The Lego Movie
I have a backlog of films that I want to get around to reviewing (four behind at the moment) so today’s offering will be a fair bit shorter than normal.
In a Lego world of great diversity and fantastical elements, Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a lowly construction worker and completely unexceptional. But when the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) threatens the entire land with a diabolical scheme, Emmet discovers his just might be the “Special” of legend, and embarks on a quest with a host of characters, including female fighter Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), superhero Batman (Will Arnett), pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman) and wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman).
You go into something like The Lego Movie thinking you’re about to watch a marketing tie-in and an excuse just to get kids buying some toys. At best, you might just enjoy something mildly entertaining along the way, like the GI Joe movies, but even then it won’t be exceptional cinema. But I was delighted to see The Lego Movie subvert those expectations in much of the experience. This isn’t an hour and half advertisement for Lego. This is a love letter.
It is clear throughout The Lego Movie that the creators loved the product that the film is based around, and that love comes shining through, in the marvellous sets, production quality and just in the general messages of the story. I suppose no other toy on the planet can claim to have such a monopoly on the human experience as Lego, and The Lego Movie uses that ever-present sense of nostalgia, that connection with so much of the audience, to the full. The Lego Movie comes off less as a comic fantasy at times, and more of a tribute to the many childhoods that Lego helped to influence.
At its heart, The Lego Movie is about becoming exceptional by simply embracing positivity about yourself and your talents, and not becoming too hung up on what others think of you or what the dictates of society expect of you, and that’s a far better aspect of its plot even if it is a story well told. Compare to the likes of Wreck-It Ralph: a perfectly fine movie for the most part, but whose closing message was something akin to “Know Your Place”, a rather disturbing thought to be aiming at young audiences. The Lego Movie goes the other way completely, and its plot and story is a pastiche that encourages the use of imagination and creativity: its message is that everyone is unique and should be encouraged in that fact. I felt that it got such a message across quite strongly with the journey of Emmet. This sort of commentary on the real world, and the occasionally crushing expectations of society on us, is something that a film like The Lego Movie is well-placed to criticise and to try and counter, with its connection to a large majority of the audience, and its own inherent potential for uniqueness.
Emmet’s journey bounces around place to place, set-piece to set-piece, all of which are created with a fine eye for detail and humour – The Lego Movie can hardly be faulted visually, with even its frequent recourse to cheaper 2D and string based stuff being successfully effective in what it was trying to do – and the script bubbles over with humour and warmth. It’s hard to believe that The Lego Movie could create such sympathetic characters from Lego archetypes, along with the best Batman-based satire of recent times. The entire cast, the vast majority of which have a very notable comedic pedigree, give it their all, with nary a bad performance in the bunch, with even a recently lethargic Liam Neeson seemingly having a ball of a time as “Bad Cop/Good Cop”. Musically, The Lego Movie is also a triumph, with the recurring “Everything Is Awesome” becoming this strange thing, a song that stays the same in its structure and lyrics, but becomes something very different between the first and last times you hear it: a rallying cry for conformity in the first instance, and then just a teamwork song by the conclusion.
But even love letters are never perfect. While there are so many smaller elements and moment within the plot of The Lego Movie that work wonderfully, the first thing to note is that the general story is quite bland in its structure and pacing. It’s a standard “Hero Rising” format and is riddled with clichés from various fantasy sources. Emmet starts as unexceptional, but because of a prophecy becomes a sort of chosen one, goes on a quest, obtains MacGuffins of great power, is assisted along the way and confronts the bad guy at the point where his story began. The Lego Movie hangs plenty of lanterns on the plot throughout the way, going as far as to proclaim the “prophecy” to have been nonsense that Vitruvius just made up in a tight spot, but that just draws attention to the clichés, it doesn’t fully excuse them. The story is fine I suppose, rescued by its humour, its frequent parody and the thoughtfulness of its inner message, but its beats are nothing too noteworthy.
Less good also are the “real life” sections; an unexpected diversion where we see that the entire world laid before us is in the imagination of a young boy, whose father is also played by Ferrell. The connection between Lego’s use as a creative tool and a young mind is fine, but the soppy sub-plot of a son trying to reconnect with a distant and distracted father was one I found just a bit dull and unnecessary, as if they were simply trying to get the most out of Ferrell while they had him.
All of that aside, I have to say that I really enjoyed The Lego Movie. It completely trumped my expectations: it was funny, it was moving and its beating heart was a potent and inspiring message of genuine positivity, far better than the sort of tripe that other films of a similar design deign to spew out. This is a film worth watching and treasuring, on its own merits and because of the way it so suitably salutes that most unifying of childhood experiences.
(Images copyright of Warner Bros. Productions).