People have every reason to hate the Lego Movie. It’s essentially a 90-minute toy commercial that commodifies the innocent wonder and imaginations of a child’s playtime. The film is filled with celebrity cameos and much of the humor is pop-culture reference-based. Something odd happened as soon as the film came to a close because it turns out, like the film’s pop-theme song suggests, “everything was awesome.” The Lego Movie is every bit as good as many other critics are saying, and far better than it has any right to actually be. Somehow, the film manages to avoid the pratfalls of most product-marketing agenda filmmaking (Transformers among others). The Lego Movie is a wonderful family film packed with as much heart as it has laughs. Like the best family films, it’s also filled with a pretty positive moral message, and it just so happens to also qualify as a Lego-Brand mission statement.
The biggest surprise was how much joy and energy is in the film. Writer/Director team Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) brought their knack for sardonic wit and fast-paced humor and have crafted a rather self-aware film that never once dips into irony or cynicism. The plot of the film uses the familiar elements of “chosen one” adventure films like Star Wars or Harry Potter but instead of choosing to parody it’s chosen genre and structure, it chooses to be a charming recreation of it much like how many Lego sets recreate the scenes and moments from existing properties like movies and cartoons. More than that, the filmmakers may have stumbled onto something clever when they acquired the rights to use the Lego brand for their movie. At the heart of the movie is a heartwarming message about playtime and imagination – how when everyone is getting along and having fun, there’s really no wrong way to partake in such activities. There is no wrong way to build a Lego set: some people like to jump in and build whatever, while others like to follow the instructions to build something specific; and that stunning revelation weaves its way throughout the film in a most endearing way.
The computer-generated animation was crafted to make everything look as if it were filmed from photographs of actual Lego pieces and figurines. Characters and sets move in a manner not unlike the jerky motions of Claymation and stop-motion animated features and no figure or piece moves outside the actual physical restrictions of Lego pieces and figures. Further bringing the film to life is the voice acting. Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy) plays Emmett, a simple construction worker, a plucky simple-minded protagonist. Pratt’s optimistic and comic energy imbues Emmett with an endearing wide-eyed naiveté that makes all of the proceedings, no matter how clichéd, seem flat out wonderful. Elizabeth Banks (Our Idiot Brother, 30 Rock) plays Wildstyle, the secondary lead, a fierce warrior-woman whose reserved discipline makes her an excellent foil for Emmett. Rounding out the main cast are Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby) as the wise (and blind) wizard, Vitruvious; and Will Ferell (Megamind, Anchorman) as the eccentric (but perhaps comically misunderstood) villain, Lord Business. There is a myriad of celebrity cameos (which I won’t spoil) all playing various Lego figures and every member of the cast is lovingly dedicated to bringing each character to life with confidence and fun. Some of the characters they play even come from other creative properties like DC Comics and Star Wars. The film manages to make these inclusions all feel natural as they are elements of our shared popular culture. The film’s usage of brands, characters and elements which are recognizable is a clever means of shorthand to meaning. People will get what the film is trying to do because they will easily recognize what these pop-symbols mean.
There is a free-form magic to the film, much like the toy it’s based on. Characters and sets from different franchises and visually different worlds all seamlessly blend together into a playful collage. Lego has successfully mastered commercial art with this movie – and they did it by producing a beautiful and enjoyable film filled with optimism and hope. The Lego Movie is every bit as fun to let one’s mind play inside of, as actually playing with the toys is.