If you had asked me last week what my favourite toy was as a kid, I would have scratched my head for a while. My matchbox cars? My plastic army men?
This week I can tell you with confidence that my favourite childhood toy was Lego. That’s because these school holidays I took my boys to see The Lego Movie and it reminded me that Lego is awesome.
Lego is so awesome that its name is officially supposed to be written with capital letters: LEGO. But I don’t want to seem like I’m shouting every time I write LEGO so I’ll try to stick with the lower case. Suffice to say that everything is awesome in Legoland.
My first Lego was a colourful suburbia. It was peopled by little faceless men who I enlisted to pilot chunky Lego airplanes, even though the men had no arms.
In the 80s space Lego turned up with sleeker angles and cool blue windows. The spacemen had smiley faces and movable limbs. Space Lego was awesome.
My brother and I owned a grand total of four Lego spacemen. Today my children have a whole universe of Lego men, women, aliens, wizards, ninjas, jedi masters and superheroes.
We’ve become a Lego-centric house. It’s a mandatory gift at birthdays. My boys still think they never have enough, even though they have somehow acquired more than I ever could have dreamed of owning as a kid.
Every trip to the library, they race to see if their favourite Lego books are there so they can bring them home for the umpteenth time to pour over all the Lego they wish they had. In Legoland everything is awesome many times over.
Lego is slowly taking over the world. Their marketing sneaks have created TV shows like Ninjago and Chima for the sole purpose of making my children want even more Lego. If there’s a big movie franchise, chances are there’s a Lego set not far away.
Yet somehow Lego transcends its own blatant commercialism. The name LEGO is built from the first two letters of each word in the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’, meaning ‘play well’. From where I sit (on the floor surrounded by three boys and a big pile of plastic bricks) playing well is exactly what Lego does best. There’s something satisfying about snapping those pieces together to build things, no matter how old you are.
Lego has moved with the times while keeping true to its core vision. It may have sold out to Star Wars and Batman but it hasn’t compromised its ability to play well. Lego pieces today still fit together with the first pieces made in 1958. For all of the merchandising, at its heart is a toy that wants you to pull it apart and create something new. Lego is not a mere consumable. You have to actively engage with it. Lego facilitates the imagination rather than stifling it.
Likewise The Lego Movie, rather than being a cynical marketing ploy, turns out to be a fun, smart, love letter to creativity. I had a great time with this film. It is made with real care by people who obviously love Lego. I can’t wait to see it again.
After the movie my boys danced back to the car singing the obnoxiously catchy theme song “Everything is Awesome.” At home they ran for the Lego and got to work on their own creations.
I’ve always thought good art should make you want to make more art. By that standard alone The Lego Movie is a winner.
This could simply mean the marketing sneaks have won. I don’t care. You should see the Lego car I built. It’s awesome.
First published in Bay of Plenty Times 2 May 2014. Reproduced with permission.
The above photo is one I took of my boys’ Star Wars lego. And here’s a little twitter conversation with The Lego Movie‘s writers/directors about this column …
— Marcel Currin (@marcelcurrin) May 2, 2014
— philip lord (@philiplord) May 2, 2014