|Parent theme||LEGO Technic (2000–2003)|
|Licensed from||The LEGO Group|
Bionicle (//, stylized as BIONICLE) was a line of Lego construction toys, marketed primarily towards 8-16 year-olds. Originally a subsidiary of LEGO's Technic series, the line launched in Europe and Australasia in late 2000, and in the Americas in 2001. Over the following decade, it became one of Lego's biggest-selling properties; turning into a franchise and playing a part in saving the company from its financial crisis of the late 1990s. Despite a planned twenty-year tenure, the theme was discontinued in 2010, but was rebooted in 2015 for a further two years.
Unlike previous LEGO themes, Bionicle was accompanied by an original story told across a multimedia spectrum. It depicts the exploits of the Toa, heroic biomechanical beings with innate elemental abilities whose duty is to maintain peace throughout their universe. Bionicle's success prompted subsequent Lego themes to utilize similar story-telling methods.
After suffering a ten-year downturn in the 1990s, the Lego Group went forward with the belief that a theme with a storyline behind it would appeal to consumers. Their initial attempt was the space opera franchise Star Wars, which became an instant success. However, the royalty payments to Lucasfilm marginalized Lego's profits, prompting them to conceive their own story-driven themes.
The concept for Bionicle originated in an idea by co-creator Christian Faber that was named Cybots, a line of humanoid action figures with attachable limbs and ball-and-socket joints. He recalled, "I was sitting with LEGO Technic and thought I would love to build a character instead of a car. I thought of this biological thing: The human body is built from small parts into a functional body just like a model. What if you got a box full of spare parts and built a living thing?". He pitched the idea to Lego, but it was initially implemented as Slizer/Throwbots in 1999 and RoboRiders in 2000.
A new project was then conceived that centred on a story-driven theme. The project was originally conceived as "BoneHeads of Voodoo Island" by Christian Faber and Lego employees Bob Thompson and Martin Riber Andersen from a brief by Erik Kramer that was sent to outside writers. One of the writers who received it was Alastair Swinnerton, who rewrote the concept and was later invited to pitch it to the Lego Group at their headquarters in Billund, Denmark. The revised concept was well received and Swinnerton was commissioned to expand his initial pitch into a full 'bible'. On his second visit to Billund, the project was given approval and entitled "Bionicle" at an internal Lego meeting (a portmanteau constructed from the words "biological chronicle", which was also actually derived from the word "bionics"). The names "BioKnights" and "Afterman" were also considered prior to the finalization of the brand.
To accompany the sets, Lego worked with Swinnerton and the creative agency Advance to create an elaborate story featuring red herrings, arcs and extensive lore centering on half-organic, half-robotic characters and telling it across a vast multimedia spectrum including comic books, novels, games, movies and online content. The use of tropical environments and characters based on classical elements were carried over from Slizer/Throwbots and RoboRiders, as well as the Lego Technic building system featured in those sets. One particular element – the then-innovative 'ball-and-socket' system which created free joint movement – would feature heavily in Bionicle and be expanded upon in subsequent sets.
Launch and success
The first wave of Bionicle sets were initially launched in December 2000 in Europe and Australasia as a "test market" to predict how well the series would sell in North America. The official website, explaining the premise of Bionicle, also debuted around the same time. After a positive reception, Bionicle premiered in North America in mid-2001, where it generated massive success and earned the Lego Group £100 million in its first year. New sets were released every six months, ranging from buildable action figures to play sets and vehicles, and would gradually increase in size and flexibility with every new wave. Collectibles such as weapon ammo and the "Kanohi" masks that certain characters wore were also sold; some became rare and valuable and withheld secret codes that when entered onto the official Bionicle website, provided the user with "Kanoka Points" that enabled them to access exclusive membership material.
As Bionicle's popularity rose, it became one of Lego's most successful properties, accounting for nearly all of their financial turnover from the previous decade. Bionicle was named as the #1 Lego theme in 2003 and 2006 in terms of sales and popularity, with other Lego themes at the time failing to match profits generated by Bionicle. Its popularity led to high web traffic on its official website, averaging more than one million page views per month, and further kinds of merchandise such as clothes, toiletries and fast-food restaurant collectibles.
