It’s a family owned business with a single product line, and it’s the #2 largest company in the toy industry. Its color scheme is the inspiration for the Google logo and its little plastic people — “minifigs” — are the inspiration behind a staggeringly successful series of movie-inspired video games and even a hit cinematic film. Fans of these little plastic blocks range from 4-94 and they have conferences, competitions, and a language of their own. If you’re an AFOL, KFOL or TFOL, you know what I’m talking about. LEGO.
But what is the story behind these phenomenally popular building blocks, its fan community and how does the company build all those amazing huge LEGO sculptures and invent new LEGO kits? And for that matter, what’s the deal with Legoland, amusement parks built around the ubiquitious building toy?
Most all of these questions are answered in the remarkably entertaining and endlessly fascinating Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary from filmmakers Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson, and narrated by Jason Bateman, who appears as a wisecracking minifig. The film surprised with a lot of laugh out loud moments too, including the early history of original founder Ole Kirk Christiansen, whose businesses kept burning down, including the first generation of the LEGO factory in Denmark.
It gets considerably more interesting when the fan community becomes the focus, with KFOL (kid fans of LEGO), TFOL (teen fans of LEGO) and AFOL (adult fans of LEGO) in a wide ranging set of interviews, ranging from Japan to Germany. These fans spend a lot of money on their LEGO collections, and when Manhattan-based LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya says he spends over $100,000 annually on LEGO parts and shows boxes full of LEGO, it seems quite reasonable. In fact, Sawaya’s artwork is stunning and often provocative.
And then there’s LEGO artist Alice Finch, who takes LEGO construction to a completely new level with her amazing – and enormous – recreation of Rivendell, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Over 200,000 LEGO pieces and it’s just gorgeous. In her interview we learn that it’s just a hobby. Indeed.
LEGO is much more than just a playtoy for children, as the documentary makes clear. Enter Stephen Pakbaz, a lifelong space fan and a member of the Mars Curiosity Rover design team at NASA. And an AFOL. In fact, through the community fan site Cuusoo (www.cuusoo.com) where fans vote on designs that other fans have created and uploaded. The winning designs become LEGO kits, as Pakbaz learned when his LEGO Curiosity Rover won that distinction.
There are some curious omissions from the documentary, however. Most notably, Legoland amusement parks weren’t mentioned once, even as an example of how much the brand has expanded. As a guess, that’s a corporation relationship issue, but whatever the story, it was an odd omission. Then there’s the over-specialization of LEGO that was glossed over, other than a brief mention about a turbulent time in the corporation in the late 1990s. And not a word about how expensive LEGO is for us parents.
Still, that’s not the responsibility of the documentary filmmakers, and Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary proved to be quite engaging and a fun, entertaining story about a family of inventors who created interlocking building blocks and, later, mini-humans who allow children of all ages to create whatever they can imagine.