If you haven't yet seen The LEGO Movie and you're going to, you probably should wait and read this later. I'll try not to spoil it too much, but inevitably I'll give stuff away and I don't want to ruin it for you.
Before you see it, you might feel the LEGO movie is very American and schmaltzy, and has also lost the original ideals of Lego, and indeed I did think that might be the case, even when I started watching, but as it turns out, it isn't true.
LEGO have had a lot of stick lately for making everything too formulaic, losing creativity and concentrating on movie tie-in's and branded LEGO. The fact is that, hard as it is to believe, in the mid 90's LEGO sales were on a real downhill slope and by 2000 it was getting scary. They began desperately searching for new ideas and ways to break into new markets in a world obsessed with technology. They stuck a finger in every pie and came back with very little. By 2003 they were on the verge of bankruptcy and Mattel were waiting in the wings ready to take over.
Proper focus with clever expansion towards 'adult' LEGO in the Mindstorms and Technic ranges, and the collaboration with good quality franchises such as Star Wars were what saved them....and us. By 2012 they were the world's 3rd biggest toy producer and they're riding a hugely successful wave right now. Everyone loves LEGO and everything is awesome. Interestingly Mattel (the world's biggest toy producer) yesterday made a bid yesterday to buy Megabloks - clearly they're still keen to expand into the block market.
So isn't it a little unfair to complain about what was necessary in order to survive? I think so. I also think that people who complain about Movie tie-in LEGO and kits with instructions stifling creativity are missing the point.
The sets are great because they teach the techniques and building skills that the children can take away with them. They show how to make better use of bricks and create corners and vehicle chassis and all sorts of other things. They give you special and interesting elements to enhance what you have. They give you a basis to work with and you can then build 'another car' or an extra bit of scenery to go with what you have - Batman needs a Batcave? No problem, the parts from Goblin King's Battle make a great Batcave when you make it taller and leave a gap underneath. Sets can stretch the imagination, they don't stifle it.
My blog backdrop is a photo I took using stuff from my children's bedroom floor that they'd been playing with that day. They were younger there and LEGO wasn't even something they used by itself, it was a part of a bigger play scene which included cars and Playmobil and anything else they wanted. Now they've moved on from wooden blocks and are better able to create whatever they want from LEGO, so they don't mix it with other brands so much, but they definitely mix it up. This is part of my living room floor this morning. These are all kits with instructions, but they've been dismantled to make something else.
The movie starts off in LEGO City, and then the characters break out and escape into other worlds. The Western and Space and Star Wars worlds collide with Lego Friends. We have a scene we've actually had at home ourselves - where no-one is actually sure if they're looking at Dumbledore or Gandalf - it's brilliant!
The LEGO Movie reminds us that we don't have to follow instructions, creativity can be everything and leaving models intact isn't always right, they're to be played with. I've had a long running joke with a couple of other bloggers to this effect, and I'm proud to say I was the one telling them glue was the Devil's work and should be banned. It's LEGO, you can rebuild it to the instructions later if you want - that's the whole point!
We've obviously gone out and bought sets from the movie, we had the winnings from our Carcraft competition to spend, and as yet they're still intact and complete, no doubt they won't be for long. We don't have a Benny or a spaceship to go with it, so my 3 year old made his own. Creativity is alive and well. Everything is awesome.