On November 24, 2009, Lego announced that production on new Bionicle sets would cease after a final wave was released in 2010. The decision was made due to recent low sales and a lack of new interest in the theme, possibly brought on by its decade-long backstory and lore. A successor theme, Hero Factory, launched in mid-2010. It continued to utilize the building system introduced in Bionicle before evolving into the Character and Creature Building System (CCBS) that would later be carried over into other Lego sets and eventually Bionicle's 2015 reintroduction.
At his request, long-term Bionicle comic book writer and story contributor Greg Farshtey was given permission to continue the Bionicle storyline, with chapters for new serials arranged to be posted regularly on the website BionicleStory.com. However, Farshtey stopped posting new content in 2011 due to other commitments and the website was shut down in 2013, leaving a number of serials incomplete. Farshtey continues to play an active role in the Bionicle community and regularly contributes new story details via online forums and message boards.
Work on a reboot to Bionicle began in 2012. Matt Betteker, who was a junior designer on Hero Factory, was promoted to senior designer for the project. The theme's comeback was announced on September 19, 2014, with the first wave of sets and story details revealed at New York Comic Con on October 9. Dubbed "Generation 2" by fans, the new storyline features the same premise as the original, albeit with simplified lore and a smaller media platform.
The reboot launched in January 2015 to a mixed reception from toy critics and fans of the original Bionicle franchise, with the playability of the new sets and the inspiration taken from the theme's first toy wave being praised, but the simplified story and undeveloped characters receiving less positive feedback. Despite plans to release new Bionicle sets through to at least 2017, Lego discontinued the reboot in 2016 due to low sales.
Generation 1 (2000–2010)
Set in a science fantasy universe featuring a diversity of cyborgs, the main story depicts the exploits of the Toa, heroic beings with elemental powers whose sworn duty is to protect the Matoran, the prime populace of their world, and reawaken the Great Spirit Mata Nui, their god-like guardian who was forced into a coma by the actions of the evil Makuta.
The first story arc (2000–2003) takes place on the tropical island of Mata Nui, named after the Great Spirit, and deals with the arrival of the six Toa Mata (later transformed into the more powerful Toa Nuva) and their adventures in protecting the Matoran villagers from Makuta's minions. A heavy emphasis is placed on the Kanohi masks worn by the Toa, which supplement their elemental powers with abilities such as super-strength and super-speed. The second arc (2004–2005) is set before the events of the first, on an island city called Metru Nui. It explains the Matoran's origins and how they came to settle on Mata Nui island. The culminating third arc (2006–2008) sees a new team of Toa set out on a quest to find the Mask of Life, an artifact that can save the dying Mata Nui's life. A fourth arc (2009), originally envisioned as a soft reboot of the franchise, introduces the desert world of Bara Magna and its inhabitants. Lego cancelled Bionicle later that year and any pre-planned storyline was scrapped and replaced with one that concluded the main story in 2010.
Characters such as the Toa and Matoran are typically divided into tribes based on six "primary" elements: fire, water, air, earth, stone, and ice. Less common "secondary" elements, such as light, gravity and lightning, began being introduced in 2003. The 2009 storyline, which features a different society, uses a similar grouping method for its Glatorian and Agori characters.
The whole narrative was developed on a multimedia platform by a team of Lego employees led by Bob Thompson and spans online animations, comic books, novels, console and online games, short stories, and a series of direct-to-DVD films – Bionicle: Mask of Light (2003), Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui (2004), Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows (2005), and Bionicle: The Legend Reborn (2009). The majority of comics and novels were written by Greg Farshtey, who also published a number of in-character blogs, serials, and podcasts that expanded the franchise lore. After the toyline was discontinued, publication of these serials continued through to 2011 before being halted abruptly due to Farshtey's other work commitments.
Generation 2 (2015–2016)
A reboot of the original story, the revival chronicles the adventures of six elemental Toa heroes who protect the bio-mechanical inhabitants of the tropical island of Okoto from Makuta and his minions. Characters are again divided into six elemental tribes: Fire, Water, Jungle (changed from Air for creative reasons), Earth, Stone and Ice. The reboot's multimedia spectrum was scaled back in comparison to the first generation's – online animations, a series of books and graphics novels authored by Ryder Windham, and the animated Netflix series Lego Bionicle: The Journey to One (2016) detail the narrative. Lego discontinued the reboot in 2016. At the time, the saga was planned to span into at least 2017.
