By Chris Dos Santos
3rd February 2024

Lego as a media brand is incredibly interesting - I want to compare it to another franchise, but there really isn't anything quite like it. The construction blocks got their start in 1949 in Denmark, but it wouldn't be until 1999 that Lego started producing licensed sets with a Duplo Winnie the Pooh set and the first ever Star Wars sets thanks to 'The Phantom Menace'. This is where a shift started and they began to become high-end collectables for all ages, and the company began to start focusing on sets for adults. A few years prior, Lego released its first video game 'Lego Fun to Build' in 1995, followed by a slew of PC games, again with children being the primary focus. But then after their first licensed game, a building PC game based on 'Harry Potter', was released in 2005 they would change the game (pun intended) again with 'Lego Star Wars: The Video Game'. This created the blueprint for what would be a stable of video game collections, taking popular franchises and playing through the story but in Lego form. 'Indiana Jones', DC, Marvel, 'Harry Potter', 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'The Incredibles' - just to name a few - all got this treatment.

At the same time as the video games were released, 'Lego' started to dip their toe into film and TV shows, beginning of course with 2003's 'Bionicle: Mask of Light', a direct-to-DVD film based on its own toy line. This remained the only feature-length production for some time, while short films would air on Cartoon Network again based on 'Star Wars', 'Batman' and 'Indiana Jones'. TV shows had also been attempted but never took off - that is, until 2011 with the toy line 'Ninjago', which ran for an impressive 15 seasons. The first film based on fully original characters not from an existing toy line would be... 'Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers'. Released in 2010, it was direct-to-video, and very little was said about it. But in 2014, Lego was building to something big - their first-ever theatrically-released feature film, 'The Lego Movie'.


The film follows Emmet (Chris Pratt, 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie', 'Guardians of the Galaxy' franchise), a construction worker in Bricksburg, who discovers that everything is not awesome when he accidentally becomes the Special. Viruvius (Morgan Freeman, 'Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard', 'Driving Miss Daisy'), Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks, 'Migration', 'Pitch Perfect' franchise) and Batman (Will Arnett, 'Minions: The Rise of Gru', TV's 'Arrested Development') have to train this everyman to become a master builder and save the entire Lego world from becoming glued together by Lord Business (Will Ferrell, 'Strays', 'Daddy's Home' franchise).

Outside of the live-action scenes and some brief stop-motion shots shown on surveillance cameras, 'The Lego Movie' was completely created through computer graphics. 10 years on, this still remains some of the best animation of the 21st century; it completely reinvented the wheel. Every shot looks and feels like real Lego, and it's a technical feat that doesn't go unnoticed. With an estimated budget of US$65 million, it's truly breathtaking just how they pulled this off. Australian animation and visual effects studio Animal Logic truly deserve all the praise. The textures on the mini-figures to make them look played with, the wear and tear, the water... I could sit here and list every shot. It's truly jaw-dropping just how realistic they got this Lego world to look.

10 years on, this still remains some of the best animation of the 21st century; it completely reinvented the wheel. Every shot looks and feels like real Lego, and it's a technical feat that doesn't go unnoticed.

When you break down the story of the film, it's incredibly simple. On the surface you have the send-up of the "chosen one" narrative and then add in the "twist" of the father/son story and learning to let go and spend time with your kids. It's not reinventing the wheel, but that's also what makes it work so well. You hear they are making a movie based on Lego and you go, "Oh, this to sell toys and nothing else." But what this film does so well is to truly capture what it's like to play with Lego. The instructions don't matter - that's the beauty of the brand, it's the freedom to have a Ninja Turtle team up with Wonder Woman and an NBA player all while driving the Millennium Falcon.

A film based on Lego should not have turned out this incredibly, but it works for the same reason 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' and 'Barbie' do - they understood the core message of their intellectual properties. Yes, of course, they all at the end of the day sold merchandise (a little ironic with Lego selling movie-based sets with instructions when the movie is all about imagination and being yourself), but these brands resonate with so many people including the very talented people who made these films, and that love and passion is what makes it so successful.

The film of course became a franchise, a direct sequel in 2019 (and my first review for this site!) and two spinoff films. Then what's considered the best adaption of the character 'The Lego Batman Movie' in 2017, followed by a more straightforward story not involving any live-action elements but still being a fun cameo fest, and again a love letter to both the toy and the caped crusader. Later that same year was 'The Lego Ninjago Movie', considered the weakest of the four and stalled any further spin-offs. There were also two cancelled films, 'Lego Superfriends' taking place in the DC world, and 'The Billion Brick Race' a racing movie, but both were cancelled partly because Universal Pictures bought the rights to Lego from Warner Bros. There is an untitled film currently in development with the last update being back in June 2023.

There's no denying that 'The Lego Movie' had a huge influence on cinema that still lasts to this day. You have the bad 'Playmobil: The Movie' and 'The Emoji Movie' and then the good 'Spider-Verse' and 'Barbie'. Add to this the impact on animation and the way it pushed technology even further, and it's one of the most impactful films of the last 10 years. The perfect love letter to the best-selling toy of all time that only certifies its legacy as a stable in every one of our lives and the perfect way to invoke creativity and imagination - and for some of us, it's also the reason why we're bankrupt.

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