Movie Review – The Lego Movie (2014)
After a completely dismal January the release of The Lego Movie represents a breath of fresh air, easily claiming the moniker of the best movie of the New Year. With a highly charged blistering pace and more jokes crammed into every frame than one can count, the movie clearly flies on sheer audaciousness by utilizing nearly every action/adventure trope imaginable and then proceeding to turn them on their heads. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have crafted an almost drug-inducing visual chaos with vivid bright colours seemingly slamming viewers in the face at every turn but they also manage to properly lace the narrative with some seriously emotional subtext.
Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) is a regular Lego construction worker minifigure, one of the many upstanding citizens of Bricksberg who lives his life according to “the instructions,” a series of step-by-step manuals that teach everyone anything from lessons on what to do after waking up to how to properly drive cars. Everything in this fair city are products of Octan Corporation and its owner and Mayor (for life), President Business (Will Ferrell). Everyone in Bricksberg is summarily happy and content, going about the day singing an infectious tune named, “Everything is awesome,” while debating the finer dramatic moments of the hit sitcom, “Where Are My Pants?”
However, Emmet’s life takes a turn for the bizarre when he one day confronts Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a downright beautiful, female minifigure who immediately identifies him as “the special” due to the fact that he somehow managed to get a mysterious red Lego square stuck to his back. It turns out that there is a long standing prophecy about “the special,” a powerful and knowledgeable master Lego figure that will one day break the evil Lord Business’ rule over the entire land.
Emmet is not so convinced that he is the prophecy of legend but with Wyldstyle at his side, the duo take off on a grand adventure that takes him to lands that he never once would have imagined existed. Along the way the duo meet up with Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), a supposedly wise but blind mentor and a cacophony of Lego minifgures from Batman (Will Arnett) and Superman (Channing Tatum) to ones like Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln.
The Lego Movie is visually a giant feast for the eyes as directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made the ingenious decision to make the film really feel like stop motion photography while at the same time compelling their Lego characters to mostly obey the laws of physics. Anyone who has kids and has seen the many previously released Lego movies and TV shows like The Adventures of Clutch Powers, Ninjago or the newer Chima, understands that they all are fully CG productions and that, most importantly, the animators regularly force their characters to bend, flex and emote in ways that no physically real Lego figure can ever imagine.
Not so here in The Lego Movie as every character as well as vehicle only animates based on their plastic form. That means that the characters like Emmet don’t have arm or leg movements that laterally go out from their sides and that Lego horses which, have no real joints, merely trot forward up and down exactly as if a child were holding it and pretending to gallop.
Concurrently, the filmmakers extend the world’s consistency to the environmental effects themselves meaning that explosions, fires, and laser beams are all rendered as if they were built with individual physical Lego pieces, an effect that can be downright awesome such as the visually arresting sight of a vast roiling Lego ocean that has to be seen to be believed.
It’s a simple yet ingenious decision that really connects viewers, especially those who love Lego, with what is going on and it will immediately endear itself to fans. Make no mistake, this is purposely done to evoke warm feelings of nostalgia from the audience and many are just going to squeal with delight when they recognize that the entire world in the movie is built using the correct Lego bricks. There are points in the narrative where the film switches to a certain character’s point of view and the audience can see the individual pieces and their part numbers appear that mirrors what many Lego fans go through on a daily basis as they attempt to craft their own creations.
The film also manages to include many Lego licensed products released over the past few decades with a ton of hilarious cameo appearances and its environments are, not only teeming with life but are often downright staggering in their depiction. From the dusty confines of a rambunctious saloon in the American Wild West to the absolutely saccharine-laced “Cloud Cuckoo Land” that is a great visual example of a psychedelic Hello Kitty world, the film never fails to impress.
There are times when The Lego Movie feels almost like a giant meta experience as this is a film that so blatantly advertises itself to sell more merchandise but unlike lesser similar films like the abysmal Battleship, G.I. Joe or Michael Bay’s Transformers, I presume many will not blanch at the thought of leaving the cinema and immediately buying every Lego Movie set at the local toy store. This is because the filmmakers completely understand and internalize the very reasons why people fall in love with Lego in the first place and they successfully seed these elements within the movie itself.
