This love letter to the toy that spawned last year’s smash animated movie is really nothing more than an extended promotional reel for the Danish company that built its reputation—and financial success—on the little interlocking plastic blocks, but despite being a mite padded, it’s a mostly sprightly tour through the byways of Legoland.
Narrated by Jason Bateman, who “appears” in the form of a cheeky Lego lad, the picture takes a somewhat scattershot approach to its subject, demonstrated by what’s perhaps the screenplay’s most repeated line: “But more about that later.” Still, there are a number of clear sections, some presented as integral units but most returned to periodically in snippets.
There’s, first, a history of the company, told in amusing animation but punctuated by interviews with corporate executives and designers. It follows the rise of the firm to enormous success by the 1980s, but also discusses the reasons for its decline to near-bankruptcy at the turn of the century, when a decision to concentrate on sets that were inordinately easy to put together turned off loyal fans without attracting new ones.
That dovetails with what becomes a paramount theme: the company’s enthusiastic willingness to listen to devotees and embrace their ideas, which is shown in the participation of employees in fan conventions and its sponsorship of contests where people can submit designs, some of which will be chosen for production as Lego sets, or submit large-scale constructions that are voted upon to receive “fan choice” awards. The film personalizes all this by interviewing people who submit suggestions or projects.
In fact, one of the best features of the film is its emphasis on individuals—not merely the company designers and executives, but those who attend “brick events” where they can purchase rare parts, compete in contests or simply gawk at the various displays. Participants there happily explain the various acronyms they use to refer to themselves based on age and particular interest. There’s also coverage of the many fan films that have been made for the web using Lego figures, with particular attention given to a couple of guys making a full-length one in their garage using stop-motion technique. Naturally, these efforts are treated with the tongue-in-cheek attitude they deserve.
A more serious matter is the employment of Legos in the treatment of autistic children. Their usefulness in encouraging socializing among kids who usually prefer to keep to themselves reveals an important therapeutic purpose for the little cubes. That segment is eventually related to another about the biggest Lego creation ever made—a huge replica of a “Star Wars” spaceship that was unveiled in Times Square, testimony to the lucrative licensing arrangements that the company has become increasingly dependent on. An episode profiling a sculptor for whom Legos are the medium of choice, however, culminates in a gallery showing that proves that the toy can actually be a means of artistic expression in the wider sense.
“The Lego Movie” was computer generated to look like the result of stop-motion animation. The animation in this documentary is apparently of the older-style sort—just like the cube itself, which may cause viewers of a certain age to think further back to Tinker Toys—though they’re just part of the Hasbro line, while The Lego Group is that rarity, a one-trick pony. Of course, it’s a pony that’s proved to be able to run a very long course—and if one judges from the traffic at stores in the mall, is going stronger than ever.