Lego, the toy company most known for making toys so small that the only way to effectively find them is to trod on them barefoot in the middle of the night, is now taking its first major foray into the world of cross-promotion: while most of their building sets have no sort of specific "storyline" to direct children's play, they finally created their own world with Bionicle. Besides the robot building sets there are trading cards, video games, novels, CDs, shoes, clocks, toothbrushes and every other manner of product you might imagine, including a new direct-to-video movie, Bionicle: The Mask of Light (74 minutes, PG, Buena Vista Home Video).
Once a paradise, the island of Mata Nui has become a place of darkness and fear, ruled by the deadly Makuta. Now six mighty heroes, the Toa, have come to protect the villages of Mata Nui. In response, Makuta unleashes the powerful Rahkshi creatures with a single mission: find the Mask of Light and prevent the coming of the Seventh Toa!
A fully CGI movie, Mask of Light is aimed at Lego's core audience of 8-to-12-year-olds. Though intended for children, the movie is never childish: the storyline, built upon the framework that Lego has laid on its website and in its comicbooks, is surprisingly involved while still being accessible to new viewers.
The story is a straightforward tale of good and evil, light and dark, with a quest element thrown in - the film's young heroes, Takua and Jaller, undertake the journey to locate the island's new hero, facing external threats and internal doubts as they go. There are some dark moments and some scary characters that might be a bit much for younger kids, but those just serve to give the movie a bit more life, and everything is just as family-friendly and non-violent as anything Lego has produced.
The animation is very fluid, with the large mechanical heroes blending well with the more natural environment of their tropical island. Though the toys have been around for more than two years, the character designs are intended to look as if they inspired (rather than were inspired by) the actual Legos. The voice actors all do an acceptable job, though none of them really give standout performances - this is a fairly workmanlike effort.
Mask of Light is fairly heavy with extras: a commentary with directors David Molina and Terry Shakespeare goes into some great detail about how the characters and the world were designed for the film, and how they relate to the current toys. The "Wall of History" feature offers pop-up trivia about the world of Bionicle, including the characters, animals and items found therein. This feature does a good job of introducing new viewers to the rich and complex world Lego has spent so long constructing.
"The Making of Bionicle: Mask of Light" explores a lot of the computer animation in depth, from redesigning the characters to how they wrote the script. Most of the production staff are on hand to add to the documentary, as are a few members of the voice cast. The "Mata Nui Explorer" allows you to click on the island's various villages to learn more about the residents. The Bionicle story has changed and evolved several times already, and the "Sneak Peek Into the Next Storyline" offers a (very) brief glimpse of what is to come.
There are several deleted scenes available on the disc, a storyboard to film comparison, and a translation chart that will help you decode the Mata Nui font that appears on a few surfaces throughout the film. Things are rounded out by a selection of trailers for Mask of Light, other Disney/Miramax films and the upcoming Bionicle videogame.
Each copy of the Mask of Light DVD includes a coupon worth $2 off a combined purchase of the film and one of the Lego sets, but it's only good at the time of purchase, so if you're picking up one, you should at least consider the other.
Lego has created a complex world in Mata Nui, and they continue to draw in fans with each twist and innovation. With their first movie, Lego has turned their innovative construction toys into fully entertaining family fare that's sure to "play well" with anyone.
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