[18 June 2014]
The Lego Movie is a branded piece of entertainment about little plastic bricks who are limited only by imagination. My experience with Legos probably exceeded the recommended ages listed on the box but, as the movie notes, age is no restriction on fun or creativity. Despite my penchant for not mixing up the pirate people with the space people, these “children’s toys” provided an outlet for telling stories and later, designing architecture. Those little blocks, so simple in their interconnected design, have been used to build everything from houses and castles to the Batcave and Millenium Falcon.
Given the Lego brand’s worldwide recognition and cross-media markets, it’s something of a wonder that it has taken this long for Hollywood to take on the little plastic people. In an era when movies are more often than not aiming for the common denominator of guaranteed massive opening numbers, another movie based on a licensed product sounds like a two-hour excuse to prep taking some Advil (or equivalent headache medicine).
It’s therefore another pleasant surprise by co-writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) that they can take this exercise in commercialism and make something so honestly entertaining. Lord and Miller have successfully embraced the Lego company’s philosophy of boundless, imaginative play. This anything goes philosophy makes The Lego Movie one of the more successful brand-to-film translations, not only because it successfully sells its product, but because it sells the enjoyment of the product and is itself an enjoyable experience. It’s pure fun for kids and adults.
The plot centers around an average, run-of-the-mill, non-distinguishable Lego drone named Emmet. Emmet is just one of the pack. He doesn’t stand out, he just going about his day job, following the instructions and enjoying life in Lego Town. For Emmet (Chris Pratt) and everyone in Lego Town, everything is awesome under the jurisdiction of President Business (Will Ferrell). However, when Emmet discovers a non-traditional Lego piece and gets the opportunity to be recognized as something special, his ordered world becomes creative chaos.
There’s a dualist philosophy here between following the instructions and letting creativity reign. One’s desire to break through the wall can open up a creative wellspring, but it also has the potential to destroy the structural integrity of society. The movie boils it down to doing what you are told and being capable of making your own choices.
President Business rules life by prescribed instructions; meanwhile, the movie’s League of Heroes are freethinkers, building from the pieces as they see fit, mixing and matching different Lego sets and opening Emmet’s mind up to the endless Lego combinations that exist. Emmet is able to build upon what he has learned and eventually think up solutions himself, using both creativity and order to establish a balance. He may have been designated as a “gifted child” (that is, “slow”) by his mentors, but he earns the status himself by the time the happy-ending rolls through.
Like any good parents, Lord and Miller take care to establish that rules are meant merely as building blocks for creativity and one’s own personal development. Emmet is very childlike, behaving as a model citizen, doing as he is told, controlled, essentially, by his parent, President Business. Indeed, many of Emmet’s exclamations, including the pervasive “This is awesome!” feel like something a child would say while developing his or her own creations and stories.
President Business and his associate, Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), play into more of the domineering parent archetypes. Other characters that populate Emmet’s quest include Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), and Batman (Will Arnett), representing the different varieties of Lego creatives, but also playing a parenting role to Emmet’s development. Much of the dialogue could just as likely be a conversation of a child playing with a (sarcastic) parent as it could to serve the plot.
This meta-awareness is key to the film’s success, as many of the jokes are able to play to both children and adults. The story’s thematic material seems to have extended over to the creative process for the film itself, as it follows a basic story but largely has an anything goes attitude. Each cast member voices his or her character with just the right amount of self-awareness, simultaneously rolling their eyes and providing assistance to Emmet’s journey from average to special.
The design of The Lego Movie stays true the reality of the blocks, with every CG set piece having the potential to be built from Lego bricks in the real world. The cinematography makes the bricks look closer to the actual plastic pieces collecting dust in a box in your basement, rather than bright and shiny computer modeled ones, keeping with the film’s aesthetic of anything is possible, if you only had thousands of hours to build all this stuff.
The writers and designers have fun with this idea, switching everything from hairpieces for body parts, to the heroes using pieces to build and rebuild their world. It also allows the writers to get away with some cartoonish violence that would never make it into most other animated (let alone live-action) PG rated features.
The “Everything is Awesome” home version comes in standard, high, and three dimensional definitions. Colors are bright and sound is clear. There’s nothing really to complain about from a technical standpoint.
Extras include a commentary featuring the directors and cast goofing of, a making-of featurette, deleted scene animatics and an “Everything Is Awesome” sing-a-long, just in case your kids missed the four lines to the song. Three short films on the Blu-ray continue to further riff on the meta-ness and “anything-goes” attitude of the feature.
Another set of features shows children (and their parents) how to build some of the set pieces in the film. This ultimate edition also included a Vitruvius figure (able to be broken apart and re-assembled to your heart’s content) and a 3-D artwork of the protagonist, Emmet.
The Lego Movie is both creative and fun. Lord and Miller once again successfully both undermine expectations and overachieve with kid-cum-adult approach to humor, perfectly encapsulating a world where children and parents play together.