As one of the oldest cultures in the world, with numerous tales spanning thousands of generations, it’s not surprising to know of folklore and legends to be passed down, but with a small tweak with each retelling. It’s also not surprising then, that the more popular stories get reimagined and adapted, to suit the zeitgeist of each generation to call their own.
And one of the most popular Chinese folk tale is the legend of the Monkey King and his Journey to the West. In the last 30 years, this tale of redemption and reinvention has seen numerous spin-offs and retellings, with more than 27 films telling the legend of Sun Wukong, including 1995’s A Chinese Odyssey duology, starring Hong Kong comedic superstar Stephen Chow.
So perhaps, it’s apt that the world’s most popular toy company has decided to adapt one of the world’s most popular tale, marking the Danish company’s first Chinese culture-inspired LEGO series. Based on the 500-year-old legend, LEGO Monkie Kid isn’t just about retelling an old tale known to many. Instead, it aims to “be respectful to the old story and build on that”, bringing a new chapter to the timeless legend.
But while the name suggests it, the set is not about Sun Wukong as a kid. Instead, the series stars one ordinary boy by the name of Monkie Kid, who one day finds Monkey King’s legendary staff and he becomes the chosen one. Together with his brave and loyal friends, Monkie Kid sets out on a quest to stop the Bull Demon and his army of Bull Clones from taking over the city.
To make sure they did not misrepresent the legend of the Monkey King with their new LEGO set, the team had actually travelled to China and spent time consulting numerous kids and parents in China, to get their feedback to refine and improve on their idea. Models and concepts of Monkie Kid were shown to children who were used as a guide by LEGO to overcome the challenges they faced.
The good news was, Chinese parents and children in China that the LEGO team had worked with could instantly recognise who the Monkey King was, and were familiar with the legend.
“We felt that we hit something really big when we had this concept of the Monkey King,” explained Singaporean Dennis Fong, Senior Design Manager of LEGO. Fong had previously worked on a number of Chinese festival-themed LEGO sets before moving onto LEGO Monkie Kid.
“Seeing all the energy from the kids, the parents, how they could instantly recognise it because we had a lot of key iconic elements in there. And, you know, we didn’t need to tell a new story. We had the old story as a foundation for us to build upon.”
They were also given honest feedback by children, helping the team figure out if they were on the right track to producing the perfect LEGO set based on the Monkey King.
“You never get a perfect concept from the beginning. You just need to put the best of what you can together and then seek the validation from the parents from the kids. And along the way, you slowly tick off the boxes and with inputs coming from them, like ‘This is not working right’, ‘That is okay’, then it’s like back to the drawing board [to figure out] how do we make it even better, more understandable, and even more exciting,” shared Fong.
After two years, through the numerous feedback and critiques given, the LEGO team was finally able to create a LEGO set that stayed true to the original, all while bringing something new to the table for both fans of the story and LEGO.
Familiar characters from the story of the Monkey King have been given a unique twist, such as the Monkey King which has been reimagined as the titular Monkie Kid, as well as the Demon Bull, who is the main antagonist of the new LEGO set.
“[The Demon Bull] is such an iconic demon and kept coming up in our conversation. So we wanted to include him as the main demon in this season,” explained Simon Lucas, Senior Design Director of LEGO. Aside from LEGO Monkie King, Lucas had also worked on a number of different sets such as LEGO Hero Factory and LEGO Ninjago.
“Then we wanted to reinvent him in a brand new way, because LEGO is the perfect way to do that. So now we heard from the kids, ‘That’s definitely the Bull Demon, but I’ve never seen him like that before.”]’ He’s now half cyborg and half bull, and that’s really cool.”
Other familiar characters from Journey to the West such as Sandy and Pigsy, who were companions to the Monkey King on his journey, Princess Iron Fan, the wife of Bull Demon, and Red Son, the son of Princess Iron Fan and Bull Demon, are also featured throughout the eight different sets. The actual Monkey King himself also makes an appearance alongside Monkie Kid in the Monkey King Warrior Mech set.
As an adaptation of Journey to the West, LEGO has also taken this chance to introduce new never-before-seen characters to the set, such as the female character Mei who takes inspiration from the White Dragon Horse the monk Tang SanZang would sit on, as the motley crew made their way to the west.
According to Lucas, multiple ideas were considered when the team made the decision to create a new play theme rooted in Chinese culture, but they ultimately settled with the Monkey King as “there was just something so incredible about the legend of the Monkey King and Journey to the West that just inspired everyone.”
With Monkie Kid, the team at LEGO wanted to build upon the old stories of the Monkey King through the medium of the LEGO bricks, creating a new chapter in the age-old tale of redemption while inspiring kids to create their own stories as well.
“We want to be respectful to the old story and build on that. So really, to create the next chapter,” said Lucas. “And hopefully, that inspires kids to also create their chapter as well, be inspired by stories, and then unleash their creativity with a LEGO theme that is anchored in Chinese culture to create their own stories.”
