With Friday’s release of “The Lego Movie,” it’s oh so tempting to switch over to snarky “a movie based on a toy line?!” mode here – and we’ll get there soon enough, don’t worry. But it’s worth asking if a movie inspired by a patently commercial product is inherently worthless.

I mean, the “Toy Story” trilogy, which incorporated a Toys R Us-worth of licensed playthings in its cast of characters, remains outstanding children’s entertainment. Can that mean toy-centric movies aren’t necessarily the end of cinema as we know it?

After all, all that corporate money has stocked “The Lego Movie” with a truly impressive roster of voice talent (we’re talking Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Nick Offerman, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day), so that must mean something, right?

Well, let’s take a cinematic tour of such things and see if any sort of precedent has been set:

“BATTLESHIP” – Theoretically inspired by that dull game in which luck (and surreptitious peeking) allows kids the thrill of inserting plastic pegs into a grid, this 2012 $200 million-budgeted would-be blockbuster kept the game’s red vs. blue color scheme, and some of the ship’s guns look like the pegs. That’s about it.

In fact, the alien invasion storyline retains little of the rip-roaring excitement of that game you played with your sister when it was raining. Instead, it’s just another nondescript, CGI-heavy, brain-numbing summer release where Liam Neeson continues his late-career path of scowling all the way to the bank in questionable, high-concept, genre fare (he’s in “The Lego Movie,” too).


No one even says, “You sank my battleship!” for crying out loud.

“CLUE” – Still a source of nostalgic amusement for some, this ramshackle, comedy murder-mystery based on the venerable board game still delivers its share of chuckles, especially from the ever-astounding comic genius of the late Madeline Kahn as high-strung Mrs. White.

Also, unlike “Battleship,” the film actually took pains to incorporate as many details of the game as possible.

Although it’s the best representative of a suspect genre, the frantic pace of “Clue” can’t hide the fact that its “multiple endings” gimmick means the script is such a mess that literally anyone in the house could have done it.

“BRATZ” – A live action feature film based on those huge-eyed, thin-limbed dolls that teach prepubescent girls the joy of over-sexualized, fashion-obsessed vapidity.

“THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE” – While there’s a “respect those who are different from you” message lurking in this universally loathed 1987 live action film based on parody trading cards featuring gross characters like Valerie Vomit and Foul Phil, the terrifyingly disgusting monster-children created for the film provoke a sentiment closer to, “KILL THEM! KILL THEM WITH FIRE!!”


“MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE” – Dolph Lundgren as He-Man, in a blond mullet and leather codpiece. Let’s move on …

THE “G.I. JOE” movies and the “Transformers” movies – While the war toy bombast of “Battleship” seems harmless in its uninspired near-competence, these aggressively stupid, thoughtlessly violent live action cartoons are the very essence of corporate synergy, steamrolling artistry like a runaway Decepticon.

(Yes, I had the toys. No, that does not make me like the movies any better.)

“FOODFIGHT” – That this 2012 Charlie Sheen-starring cartoon that tries to do for corporate logos (Charlie the Tuna? Mrs. Butterworth?) what “Toy Story” did for playthings has never seen the light of day is the only tangible proof we have for a future where entertainment is not subsumed by commerce.

I hold tight to any hope I can get at this point.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

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