The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgLow expectations totally help The Lego Movie. We’ve seen other examples of films based on a specific brand name toy before with mixed results.  At least Transformers and G.I. Joe were box office successes if not critical ones, while Battleship was a failure by anyone’s measure. It’s hard not to be cynical at the title and greet this animated film as nothing more than a feature length commercial. While the production will undoubtedly sell a boatload of Lego, it’s surprising that there is a lot of creativity behind the marketing. The Lego Movie works on a meta level. We’re watching an advertisement for toys that warns us about a nefarious corporation that tries to sell us products: these include the TV show Where Are My Pants?, the ubiquitous hit song, “Everything is Awesome“, and designer coffee for $37.

The evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) wants to unleash the Kragle (a tube of Krazy Glue with some letters missing). It’s a superweapon that will leave the many various Lego worlds immobilized in perfect constructed harmony forever. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is completely average in every way. Nothing special. He helps build skyscrapers for the Octan Corporation. He’s one of the faceless Lego denizens at the construction site. One day after everyone has gone home, he accidentally stumbles into a pit and a red relic – “the Piece of Resistance” becomes fused to his back. Wyldstyle a tough fighter chick, and Vitruvius a blind wizard, now believe him to be the “Special” – the one the prophecy foretold would be sent to stop Lord Business.

The story is pure formula. Yes the plot admittedly bears more than a passing resemblance to The Matrix. However that implies The Matrix was an exclusively original concept.  It wasn’t. These ordinary heroes thrust in extraordinary circumstances have been an archetype dating back to ancient myths. Even side characters suggest earlier works. Lord Business’ lieutenant, the split personality Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), is reminiscent of the Mayor of Halloween Town in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Where the saga takes off is the utter senselessness of it all. Lego owns the rights to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC superheroes, so each of these figures can and do pop up. Some making only a very brief appearance.  The action moves at a speedy clip through different lands rarely stopping to take a breath. The Old West, Middle Zealand, Cloud Cuckoo Land are represented.  It combines these disparate inspirations and solidifies them into an entertaining amalgamation. It’s mostly computer animated, although the animation is purposefully done in a herky jerky style to resemble the way Lego bricks actually move. There are rapid fire bullets, frantic chases, and flying machines – all rendered in a kaleidoscopic spectacle bursting with colors. Sometimes it’s so chaotic it verges on distracting, but it’s impressive as well. I loved seeing Lego bricks forming puffs of smoke as they’re billowing out of a train stack or an explosion rendered as a series of colorful bricks.

This is pretty manic stuff.  For better or worse, the narrative is all over the place. Writers-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) are the minds behind all this lunacy. They manipulate the conventions of children’s entertainment and turn them right on their ear. They imbue the proceedings with a subversive bent. The importance of a coherent story is ridiculed. The prophecy of wizard Vitruvius (brilliantly voiced by Morgan Freeman) is not taken from some venerable sacred text. It’s something he just makes up on the spot. Emmet zones out when listening to Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) give exposition and all he (and the audience) hears is, “blah blah blah proper name place name back-story stuff.“ Wyldstyle desperately wants to be the “Special”. And why not? She’s infinitely more qualified because she is creative and brilliant, unlike Emmet who just follows the rules. The hero is in fact a zero. But believe in yourself and you can achieve anything, right?  The message is superficially cloying but there is a twist.  Without revealing anything important, the underlying recommendation is to NOT follow instructions. The “good guys encourage the workers to rise up against Lord Business. Imagination is a powerful thing. Freedom is better than conformity. However the script’s greatest inspiration lies in its ability to explicitly decry business while indirectly celebrating it. This is after all, an advertisement for Lego toys, right?

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34 Responses to “The Lego Movie”

  1. Nice review. I’ll definitely check it out at some point. I get the feeling this film could appeal to late teens/young adults/adults more than youngsters.

    • It’s a very chaotic, colorful production so little kids will really respond to that. Teens and adults should appreciate some of the little in-jokes and comments on society though. $37 for a cup of designer coffee?! Anyone who has ever patronized a Starbucks will chuckle at that.

  2. Great review! : ) I obviously liked it a bit more than you but wasn’t bothered by the fact that the movie will help sell lots of Lego toys now. All kids movies do that. I dread to think how much money The Disney Store has had out of me… Lol : )

  3. Good review Mark. This movie was a blast to watch. Not just for me, but from what it seemed, everybody else around me as well. That’s when you know you have a keeper.

