Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

A Lego Brickumentary

(Denmark, USA, 2014)

We didn’t have Lincoln Logs or LEGO when I was growing up. My granddaddy managed a Duke & Ayres 5&10 store in Corsicana, Texas, so what we had was what he sold, at a discount. I remember Tinkertoys, and I had an Erector set, but what I mostly had was something called American Plastic Bricks. They came in a big rigid cardboard tube, and you could have the bricks in any color you wanted, as long as it was red. (White trim pieces, and green cardboard roofs.) They didn’t lock together firmly like LEGO, though they had the pegs on top and the holes in the bottom. You had to rely on gravity to hold them together. Pretty much all you could build with them were houses and forts, but I recall stacking a lot of them together in interesting combinations. You can find them for sale on eBay, at prices that would make Granddaddy swoon.

LEGO started out almost as basic as that, though they came in many different colors. Today … oh, boy. They have thousands of different shaped bricks, plus characters and vehicles. Somewhere they changed from just building blocks to kits where you used all the pieces, as in a jigsaw puzzle, to make a specific thing, like a Star Wars X-Wing fighter. (The master builders make a 40-foot X-Wing in this movie.) There is debate as to whether this stifles creativity. I figure a kid will find a way to be creative.

And as this movie shows, it’s far from just kids. There are conventions, and user groups, and a whole acronym language around these things. There is a whole genre of LEGO animated movies. And that’s only the beginning. Some critics have complained that this is really just a ninety-minute commercial for LEGO, and there’s some truth in that, but a good documentary tells me things I didn’t know, and I learned a lot from this one. It’s a little too cutesy, with a little LEGO man narrating it, but all in all, it was fascinating to see how these things are designed, and what people can do with them.

One gripe, not aimed at the movie … LEGO doesn’t really do war toys. They have cowboys with pistols, and they have the Star Wars crew, but there are no tank kits and no RPGs to give your little men. Well, count on an American to see that gap and decide the figures should be armed. There is this one asshole who makes AK-47s and Uzis and military vehicles that fit into the LEGO universe. Just in case G.I. Joe or Woody shows up intent on shooting up a classroom. Some people just don’t get it. There are zillions of war toys out there. We needed to have one more? Sheesh.

One glaring omission is Legoland theme park. Or I should say, Legolands, of which there are now six, in Denmark, the UK, Germany, Malaysia, California, and Florida, with four more due to open in the next three years, in Korea, Japan, Dubai, and Shanghai. Apparently this is because LEGO no longer owns all of Legoland. A seventy percent share was bought by Merlin Entertainments, which operates a variety of theme parks around the world. They seem to concentrate mostly on roller coasters, like Magic Mountain. It still doesn’t explain to me why Merlin seems to have opted out of this film. What could it have hurt? It would have cost them nothing, and have been a nice advertisement for the parks. But who can understand the corporate mind? I’m guessing their lawyers said no.