Leggo my LEGO: Bricks headed for the movies

The next onslaught is underway. In recent years, it could be argued that it was the desire for an omnipotent hero that led to the creation of some of the most stunningly successful comic book-based films ever made. Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Fantastic 4, X-Men — these are just some of the characters that have stirred the public imagination lately, not to mention shaking up the box office and, on cable — as well as on DVRs — becoming staples of people’s home entertainment centers. All of these creations have expanded their “brands” exponentially as a result.

Not long ago, toy manufacturers Hasbro announced plans to attempt the same with numerous of its more famed properties, like G.I. Joe (the namesake film of which is currently in theaters), Stretch Armstrong or the games Monopoly and Battleship. Now, from the other side of the Atlantic, still another toy manufacturer has declared its interest in getting into the game. Earlier this week, Variety reported that Warner Bros. studios have partnered with LEGO, the Denmark-based toy company, to produce a big-screen effort based on its popular LEGO bricks. Not surprisingly, the report goes on to say that the movie will fall into the family/comedy/adventure category, in hopes that it will appeal to adults as well as kids.

I have to admit to a bit of disappointment in this news. Though I understand LEGO’s interest in its own promotion and, speaking personally, appreciate the creative nature of many of its products, the announcement comes at about the same time it was reported that LEGO denied permission for the members of the satirical rock group Spinal Tap to include the portion of its recent live show that featured the projection of a fan-made LEGO stop-motion film in their forthcoming live DVD. The official word from LEGO was, basically, that the context in which their products appeared in this film was inappropriate for the age group to which it typically markets its products, and that they are very sensitive to maintaining the image of their brand.

Completely understandable. I’ll even go along with the hypothetical suggestion that although the DVD might be marketed to adults, children might be likely to happen to see the LEGO bit and perhaps perceive something less than wholesome. But I can’t help feeling a bit let down by all of this news, because from where I sit, it all flies in the face of the underlying ethos inherent in all LEGO building activity: that you can create anything.

Some, of course, have taken that notion to extremes — like Polish artist Zbigniew Libera’s LEGO concentration camp series. But as an adult who grew up with LEGO bricks and who looks forward to introducing his own child to their possibilities one day, it’s a bit saddening to see the LEGO frontier fenced in. One of the aspects I, and I’m sure many others, cherish about their memories of playing with the bricks as a kid is that sense that the only limitation was either not having enough parts, or just not being able to find the right one. (“I’m looking for a blue ramp part with four dots on it …”) There were no licensing deals or movie tie-ins to LEGO products back then. In the intervening years, it’s gotten to a point at which Star Wars, Harry Potter and other pop-culture brands have become so well-intertwined with LEGO’s products that when I shop for my nephews’ holiday presents, basic LEGO sets, unencumbered by synergistic marketing, often are not to be found, or only with great difficulty.

With the release of a LEGO-bred film, the profile of LEGO bricks obviously will be elevated, and the toys themselves likely will see a boost from kids eager to share in some measure the world that has been presented to them onscreen, likely ready to be sold complete with personality-specific characters and their respective accouterments. And at the same time, I have to wonder if I’ll perceive, ever so slightly, children’s imaginations being fenced in just that much more.