Initially, the idea of Bionicle faced resistance from company traditionalists as the Lego Group had no experience of marketing a story-based brand of their own. The "war-like" appearance of the characters also went against the company's values of creating sets without themes of modern warfare or violence. Lego reconciled on this statement by claiming that the theme was about "Good versus evil; "good hero warriors" designed to combat "evil enemy fighters" in a mythical universe, so children are not encouraged to fight each other".
The Bionicle franchise was well received over its venture and became one of the Lego Group's biggest-selling properties. At the time of its launch, one reviewer described the sets as "A good combination of assembly and action figure". and first-year sales of £100 million. Bionicle later received a Toy of the Year Award for Most Innovative Toy in 2001 from the Toy Industry Association.
Bionicle's rapid success had a major impact on the Lego Company. Stephanie Lawrence, the global director of licensing for Lego, stated "We've created an evergreen franchise to complement the many event-based properties on the children's market. An increasing number of category manufacturers want to tap into the power of the Bionicle universe, and the key for us now is to manage the excitement to stay true to the brand and the lifestyle of our core consumer."
Since its launch, toy critics have said that Bionicle has changed the way children think and play with Lego products by combining "The best of Lego building with the story telling and adventure of an action figure". Toy statistics have revealed that as of 2009, 85% of American boys aged 6–12 have heard of Bionicle while 45% own the sets.
Māori language controversy
In 2002, several Māori iwi (tribes) from New Zealand were angered by Lego's lack of respect for some of their words which were used to name certain characters, locations and objects in the Bionicle storyline. A letter of complaint was written, and the company agreed to change the names of certain story elements (e.g. the villagers originally known as "Tohunga" was changed to "Matoran") and met with an agreement with the Māori people to still use a small minority of their words.
In the story, the reason for certain name changes was dubbed as a Naming Ceremony for certain Matoran after doing heroic deeds (though the pronunciations remain the same), an example being the name change of 'Huki' to 'Hewkii'. Other names such as "Toa" meaning "Warrior", "Kanohi" meaning "Face" and "Kōpaka" meaning "Ice" were not changed.
Composers Paul Hardcastle and Simon Fuller produced the music for the Bionicle commercials used between 2001–04, which also featured in the Mata Nui Online Game released throughout 2001. An official Bionicle album – featuring music from the bands Cold and Woven and singers Rob Zombie and Kenna – from was originally planned for release in 2002, but the project was scrapped when disagreements arose between the Lego Group and the label Interscope Records.
In 2005, the band All Insane Kids released the songs "Hero" and "Caught in a Dream", produced and written by Morten Krog Helgesen. The latter is played in the end credits of Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows. Between 2006 and 2007, artists such as The All-American Rejects, Daughtry and Niels Brinck contributed songs for Bionicle commercials. But the success of the song "Creeping in My Soul" sung by Danish singer Christine Lorentzen for Bionicle's Barraki toy campaign led to the formation of the rock band Cryoshell, who produced music for the theme up until its original discontinuation, and in its wake released their self-titled debut album.
Music for the first three Bionicle films, Mask of Light (2003), Legends of Metru Nui (2004), and Web of Shadows (2005), was composed by Nathan Furst. In 2012, Furst announced plans to release a soundtrack for the music featured in the films. Although the plans were originally scrapped in 2015, a film score to Mask of Light was digitally released in 2017, celebrating the film's fourteenth anniversary. This was followed by soundtracks for Legends of Metru Nui and Web of Shadows later in December of the same year. Music for the fourth Bionicle film The Legend Reborn (2009) was composed by John D'Andrea, while Mike Raznick composed the score for the 2016 television series The Journey to One.
In popular culture
- Ultimate Spider-Man (2005) – Spider-Man refers to a group of enemy cyborgs as “bionicles.”
- Archie Sonic X #21 (2007) – Chris Thorndyke is revealed to be a fan of the “Robonicle” toyline (a parody likely combining the two terms ‘Robotnic’ and ‘Bionicle’) and initially has plans to go to “Toys for Us” (a parody of the toy chain store ‘Toys R Us’) to pick out some Robonicles, however he ends up going to Alexander Pell’s lab instead. Sonic the Hedgehog and Tails the Fox then force Chris’ grandfather, Chuck Thorndyke, to purchase a massive amount of the toys after they ruined a toy store while engaging in a battle with Dr. Eggman, so that they could pay the store manager in damages to the Robonicles destroyed in his store.