At its most basic level, The Lego Movie in no way features an original plot and the entire prophecy angle that casts Emmet as the savior has obviously be done a billion times before. In fact the movie really feels like a Lego version of the Wachowski’s The Matrix right down to having a wise sage figure that spouts haughty-sounding advice at every turn. Even the themes that the film expounds are not in any way unique but what does work is how the filmmakers present them. At its heart The Lego Movie is about conformity versus creativity but instead of merely bludgeoning the audience with its intended message at every turn, the film hides most of its sermonizing well until a totally U-turn inducing third act.
It is at this point that, The Lego Movie, stops mimicking The Matrix and instead launches directly into The Sixth Sense territory with a completely bold move that will leave most of the audience reeling. However, much like M. Night Shyamalan’s classic, this massive twist is actually easy to spot if one is seriously paying attention to many visual clues that are sprinkled throughout the film but its reveal is still truly impactful.
This twist essentially splits the movie into two parts and though many will understand why it is constructed as is, there are some that might feel it is superfluous. I suspect that those who are enthralled by this ending sequence will immediately relate what occurs to their own personal lives. In a way the final sequence achieves the same level of emotional resonance as the short prologue that starts Pixar’s Up as the tone is markedly different than the rest of the film. In this case, The Lego Movie inverts the structure and places the sequence right in the final reel and it will seriously tug at your heartstrings.
Nevertheless, though the movie is wholly inventive it does have some pacing issues, the most prescient of which lies in an altogether bloated second act. While fans will no doubt love watching all the various Lego creations the film could easily have benefited from some editing tweaks as the entire spectacle begins to lose steam as the heroes jump from world to world. In an ironic twist the film’s blistering pace actually begins to feel mundane the longer the film plays and one gets the impression that directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller’s tactic to utilize everything and the kitchen sink begins to misfire more than hit. Thankfully, the third act kicks in and the aforementioned twist manages to re-energize the production again so that it concludes on an emotional high.
The Lego Movie is the perfect example of a film that has four-quadrant appeal as both genders and all age groups will find something that speaks specifically to them. Kids will revel in the visual chaos and the silly physical jokes but adults will find even more to latch on to, especially those who played with Lego in their childhood years. In some ways, the film feels very much like the very best episodes of The Simpsons or Futurama, not in terms of plot but in the way they packed each frame with so much background detail that was simply hilarious in its own right. The Lego Movie is so visually rich that it will take multiple repeat viewings just to notice all the included jokes and homages that regularly poke fun and occasionally eviscerate certain cultural icons.
The Lego Movie is the perfect example of how to craft a film based on an existing IP as it plays to the strengths which made the product such a worldwide phenomenon and it does it in a way that, though manic, is amazingly inspired. Some of the jokes don’t exactly work but there’s so many of them that the chances are high that most will cause more than a laugh or two.
In a way, The Lego Movie is a real kick to the pants in terms of traditional Hollywood animated films that have settled in to a kind of rote style of filmmaking where they all utilize the same themes and structures, something that now affects even Pixar’s newest work. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy as audiences still turn out in droves to see animated films but they all more or less adhere to the same set of instructions. If anything, The Lego Movie and, to a lesser extent Disney’s Frozen, make the conscious decision to break away from traditional mores and tropes and, in the process, result in films that don’t seem to play by all the established rules. Charting your own course doesn’t always lead to success but in the case of The Lego Movie it hits it out of the park and reminds everyone that creativity is King and audiences will probably respond in kind by propelling the film to astronomical levels of success.
***1/2 out of ****
2014, USA, 100 Min, PG, Warner Brothers
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Story by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman
Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Produced by Roy Lee,Dan Lin
Executive Producer Matthew Ashton, Bruce Berman, Jon Burton , Kathleen Fleming, Zareh Nalbandian, Matt Skiena, Michael E. Uslan, Jill Wilfert, Seanne Winslow
Music by Mark Mothersbaugh
Cinematography by Barry Peterson, Pablo Plaisted
Film Editing by David Burrows, Chris McKay
Chris Pratt: Emmet Brickowoski
Elizabeth Banks: Wyldstyle / Lucy (voice)
Will Ferrell: Lord Business / President Business / The Man Upstairs
Morgan Freeman: Vitruvius
Will Arnett: Batman / Bruce Wayne (voice)
Liam Neeson: Bad Cop / Good Cop / Pa Cop
Craig Berry: Blake / Additional Voices (voice)
Alison Brie: Unikitty (voice)
David Burrows: Octan Robot / Additional Voices (voice)
Charlie Day: Benny (voice)
Channing Tatum: Superman
Jonah Hill: Green Lantern
Amanda Farinos: Mom (voice)
© 2014 The Galactic Pillow