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Why ‘The Lego Movie’ is Looking at a Block-Busting Weekend for Adults and Kids

Strategic partnerships aimed at tapping into toy brand's avid hobbyists

Warner Bros. and Lego look to be constructing a blockbuster brick by brick as the toy brand’s first full-length feature film is building huge buzz before an opening weekend predicted to hit more than $40 million at the domestic box office.

Though films and TV shows based on toys and boardgames have come under fire for weak storylines (ahem … “Battleship”), “The Lego Movie” may turn that perception on its head with a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes — a strong hook for unattached adults.

That’s huge, because the potential for a sizable upside depends greatly on just how broadly Warners is able to expand the audience beyond families. Depending on how severe the weather is on the East Coast, some observers say strong word of mouth could lead to a opening of $50 million-plus or higher.

The key building block for the PG-rated, $60 million-budgeted “Lego Movie” has always been kids — mostly boys — and their parents. But adults — both the globally fanatical gang of Lego collectors and adults nostalgic for their favorite childhood playthings — are the other cornerstone of Warner’s marketing efforts.

“The movie is a very unique proposition,” said Warner marketing maven Sue Kroll. “First of all, the movie is wildly imaginative, but it also has extremely relatable characters.”

Warners worked with Lego to connect with 19 of the 21 regional domestic Lego User Groups, called “LUGs,” which participated in building in-theater Lego displays, and starting building buzz across the various Lego-themed social-media outlets. Producer Dan Lin also attended the 2008 edition of fan event BrickCon in Seattle, where more than 10,000 adult Lego fans gather to display models, as well as buy, trade and sell parts.

“We know the fans well, so we made it a priority to reach out to those groups,” said Jill Wilfert, VP of global licensing and entertainment for Lego.

The strategy is working so far: Tracking among young adults has been growing steadily each day. The film also represents 67% of Wednesday’s online ticket sales, according to Fandango, a fact underscoring the film’s popularity with fanboys since they are the ones who usually pre-buy tickets.

Based in Denmark, Lego is a globally cherished brand with many fan events outside the U.S., including one in Amsterdam, which is open to the public and can host upwards of 100,000 hobbyists of all ages. Moreover, Lego, which began licensing its toys only in 1999, remains very choosey about which characters it incorporates — only ones with global appeal (e.g., “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter”) make the cut as the company does not do territory-specific deals.

The film, co-produced and co-financed by Village Roadshow, incorporates a mix of Lego-branded and licensed characters, such as Batman, C-3PO and Gandalf, as well as the Blue Spaceman, a favorite Lego character. Warner also has some big names in the voice cast, with performances from Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

Warner bought TV ads on shows across all dayparts including morning, evening and primetime sports. The film’s voice talent also appeared on latenight talkshows, an unusual marketing move for an animated film.

Meanwhile, parents should be itching for fresh fare to take the kids to with Disney’s “Frozen” still the No. 1 family pic after 11 weeks. Young girls, though, may insist on a repeat viewing of “Frozen” in favor of the somewhat more boy-centric “Lego” pic, although one of the main characters in “The Lego Movie” is a strong skater girl.

“She really is this great role model for audiences,” Kroll said. “Everybody loves her — boys and girls.”

Warner launches the film in 34 day-and-date markets, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea and Spain. Pic follows in key European markets over the next two weeks, with Australia, Germany and Japan set to bow through April.

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