What an astonishing story there is to be told about the Lego empire — and what a shame “A Lego Brickumentary” paints that story in the colors of a 90-minute, smiley-face infomercial.
It’s often fascinating stuff, but the whole thing comes across as a film new employees would watch on their first day of work, right after filling out all the packets of forms in Human Resources. By the one-hour mark, I was on the verge of yelling out, “We get it! Everything IS awesome! Now can we just tone it down a bit?”
Granted, last year’s addictively wonderful “The Lego Movie” (I still can’t believe it wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Film!) was also a non-stop big-screen advertisement for the iconic toy brand — but so are all those movie about Smurfs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers and even Pirates of the Caribbean. As long as there’s a legit and zippy story filled with richly drawn, funny, lovable characters, it’s cool.
But the documentary is so relentlessly upbeat and told with such cheerleading verve, the style and tone detract from the undeniably interesting material.
Chief misstep by directors Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge: having Jason Bateman narrate the story as an animated Lego mini-figure, who’s so gosh-darn excited about all things Lego, he can barely contain himself. Yippee!
The problem isn’t the ubiquitous and fantastic Jason Bateman. But I gotta believe it would have made a world of difference if Bateman had served as a more traditional, unseen narrator, using his regular Jason Bateman vocal tones, instead of a high-pitched, “Hey kids!” voice. It’s impossible to shake off that infomercial vibe with Lego Jason front and center.
Junge and Davidson do a fine job of covering the origins of the company in Billund, Denmark, and the financial ups and downs, including a period of irrelevancy and near-bankruptcy in the early 2000s — at which point the company wisely started listening to its hardcore fan base, including grown-up aficionados known as AFOLs (Adult Fans of Legos).
That group includes the likes of pop singer Ed Sheeran, “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker and NBA star Dwight Howard — that’s right, NBA star Dwight Howard.
We meet artists, architects, scientists and therapists who use Legos as, um, building blocks and teaching tools. We learn amazing facts, e.g., “There are 100 Lego pieces for every person on Earth.” (A. Really? B. And half of them are under beds or at the bottom of toy chests, separated from the mothership box of Legos.) We meet AFOLs who building amazing Lego towns and spaceships. We hear from Lego employees who say they have the greatest jobs in the world!
I wish the filmmakers had talked to a Lego loser like me, who has always thought Legos were cool and has always, ALWAYS been monumentally incompetent when it comes to building anything beyond a squat structure that looks like an isolation cell for unruly inmates. Or a discussion of how there’s always a handful of pieces in every Lego set that defy comprehension. What am I supposed to do with that little translucent piece? Is that red triangle a roof tile?
Anything to give us a break from the feeling we’re watching a commercial that won’t end.