THE LEGO MOVIE could so easily have been awful. Many, including myself, expected nothing more than a cash-in, an extended advert for pricey plastic blocks. Thankfully, it’s so much more. It’s sweet, funny, bouncy and clever, an animated adventure for our age, and proof of what is possible in terms of adapting an intellectual property.
Our hero is Emmet (Chris Pratt) a completely unremarkable drone, content with his place in a consumerist world built around strict rules (and built from literal instruction books). While finishing his day’s work at a building site, Emmet runs into Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) a sexy rebel who seems convinced Emmet is destined to save their world from the Tyranny of Lord Business (Will Ferrell), who has a master plan to secure his place at the top forever more. Wyldstyle’s mentor, the blind wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) promises to teach Emmet to confront his destiny as the fabled “Special” and the heroes (including Will Arnett’s Batman and Charlie Day’s 1980-something Space Guy) prepare for war against Lord Business, his lieutenant Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and their army of evil robots. And with all that, a 1 hour 40 minutes endorphin rush begins.
Under the stewardship of co-writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, 21 JUMP STREET) The Lego Movie strikes just the right tone. It’s knowing without being smug, it references other films but isn’t overcompensating for a lack of substance like the less successful DreamWorks films, it’s sweet and heartfelt without feeling overly sentimental. In short, Lord and Miller walk a fine line but pull it off in fine fashion.
The casting is faultless. Chris Pratt is effortlessly likeable, and has the range to bring across the ultimate tragedy of Emmet as a character, that he was purpose-made to belong, but has still never quite fit in. Elizabeth Banks has the right badass attitude as Wyldstyle, and revels in the complexities of her character, revealing her motivations layer by layer. Morgan Freeman makes you marvel that he’s never been in an animated film before, but the fight for show-stealing performance is undoubtedly between Liam Neeson’s schizophrenic blunt instrument of the law and Will Arnett’s gruff (but thankfully not too serious) Caped Crusader, sharing as they do all the best lines: “Do you see the quotations I’m making with my claw-hands?”/ “I only work in black…and sometimes, very, very dark grey”. Will Ferrell is brilliant as well, but I’m not going to go into precisely why – it’s better to watch the film and find out for yourself. These are all characters in an animated film, a film aimed at kids, and they’re so much more nuanced than they have to be.
The film’s visual style is also very endearing. Though it’s all big-budget CG animation like its market competitors, the animators have intentionally made everything look handmade, jerky, almost like traditional stop-motion, along with simulating environmental effects with Lego pieces. The effort and love put into building a Lego kit should always shine through, and that goes double for the brand’s big screen debut.
The Lego Movie can be enjoyed by a lot of people, but it’ll be the most affecting for those whose childhood would have been the poorer without those little plastic bricks. It’s a film for anyone who’s ever let their imagination run wild, anyone who smashes ideas together to create something odd and wonderful. It’s for anyone who’s obsessively searched for an essential piece on the carpet, and anyone who’s then collapsed in agony after standing barefoot on said essential piece. I challenge anyone who’s grown up with Denmark’s most fun export to not tear up a little in the film’s final act, where our perception of the whole film so far is irrevocably and meaningfully shifted.
I don’t know why Warner Brothers don’t just stick to animation full-time for their blockbuster material. They can’t do a live-action superhero movie without making it glum as hell, but their animated features all have a real energy and gusto to them, and more often than not have more going on in the grey matter than their more “real” counterparts.
Watching The Lego Movie is a joyous experience, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another film this year as smart and as fun as this. It’s a great animated film with compelling characters and gags aplenty, as well as exhilarating set pieces and tongue-in-cheek references to the titanic toy brand’s identity. It’ll please children and adults alike, but it’ll be something truly special for anyone who’s ever fallen in love with Lego. As Lego lovers know all too well, it’s not an obsession you ever really grow out of. SSP