Brick by brick

Pub date February 23, 2010

TOY-NAMATION Denmark has given us so much. In the past few decades alone it has gifted the world with live-sex club acts, Brigitte Nielsen, breakfast pastries, and Lars “Antichrist” von Trier. In 1969 it became the first country to legalize pornography, and two decades later did likewise for same-sex marriage. It is also currently designated the least corrupt nation on earth, with the greatest income equality.

But predating all these wonders was that cultural juggernaut we call Lego. Toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen named his company that in 1934; 15 years later, he began producing interlocking plastic bricks, though it was not until 1958 that the perfected current design debuted. (Thus, 52-year-old blocks remain compatible with ones you could buy today.) In 1988, Lego Group’s last patent on its fortune’s literal building block expired, resulting in a rash of cheap imitations, most manufactured in (surprise) China. But a Lego is a Lego is a Lego. Like Kleenex, it is a brand name more familiar than the object’s literal description. What five-year-old wants his “interlocking plastic brick”?

This week sees the (direct-to-DVD) release of the first feature-length Lego movie. The first thing you notice about Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers is that there’s been some heinous error: how can this not be stop-motion animation, but CGI?! What’s the point if we’re not seeing actual crazy Legos-constructed figures moving around an all Lego-landscape?

That said, it does sport a certain blocky design theme, and the early-1980s Cars-type songs with handclaps and synths seem just right. Clutch is an all-American, thrill-seeking, planet-saving blowhard who learns the value of teamwork by being forced to cooperate with a girl (plucky!), musclehead (jerky!), and egghead (German!) on an intergalactic voyage to defeat an evil wizard and his army of skeleton warriors. There’s a little Indiana Jones here, a little Shrek there, a lotta Lord of the Rings hither and yon.

But these 82 innocuous minutes are just a blip in the ever-widening Lego cosmos, which includes umpteen subsidiary toy franchises, clothes, video games, books, theme parks, “Lego Serious Play” (for business consensus-building!), and independent uses that run from elaborate Lego reconstructions of live action movies to epic online biblical illustration The Brick Testament.

Legos are timeless and cool. The company is laudable, not just for inviting action and imagination from kids, but for being a good global citizen. Lego’s corporate responsibility bylaws regarding environmental impact, charitable contributions, and treatment of workers are the sort of “socialist” stuff that would be lobbied out of existence here in five seconds. Oh, those Scandinavians — when will they realize all their prosperity, public benefits, and high overall happiness index is really a living hell in sheep’s clothing? Surely they need an angry Tea Party movement to protest a society that actually takes care of its own.