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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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May 5th, 2014
06:26 PM ET

Lego may be poised to become the next Disney

(CNN) – Lego is seemingly everywhere these days. Last night "The Simpsons" melded their animation with a full 3D-generated Lego Springfield for the show's 550th episode.

Singer Lady Gaga tapped a Lego artist to turn her torso into yellow bricks for her latest music video.

There is even a Lego documentary that premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, featuring "AFOLS" – adult fans of Lego.

It all comes on the heels of a massive year for the Danish toy maker. Lego reported $1.1 billion in profits for 2013, making it the most profitable toy company in the world.

Not bad for a company with an expired patent that nearly went belly up a decade ago.

Read: Legomania sweeps Big Business

"They got themselves into businesses they didn't understand, some of them might have been good for another company but they weren't good for Lego," says Wharton Business School professor Dave Robertson, author of "Brick by Brick," a book that tracked the company's battle back from the brink.

For years the success of Lego was tied to toys based on two movies: "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter."

"In 2003 there is no movie from either franchise," says Robertson. "They're left with 94% of their product line which is unpopular, unprofitable, and in some cases really un-Lego-y. So they were very close to bankruptcy."

Lego jettisoned poor performing products, and changed their focus.

"Lego pays $3 per kilogram, and sells it for $75 a kilogram, so they're making a lot of money on the boxes of bricks. But the kids are buying the story, really," says Robertson.

The company has expanded to create Lego video games, reached out to girls with more gender-neutral ads, plus added new Lego friends and Lego Disney princess products.

This year Lego bet big on telling their own story, teaming up with Warner Brothers – CNN's sister company within Time-Warner – to make "The LEGO Movie".

"We certainly hoped what we were creating would be appealing to children with families. What we have found is it far surpassed our expectations, and is entertaining audiences we probably didn't even imagine," said LEGO executive Michael McNally.

The film was a monster hit, bringing in more than $450 million dollars worldwide. There is already another movie in the pipeline – the sequel got the green light earlier this year, and is expected in theaters in 2017.

Robertson thinks Lego may have something even bigger in mind.

"It's not an accident that the week the movie came out, there were a dozen kits in the stores that kids could buy, and play out the little dramas from the movie," said Robertson.

"I really see Lego as moving away from competing with Mattel and moving toward competing with Disney," he says.

McNally, the Lego executive, won't go that far, but says the company sees the potential.

"We don't see ourselves building a structure to become a video company or an entertainment company, but the idea that we can be an inspiration for motion pictures that can be as engaging as this movie has been is truly exciting for us," he says.

In other words, Lego will keep turning those plastic bricks into cold hard cash.

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