Kids the world over enjoy playing with LEGO and growing up. Jason Middaugh was no different.
Middaugh, of Syracuse, N.Y., said that he was a huge fan as a kid. “I never built my own sets, but I’d build whatever the kits were they had in stores, but as I became an adult, they all ended up in boxes.”
It wasn’t until his daughter, Jane, was old enough to play with the bricks that he started breaking out his old sets again. “As we would play, I realized it was a lot of fun,” he said. “Here was something we could do together. And as we would play with those sets, I realized that I could help build toys for my daughter.”
The first thing they ever built and created for themselves was a replica of a little cottage that the family has in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
“I got all of the pieces together and one year for Christmas I gave her her own sort of custom kit and that’s what started it all,” Middaugh said. “We built it together and my wife said that we should submit the idea to LEGO and I sort of laughed it off.”
But the idea stuck with Middaugh after his wife mentioned entering some of their other builds as well. “I thought, ‘this could be something.’ I thought it would be a great lesson for my daughter to build something, create something, and put the hard work in and then maybe one day we could walk into a store and see a LEGO set that we designed. But, I also thought, if we’re going to do something, why not do something that everyone knows?”
It was then that Middaugh had the idea to do a set based on the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Starring Indiana native Jimmy Stewart, the movie has become a holiday classic, loved by families across the country, many of whom have made watching it a holiday tradition.
“As silly as it sounds, when I was in eighth grade, I felt like I ‘discovered’ “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I was flipping through the channels and caught the end of the movie and thought, ‘I want to see the rest of that,’” he said.
Luckily, the television station was showing the movie on a loop, so he was able to see the movie in its entirety that same day.
“I started telling people that they had to watch this movie, even if they didn’t like old movies. It’s become a holiday tradition in our family and I know many other families have that same tradition,” said Middaugh.
The “It’s a Wonderful LEGO Life” set idea was set in motion first, by creating a “tester.”
“It started with the idea,” Middaugh said. “Then we started to put it together with things that we had and make it up to a point where things start to take shape and make sense. Then we scour the internet to find more individual pieces that help the idea take shape.”
According to the description on the LEGO IDEA website, the “It’s a Wonderful LEGO Life” set “comes with a fully detailed, modular reproduction of the old Granville house where each floor can be removed to relive the magic of the most touching scenes in the film. The famous truss bridge, George’s 1919 car, and the ‘You Are Now In Bedford Falls’ sign round out the fun in this fully playable package.”
More details in the first floor of the house include a “Christmas tree (and bell), piano, phone and fireplace in the living room, along with the kitchen, removable newel post cap on the stairs, and George’s model bridge.”
The second floor contains “Zuzu’s room with flower, the remaining bedrooms, and the ‘George Lassos The Moon’ drawing. There is even a little surprise attic storage area.”
The “George Lassos the Moon” drawing was done, in LEGO style, by Middaugh’s wife. They then scanned the image and sized it down to make printouts to include with the sets.
Of course, the LEGO set wouldn’t be complete without the movie’s characters. Mini figures that are included are comprised of the entire Bailey family: George, Mary, Pete, Tommy, Janie and Zuzu; Clarence (complete with his “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” book); and Mr. Potter in his wheelchair.
Once the project was completed, Middaugh and his daughter uploaded their creation to LEGO IDEAS. “It’s fully endorsed by LEGO,” Middaugh said. “Anyone can submit a project if they’re of age. You design your project, take photos and write up a description. Then, once you upload it to the site, the onus is on you to collect ten thousand votes.”
If the set reaches 10,000 votes it enters into a review period where higher-ups at LEGO go over the design.
“Technically, you’re not really competing against anyone,” Middaugh said. “Every project is its own thing to be judged individually. That being said, if twenty projects get the amount of needed votes, they’re not going to make twenty projects. It’s the LEGO review board that will announce how many, if any, get through to production.”
Middaugh said he has seen review periods where no sets are approved for production. The most he has seen get approved have been three.
“If they’re approved, it becomes a LEGO product,” he said. “It might not be the exact same model as you created, because the LEGO engineers will look at it and fine-tune things and make little changes or tweaks. But they also will write the instructions for making the set as well as include a little bio of the person who submitted and came up with the idea.”
Some previous LEGO idea winners that Middaugh knows of have included sets based on “Friends,” “Back to the Future,” “Ghostbusters” and The Beatles.
“These and quite a few others are all fan-submitted ideas that have been picked up and produced by LEGO.”
Not included in the set are a few pieces that the Middaughs built for fun, including one of the famous gymnasium scene where the floor is opened, plunging the movies’ dancers into the pool below. “We’ve been using the scoreboard on the gym to count our votes,” Middaugh said.
Middaugh submitted their idea around Christmastime and received a good boost of votes when it was initially submitted. As of publication the set had 4,888 votes. The project still gets a handful of votes each day, but Middaugh said that a handful of votes per day will take awhile to reach 10,000.
“The LEGO site features newer projects when you first visit,” he said.
“That’s just the way it’s set up.”
Currently the project has 322 days left of voting; however, if the project reaches 5,000 votes, they will be granted an extension.
The Middaughs have also spoken about the project on several news stations and in other news stories in the hopes to gain more votes.
“It’s been a huge help,” Middaugh said. “We’re not huge social media people, so our favorite way to promote it is to get in front of people and talk about it. As people hear about it, we hope that they share the link and spread the word around so that the information gets around to others.”
Other plans to spread the word regarding the set included a visit to a Brick Fest in Monroeville this past weekend. “We have ties to the Pittsburgh LEGO community,” Middaugh said. “We’re actually remote members of the Steel City LEGO group.”
Voting can be found at ideas.lego.com and search for “It’s a Wonderful LEGO Life.”
Middaugh stressed that, while you can click on the voting button upon visiting the site, you have to sign up for your vote to count.
“A lot of people log in and click the vote button and think that’s it,” he said.
“But they do want you to create an account. It’s completely free and only takes a few seconds, but that seems to be a step that a lot of people skip or avoid. But, without making an account, their vote won’t count.”
To view the set for yourself, you can visit the link mentioned previously. A copy of the set also has been given to the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana for display for those interested in seeing it in person. Other copies of the set reside in the “It’s a Wonderful Life” museum in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and at the Seneca Falls Visitor Center.
In the end, however, the Middaughs hope that a potential win will allow the set to be appreciated in the homes of families who enjoy the movie and hold it dear in their hearts.
“It’s a very relatable movie,” Middaugh said. “And that’s what makes it, and this set, special. George, as wonderful as he is, still has his flaws as a human. It’s not just a fantasy. It’s relatable and it becomes relevant every year, and every holiday. We hope that this set would become just as much a part of that tradition for people to build with their kids and family and to have something special on display.”