The Lego Movie (2014)
The Lego Movie is one of those concepts that sounds ludicrously shitty and calculated. It takes a well-loved toy with no proper story or defined characters of its own, makes a feature-length adventure packed with celebrity voices and promotes and merchandises the crap out of it and all its other product lines. However, the buzz on it has been overwhelmingly positive. Like, this thing is getting Pixar level scores. So, when given the opportunity to catch a preview screening, I jumped at the chance. Y’know what? It’s exactly as great as people have been saying.
“Come with me if you want to not die.”
The Lego Movie focuses on average construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) who soon gets a break from his normal working life when he gets sucked in to a world of free creativity and prophecy when he stumbles across the fabled “Piece of Resistance”. He meets master builder Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and supposedly wise wizard Vetruvius (Morgan Freeman) and the trio, along with the help of Batman (Will Arnett) endevour to stop Lord Business (Will Ferrell) using a deadly weapon called the “Kragle” on all of Legodom. That may sound insanely generic, but as the name “Lord Business” may indicate, it’s actually more of a sideways look at genre conventions. It’s smart as anything, but never tips the balance into winking at the audience every 5 seconds. The main plot draws deliberate parallels with something like The Matrix and it really works. All of the cast are great. Chris Pratt is mostly known for playing a wide-eyed puppy dog of a man and uses that to great effect as Emmet, Elizabeth Banks has fun as Wyldstyle, Morgan Freeman is predictably brilliant and Will Arnett makes a fantastic Batman. Comedic TV greats like Nick Offerman, Charlie Day and Alison Brie do fantastic jobs and there’s an inspired bit of casting in the form of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern. Will Ferrell and Liam Neeson are genuinely funny too. All of the cast give the film an infectious sense of energy and it’s nigh-on impossible not to feel part of the fun.
If you’ve been on the internet for more than a few days, you’ll have likely seen a stop-motion Lego video parodying a big film or set to a comedy routine. The Lego Movie, whilst not strictly stop motion, has clearly taken influences from these and makes the characters look solid and played with, which gives the whole thing a certain charm. Elements, like water, fire and smoke are all made from Lego pieces and it’s hard not to laugh along with the film. Instead of being a tiresome plug for yet another one of the company’s licensed toy lines, it’s a genuine thrill when recognisable characters from franchises like Star Wars, TMNT, Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons and even Speed Racer show up for a quick cameo role. Sure, it is promoting the various figures at the end of the day, but it’s so well done, you won’t care in the slightest.
The whole film is a love letter to Lego, as one may expect. However, it’s an intelligent take on how people actually play with the bricks. Emmet lives in a world literally built on instructions. Everything is exact and normalised. Wyldstyle shows up and we are plunged into a world of unfettered creativity featuring weird and wonderful characters and places made out of mismatched pieces. Lord Business intends to make sure that everything in uniform, but our heroic rebels are fighting against him and the suppression of imagination. I’m genuinely surprised that writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were allowed to do something this clever without corporate bigwigs stepping in and insisting it be dumbed down for the kiddies. The third act is especially brave, but works beautifully.
It’s tempting not to say it, because of the crappy pun lurking within, but there are no other words for it. The Lego Movie is an incredibly well-constructed film. The storytelling is spot-on. This may not seem like a huge revelation, but you’d be surprised at the number of films (not just kids’ movies) that fall foul of basic storytelling. We get to know the characters, their motivations and their personalities. They feel like living, breathing people despite being made out of plastic. The film is even confident enough to have fun with several things. Morgan Freeman’s casting as a wise man who actually isn’t that wise is a masterstroke. Will Arnett’s Batman contains several jabs at how dark and joyless the representation of the character has become. It completely nails what it wants to do and it’s a joyful experience.
If you’ve ever played a Lego videogame like Lego Star Wars, you’ll know how charming and winning the humour can be. Luckily, the movie also has these things in spades. The film is fast and funny throughout its runtime. Whilst some of the dialogue and jokes fall a little flat to adult ears, the kids in my screening loved them. Even when the film isn’t being particularly amusing speech-wise, the screen is packed with visual gags to keep you smiling. Tell you what, by the end, my face hurt from smiling so much. This is exactly how kids’ films should be. I walked out thoroughly entertained. As I left the screening, I noticed that all parents and children alike had the same expression on their faces to match my own. That’s when you know you’ve just seen something special.
I can’t think of much wrong with the film. The only reason that it doesn’t get a full five stars is that I could have done with the spoken gags be just a little funnier. Don’t get me wrong, there are some cracking jokes contained within, it’s just that it doesn’t quite reach the level of the all time classics like the Pixar back catalogue or some of the Dreamworks oeuvre. I was left wanting a bit more time with some of the recognisable characters, but will admit that may have over-egged the pudding. Here’s hoping some Marvel minifigures show up in the sequel.
“Batman, could you make one of these in orange?”
“I only work in black. And sometimes, very, very dark grey.”
Having said that, I truly believe that this film is this generation’s Toy Story. Whilst not as groundbreaking in terms of technology, it’s got the same quality and heartfelt goodness oozing through its pores. This isn’t just a glorified advert, it’s a refreshingly great film that happens to use an existing product as its medium. It’s a reflection of our pop-culture driven society and goes much deeper than you’d expect, going so far as to examine the whole concept of creativity, individuality and play. It’s so good, it makes me angry that more kiddie films aren’t like it as it completely shows up the inherent laziness and cynicism of the normal child-centric offerings. I can’t imagine many people walking out of The Lego Movie disappointed, even after all the insane hype and the glowing reviews, including this one. It didn’t need to be this good, as the Lego name and the blanket advertising would have ensured a healthy box office return, but I’m very glad it is.