019.

I love how they took simple pieces and put them together to look like gingerbread decorated with candy and frosting!

Even the interior is candy -- you can see that the bed appears to be a bar of white chocolate!

Next we have "Santa's Workshop" (2014) and the "Elf Clubhouse" (2020). I love how both of these use ordinary Lego pieces to create the illusion of strings of Christmas lights (they don't light up, of course).

Also pictured we have the "Christmas Tree" -- which is not a "Creator" set, but it fits. The funny thing is that I told my son that we need a big Christmas tree as a centerpiece of our Christmas village, and there just happened to be one at the Lego store that was the perfect size!

The other builds here are a set of the book "A Christmas Carol" -- which is such a specialty set that I can't even find it on the Lego website to link to -- and "the gates of heaven" with Jesus. The latter is an original build by my kids because Jesus was a character in our Christmas special.

"Santa's Workshop" has some really fun interior details like a workbench, a toy-manufacturing machine with a conveyor belt, and a 80's/90's computer.

Please note that all three of these are constructed from generic pieces. I sometimes hear people complain that Lego used to be for imaginative building, but now they just make complete molded-plastic toys like Playmobile.

I would argue that Lego has simply expanded its collection in both directions: The "snap-together toys" exist (witness the reindeer in the foreground of this photo), but the range of possibilities for making anything you can imagine out of generic tiny pieces has also expanded dramatically. If the latter is what you're looking for, then stick to the "Creator" sets.

It's a similar story for the interior of the "Elf Clubhouse". This one features some clever mechanical builds like the cute mechanism that drops waffles into a pan and a clock that (when turned) makes the elves drop out of their bunk beds and get to work!

(I guess the fact that the elves are slaves and/or in a cult is part of the clubhouse fun...)

Next we have Hogwarts! This set is the "Hogwarts Clock Tower" from a number of years ago. It's not a "Creator" set, but it includes a mechanism for the Yule Ball, so -- with some additional Christmas decorations -- it fits into our Christmas village.

Hogwarts has been an important component of the story of Totally Normal Town from the beginning -- it's where the kids go to school, and it was Professor Trelawney who saw "the Grim" and thus predicted the first destruction of the town.

So, while Hogwarts is grandfathered-in as a permanent fixture of Totally Normal Town, it's with my apologies to the trans community. I'm absolutely disgusted that the author of the series has chosen to use her gigantic platform to act as the world's spokesperson for anti-trans hate.

This little Hogwarts annex includes the only original architectural build in the Christmas village.

The lower floor is the "Hogwarts Polyjuice Potion Mistake" set, which is a very simple rectangular room that looks like it's designed to be modular -- that is, you could combine a bunch of similar rooms by stacking them or connecting them alongside one another. I guess it's an expander set for some other Hogwarts sets.

Since the little polyjuice bathroom is in the same style as our other Hogwarts set, I wanted to include it as part of the Hogwarts castle. But it looked weird without a roof, so I threw together a little under-roof room in a similar style to serve as as a topper.

Next we have Elsa's castle. This was another present to me from my kids from a few years ago. This set is more for little kids than the others -- yet it still contains interesting mechanics like the way to open the big doors. It's a fun set, and it naturally fits the winter theme of the town.

I think it may be our only set that includes the "mini-dolls" from the Lego "Friends" series in place of the standard mini-figures. (We have a few others from the Lego Movie 2 sets.)

Then we're back to some more "Creator: Winter Village" sets: The "Winter Village Station" from 2017 and the "Winter Holiday Train" from 2016.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn't actually buy the "Winter Holiday Train" -- I just happened to have all of the pieces from other train sets, and I built it from the instructions that I found online.

The acronym you see on our train system is "Société municipale des chemins de plastique de Totally Normal Town."

And that's it for our adorable little Christmas village-under-the-stairs! Be sure to tune in for our Christmas special in which it gets demolished and stay tuned for the next incarnation of Totally Normal Town!!

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