LEGO Double Feature: The LEGO Movie (2014) and Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary (2014)

legomovieI saw The LEGO Movie last February and loved it so thoroughly much I decided to hold off on reviewing it and make one of the characters a Boyfriend of the Week.  I wanted to tie the write-up and the review into one big metaphoric LEGO brick I then metaphorically pitched through your metaphoric windows with a gigantic, delightful metaphoric crash.

BUT, as these things do(n’t), that didn’t end up coming together.  Poor MetalBeard; loved and forgotten, all in a span of only about 5 months.  That just ain’t right. (Though, alas, it is all too common — I have 7 (!) unfinished write-ups right now and I can’t seem to focus my attention on any of them long enough to wrap them up!  So many Boyfriends, so little time for foolin’ around!)

Delaying the review, however, ended up being kind of lucky, because when the Seattle International Film Festival came around again this year, I got a chance to see a new LEGO documentary called Beyond the Brick, which was even BETTER than The LEGO Movie, making this pretty much the most perfect double-feature write-up of blissfulness ever.

These two films have two things in common (aside from the obvious theme): they both star a mini-fig, which is awesome because minifigs are my favorite part of LEGO (Beyond the Brick is narrated by Jason Bateman in LEGO form, which is just about the most delightful thing of all time, and The LEGO Movie’s stars are all mini-figs, of course), and both are incredibly funny and completely charming.

Okay, that’s three things. Stop checking my work, nitpickers!

The LEGO Movie was the film I saw first, so let’s start with that one.  It was a huge, delightful surprise!  I was expecting a full-on kid movie, and instead, what I got was a movie very obviously written by someone more or less my age.  The pop culture references were spot-on for my generation, and even the inside jokes about LEGO were things adults were much more likely to pick up on than kids.  Judging from the audience I saw it with, I’m not alone in this, either — the kids in the theater were giggling, but the adults were absolutely roaring.

The plot is nothing unique — it’s about an accidental hero and the buddies who make his heroism possible — but the plot isn’t the point; the characters and the humor are the point, and the point is an incredibly great way to spend 100 minutes of your time.  All the little details are fantastically fun, and the “moral” of the story, that being creative is awesome!, is a great reminder for movie watchers of all ages.  If you’re a fan of interlocking brick systems — or even if you were when you were a kid and you’ve never looked back since — dollars to LEGO croissants, you’re going to get a big kick out of this movie.  And that’s all I’m going to say about it, because I don’t think I need say anything more. IT IS GREAT.

beyondthebrickBeyond the Brick, on the other hand, is not only entertaining, but also utterly fascinating.  This documentary tells the story of the origins of The LEGO Group, which began as a toy company in Denmark in 1949, manufacturing toys made primarily out of wood (like, little wooden ducks on wheels, for example). Then one day, while at some kind of toy expo, the owner saw a demo of a plastic molding machine and got a really great idea.

Since the dawn of the basic 2×4 brick, these toys have been used for a variety of things completely unrelated to play. Engineers and architects use LEGO to build models of new structures, math professors use them to illustrate problems (how many unique configurations can you make with 3 2×4 bricks, e.g.), and they’re used by artists to create all kinds of amazing, creative works (you’ve probably seen Nathan Sawaya’s stuff before).

In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, we’re also introduced to a child psychologist who uses LEGO to help severely autistic children interact with each other and with their therapists.  Kids are put into groups and given a project to build together, each with a specific task.  By following such a direct, clearly defined plan, children who typically have an extraordinarily difficult time engaging with others are able to talk to each other, work together, and create something as a team.  This scene alone makes the film worth the price of admission, if you ask me — what a genius idea, and what an amazing tool for positive change.  TOYS!  They are the best.

The film also has an interesting focus on adult LEGO “play,” too.  It profiles a number of grown-ups famous in the Brick Con (LEGO convention) world for their fantastical creations and structures, as well as people who have created their own LEGO-based businesses, like the Washingtonian guy (a friend of my brother’s, coincidentally) who designs, presses, and sells historical guns and other weaponry (LEGO itself mostly only makes Old West and sci-fi guns).

After all these enterprising adults started to monkey around with the LEGO brand, making their own accessories and builds and even selling some of them for profit, LEGO was forced into a not-so-unusual dilemma in the corporate world: do they go after the people profiting off their brand and sue the pants off ’em?  Or do they embrace the creativity of their fans and try to find a way to work together?

