(cross-posted from Brickset)
This is just something I've been thinking about lately. When #70751 Temple of Airjitzu was announced, a question that seemed to be on a lot of people's minds is "how many AFOLs will be interested in buying a Ninjago set?" (or conversely, "how many Ninjago fans are even old enough for a set this size?") This is something that I see a lot of in the AFOL community — themes like Ninjago being perceived as "too childish" for most adults to take a serious interest in.
And yet at the same time, that seems to fly in the face of the actual target audience for these themes. Many AFOLs are perfectly fine with buying LEGO City sets, and yet even the largest LEGO City sets such as #60097 City Square (1683 pieces, $190) and #60098 Heavy-Haul Train (984 pieces, $200) are recommended for ages 6–12. By comparison, the smallest Ninjago sets like #70752 Jungle Trap and #70739 Airjitzu Kai Flyer are aimed at ages 6–14, while the largest non-exclusive sets like #70732 City of Stiix and #70738 Final Flight of Destiny's Bounty are aimed at ages 9–14. The Temple of Airjitzu itself is aimed at ages 14+.
Some might point to the "silliness" of the story as evidence of the Ninjago theme's childishness, what with the colorful ninja piloting sci-fi vehicles and fighting robots, ghosts, and fantasy monsters. And yet there are plenty of AFOLs who have no trouble enjoying LEGO Super Heroes sets (and the corresponding Marvel Cinematic Universe movies) that portray fights between Norse gods, robots, aliens, mutants, mech pilots, and B-movie monsters. I've also heard plenty of AFOL excitement for the Scooby-Doo theme, based on a series in which a bunch of teenagers and their talking dog solve formulaic cartoon mysteries perpetrated by middle-aged men and women in goofy monster costumes. Are these things honestly any less silly, or is it just the veneer of nostalgia that makes AFOLs less afraid to enjoy these "old-school" cartoon and comic book adventures?
For what it's worth, the LEGO Ninjago TV series can be quite cerebral compared to what you might expect from a merchandise-driven cartoon, with plenty of character development, complex storylines, and moral ambiguity. The LEGO Ninjago sets are intricate and full of creative part use, elaborate action features, and intricate details. So why is it that so many AFOLs who casually enjoy themes aimed at an even younger audience have a hard time seeing Ninjago as anything other than a "kiddy theme"?
The only explanation I've been able to come up with is that character-driven, genre-blending themes like Ninjago are so different than the themes many older AFOLs grew up with like Town or Castle. Because so many kids, teens, and young adults like these themes in a way they can't begin to understand, these older AFOLs assume that themes like Ninjago are simply more childish than the LEGO themes and movie brands that they continue to enjoy from their own childhoods.