Lego movie's key audience may be AFOLs: Adult Fans of Lego

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"The Lego Movie" opens Friday, and with a strong built-in fan base from lovers of the toy building blocks, it was expected to be the first blockbuster of the season.

It may be surprising to discover that many of the people flocking to theaters this weekend will be adults, with or without children: The people who call themselves "AFOL," or Adult Fans of Legos.

People such as Steve Lin, who responded to a query from KPCC's Public Insight Network. "I'm 35 and I'm a AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego). It sounds like some sort of addiction, but in reality, I'm just a big fan of anything made out of Lego," Lin said.

Lin said that he was excited to see the film. "I hope it does well at the box office. I just need to watch it without any critic or fan reviews. Hopefully, it captures the imagination of moviegoers and gets people out there to build and create with Lego," Lin said.

Who are the AFOLs? They have their own subreddit. They put on their own exhibitions. And they've been featured in documentaries:

WATCH: Documentary about Adult Fans of Lego

So, yes, it's a thing. And as it turns out, we've got quite a few AFOLs right within our KPCC listener base.

Lin said he recently put together a fan-submitted set from the movie "Back to the Future," featuring the characters Marty McFly and Doc Brown and the classic DeLorean time machine.

"There's something very exciting about opening the box and dumping all the single pieces on a desk and building," Lin said. "It's extremely gratifying knowing that you are working with your hands and putting something together whether it's following someone else's direction or using your own imagination to build your own creation."

Frank Forkl is another self-proclaimed AFOL. "I am a 26-year-old mechanical engineer and lifelong Lego enthusiast. I had Duplos and brick buckets as a small child, got my first set at age 6 and never looked back. Three 1'x'2'x4' bins full of Legos came with me into adulthood, along with my 14-year-old stepson's substantial collection and his little sister's Duplos," Forkl told KPCC.

Forkl said his family even does building competitions and rapid-fire building challenges. His son has the programmable Lego Mindstorms set and is building a model to help him get out of bed on time.

And then there's Paul Asimow, who took Legos out of the playroom and put them front and center in one of life's most cherished moments. He told KPCC about a homemade Lego ring box they used in their wedding.

"It's a his-and-hers wedding ring box! We used it at our wedding in 2004. Then-8-year old son, soon-to-be-stepson, and ring-bearer Lev Asimow made it," Asimow said.

A long time coming

Just how many AFOLs, TFOLs (teens), or any other toy brick tinkerer turn out to see the Lego film remains to be seen, but whatever happens next, Lego's big screen debut has been a long time coming.

Lego has already released quite a few straight-to-DVD movies, including flicks like "Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles - Attack of the Jedi" and "LEGO Batman: The Movie - DC Super Heroes Unite."

Chris Miller, who co-directed the film, told KPCC that when and how a Lego-themed movie finally came to the big screen was ultimately up to the people who run the company.

"They are really a successful company, and they are having huge growth even through a down economy. And so they didn't really need a movie. They didn't even want a movie. They were like, 'Why should we take a risk when this could backfire on us?'" Miller said.

In an interview on KPCC's Take Two, Miller recalled what he had to explain to skeptical executives of the Danish toy company.

"The only way this is going to work is if it doesn't feel like it's coming from you guys at all. You're gonna have to hand us the keys, really," Miller said.

Therese Wilbur, who teaches marketing at USC and who before that was a senior marketing director at Lego-competitor Mattel, said Miller's instinct was a good one.

"It cannot be a 110-minute long commercial for the brand," she said. "There's been so much product placement and commercialization of brands in general. The consumer will read through that. It won't be perceived as authentic."

Wilbur said "The Lego Movie" is a big risk for a normally conservative company, moving it into a new consumer category.

"You're no longer a toy brand. You're an entertainment property. So if things don't go well for this release and they don't meet Hollywood's expectations or box office revenue, it will reflect poorly on their parent brand," Wilbur said.

WATCH: One young Lego fan's stop-action surf movie

Storify: Legos at home

 

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