A flattering documentary about a single product can look a lot like an ad, and no one wants to get duped into watching a 90-minute commercial, much less paying for it. “A Lego Brickumentary” runs that risk, and there are moments that may set off a viewer’s internal product placement detector. But overall the movie is a fun peek at the birth of Lego bricks and their ever-evolving place in the world.
It’s helpful that the movie has a good pedigree as opposed to being made by, say, the company’s public relations department. Both directors have some weighty work on their résumés, plus an Academy Award win for Daniel Junge and a nomination for Kief Davidson. The narrator is a little gimmicky — a Lego man voiced sardonically by Jason Bateman — but he amusingly relays the history of the company, which started in Denmark in 1932 as a carpentry workshop. With the exception of some dark years when interest in Lego waned, the company has become a toy juggernaut thanks to all the fans who use bricks in inventive ways.
That includes the artist who re-creates famous paintings with the blocks; the psychologist whose Lego program helps children with autism; the woman who fills her entire living room with a model of Rivendell, the Elven city from “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”; and the stop-motion animation enthusiasts who make movies with Lego heroes and Lego sets.
We also get a crash course in Lego lingo from a whole crew of AFOLs (adult fans of Lego), who congregate annually for conventions where people compete in blind building contests and dream up potential products. The most fascinating aspect of this community is the way it sprouted up without any help from the company. Not that Lego executives are complaining. According to the documentary, loosening the reins on the product has led to its success, and the ideas the fans come up with are sometimes as good as the ones dreamed up in Lego labs.
The movie spreads itself thin with its attempt to cover the many types of fans. Certain strands could have been left behind, including interviews with singer Ed Sheeran and basketball player Dwight Howard, who add nothing but a dash of star power.
Celebrities aren’t necessary to make the point that Lego bricks are more than toys. They’re the building blocks for a thriving community, an artistic medium, a therapeutic aid and a worthy subject for a feel-good documentary.
G. At AFI Silver and the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Also available on demand and on iTunes. Contains nothing objectionable. 93 minutes.