  4. this is pretty much what i thought it would be, despite the outpouring of positive reviews I’ve seen.

  5. fantastic! loved this comment: “They manipulate the conventions of children’s entertainment and turn them right on their ear.” so absolutely true!!!

  6. Great review, Maark. I can’t wait to see this one, and I rarely get this excited for an animated film, but this looks like my cup of tea.

  7. I kind of went against the people who claimed it was a commercial in my review, but your assessment of it is far from that. As you still state it was good, and acknowledge what it achieves. I read a review or two that simply say it was two hour commercial, and nothing more, which angered me. I happened to enjoy it more than Frozen, but both are incredible.

    Well written review as always Mark!

    • Oh yes. That was my perception before I had seen it. It’s clearly much much more than just a commercial. There’s just too much imagination on display here.

      P.S. I will add that Lego has created 17 new sets from Space to the Wild West based on The LEGO Movie.

  8. GaryLee828 Says:

    I’m not a fan of children’s films and rarely watch them, and likely won’t see this anytime soon, but I respect the work and effort that was put forth by the filmmakers here. I don’t even care if it is a 2 hour advertisement as some claim simply b/c Legos are a timeless toy that will be around forever and if they want to do some advertising they have earned that right; especially considering the time and work they put into this.

    The things you wrote here do make the film sound pretty funny. I like “The Special”. lol. And when you said “The Matrix” isn’t totally original I thought of 80’s action flick “Remo Williams” with Fred Ward and Joel Grey that was very good and it shared certain aspects that were in The Matrix.

    Great review. 🙂

    • I mean I love The Matrix, but it copies elements from a lot of other movies. Its similarities to Dark City, which came out a year BEFORE The Matrix, has pretty much become accepted fact at this point.

  9. *** SPOILERS ***
    On a desktop – simply highlight text below to see.
    On a mobile – text will be visible below.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     
    1.) What was Lord Business upset at? As the opening demonstrates, conformity was king in his city and 2.) was the ending suggesting the Legos were in a TOY STORY or WRECK-IT RALPH reality? or what was happening in the real world having no real effect on the Lego reality?

    • I’ve made some style adjustments to your question for readers who haven’t seen the film and wish to be surprised.

      Likewise, my explanation is vague for viewers who haven’t seen the film:

      1.) Lord Business was a tyrant. He simply wanted to exert even more control over the Lego Universe.

      2.) I believe the first interpretation is what was happening.

  10. Great review, Mark. I agree this is short of greatness, but entertaining all the same (as you already know, having read my review, as well). 🙂

  11. Great piece. This one really took me by surprise, I had some major concerns coming into it, but because I got so behind and got to see the plethora of rave review for it, I pretty much expected to have a great time, which may have helped boost my rating for it just a tad. I thought this was a masterpiece, even if more than little A.D.D. at times.

    • This was an enjoyable time for sure. There are a select few animated films that I would use the word ‘masterpiece’ to describe. I wouldn’t put The Lego Movie in that category. Not sure what I would. Perhaps Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs since it completely revolutionized the way people perceive animation.

  12. Initially I was extremely wary about The Lego Movie because I’ve been a devoted Lego maniac since an early age. I was worried that a big animated film like this would ruin my reverence for the brand with a safe mainstream picture. Your review and a few others have actually changed my mind about wanting to see it in the theater because of the subversive subtext you talk about. Knowing that the same guys did 21 Jump Street, which I also found brilliant for its subversive take on the buddy cop genre makes me much more confident going into the film. I’m definitely going to try and see this in the next week or two. Looking forward to checking it out.

  13. Was not planning on seeing this until all the positive reviews started pouring in. Saw it during the weekend and had a blast. The movie really shows the imagination a child would use to make an adventure…

  14. I had a lot of fun here. I thought the animation was brilliant. Everything was LEGO-fied! The fire, the smoke, the water, all awesomely done. It was a quite a visual delight. The story was a little confusing, at first, but I understood why, towards the end. The final act, for me, was the best part. It brought everything together and I liked that. 4 stars

  15. Great review, loved this film. The cast the story where great and the ending was surprisingly deep. Chris Pratt is going to have a very promising career 😀

  16. I think more than the animation, the movie succeeded on the level of dialogues. So many pop – culture references infused in the jokes. You really have to pay attention while watching this flick to understand its genius. Also, there are many brief cameos such as Milhouse as a Master Buillder which are hilarious.

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