Happily, they went in the latter direction, not only allowing those businesses to continue, but also launching a platform several years ago called “Cuusoo” (Japanese for a concept similar to the word “wish”), in which builders from all over the world design LEGO sets, fans vote on the ones they like the best, and LEGO picks a winner and then develops, markets, and sells the set.  I lack the words to fully express how much I love the whole Cuusoo concept (it’s now called “LEGO Ideas,” by the way).  It’s simply one of the coolest things a huge corporation has ever done for its fans, andpoking around on the site looking at everybody’s designs and voting on my favorites is one my favorite ways to unwind in the evenings (if you have a moment, by the way, register on the site and then vote for the LEGO Hubble telescope, because HOW COOL IS THAT?).

meglegoAll in all, LEGO is sure having a pretty great year on the big screen.  I highly, highly recommend both these movies, especially to all you adult fans out there.  Kids will love The LEGO Movie, to be sure, but you grown-ups will love it even more (unless you have hearts made of plastic). And nobody won’t love Beyond the Brick, because it’s pure perfection. That one isn’t available at the moment, but — best news of all — it’s been picked up by a distribution company  and should be more widely released in late 2014 or early 2015 (according to the producer, who was at the screening I attended answering questions)!  Woo!

LEGO + MEG 4-EVA!

[Netflix LEGO Movie | Buy/Rent it on Amazon | Beyond the Brick site]

Genre: Kids, Documentary, Comedy
Cast (LEGO Movie): Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Cobie Smulders, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman

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4 Responses to “LEGO Double Feature: The LEGO Movie (2014) and Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary (2014)”

  1. RogerBW Says:

    I’m afraid I wasn’t quite as enthused: the film’s great on the surface, but start scratching it and it’s all the wrong colour. Being creative is great… but following the instructions with everybody else gets better results than doing your own thing. And it doesn’t matter how skilled and brave you are, if you’re a woman your destiny is to play second fiddle to some random guy.

    Yeah, I know, “overthinking”, but I don’t believe in the concept. I don’t think the film needed to have this counternarrative (buy more special-purpose bricks) under the main story, and I think it would have been better without it.

    In the end, I’d have to call it “fun, but”.

  2. megwood Says:

    I had major problems with Wyldstyle myself, not limited to the part where it would’ve been nice to see a chick be a leader (and also to have a human girl not build pink stuff). As a huge fan of LEGO, I’m already aware of the fact they haven’t quite figured out yet how to appeal to and interact with female fans of their toys.

    Nonetheless, I loved the focus on creative building — it wasn’t trying to suggest everybody ought to do their own thing and never work together. In fact, the point of the actual plot itself was that everybody had to work together to solve the problem at hand — they just had to work to their own unique strengths instead of following “directions” like a bunch of sheep.

    And I definitely didn’t see a theme of “buy more special-purpose bricks” AT ALL — in fact, one of the things I loved the most about the film was the way it used LEGO the way most of us do — putting pieces together that ordinarily might not go together. Like, for example, I noticed right away and laughed at the use of coffee mugs on the bad guy’s helmet — that is SO LEGO to me! And the same thing with having Batman show up and be a major player — you use the mini-figs you have, not the mini-figs you want!

    I definitely felt the message was “Take what you’ve got and let your creativity run wild with it without fear it or you won’t be ‘good enough.'” That’s a great message for kids and adults alike.

    • RogerBW Says:

      I won’t say you’re wrong. There were just bits that rubbed me the wrong way. Which is far more annoying with a film that’s otherwise great fun than it is with Extruded Movie Product.

      • megwood Says:

        I totally hear you. Action movies have a long way to go when it comes to using female characters, and this one was no exception! But I still loved the overall theme and the thoughtful, creative little details. This movie was a clear labor of love built by real fans of LEGO, which I not only appreciated, but was actually really touched by in a few places. You could tell from all the subtle little in-jokes and details that this wasn’t just the corporation trying to market themselves — it was written by people who knew LEGO inside and out and ADORED it. And the ridiculous double-decker couch made me laugh so hard because that is EXACTLY the kind of dorky stuff I built when I was a kid. (Well, okay, and also now, see above photo re: shark ship.) Just loved it. Might not hold up as well in a second viewing, I’ll admit. But first time around, it was one of the best times I’ve had this year.

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