By Simon Miraudo
April 10, 2014
At the intersection of chaos and commerce lies The Lego Movie, a manic, subversive family film that somehow squeezed its way out of the studio sausage factory. Don’t call it a cash-grab. Heck, if cash-grabs were always this good, we’d all be broke. The credit probably belongs to writer-director duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who similarly spun surprising cinematic gold from the wildly uncool 21 Jump Street TV show (and who have been ingeniously rethinking unimpeachable icons since their short-lived animated series Clone High, in which Gandhi was reborn as a teen rebel in the mould of John Belushi‘s Bluto). More like the delirious, seizure-inducing French flick A Town Called Panic than, say, every other direct-to-video Lego movie, this is delightful, inspired, affecting, utterly hilarious stuff, and certainly the first feature starring Batman to earn a couple of those compliments.
If you’ve been subjected to/sung along to/cursed the heavens to the tune of The Lego Movie‘s catchier-than-chickenpox theme song ‘Everything is Awesome!’, you might be among those suspecting Lord and Miller’s latest of being as inane as its lyrics: “Trees, frogs, clogs, they’re awesome! Rocks, clocks, and socks, they’re awesome!” Imagine viewers’ surprise when they actually discover the ‘happy workers’ anthem is an endless, fascist call-to-arms for the unquestioning, obedient citizens of Bricksburg, orchestrated by villainous Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and hummed-along-to happily by generic construction worker Emmet (Chris Pratt). (Always trust songwriters Mark Mothersbaugh and The Lonely Island of knowing how to infiltrate our heads, and singers Tegan and Sara to harmonise so hypnotically.)
Our hero Emmet is freed from his workaday life by revolutionary Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and blind wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), on the very, very, very incorrect assumption he is ‘the special’; a master builder to save the world from Lord Business’ impending glue-pocalypse. Despite years – or however long pieces of Lego are technically alive for – of conditioning, Emmet must learn to abandon ‘the instructions’ and tap into his imagination, so he may craft the very instruments to bring about Business’ downfall. His first suggestion is a ‘double couch’. His next suggestions are, somehow, worse.
The financial smarts behind a Lego movie become clear when Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett), swoops in, later to be joined by Gandalf, Han Solo, Wonder Woman, Dumbledore, and, erm, Shaq (figures who could never share a live-action stage, unless some mad billionaire producer was willing to secure and then part with… oh, say, all the world’s money.) It’s a brand-bonanza in The Lego Movie, yet Lord and Miller’s script does not pander to the licence holders. For example, Arnett’s Batman is an insufferable bro whose Batmobile is used mostly as a speaker-system for his terrible, self-penned songs about darkness. Also, Abraham Lincoln has a flying space chair in this, in case you were unsure about the film’s fidelity to real-life characters too.
The seemingly-stop-motion CG animation is astounding; each collage of Lego blocks magnificently mangled and, in the case of those retro figurines we played with as kids, scuffed and chipped and impeccably imperfect. Our directors – as proven in their first cartoon feature, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball – are no slouches when it comes to relentless action sequences, and The Lego Movie has more than its share. The voice cast is so lively and enthusiastic, especially the ascendant Pratt of Parks and Rec and eventual superstar-status fame; his Labrador-like charm and earnest everyman abilities mined to much comedic and, shockingly, dramatic success.
All of that amounts to a whole lotta nuttiness, and yet, the filmmakers still manage to sneak in one of the most surprising third-act turns of recent memory. Spoiling it here would be tantamount to stepping on a child’s intricately-constructed official ‘Lego Movie‘ playset. Nonetheless, it’s a surreal sequence that, at once, chastises those in the audience who are too old to collect such toys whilst also reaching out to the emotionally-stunted ones who relish their childhood playthings for reasons far more profound and maybe even tragic than others might assume. Lego itself is celebrated as the instruments of the lonely and order-seeking, as well as the accomplished and artistic (though the picture rightfully points out how f****** frustrating they can also be). If the recently rebooted Muppet movies are all about being a superfan, The Lego Movie is about being a bad fan; the kind who doesn’t question their habits, obsessions, and need for everything to stay as it was ‘when we were young’.
Lord and Miller have assembled something incredibly fun and so much more. For that the kids of today should be incredibly grateful: not all relics of our youth stand up to scrutiny. Even if most people eventually age out of Lego, the same fate won’t likely befall The Lego Movie. We may have to revisit the conversation in a few decades, but I suspect this marvel will be ageless.
The Lego Movie is now showing in cinemas.