Lego builds the year’s first true blockbuster

Lego builds the year’s first true blockbuster
BY JUN HONGO
STAFF WRITER
MAR 20, 2014
Film director Phil Lord has fond childhood memories of days spent playing with Lego’s colorful plastic blocks. He says he would simply dump what he had on the floor and create a huge mess.

“I never remember picking them up,” he says. He also did not have the patience to create what the instructions on the box told him to.
Fellow director Christopher Miller, on the other hand, says his son is currently hooked on the brick toys, but he first builds exactly what the instructions dictate. “Then he will make his own vehicle, each time more ridiculous than the other,” he adds.
Both men were well aware of Lego’s global and cross-generational appeal when they were approached to direct “The Lego Movie,” which opens in Japanese theaters March 21. However, they say they had no idea that the oddball animated feature would become a blockbuster — much less the biggest film of 2014 so far, already having grossed more than $236 million at the U.S. box office. It was made on a budget of $60 million.
“We knew we were doing something special with so much detail, and hoping that people would realize it,” Miller says when asked about the movie’s financial success. “We were surprised that so many people did.”
Lord is more candid, and he acknowledges there was a risk in making a 100-minute feature film using Lego characters.
“I just always think that my career is headed to the garbage can every time I work on something,” he says. “I am surprised that I didn’t get fired and glad we can continue our careers in Hollywood.”
The movie is set in a world made from Lego bricks and follows the adventures of Emmet, an ordinary construction worker who learns that his destiny is to save the planet. Together with the movie’s heroine, Wyldstyle, and plenty of other characters — some original and some as well-known as Batman and Superman — Emmet’s team battles Lord Business and his gang of evil-doers.
The last time Lego animation looked as awe-inspiring as it does in “The Lego Movie” was when U.S. rockers The White Stripes used the technique more than a decade ago for their “Fell in Love with a Girl” clip, which was directed by Michel Gondry. Miller and Lord push the envelope much further on the big screen. One particularly stunning sequence has Emmet and the heroes aboard a submarine that breaks apart in the ocean and leaves them floundering in the waves.
The English-language version of the film features a healthy roster of A-list Hollywood vocal talent, including Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill and Elizabeth Banks. The movie is computer-animated but leaves just the right amount of analog texture to the beloved blocks to keep it looking familiar.
Lord and Miller have a history of finding kernels of hits in surprise places. The pair tackled the film adaptation of Judi Barrett’s children’s book “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 2010 and spawned a sequel that was released last year.
They teamed up again in 2012 to adapt the 1980s American drama series “21 Jump Street” to the big screen. Lord and Miller’s sequel to that film, “22 Jump Street,” will be released in North America this summer.
One of the challenges the directors faced, says Miller, was making a movie with only Lego characters that was more than just a 100-minute advertisement for the toys. Fortunately, the finished product has won over many critics Stateside for its plot. Time magazine’s Richard Corliss called it one of the “funniest, cleverest, most exhaustingly exhilarating animated feature in ages.”
In trying to make sense of the success of the film, the two directors surmise that the audience likely had low expectations about the movie, perhaps dismissing it as a cheap ploy to sell Lego.
“Without giving away any spoilers, ultimately the film is about the importance of creativity and play, and how creative voice can be the most important thing,” Lord says, adding that the people involved in the production put all their efforts into ensuring it would be a good film. He admits, though, that “The Lego Movie” owes a lot to the universal appeal of the toy, which seems to have an unusual power to stir the imagination in spite of — or perhaps because of — its simplicity.
“Lego is the one toy that combines left brain and right-brain activity in a unique way, all at once,” Lord says. “I think (the blocks) are also intelligent and cute, very appealing from a designer’s standpoint, and (from a creative standpoint) as well, which is a winning combination.”
Warner Brothers has already given the green light to a sequel, which will involve both Lord and Miller “in a major way.” Not much else has been decided about the upcoming movie, but Lord looks at it in a similar way to how he used the toy when he was younger: Making a mess and never reading the instructions. He’s adamant that he and Miller won’t play by the books or settle for a substandard sequel.
“We have a philosophy about it, and it is that (the sequel) should scare us as much as making the original ‘Lego Movie’ did,” Lord says. “The only way things are going to succeed is to take many risks and make our bosses nervous.”
Will the bosses be that nervous though? The studio must be over the moon about how “The Lego Movie” is performing in theaters now.
“But wait till we tell them what we want to do in the sequel,” Miller teases. “And they will be less excited.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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