Disney and LEGO: Building a Perfect Partnership

lego cinderella castle - kfDet-Bedste-Er-Ikke-For-Godt. These Danish words, which mean “only the best is good enough,” were the motto of Ole Kirk Kristiansen, the founder of the LEGO Group (LEGO).  They were carved into wood and hung on the workshop wall by his son Godtfred Kirk Christiansen in 1936.  Ole was determined to provide children with toys of the highest quality so that generations could pass down a legacy of imagination through creative play.  Ole and his son’s high standards laid a foundation for a company that has worldwide recognition.  From humble beginnings, what is now a global brand was built on an innovative spirit, hard work and a quest for quality.   The same can be said of the Walt Disney Company.

Like Ole and Godtfred, Walt held himself to a different and higher standard. While he was not a toy maker, his goals for his company were not unlike those of Ole and Godtfred were for theirs.  Walt consistently exhibited that he was determined to establish a level of quality that elevated industry standards.  He desired to bring exceptional films, television programs and theme park entertainment to families, and do so in such a way that would result in multiple generations enjoying those experiences together while, at the same time, sparking inspiration and igniting the fires of imagination in people of all ages.

 

Thinking “Inside” the Box

It would seem that the Walt Disney Company and the LEGO Group were destined for each other—two brands created and honed to tap into the imaginative spirit of the world’s children. Surprisingly, their first collaboration did not come in the form of interlocking bricks, but as a set of inflatable swim toys featuring Mickey Mouse and characters from Lady and the Tramp, which were introduced in 1956.  That same year a Pluto wooden pull-toy and a Davy Crockett play-set were released.

 

It was not until 1999 that Disney and LEGO teamed up to create building sets based on Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. For most of the first decade of the new millennium, Disney LEGO sets were limited.  However, in 2009, both companies announced a partnership that would give LEGO exclusive rights to produce construction toys based on any of the Disney and Disney Pixar properties.  Since then, consumers have seen the release of LEGO and DUPLO sets based on Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, Prince of Persia, Cars, the Disney Princesses, Disney Junior, MARVEL, and many others.

 

LEGO Takes a Vacation

It is only natural that a brand such as LEGO, would want to vacation in a World where creativity and imagination reign supreme.  As such, Walt Disney World was a perfect site for LEGO to open one of its brick-and-mortar stores.  Originally much smaller, the LEGO Imagination Center was opened in 1997 at Disney Village (now Disney Springs).  While the impressive LEGO sculptures outside the store have varied over the years, a fantastical, 30-foot, not-so-ominous sea serpent has called Village Lake home for eons.  After temporarily closing for refurbishment and expansion, the LEGO Imagination Center held its grand re-opening on April 19, 2011.  The much larger store continues to be surrounded by a whole host of Disney inspired creations that beckon children and adults to enter a world where building possibilities are only limited by the size of their imaginations – or perhaps their wallets!

lego serpant - kflego dinosaurs - kflego snow white - kf

 

Building Outside the Box

Fans of Disney are not limited to children and neither are those of LEGO. Grownup enthusiasts of both LEGO and Disney exist in great numbers, and most probably developed their fascinations in early childhood. After years of playing with boxsets of the interlocking plastic building blocks, adult LEGO aficionados are thinking outside the “boxes” from their youth.  Disney fans of LEGO are no exception.  They are creating elaborate buildings, figures and works of art based on Disney characters, story locations, and theme park attractions.

lego jack - kfOne such adult LEGO fan is Pixar animator, Angus MacLane. His decade-long quest to design and perfect his LEGO WALL-E figure was likely as much a labor of love as it was a challenge. After he crafted the final version of his model, he launched it on the LEGO Ideas website, where it quickly gained the support necessary for it to be considered for production.  It was then released in mass production earlier this year.

Another fan of both LEGO and Disney exhibited his/her artistic talents as well as admiration for both companies on a massive scale by re-creating Disneyland entirely of LEGOs.  The impressive recreations of Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, “it’s a small world” and more are extraordinarily detailed.

Other fans design masterful works of mosaic art depicting famous Disney characters or locations. This magnificent piece—featuring Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas—was on display at a recent LEGO expo.  Sadly, the artist’s name was not featured with the artwork.

Even last year’s Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry got in on the LEGO fun with its “Castle Homage in LEGO.”  (Lead Picture Above) The spectacular recreation of Cinderella Castle was encased in glass and allowed for guests to walk 360 degrees around the enormous model.

 

Fostering Future Imagineers

Perhaps the greatest characteristic the Walt Disney Company, the LEGO Group and their mutual fans have in common is an innate desire to create. They have big imaginations and they are not afraid to use them.  When it comes to the creative spirit, the possibilities are limitless.  Even those who choose to assemble their LEGO sets exactly as the instructions specify produce something that flings open the doors to imaginative thought and play.  Disney and LEGO collaborative products are created for people of all ages.  Clever, inspired individuals have the potential to craft castles, dragons, working robots as well as other ingenious inventions that may go on to be shared with the world.  Who knows? LEGO play might just be encouraging the next generation of Disney Imagineers.

(All photos from the author’s personal collection.)

 

KendallKendall is an editor and contributing writer for WDW Radio. She began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband. Her home-away-from-home is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and she believes a perfect day at WDW includes a dip in the Lava Pool, a ride on Splash Mountain and a Pineapple Dole Whip. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.

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