The Toys That Made Us: Telling the LEGO story – Part 1

The Toys That Made Us is back on Friday with four new episodes, including one focussed on nothing but the beloved LEGO brick

Last year, Netflix launched The Toys That Made Us. As the retro, animated opening sequence helpfully explains, “it’s an eight part documentary series about the toys that made us”. With a lot of affection and nostalgia, the show charts the highs and lows of classic toys that are still beloved by adults, such as Star Wars, Barbie and Transformers. When the four new episodes arrive on Friday, the most important toy of them all will be covered – LEGO.

Creator and Executive Producer Brian Volk-Weiss took some time out of the editing suite to share his experience constructing a LEGO episode of the series with Brick Fanatics.

Which toys did you grow up playing with?

First place, above all else, Star Wars. Then it was basically a tie between GI Joe and Transformers and of course all around everything was LEGO. And LEGO is really the only toy that I never stopped playing with or using. So even before college I had stopped playing with toys, but I was still building LEGO. So I never stopped buying LEGO sets and building LEGO sets. I was still buying Star Wars toys but I didn’t play with them, I was just putting them on display.

What made you put together an episode about LEGO?

Netflix was phenomenal, they greenlit eight episodes and then they let me choose the subjects I wanted. There was basically four grey area criteria that we used to decide what toys we were going to do. I purposely say grey area because I just want to stress we didn’t use mathematical calculations.

I had this vision of the Mount Rushmore of toys. What I mean by that is, a toy had to qualify – would it be on Mount Rushmore or not? So LEGO definitely is, it’s the biggest toy. The next one was, is there a rabid fanbase? I wanted every toy we did to have a rabid fanbase – are there conventions for it? Do people dress up as the characters? Obviously people don’t dress up like LEGO, but there are tons of conventions dedicated to LEGOs. Then the third thing was, has the toy been in production essentially since it started? LEGO hits that like a bullseye. Then the fourth thing, and in many ways this was the most important, was did it have a good story? We wanted every toy line that we covered to have a good story – and LEGO has a phenomenally interesting story.

By the way, everyone picks on poor Hello Kitty, but of all the toys we covered He-Man was really the one that is not, that fell furthest from the four criteria. Some people might get upset that I said that, but it’s true.

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How much did you know about the LEGO Group’s history going into the show?

I knew a lot about LEGO because I played with it. I knew a fair amount about the early history of the factory catching on fire twice and the decision to go to plastic, I knew a lot of that stuff. What I didn’t know anything about was how close they went to bankruptcy around 2003, I also knew almost nothing about essentially newer LEGO stories that happened after I had gone to college like NINJAGO.

That’s an interesting point, that when it comes to toy lines, people know the parts they grew up with and are less aware of what came before and after that.

It’s absolutely true. There are people that are obsessed with Transformers that don’t know anything about the 1980s cartoon and really only got involved with Transformers because of the Michael Bay movies. Then you’ve got people for who even mentioning Michael Bay makes their heads explode, and will say that Michael Bay ruined their childhood or something overly dramatic like that.

Then with Star Wars, a lot of people I would say, starting around the age 20 to 25, they think the original trilogy is boring, slow and love the prequels. And then you say that to someone in their forties and for the most part they will think those people are smoking crack.

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How did you start researching the LEGO story?

We hired our pre-production crew we then reached out to all the toy companies. Everybody was very polite, especially LEGO, they are like the most polite people in the world. As soon as they got the letter, they asked, “what can we do to help?” We sent LEGO a list of things we wanted to do, people we wanted to see and talk to, and they probably granted 98.5% of it.

So we flew to Billund, we interviewed people in Billund. We went to their corporate headquarters here in the United States, we went to LEGOLAND in San Diego, we went to Brickworld Chicago. Everybody we worked with on the show was phenomenal – Hasbro, Mattel, LEGO, there’s nobody who caused even the slightest problem. There was a bunch of people we couldn’t get hold of, or there was a bunch of things we needed to know but didn’t know who to ask and LEGO was just wonderful.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of our exclusive interview with Brian, in which he shares stories about the team’s trip to Billund and more.

The LEGO episode – and three more new episodes – of The Toys That Made Us launch will be available on Netflix from Friday, May 25.

Graham

Graham is the Editor of BrickFanatics.com, with plenty of experience working on LEGO related projects. He has contributed to various websites and publications on topics including niche hobbies, the toy industry and education. If you would like to get involved with Brick Fanatics, as a builder, writer or photographer – then please contact Graham at [email protected]

Graham

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