'A Lego Brickumentary'
Filmmakers Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge certainly deserve points for excellent timing, if nothing else. Their feature length documentary love letter to Lego likely never would have gotten a theatrical release were it not for the fact that it came out shortly after ‘The Lego Movie‘ wormed its way into the world’s heart. It’s not that ‘A Lego Brickumentary’ is a disaster, just that it’s ultimately a 90-minute commercial for Lego that would have gone straight to Netflix otherwise.
The movie kicks off with a CGI Lego figure voiced by Jason Bateman cracking some very bad jokes. It’s not a good sign. The unfortunately unfunny narrator pops up throughout with truly dreadful attempts at humor that must have seemed like a great way to entertain the kids in the editing room, even if those laughs die on the big screen. Still, at least having this scripted narration helps lend some sort of binding element to the movie, which is really little more than every scrap of footage the directors could capture in a year pertaining to Lego.
There’s a brief history lesson about how the little Danish company became a worldwide phenomenon, including all sorts of discussion about how the toys help build children’s imaginations (complete with awkward sequences suggesting that it’s a perfect tool for autism, which is perhaps a bit overstated). The lovefest can get a little overwhelming at times. At worst, the movie feels like a feature length slap on the back in the name of corporate synergy.
Thankfully, when the filmmakers start to interview obsessed Lego fans, things get a little more interesting. We get to peek into massive Lego fan conventions where people place their massive and elaborate Lego creations in competition against each other. (The clear winner is a scale replica of Rivendell that is truly a sight to behold.) The adult lovers of Lego are genuinely charming in their shared obsessions. Their tales of love found and families saved through the little plastic playthings speak to the enduring legacy of the playsets.
Out of that Lego fan study spring some of the best stories in the film. There are architects whose practical Lego-influenced designs have won awards, a New York artist who creates works exclusively out of Lego, profiles of the Lego set designers who turned their obsession into a career, and a weird attempt to build a life-size X-Wing out of oversized bricks. Many of these segments prove to be quite compelling, and show how the toys that the film constantly preaches encourage creativity actually affected successful lives. There’s something special about Lego that’s made it endure, and hearing these bizarre and unique stories speaks to that intangible quality in intriguing ways. By the time a mathematician shows up to discuss the millions of possibilities for using just a few Lego pieces together, you might even start to think the movie is transforming into something more.
Unfortunately, that special, fuzzy feeling doesn’t last long. Just when any of the individual episodes threaten to elevate ‘A Lego Brickumentary’ above commercial shill status, the irritating narrator will crack a horrible joke or some celebrity will appear to tell us how much they love Lego and drag the whole thing right back down to size.
There are places for docs like this, but theatrical distribution feels like the wrong way to go. As a direct-to-disc (or VOD) feature for fans, or a supplement on the ‘Lego Movie’ Blu-ray, this would be a pleasant little time-waster. However, such a blatant corporate commercial shouldn’t be clogging up screens where far more worthy docs could be playing, even if it’s advertising some of the most delightful toys on the planet.