Lego: a love story

Elaina Natario and Ryan Huddle / globe staff

It’s tough to recall how it all started; time, unfortunately, has stripped away the details.

What you can say for sure is this: One day, you were a chunky toddler with a biting problem. And the next, you were a 4-year-old who had been introduced to Lego, wondering how you’d ever lived without it.

From the start, you knew that Lego was different from other toys. It made the stuffed animals and toy trucks and Radio Flyer wagons seem juvenile by comparison. Lego — which Feb. 10 will release “The Lego Batman Movie,” a sequel to the wildly successful “The Lego Movie” (2014) — brought power and possibility. With a few hours and a little concentration, you could turn a pile of colorful blocks into a plastic kingdom, presided over by stiff little men in Justin Bieber haircuts.


How many hours did you spend — back in those early, glorious days — configuring and reconfiguring a single set of blocks? How many pieces did you lose? How many did you ingest?

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If it wasn’t the farm-themed Lego set — complete with a conveyor belt for handling any Lego-related farming business — then it was the castle set, in which the little figures wore suits of armor and carried swords and goblets. Oh, the battles that were waged, on the floor of your family’s living room, between sword-toting Lego knights.

The Lego people, bless their hearts, were always happy to keep the good times rolling. Every week, it seemed, they were churning out some newer, more intricate set, which always found its way to the shelves of the local Toys R Us. There were Lego pirate ships and Lego tropical islands, Lego airports and Lego fire stations.

Enough to drive a 7-year-old mad with desire.

Each year before the holidays, you’d walk wide-eyed through the toy store’s Lego aisle, taking careful stock of the latest merchandise. Then you’d hustle home, pull out a sheet of paper, and maturely, reasonably explain to Santa why you just absolutely could not live without, say, the new Lego space shuttle.


And on Christmas morning, when Santa would inevitably come through, you’d rip open the box, toss the instruction booklet aside — instructions were a tool for the novice; a real Lego man trusted his instincts — and dig into the pile of blocks before you.

True, in all those years, you might have never actually fully completed a set the way it was meant to be completed. But then that was never really the point. With Lego, as with life, it was always more about the journey than the destination.

In hindsight, you probably should have noticed the early signs of trouble. The handful of SilverHawks toys, which began accompanying you, more and more, on car rides and grocery store trips. The Michelangelo action figure from the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” collection that showed up one day, a gift from grandpa. And the battery-powered race-car set that burst on the scene one Christmas.

Still, you were convinced, there was plenty of room for everyone.

But then came the Nerf footballs and the nunchucks, the water guns and the Hungry Hungry Hippos — toys that lit up or sprayed water or, in special cases, could be used to inflict a not-insignificant amount of damage if deployed against a little sister.


Each new toy clamoring for your attention. Each one pushing Lego a little further down the toy-box hierarchy.

How many hours did you spend — back in those early, glorious days — configuring and reconfiguring a single set of blocks? How many pieces did you lose? How many did you ingest?

Before long, the Saturday afternoons once devoted to Lego castles were being spent playing with a slime-like substance called Nickelodeon Gak. Or strapping on a plastic Proton Pack and tearing around the house like a Kool-Aid-mustached Bill Murray. There were ghosts in need of busting, and a box of multi-colored blocks sure wasn’t going to help with that.

If it had stopped there — if the stream of toys had tapered off — then maybe it could’ve survived, this thing between you and Lego.

But it didn’t.

Finally, inevitably, came the Super Nintendo.

There was no turning back, after Super Nintendo. How could a collection of children’s blocks compete with the pixilated characters from “Donkey Kong Country” or “Super Mario Kart”? Turns out it couldn’t.

As neighborhood friends piled into the basement to tap away on controllers, the Legos remained packed away in a closet somewhere, alongside old drawings and long-ago-discarded Micro Machines.

Time marched on. Soon you were a teenager, your Lego collection all but forgotten. By high school, it barely warranted space in your subconscience, elbowed out by sports and girls and cars.

When you left for college, the Legos didn’t go with you. This was college. A new chapter. You needed the freedom and space to find yourself.

The years continued to pass. You had your own life to lead. And that’s what you did.

Lego did fine without you, of course. Kept on making blocks. Started making movies, too. Suddenly, the company was opening up Legoland Discovery Centers and Lego-themed amusement parks, extravagant, 100-plus-acre kingdoms where a new generation of Lego acolytes could spend hours frolicking inside a Lego-themed bubble — and, more to the point, begging their parents to buy them merchandise from on-site gift shops.

At one point, you thought you read somewhere that Lego had moved past Ferrari to become the world’s most powerful brand.

Good for Lego, you thought — if you thought anything at all.

By then, you had plenty of other things to worry about. Work. Bills. Years went by without ever thinking about Lego.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 27: Lego figures are displayed on the opening day of BRICK 2014 at the Excel Centre on November 27, 2014 in London, England. The four day event showcases creations by some of the world's best Lego builders and runs until November 30th. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Lego figures were displayed on the opening day of BRICK 2014 at the Excel Centre in London, England.

And then, when you least expected it, it happened.

A couple of years back. Home for the holidays. Sent to fetch something from a relative’s basement, when there it was, splayed out on a large table in the middle of the room: a pile of Legos that seemed to stretch forever.

The sight stopped you in your tracks, and for a moment time seemed to stop, too. The years melted away. A million memories came flooding back. And you remembered — just like it was yesterday — what once had been.

It was getting late. You had other things you needed to do. Upstairs, people were waiting.

But maybe, for just a few minutes, you could stay and catch up.

For old time’s sake.

Dugan Arnett can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.