By BRUCE DENNILL
A Lego Brickumentary / Directed by Kief Davidson & Daniel June / A
Spare Parts / Directed by Sean McNamara / PGV
There’s a truism about it often being the simple things that are the best, and in terms of toy design, hardly anything could be simpler than bricks of (initially) four or five different sizes and colours, which could be combined in thousands of different ways and so stimulated users’ imaginations afresh every time they were unpacked. Lego has been through a number of ups and downs, setting trends and falling behind the curve, becoming high-concept and then reverting to simple type. Now, the company has even extended its reach to cinema, with each Lego-related animated title improving on the critical acclaim and box office success of the previous one. But these headline moments tell only a tiny part of the story, which is a fascinating one. Permeated with the air of mischief, humour and fun that should come with being the designers of a popular children’s toy, A Lego Brickumentary tells the whole tale, from the company’s origins as a family-owned concern that survived a number of hardships and tragedies to establish themselves. It looks at the strategies for growth that worked and the ones that, against the prevailing logic, didn’t. And it peeks into the lives of the employees whose full-time job is to invent new designs to market and sell, and the devotees (addicts?) who invest huge amounts of money and time in expanding their Lego collections and the landscapes, creatures and artworks they build with them. The narrative takes in the whole fascinating subculture that has built up around Lego and does so with considerable wit and warmth, being as entertaining as it is informative. Worth a watch.
Creativity and ingenuity play a large role in the effectiveness of Spare Parts, which is based on the true story of a high-school robotics club who participate in a national competition and go on to beat the odds – cultural, budgetary and technical – to earn a chance to compete against the world leaders in that industry, MIT. The film has many of the same qualities as the more traditional sporting flick in which a team of ne’er-do-wells slowly unite under the leadership of a coach who is grumpy and out of his comfort zone, before an unlikely triumph at the end of the piece. Seasoned pros George Lopez, Jamie Lee Curtis and Marisa Tomei marshall their younger, less experienced colleagues in the cast effectively, never letting the story slide into smug worthiness. Carlos Penevega as Oscar, the initiator of the team and its point man, also puts in an excellent shift. And then there is the technology itself, and the link that it forms with the news that fills newspapers and websites, and the tools we use in daily life, from cellphones to security hardware. The film underlines how exciting the development of such materials is, and how desirable a field it is to be in for youngsters, whatever their backgrounds. Along with that, it’s also full of hope and friendliness, eschewing the cynicism that often accompanies stories of people achieving their goals via old-fashioned dedication and teamwork.