At the end of the second week in September a cart came in through Bywater from the direction of the Brandywine Bridge in broad daylight. An old man was driving it all alone. He wore a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, and a silver scarf. He had a long white beard and bushy eyebrows that stuck out beyond the brim of his hat....It had a cargo of fireworks...and the old man was Gandalf the Wizard.
So, start with the box art, that gives a good overall view of the set:
First let's go with the negative. The cart itself looks like a pretty flimsy construction, though I'll be happy to be proven wrong when I get the actual set in my hands. It rides pretty high on the giant wagon wheels and with the horse hitching going to the top of the horse rather than its midsection as is more common.
The contents are nice enough. We get a barrel with three fireworks, a backpack, a letter (hmm, is this the envelope that will hold the Ring later?), a book and a carrot (huh? I guess Gandalf needs a snack on the road, or maybe this is for Merry and Pippin later on in Farmer Maggot's fields). For those unfamiliar with the part, the red firework is the snake staff element found in several Ninjago sets.
Okay, on to the most important aspects.
The new horse may be one of the most exciting new elements introduced in this line. As you can see, the head is a little less blocky and one of the front legs is lifted, to make it seem less static than the old horse.
But, of course, the thing that has people excited is that the back legs swivel, so you can show the horse rearing (this black horse is from the Weathertop set). Some people were wondering if this new horse mold would fit the barding element. I think it probably will, since the old style horse hitching also fits this new horse, as does the old saddle.
Saving the most important for last, the figs! As you can see, they both look great. Frodo's head is double sided, with one sort of half-smile and the other upset. New beard and hair molds are always good and generally useful. I can't find a good picture of Gandalf's torso without the beard, which is sort of frustrating, but it also looks fairly useful. It's sort of frustrating that Frodo's torso has a little patch of flesh at the neckline, which will make it less interchangeable with yellow LEGO heads. There's also been some complaints about the lack of a new mold for Gandalf's staff. I'm of two minds on that one. On the one hand, the Ninjago snake staff piece is proof that LEGO isn't averse to making new detailed pieces similar to this. On the other, the more we go away from traditional LEGO shapes to molded parts, the more these seem like action figures and less like the toy I love. One last complaint is that I was hoping the Tolkien line would give LEGO an excuse to develop articulated short legs, since those would be useful for both Hobbits and Dwarves, but alas we get the static stubbies. Aside from those relatively minor complaints, I'm quite happy with these figs. They are both good representations of the movie characters and reasonable interpretations of the book descriptions.