Bricks and Mordor
If you haven’t seen at least one commercial featuring a Lego Batman cracking wise to any number of other Lego characters, you either live under a rock or do something else with your free time other than watch television (damn you, productive people, damn you to hell!).
However, if you are like most Americans, nerds, or humans, your face has been buried in some kind of electronic media, and chances are you’ve heard the gravelly voice of Will Arnett coming out of an animated Lego mouth. That’s because, and brace yourself for a compliment to Warner Bros. Pictures, there was the good idea to make a Lego movie! It’s called…The Lego Movie.
I could go all geek love-fest on the fact that there is a Lego movie, and talk about the fact that they can use all the DC Comics characters they want because Warner and DC are owned by the same people (good for Lego movie, bad for Superman movie). Or how at least one commercial I saw touted at least a small part of the creative team behind the new Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum Jump Street movies worked on it (explaining jokes like Lego Superman telling Lego Green Lantern that he “super-hates” him- which had me rolling by the way).
Instead, I think it behooves me to tackle why in the hell, and what in the frak, makes a Lego movie so appealing to make as well as be seen. It boils down to the toys are universal. Everybody loves Lego. Have you ever, ever, in your life heard someone say, “You know, I don’t care much for them.” NO. Because that is how you would weed out communists and aliens.
Nerds love Lego. Kids love Lego. Girlfriends tolerate Lego, sometimes. I won’t bore you with facts and figures, because frankly I’m too lazy to even do a Google search on Lego right now. The toy has been around forever. Let’s leave it at that. We are at the point where the last person to not have grown up with Lego toys is about to die off in a nursing home with a World War II veteran who did grow up with them. And that’s why the Allies won.
If there was one thing I would postulate has contributed to the overall success of the brand, it’s that it has not changed much if at all. They’re little colored blocks you use to make stuff. And who doesn’t like to make stuff? It allows kids, and adults, to vent creatively and be the master/caretaker of a small world populated by little yellow people. Whether it’s a house made of Duplos, or a statue of a man pulling apart his torso to let the Lego inside spew out- it belongs to the creator…the Lego Creator*.
Have you walked down the aisles of your local store, toy or otherwise, that carry Lego? Peruse the action figures (like nerds have to be told that), and tell me it doesn’t make you sad. Tell me you don’t look at those toys and stop wondering what the hell is wrong with kids these days. Then you weep for them, because you know what they’re playing with as you remember what you were playing with at their age. When I was a young guy, I had Superfriends and Marvel figures made by ToyBiz. I had He-Man and She-Ra. I had the mother-lovin’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And not the ones of today, or the other reboot from five years ago, or the few years before that. I had the original gangstas.
You know what all the toys had, among others I played with, that today’s don’t? Well, twice the size, half the price, and more quality and articulation than you could shake a stick at. Sure G.I. Joe’s waist snapped faster than a towel in a locker room, but dammit that was war! And Joe made up for the size of their figures with the size of their massive vehicles and play sets. He kicked ass in the compensation department.
Shit was made out of metal! And even the plastic toys were a better plastic than they are today. Those Ninja Turtles I mentioned weighed like ten pounds each. Today, they’re practically feathers. Transformers were difficult for adults to solve, and now they barely transform. But what are they going to do? Change the name to Toy Robot Action Figure That Also Resembles Either a Vehicle or Other Creation That We Sell Separately? Hell no, that won’t fit on a box.
But as toys in the aisle have been reduced to barely passable Happy Meal trinkets, one thing has remained constant- Lego. Lego is the same damn thing today that I played with 20 years ago. Okay…10 years ago. Fine…5 years ago! Alright, I would have played with Lego yesterday if I could have. I’d take a vacation day from work for that.
The only thing that might be different about Lego is the licensed toys they produce. For a long time, it was random space ship, underwater submarine, alien craft, or fire truck. They did have the Technic line as well, which I would assume spawned a whole group of architects and engineers. But as it did elsewhere, here with Lego it all started with Star Wars.
Like a decade ago or more, Lego got the license to make a line of Star Wars building sets. It is debatable which phenomenon has more avid fans, but it was the perfect cross-section. Star Wars freaks went nuts for the toys, and Lego builders wouldn’t turn down the chance to build Boba Fett’s Slave 1. It was hysteria, even to the point where the Lego aisle of the Target I worked at was empty for weeks at a time. Though, not just for the Star Wars sets.
Since then, Lego has gone on to acquire many more licenses of popular characters and brands. Spongebob Squarepants, Spider-Man (and later Marvel), Batman (and later DC), Harry Potter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Indiana Jones, and even The Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure Tolkien had such a thing in mind when writing The Hobbit. They’re also just now releasing the home of The Simpsons, and I believe have an Ecto 1 coming out for the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters. And as the normal toys for these properties have gone to Mordor in a hand basket, these Lego sets have thrived.
You can create and recreate things you’ve watched on TV or at the cinema. You can carry them with you in the form of pens, t-shirts, and key chains (of which I am unashamed to admit I have more than I will ever need…). The Lego line has expanded with their brands, and then with their products. There are even Lego sets geared strictly for girls (sure to appease little letter writers around the globe), and ones that are based on Disney Princesses.
And therein lies why The Lego Movie will do HUGE box office business. The appeal for an unchanging toy that spans generations looks to have been made into a pretty fun movie. It could be just okay even, and people will flock to it. I plan on taking a little tyke myself, and not because I feel I need a kid to justify my going to see. I’d see that flick at a midnight showing by myself if they had one.
What I’m saying, if I’m saying anything at all, is I’m taking that kid because this is one instance where a 32-year-old and a 3-year-old have something in common and I’m not sure too many people will look poorly upon my fanaticism. It might not be able to exactly reproduce the Lego world in either my or his heads, but it’ll be fun to see them try. And if they happen to not succeed, that’s okay, because that’s what Lego sets are there for.
*The Lego corporation was founded by Ole Kirk Christiansen, pictured above. – B