When I was a kid Lego was Lego. That was pretty much it. There may have been different ranges, but ultimately all the bits ended up in one big box, and were called upon to produce whatever my nascent mind could conceive. Which was usually an effort to make the tallest free-standing tower I could before either running out of bricks, losing the fight with gravity, or losing the fight with a mother’s desire to reproduce the “Shake ‘n’ Vac” advert right where I’d placed my construction site.

There weren’t, at that time, any Lego film franchises.

I’m in two minds about the franchises that Lego seems so keen on currently. On the one hand I have rose-tinted memories of better days, when I could turn a box of bricks into an Indiana Jones or Star Wars set using nothing more than the power of my imagination. There was no need for franchise-specific themed sets. Any old minifig could be Indy – the hat and whip were all in my mind. Scenes from my favourite films could be acted out in pixellated blockiness, with nary a curve in sight – provided those scenes revolved around trying to build large free-standing towers whilst avoiding the deadly incoming Icelandic ash Shake ‘n’ Vac clouds.

On the other hand I accept that times have moved on. Back when I was a child the colourful 3D pixellated blocks of Lego faced stiff competition… from the colourful 2D pixellated blocks of Atari 2600 games. I had to use my imagination, because as unlike Indiana Jones as my minifig was, he was still more accurate than the 20 pixels or so that made up the videogame equivalent.

Kids now are faced with eerily realistic high-definition videogames. Blockbuster movies aren’t confined to the occasional trip to the cinema now; the shelves that were once filled with franchised books and annuals are now overflowing with DVDs bringing scores of CGI-filled otherworlds into every home. Imagination isn’t as much of a requirement as it once was: Hollywood and the games studios have done all the imagining for us.

Faced with an onslaught of injection moulded merchandise whose accuracy far outstrips even the finest traditional Lego construction, I’m not surprised that they decided to jump on the franchise bandwagon. There was a particularly dark period where the ratio of custom one-off blocks to standard Lego blocks was seriously skewed in the wrong direction, especially in smaller sets. Thankfully Lego has largely corrected this imbalance, leading to fewer parts that only serve a single purpose (reducing the possibilities for imaginative play) and a higher proportion of parts that can be put to a wide variety of uses.

So while it may seem excessive that Lego has sets based on such a huge list of franchises (and yes! all the ones listed in the comic are real*), I would far rather see a child with a Lego Star Wars set that at least offers the possibility of being repurposed into a tower, than a fixed-design, injection moulded toy which limits the ways in which it can be used.

(For what it’s worth, though, I do enjoy the Lego-themed videogames. Just the right balance of gameplay, humour, and Lego-ness. It does, however, seem a bit ironic that we need powerful games consoles with advanced 3D graphics in order to do justice to a product made of blocks)

* Yes, even Lego Spongebob Squarepants. Here are links to all the Lego film and TV franchises mentioned in the comic:

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↓ Transcript
[G1 is reading "Lego Collector's Magazine"]

G1: *Sigh…*

G2: Still no sign of it?

G1: No. They've got "Lego Star Wars"…
…"Lego Indiana Jones"…
…and "Lego Harry Potter"…

G1: Not to mention "Lego Prince Of Persia"…
…"Lego Toy Story"…
…"Lego Ben 10"…
…and "Lego Spongebob Squarepants"

G2: Perhaps it's time to finally admit it…

G2: …there's not actually much demand for
"Lego Close Enounters Of The Third Kind"