Update 12/23/2015: LEGO has released a service pack to address the free-spinning neck issue. I’ve modified the final rating to 5 out of 5. The rest of the review has not been changed and remains in tact since the day it was first published.

When I saw Angus MacLane’s WALL•E project on LEGO Ideas, I had no doubt in my mind that it would be turned into an official set. After all, LEGO and Disney seem to be enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship of licensee and licensor. Angus himself works at Pixar, a Disney-owned company. I would have been more surprised if the set didn’t make it into production. When 21303 WALL•E was officially announced back in September I was excited. After seeing comments online about the crappy neck joint and having built the set myself, I’m pissed. Let me get my rant out of the way and then I’ll sing the set’s praises.

First off, that neck. Now, let’s talk about that neck. Simply saying that it is lame does not justifiably convey just how disappointing and frustrating it is.

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The head is connected to the neck via a friction-less pin and connects way at the back of the head causing it to be extremely front-heavy. I don’t fault the position since it is accurate to the character after all. But because it’s extremely front-heavy the head has to be perfectly level for you to pose him in any way where he isn’t looking directly at the ground. Tilting the head will cause it to spin and come to rest where the pin is above the center of gravity. It really limits the kind of poses you can make with WALL•E and makes the model rather delicate to handle if you want him to look “just right.” Assuming the head is level, he can look left and right. He can’t look up, nor can you tilt his head side to side. You can tilt it forward, but he can’t look anywhere else except directly in front of him. Tilt it back the other way, and his head will start to spin around and then the momentum will cause the neck joint to fall backwards. It’s so bad it’s almost hilarious to watch:

Here’s another spinny head video where you can see just how loose the connection is and how difficult it can be to pose his head:

I tried to do some digging around to see if I can shed some light on “neckgate”. I asked the original designer Angus MacLane if he could shed some light on the changes but he was not “at liberty to discuss the TLG process”. To be expected. I asked my marketing contact if there was any comment and she was only able to give me the same canned response that the CEE team gave in the LEGO Ambassador Network forums:

“We’ve found that two pieces in the neck don’t have the right amount of clutch power. This is causing WALL·E’s head to fall down instead of staying where it should. The above issue is exclusive to the NA version – the one with piece count on the box. The issue is not related to the pin-beam connection. We are in the process of repacking the NA boxes with fully functional elements, hence the delay in delivery to the NA markets. If you experience the issue or have any other quality concerns with this or other LEGO sets, we encourage you to call Consumer Service and report it”

Seriously? How are the sets in NA different than the ones in Europe or the rest of the world? Are we to believe that there is a North American market exclusive version of the set? Please. I’m pretty sure what happened was that LEGO “discovered” this flaw too late for the European market to do a recall. But here in NA, LEGO was able to control the sale of the set through their online Shop@Home site and Brand Retail locations, so they held back sets on that level. Sets sold through Amazon and Toys’R’Us? Well, too late to do any sort of recall with those retailers so customers who acquired their copies of WALL•E through those channels will be stuck with the defective design. This isn’t the first time there was a mistake in a LEGO set (and it certainly won’t be the last) but why they didn’t bother making a service pack with new pieces and revised instructions like they have before with other sets is a bit puzzling. As I understand things right now based on their statement, only the North American market will have the revised set with the “corrected” neck issue and the rest of the world is SOL. Maybe gravity works differently in other parts of the world. I don’t know.

And what is it exactly that they are correcting? Reading this part: “The issue is not related to the pin-beam connection.” makes me think they are addressing the click hinges at the base of the neck where it attaches to the body. If you were to to fully extend WALL•E’s neck it is prone to falling forward thanks to the front-heavy head:

For the record, I did not push the head very hard. It will fall forward at the slightest touch. This is indeed a flaw but I don’t see it as being as big of an issue as the pin connection. It only becomes an issue if the head is straightened out completely and then breathed on, or if the head is positioned in such way that would cause it to spin around to the back and forcing the entire neck assembly to jerk backwards like in my earlier video.

I went back and looked at Angus’s photos that were part of the Ideas project, this one in particular caught my attention:


If you view the image by itself at its full resolution, you can see a ball joint. I can’t even guess as to why this was changed in the final model. Why did they change it from the ball joint? Is there a mandate that a set submitted through LEGO Ideas needs to have a certain number of changes made to it before being released? If their goal was to take something functional and make it worse, they’ve accomplished that goal with flying colors. Someone knew about that faulty neck. In fact, I’m willing to bet a lot of people knew about it but someone at TLG decided to green light the set anyway hoping that either no one would notice or not care enough to say anything about it. And once some noise started around the neck, TLG put in a last ditch effort of a delayed launch in North America only to try and “fix” the issue. By the sounds of it, the fix only addresses one of the two design flaws, and out of the two it is the more minor, less frustrating flaw. I believe neckgate would be an appropriate term to use here because I find it extremely hard to believe that the production model passed through play testing, TLG’s high standards, and quality control without someone noticing and saying something about it.