- Room (2010) – Jack briefly watches a Bionicle commercial on television.
- Star Wars: Smuggler’s Guide (2018) – a character mentioned in this Star Wars reference book borrows the name of Makuta, the main antagonist in Bionicle franchise.
- Friends – in several episodes, the 2001 Toa Mata sets in their combiner Toa Kaita forms are seen in Joey and Chandler's apartment, as well as a maskless 2001 Kopaka set.
- Even Stevens – in the episode "Gutter Queen", characters Louis and Beans play with the 2001 Toa Mata and 2002 Bohrok sets.
- Malcolm in the Middle – the episode "If Boys Were Girls" shows the character Dewey playing with the 2001 Toa Mata sets, albeit with different names given to them.
- The King of Queens – in the episode "Friender Bender", the 2001 Toa Mata sets can be seen in the toy store where characters Doug and Carrie are buying toys.
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide – the character Cookie appears to wear a Bionicle joint piece to help hold up an extra lens in his glasses.
- Johnny Test – the season 1 episode “Johnny and the Mega Roboticles” is a parody of the toyline and features a parody of the character Toa Tahu named Roboticle.
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – the episode "To the Lighthouse" sees character John Henry playing with the 2008 Mistika sets and discussing the storyline. He is seen with them again in "The Good Wound", asking why God didn't use ball-and-socket joints to create humans (referring to the Bionicle building system).
- Suburgatory – in the episode "Victor Ha", Lisa finds her adopted brother hiding a 2010 Takanuva set and bonds with him over her love of the franchise.
- Clangers – the episode "Small's New Star" features Bionicle set pieces among the junk in the Iron Chicken's nest.
- Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005) – the 2004 Nidhiki and Krekka sets appear.
- The Lego Movie (2014) – a promo image of the Toa Mata is shown, presenting one of the many realms in the Lego universe.
- The Lego Batman Movie (2017) – the words "The Bionicle Man" are shown on a marquee, a pun on the television series The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man.
- Marriage Story (2019) – a 2015 Skull Basher set appears throughout the film.
- Through the Woods (2016) – a journal entry in the game mentions a Bionicle set that had belonged to a child.
- Lumb, David (2020-06-21). "LEGO Almost Went Bankrupt. These Heroes Saved Our Bricks". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2021-03-13.
- Official Greg Discussion p. 198 Archived April 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine on BZPower forums, post #5922
- Faber (4 December 2015). "Faber Files: Name suggestions from the time before time".
- "Lego: play it again". 17 December 2009 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
- Widdicombe, Rupert (2004-04-29). "Building blocks for the future". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
- "An Important Announcement Regarding Bionicle". Archived from the original on 11 January 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2009.
- "LEGO Bionicle". www.facebook.com.
- Danger, Tatiana. "Review: New LEGO Bionicle Sets Are Here to Slice and Bash Skulls".
- Doug Cornelius. "The end of LEGO Bionicle". Wired. Retrieved 2010-01-01.
- Telegraph (2009-12-17). "Lego: play it again". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-01-01.
- Business Wire (2002-04-16). "LEGO Company to Channel Strong 2001 Performance into Aggressive Growth Strategy for North America; World leader in construction toys aims to double its Canadian business by 2005". Business Wire. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
- Business Wire (2004-06-07). "BIONICLE Fever Heats, Blazes Into New Categories; Key Players in Five Children's Merchandise Categories Jump on BIONICLE Bandwagon". Business Wire. Retrieved 2009-12-26.
- "Lego game irks Maoris". BBC News. London. 2005-05-31. Retrieved 2006-08-14.
- Griggs, Kim (2002-11-21). "Lego Site Irks Maori Sympathizer". Wired News. Retrieved 2006-08-14.
- "Lego agrees to stop using Maori names". BBC News. London. 2001-10-30. Retrieved 2006-08-14.
- Bionicle Encyclopedia, Scholastic 2007
- All Insane Kids, www.last.fm
- "Bionicle: Mask of Light (Original Soundtrack) [14th Anniversary] by Nathan Furst on Apple Music". 3 March 2017.
- Nathan Furst | Facebook, 8 December 2017
- Amazon.com: Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows (Original Score) : Nathan Furst: MP3 Downloads