After The Lego Movie became the cool crossover kids/adults flick a couple years ago, all everybody could talk about was legos and how inventive and cool they were. The thing is, the toys have been a global phenomenon for years now and the documentary, A LEGO Brickumentary, tells the story of how they came to be and their infinite reach. While the documentary, directed by Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson with voice work from Jason Bateman, is cool and provides an introspective look into this world, it becomes a labored bore around the 45 minute mark. So if you don’t want to spend the seven dollars on Itunes or the money in theaters, here are 12 things I learned from this feature.
1. The toy originated in Denmark in 1916 and comes from the Danish phrase “lay well”. Started by a carpenter named Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen who built a wood shop to build toys. The Legos first came together in 1947 via a plastic molding machine. The Danish endeavor become a global phenomenon.
2. The key idea was a Lego system of play, which came from Kjeld’s son and was centered around “stud power”, the pieces that hold the blocks together. This system soon grew into mini figurines with the common goal, “How do I make this work?”
3. Theme sets such as play sets like pirate ships and space ships catapulted the company. Licensed themes like Star Wars and Harry Potter really launched the company even further.
4. The company, still in Denmark, produces 100,000 pieces a minute.
5. Designers can’t believe this is their job. “It’s like being a child the rest of my life.” They say the structures and ideas all start with a story, like a kid using his imagination to build.
6. Jamie Berard is one of the industry’s best designers. “How long can this last?” is something he utters to himself every day. He found his calling when he joined a group of hardcore builders he found in a store and got spotted by the creator himself. He got an internship at LEGO and has been one of its most respected builders ever since. He isn’t even 40 years old yet.
7. The directors of The LEGO Movie used a large model for their live action scenes with Will Ferrell and his son towards the end of the movie. The model took three months to assemble and a group of people called “master builders” did this. If the phrase sounds familiar, it comes from the constant theme in the movie, as Chris Pratt’s everyman Lego character is destined to be…wait for it..a master builder.
8. It’s therapeutic for people like NBA star Dwight Howard, musician Ed Sheeran and the South Park creators. Ellen DeGeneres once surprised Howard with a life sized Lego figurine of himself. When he is on the road playing, Howards’ assistants have several sets waiting for him when he arrives. For Trey Parker, putting together Lego toys is great because it’s all about following instructions and he doesn’t have to create.
9. You think Comic Con is cool and super popular? LEGO can play in that world too. Events such as Brickcon. Brickworld. Brickfair draw from hundreds of thousands from all around the world every year.
10. Delegation is a tool in this business. There are several groups for kid, teens and adults. Lego parts work like stocks. Supply and demand. Certain pieces cost cents and others dollars. Six bricks gives 915 million different options but the Lego system is an infinite universe. You don’t need a dictionary to play. Only a system and a language according to its builders.
11. Derby races and baseball stadiums are the new sensation. Large skyscrapers are fossils and amateur builds.
A rendering of Stephen Hawking went viral recently. Like the pieces themselves it’s a burgeoning world.
12. In 1999, the company’s stock and sales went down. When they got too easy to build, the desire lessened. The company got better by listening to the community and getting more interactive. Lego robots from an MIT professor put the company at a crosswords. They could have sued the company for rights but instead went with it. For once they were open to ideas outside of their building. LEGO architecture came from outside LEGO and according to one builder, created an energy instead of being a problem.
All of this from a humble carpenter in Denmark. The constant theme of LEGO is pushing the boundaries. Nothing is impossible. If you want people to know more about space, builders create models after objects you’d find in space. Everything in this world is built from something else. That’s the LEGO company. So many things can be built from a single toy.
Is this documentary a theater worthy adventure? No. Save it for home. LEGO fanatics will find it wonderful and casual observers may revel in the fact that a building as tall as them can be built in mere hours by a kid a quarter of their age. Some may find it boring, but everybody should digest the findings above. If you do partake on this adventure, you will build a newfound respect for this toy company.