Three thoughts on The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie was released last night.  It’s about an unassuming young man who has to organize a group of fractious but talented people to save the world from the evil Lord Business.  He teaches them to cooperate and together they pull the world back from disaster.  In other words, it’s a metaphor for the LEGO Group’s story over the past decade.  I want a writing credit!  I wonder if there’s a little bit of the relationship between Jorgen Vig Knudstorp (the current CEO) and Poul Plougmann (the previous CEO, who was much older than JVK) in the movie, in the way that Emmet has to fight back against the evil Lord Business.

I love the animation.  LEGO did a full computer-generated imitation of stop motion LEGO animations.  Even the smoke that comes out of the train has little studs with LEGO logos on them.  It must have taken forever to render each frame.  In fact, it looks like they do strategic blurring of the background in some parts of the movie so they don’t have to draw as much.  I was skeptical about whether they could make this work, but I thought it did, and most reviewers seem to agree.

The most impressive part of the movie to me is not the creativity, but the discipline.  Take one example:  the character Vitruvius, voiced by Morgan Freeman.  Vitruvius appears in the movie, in a few of the LEGO sets that appeared in stores this week, is a minifigure available for sale separately, and stars in a Google web app called Build With Chrome.  Build With Chrome extends the LEGO story into an online virtual building experience, where Vitruvius teaches you how to build with virtual bricks.  After you’ve completed training, you can display your creations for others to see.  Think about the coordination and discipline involved in making all that happen:  LEGO had to make sure the characters and story were consistent across all the different channels with all the different partners, ensure that everything was ready at the same time, and coordinate the business models.  That last one may have been the most difficult – I’m sure that some involved in the movie wanted it to be released during the Christmas holidays, where it would have had much better sales.  But LEGO is not in the business of selling movies, they want to sell bricks!  They pay less than a dollar per kg for ABS plastic, and sell it at around $75 per kg in LEGO sets.  The company has no trouble selling sets around Christmas; it’s right around now that they want to boost sales.  If the movie makes nothing for LEGO, it can still be a huge success if it drives sales of the dozen or so sets that appeared in stores this week.

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