The LEGO Movie : The Theatre of Brands

90 minutes of LEGO. 90 minutes of LEGO. that’s not an advertisement, for LEGO.  Last year, Dan Lin’s The Lego Movie changed how big brands work with cinema forever. Conceived in 2008, Warner Bros made a movie that managed to deliver almost 1/2 a billion dollars at the box-office, a multi-platform experience for fans, of all ages and yet retain the integrity of one of the world’s iconic brands.

“We wanted to make the film feel like the way you play, the way I remember playing. We wanted to make it feel as epic and ambitious and self-serious as a kid feels when they play with LEGO. We took something you could claim is the most cynical cash grab in cinematic history, basically a 90 minute LEGO commercial, and turned it into a celebration of creativity, fun and invention, in the spirit of just having a good time and how ridiculous it can look when you make things up. And we had fun doing it.'” — Animation supervisor Chris McKay, AWN.COM

The Lego Movie sounds like the sort of idea that could have come out of a room full of marketing executives who were looking for somewhere to showcase a brand but The Lego Movie doesn’t fall in to any of the traps that have sometimes befallen similar projects and not only does it avoid the traps but it was a bona fide hit, that happened to be wonderful film that had praise heaped upon it by the critics.

A clever, vividly imagined, consistently funny, eye-poppingly pretty and oddly profound movie … about Legos. –Dana Stevens, Slate

What it does show brand owners is that mainstream cinema is one of the growing outlets and platforms for brand messaging. With Lego funding part of the film’s production, the success of the project meant that studio and brand win financially from box office, merchandising and hugely positive public relations. This strategy has been tried before, Universal established a partnership with Hasbro in 2008 that saw one of the favourites of my youth being filmed, Battleship, and Hasbro faired financially better with Paramount and the Stretch Armstrong  franchise, but financial success and critical acclaim have been hard to achieve. So what was different this time? Multi-channel marketing has matured, merchandising was both a cause and effect for this film and Warner Bros betted on the vision of talented filmmakers, with a vision. Directors Chris Miller, Phil Lord and Chris McKay were inspired by thee ‘brick films’ so prevalent on YouTube where kids and pros alike create the old fashioned stop-motion animation using Lego bricks and they wanted their movie to have an old-school look. Despite any scepticism at the planning stage the public know this look – and they also know they can kind of make a movie like it. Lego has benefitted from the era of ‘maker-culture’ and if you combine that with talented film-makers, a society that’s prone to a little retro indulgence and so much good natured cultural resonance from the Lego brand, it had to succeed? Well no, the added component in the case of The Lego Movie is it’s a really, really good movie, As film critic Owen Gleiberman put it,

The Lego Movie is: “10 times more clever and smart than it needed to be.”

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