Review: LEGO BrickHeadz 40420 Gru, Stuart, and Otto

Posted: April 26, 2021 by Scott Murphy

First introduced in the 2010 animated comedy film Despicable Me, the childlike Minions endeared themselves to real world fans and went on to star in their own self-titled spin-off film in 2015.  This LEGO BrickHeadz set features characters from the upcoming sequel Minions: The Rise of Gru – let’s have a look!

Overview

This set features three characters: the aspiring supervillain Gru, as well as henchmen Stuart and Otto.  Of the previous hundred+ BrickHeadz sets, only two have featured three characters:  the 2019 Christmas set 40353 with Reindeer, Elf, and Elfie, and the 2021 set 40466 Chinese New Year Pandas.  Nice to see a trend developing!

This 244 piece set is designed for ages 10+, with pricing and availability date to be confirmed.  

The build was straightforward, especially for Stuart and Otto, with the typical BrickHeadz use of Studs Not On Top (SNOT) techniques. 

Let’s check out the characters.

Gru

Felonious Gru, better known simply as Gru, is a precocious mastermind with a hidden soft side.  Here we see him as innocent looking 12 year old boy ready to take on the world.

I like the overall design, but I’m a little disappointed that his ever-present scarf doesn’t have the familiar gray with black stripe pattern.   I see how many stickers that would have taken, though, and understand why the designers went this way.

On the other hand, I thought the hair cowlick on his crown was especially thoughtful  and catches the light nicely.

Overall, a very nice figure for display.

Stuart

Stuart is playful, friendly, intelligent and funny – unfortunately, all things hard to express with BrickHeadz.  The cuteness comes through in spades, though.

I like this design too – simple and authentic to the source character.  I especially liked the metal goggles made with the printed 2×2 round tile – this appears to be a new part, scaled up from the smaller BrickHeadz standard eye.

One thing I would liked to have seen was an accessory to help breathe some life into the character, such as the ukulele that Stuart is known to play while chilling out.

Still, another nice figure.

Otto

Otto is a new character that we’re introduced to in the official movie trailer. He’s the first Minion we’ve seen wearing braces, but unfortunately we don’t see that with this figure.  He does have a printed tile showing a front pocket on his coveralls, though, a small detail that I appreciate in lieu of stickers.

He does come with an accessory 2×2 printed round tile.  I’m not quite sure what it symbolizes…

… but here’s a closer look.

No surprises for the rest of the figure, which I put on par with the previous one.

Behind the Scenes

I must admit to having struggled with creating a feature image for this review.  I do a lot of minifigure photography and use a combination of posing, facial expressions, and accessories to help bring them to life – things that you just can’t easily do with BrickHeadz.

After several attempts that left me unsatisfied, I decided to simply shoot a portrait full of atmosphere and mood.  I take a deliberate approach to LEGO photography, and as part of my creative process I consider four fundamental things before I even pick up the camera:

  • The Idea
  • Light
  • Subject 
  • Composition

The Idea: for this image I wanted to re-introduce Gru as an aspiring supervillain that exudes awe, stopping his henchmen in their tracks as he emerges into view from the shadows.

Light:  I am partial to low key photography with soft lighting – placing emphasis on only specific areas of the frame using light, otherwise dark tones throughout, and with a smooth transition between light and shadow.  The goal with this approach is to create a dramatic atmosphere with a little bit of mystery.

Subject: When it comes to visual storytelling, I’m influenced by Stephen King’s book On Writing.  After all, the word ‘photography’ was created from Greek roots and literally means ‘writing with light’. His advice: take out all of the things that are not the story.

And so I have Gru, Stuart, and Otto prominently in frame, with nothing else to distract from them.  I isolated them as subjects from the background with light, colour, and texture, adding a vignette in post to further emphasize them.

Composition:  I placed our leader and henchmen on opposite sides of the frame, spaced horizontally using rule of thirds, and separated by a gulf of light and shadow.  He is just emerging from darkness while they look like deer frozen in a vehicle’s headlights.  I placed the horizon at about the vertical centre of the image, using reflections to help fill the frame without introducing any new elements to the scene to distract from the subjects.  (Plus, I enjoy the aesthetic of reflections.  Don’t know why, just do!)

My mini-studio setup to achieve this:

  • Black ceramic tile as floordrop, providing reflections while also facilitating the low key look with only dark materials in frame
  • Matte black foamcore as background, approximately four feet away to keep light from reflecting on it
  • DIY diffusion panel made from parchment paper, held just out of frame with a pair of Wimberley Plamps, in order to increase the effective size of my light source to soften the lighting.  (If I had a larger softbox or an octa, I would have used this)
  • LitraPro LED light with softbox, mounted on a Platypod Ultra with gooseneck arms, positioned just above and towards the rear of the diffusion screen and aimed to create diffuse reflection on the subject while allowing light to spill onto the front element of my lens (creating the central glow at the top fo the frame).  Despite having the diffusion panel in place, I also used a softbox with the LED to minimize hotspots.
  • Plywood subfloor panels as an elevated shooting base, to which the Platypod is screwed into and the Plamp clamped onto, positioned to match the height of my floor-based shooting position.  This puts me at BrickHeadz eye level, which I find makes for a more natural portrait.

I don’t spend too much time worrying about settings once the shoot starts.  In order to make the most of my system, I consider the following my LEGO photography standard operating procedure:  

  • Ultrapod mounted Hasselblad mirrorless camera set to ISO 100 and triggered with delayed shutter
  • Hasselblad 120mm macro lens at f/8 and manually focused using magnified live view
  • Aperture priority centre-weighted metering with exposure compensation to taste
  • Post processing the RAW files with custom white balance, luma curve, saturation, contrast, sharpness, vignette, levels, and dust removal

Conclusion

The Minions are a globally known franchise and even casual fans will surely enjoy this set.  BrickHeadz collectors will likely appreciate the cuteness factor and the inclusion of three characters, and I can see it finding a place on many shelves.  

I like how the BrickHeadz were authentic to the source material, and appreciate the new parts such as the 2×2 round tile eyes.   That said, I feel that the set could have been improved with more accessories.  What I didn’t like is common in issues with all BrickHeadz sets – the lack of articulation and difficulty in bringing them to life in play and/or photos.  Your mileage may vary.

My overall rating: 8/10

Next up: a review of the companion set LEGO BrickHeadz 40421: Belle Bottom, Kevin, and Bob.

Full disclosure:  I received this set for review from LEGO thanks to Brickcental, but the opinions in this review are my own.  I have no affiliation with any of the other brands mentioned.

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