Fans of Monkey King will know that aside from being a skilled fighter, he also has numerous powerful abilities under his belt, and one of his most well-known skills is his 72 Earthly transformations, which allow the Monkey King to transform into any object or animal he desires.
According to Fong, it is this aspect of the Monkey King, that resonates well with the core DNA that makes up LEGO. As with LEGO, you can easily use a handful of bricks to build many different things, which echoes the Monkey King’s 72 transformation ability perfectly.
“[LEGO is] probably one of the most creative mediums I can think of to really make anything,” said Lucas.
“If you get what we call a two by four brick, that’s two sides crossed and four studs down — a simple brick. If you have six of those bricks. You can build them in more than 9 million combinations, which is incredible. And then if you think that’s it, that simple brick can make Lego Monkie Kid, it can make LEGO Star Wars, it can make an architecture model of the Great Wall of China.”
LEGO fans will be more than familiar with the many Chinese festival-themed LEGO sets the company has released over the years, such as the Lion Dance LEGO set or the Dragon Boat set. These sets were all incredibly well-received by members of the Chinese community as well as LEGO fans, and they helped to set the stage for a LEGO set that was not just based on a festive occasion and moment in time, but instead a well-known legend, one just as deeply rooted in the Chinese culture.
“They (Chinese festival-themed sets) really celebrate those moments – the celebrations in Chinese culture, the key family moments where everyone comes together. And I think Monkey King is very different from that because it’s more than that one moment. It’s this 500-year-old legend and bringing to life stories in new ways. So it’s less than a real moment in time and more of a story and adventure,” Lucas explained.
Incidentally, LEGO Monkie Kid is not the first time we have seen LEGO release a toy related to Journey to the Wet. The Monkey King minifigure, which was released in 2019 as part of the Minifigure Series 19, was the very first LEGO version of the character. It came out just as the LEGO team were in their final stages of creating their Monkie Kid theme. As Lucas shared, the positive reaction received by fans also helped the team reconfirm that “the legendary Monkey King was as iconic and recognisable as ever.”
Avid LEGO fans will also know that LEGO has always liked including small Easter Eggs in their sets as an inside joke or little surprise, and the Monkie Kid set is no different.
As revealed by Lucas, there is a little special nod to a classic LEGO theme from the 1980s on Monkie Kid’s jacket.
“There’s a little logo on his jacket, which is a small planet with a cloud that goes around the planet. Obviously, the cloud relates back to the Monkey King’s magical cloud. But the way [the designers have] made the design is a little easter egg or nod to the classic LEGO space theme from the 1980s. It’s something that a lot of the designers at LEGO grew up playing with, including myself. And [the designers] just recreated that logo but made it the Monkey King’s version with the cloud instead of a rocket ship.”
The classic Space theme line was a series of LEGO sets released from 1978 to 1988, featuring astronaut minifigs and elements normally associated with space such as a Space Buggy and a Space Shuttle. The logo used for the theme set featured a tiny rocket zipping around a planet.
Aside from easter eggs, Fong also highlighted how the Monkie Kid LEGO theme line will bring 12 never before seen LEGO elements, including a bespoke wig for Monkie Kid himself.
“We have got like more than 10 new elements in the entire assortment of Monkey Kid – new wigs, new hats, new deco pieces, prints on tiles, and so on,” Fong elaborated. “And for the Monkey King Warrior Mech, it is the first time that we have featured like the most drum lacquered gold elements in a single model. It’s a whopping 119 pieces.”
And that’s not all – as with LEGO Friends, The LEGO Movie, Ninjago and numerous other LEGO sets, Monkie Kid will be joined by an animated mini-movie and TV series, which is set to air sometime later this year.
The animated series will follow the adventures of our hero-in-the-making Monkie Kid as he embarks on a journey to save the world, alongside his companions Pigsy, Sandy, and Mei. Not much else is known about the animated series and the mini-movie as of yet but there is a trailer for the animated series you can check out first.
The LEGO Monkie Kid line consists of eight different sets:
- 80006 White Dragon Horse Bike (259 pieces, S$ 49.90)
- 80007 Iron Bull Tank (430 pieces, S$79.90)
- 80008 Monkie Kid’s Cloud Jet (529 pieces, S$84.90)
- 80009 Pigsy’s Food Truck (832 pieces, S$99.90)
- 80010 Demon Bull King (1,051 pieces, S$129.90)
- 80011 Red Son’s Inferno Truck (1,111 pieces, S$179.90)
- 80012 Monkey King Warrior Mech (1,629 pieces, S$229.90)
- 80013 Monkie Kid’s Team Secret HQ (1,959 pieces, S$ 269.90)
They are now available for purchase on LEGO’s official website, LEGO Brand Retail Stores, and LEGO Certified Stores.