Pharrell Williams Lego Biopic ‘Piece By Piece’ Is A Gamechanger For Animated Documentary

With the release of its first trailer, Piece by Piece went from being one of the more mysterious American animated titles of 2024 to one of its most intriguing.

The film, due out October 11, is an animated biopic of Pharrell Williams created in a cg Lego style. It is being distributed by Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures. Watch it below:

Admittedly, the trailer was a bit confusing upon first viewing, but that’s because it’s so conceptually original. While it looks like a high-end commercial animated feature à la earlier Lego movies, it’s actually a genre-bending documentary from filmmaker Morgan Neville, who won the 2014 Academy Award for his feature-length documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.

For Piece by Piece, he explores the evolution of Williams’s music artistry and career. The film includes new music by Williams, as well as the (animated) participation of Gwen Stefani, Kendrick Lamar, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Busta Rhymes, Jay Z, and Snoop Dogg.

Neville, who is making his feature animation directorial debut with this film, is well known for documentaries about famous contemporary figures including Fred Rogers (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. (Best of Enemies), and Anthony Bourdain (Roadrunner).

There are no comps for how an animated biopic of this kind might perform, but it can’t be judged by standard theatrical animation metrics. Neville himself holds the box office record for the top-grossing biographical documentary, which is $22.8 million for Won’t You Be My Neighbor? If Piece by Piece exceeds that modest amount, it potentially opens the door for a new era of high-end animated documentary filmmaking.

This film is a prime example of what many of us have been arguing for years: Animation is not a genre; it’s a medium that is capable of telling any kind of story. Piece by Piece’s innovative use of a commercial cg style for a biopic proves that point, and it’ll be worth watching closely to see if audiences are receptive to this fresh approach.

There’s some interesting backstage drama that goes along with this film, too. After Warner Bros. ended its feature film pact with Lego, Universal Pictures jumped on the IP and signed a five-year deal to produce new Lego animated features. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, they’ve been unable to launch production on any narrative films during the deal period. Piece by Piece, which is being released at the tail end of Universal’s five-year deal, will likely end up being the only film to come out of their partnership with Lego.

Piece by Piece produers are Pharrell Williams, Mimi Valdés, Caitrin Rogers, and Morgan Neville. Executive producers are David Lawrence, Shani Saxon, Jill Wilfert, and Keith Malone.

Related Articles

Back to top button