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Original on left; McVeigh Modification on right.

Of course, this IS LEGO we are talking about and if anything it is a versatile medium allowing anyone to try their hand at creating a solution. One such solution has already been put out there by Chris McVeigh. He created a PDF file complete with a parts list that addresses the main issues and uses a part that should have been left alone in the model in the first place: a ball joint. The ball joint, in my opinion and probably a lot of other people’s opinion, is superior in that it provides a single connection that handles both tilt and rotation and can keep the head still in a variety of positions. He notes in his instructions that different ball joints have different friction levels depending on age, use, and/or manufacturing tolerances so it may take a bit of trial and error to find one with enough clutch power to keep things still and steady. I did the modification myself and the results are exactly what the set should have been. I know it, Chris McVeigh knows it, set designer Angus MacLane knew it. How could LEGO NOT know it?

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I’m able to pose the head in a variety of positions now with no fear of any wobblines or uncontrollable spinning. If you have any of the high-friction click joints from way, way back, I’m talking like 1999-2000 era Star Wars sets, it might behoove you to replace the click hinges at the neck joints both at the base and in the middle of the neck for added support. You would be mixing old grey with new grey so depending on how you feel about that, it may or may not be worth it to you. Still, mixing up the greys gives it a more mottled, used, been around the block a few times look that the set is somewhat lacking. WALL•E looks like he just rolled right off of the assembly line, all shiny and new. Replacing some of the grays with old grays and yellowed out greys would dirty it up nicely. I’d also suggesting replacing some of the bright light orange elements with with regular yellow, orange, or even burnt orange.

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His arms move forward and back and use a rubber technic bushing for friction and keep the arms in place. They can’t slide down the front like the movie WALL•E’s arms do and I would chalk that up keeping the model structurally stable. The arms were more detailed in the submitted model having black and white diagonal stripes mimicking their on-screen counterparts but were scrapped for whatever reason in the final model.

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The hands are articulated well enough for but there is no wrist articulation other than swiveling. This may seem like a drawback but it is accurate to the character. The plant attaches to that tan stud that sticks out of the palm which is present on both hands. I do wish that there was a brick-built boot for the plant instead of just a brown blob that I suppose is supposed to be a pile of dirt.

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Despite my gripes above, he is rather full of other details you’d come to expect: his front panel opens up to reveal the trash compactor space inside him which is a nice touch. The printed tiles for the battery level and the WALL•E logo are nice. It comes with a plant and his cockroach friend. The back is rather plain, i.e. there is no hook on the back for his B&L-branded Coleman cooler but that doesn’t matter since the set doesn’t have you build one anyway. And his head is articulated the way you’d expect allowing WALL•E to achieve several different expressions.

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I’m totally nitpicking here on minor issues, if they can even be considered issues. Because the real issue in the set that I’ve harped on for so many paragraphs is the neck. But once you put in McVeigh’s neck modification, WALL•E looks friggin’ fantastic! An appropriately cartoonish rendition of a character from a cartoon movie rendered in brightly-colored plastic building elements. Again, once you put the neck modification in, you can tilt WALL•E’s head any which way and really recreate that expression of wonderment and innocence he has about him. And it’s that innocence that is so endearing that you can almost forgive and forget about all the little issues. But that neck? Forget it. That production neck is unforgivable. The set will run you $59.99 if you can find it or once LEGO start selling it on their site. It is still delayed and as far as I know there is no ETA on its availability. We’ll do our best to keep you informed as to when you can buy the revised version.

So how do I rate it? I’ll have to give it a 4 out of 5 stars. I wanted to love the set because I love the movie so much, and finally having a LEGO version makes me want to scream to the heavens “AT LAST!”. But for it to take an AFOL’s modification to fix a glaring design flaw by re-introducing an element that was in the submitted model but taken out of the final production model prevents me from giving it a perfect score. Had the neck not been an issue, it would have easily earned a 5 but for what it is right now and what you get out of the box, I cannot in good conscience give it anything more than a 4. For us AFOLs, making the McVeigh Modification is easy. But for the common lay person/casual fan of LEGO, putting the fix together is a bit more of a hurdle. With the holidays coming up, it will be a good gift to get and to give so I would not hesitate in picking it up as soon as you see it. Just try and do the McVeigh Modification though; you’ll be thankful you did.

You can buy 21303 WALL•E from LEGO Shop@Home whenever they decide to start selling the thing:

21303 Wall-E Box