Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary: Tribeca Review
Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson provide a doc chaser to "The Lego Movie."
NEW YORK – A nonfiction B-side to February's surprisingly charming The Lego Movie, Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson's Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary introduces the uninitiated to some of the more unexpected ways the little snap-together bricks have been used in the 60-plus years since their creation. Chipper and fun if occasionally superficial, the doc finds its subject too large to address in a way that satisfies the most curious outsider or devoted fan. Everyone else will have a good time, though; while theatrical prospects are iffy, the doc should be an easy sell on small screens.
Narrator Jason Bateman sometimes sounds like a corporate PR rep when introducing us to the $4 billion "monster brand" that competes with toy giants like Hasbro despite producing variations on just one plaything. Later in the film, a big section on the manufacture of a life-size X-Wing fighter makes the doc feel like a promo not just for the Lego brand but for its most famous licensing partner, Lucasfilm. Even when the film addresses the missteps that almost bankrupted the company at the turn of this century, its upbeat focus is on how it learned to listen to its customers and give them more of what they want.
Those customers, as we see, are awfully good at working with what they're given. The film revels in the creativity of the AFOL community (that's "Adult Fan of Lego"), showing off plastic masterworks like an award-winning Rivendell replica built by Alice Finch (a rare female builder in this guy-dominated community) and the massive architectural replicas of Adam Reed Tucker. The latter is one of the fans whose ideas have fueled the company's comeback: Taking it upon himself to design and package his own themed sets based on famous buildings, he proved the idea's commercial viability and is now sought out as a kind of freelance innovator.
Others are on staff: We spend plenty of enjoyable time with the in-house designers who get paid to play with Legos all day, then tag along with them as they compete against amateur builders at one of the many Lego conventions held around the world. (There, one can compete in Lego robot battles, boat races and blindfolded-assembly contests.)
The animated minifigure that hosts the film is a clear nod to the doc's Hollywood cousin, tossing out jokes in keeping with that film's sensibility. The film spends a good deal of time on a much humbler community of filmmakers — the fan-made "brickfilm" scene that inspired The Lego Movie. Plenty of delightful stop-motion-animated clips are introduced by David Pagano, self-declared historian of the genre, though the film overlooks landmarks including the all-Lego White Stripes music video Michel Gondry made some years back.
Other omissions include entire lines of Lego wares, from the toddler-geared Duplo brand to the adventure-oriented Bionicle theme. We hear nothing about how important each segment of the company's business is relative to the others — are all those highly specialized Star Wars sets keeping the generic-block biz afloat, or vice versa?
Such details must have seemed mundane compared to, say, a visit to a child psychologist who has produced great results with autistic kids using the toys. By putting patients in groups of three and assigning them construction projects, he reports huge gains in their ability to connect with other children, even compared to competing play-centric therapies. For these patients, that infuriatingly catchy song from The Lego Movie proves true: "Everything is cool when you're part of a team."
Production: HeLo, GEM
Directors: Daniel Junge, Kief Davidson
Screenwriters: Daniel Junge, Davis Coombe, Kief Davidson
Producers: Brendan Kiernan, Justin Moore-Lewy, Chris Brown
Executive producers: Anthony Romano, Jim Packer, Bob Lewis, Jill Wilfert, Lee Clay
Directors of photography: Robert Muratore, Tony Molina, Luke Geissbuhler, Aaron Phillips
Editors: Darrin Roberts, Davis Coombe, Tiffany Hauck, Inbal Lessner, Chad Herschberger, Marco Jacubowicz
Music: John Jennings Boyd
Sales: Josh Braun, Submarine
No rating, 92 minutes