Dutifully cycling through the eponymous Danish toy company’s history and touching on celebrity fans of its interlocking bricks, colorful nonfiction effort A Lego Brickumentary is pretty much Exhibit A in empty cinematic calories—a peppy, eager-to-please offering whose primary audience should be self-selecting. Co-directed by Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge, the movie engages on a surface level but is burdened by a tone of golly-gee wonderment that’s tough to sustain over the course of an entire feature. The end result, shaggily inoffensive but also unmemorable, comes across a bit awkwardly—like an exhausting time-share vacation pitch from a friend you really like.
With a healthy sense of caffeinated advocacy and voiceover narration from Jason Bateman, A Lego Brickumentary delves into the $4 billion Lego brand, who manufacture an astonishing 100,000 pieces per minute. Cool little factoids abound early on (the company’s name, for instance, derives from the Danish phrase “Lee goot,” meaning “play well”), with much animated fun driving the film. Eventually A Lego Brickumentary alights upon a more traditional tack, with interviewees from the company as well as adult fans across a considerable spectrum.
For every interesting narrative alleyway, however—as with an abortive history of so-called “brick films,” or stop-motion-animated Lego movies that started popping up among fans in the mid- to late 1980s—there’s a lot of questionable, infomercial-esque filler. The Times Square unveiling of a life-size X-wing fighter from Star Wars, using eight tons of bricks and standing more than 11 feet tall, comes across as a cross-promotional gambit for a franchise that barely needs any more publicity. And clips of Trey Parker and NBA star Dwight Howard extolling the virtues of Legos add a perfunctory sheen.
More interesting are overviews of some of the various cottage industries that Legos have spawned, like the guy who sells meticulously sculpted vintage military add-ons to minifigures, or a brief look at the special-needs psychologist who’s authored a paper on the therapeutic value of Legos for children with autism. But, here and elsewhere, co-directors Davidson and Junge only scratch the surface, instead of committing to a deeper understanding of these fascinating ancillary characters. After all, there are more company employees to talk to about embracing the Lego fan community!
At its core, A Lego Brickumentary suffers from a failure of form and structure—it doesn’t have a solid enough base, in builder parlance. Lacking guile and any sort of rigorous narrative outline, Davidson and Junge repeatedly lean on pithy narration from Bateman to bridge storytelling gaps. (As a side note, there could be an adult drinking game devoted to the number of times a variation on the phrase, “But we’ll come back to that later…” is deployed.)
Certainly A Lego Brickumentary is of mild intrigue on a lot of levels, and particularly so for those who gravitate toward subcultural explorations. But it is a fan film—meaning made both by and for devotees of the toy bricks—and as such it suffers from the limitations of those blinders. The Lego-animated wraparound structure it offers up is fine, but a little more narrative imagination would have benefited this rah-rah endeavor. It’s pretty, but too by-the-box.
Directors: Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge
Writers: Daniel Junge, Davis Coombe, Kief Davidson
Release Date: July 31, 2015, expanding August 7
Entertainment journalist Brent Simon is Time Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year and a sworn enemy to auto-play website videos, as well as a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter.