I Reckon that The Lego Movie is as awesome its main theme song would have you believe. It’s continuously visually inventive, the laughs come thick and fast (so fast I certainly missed a whole heap of jokes), there is a real heart to the film, and I would love to see it again.
However, when I first heard about the film, I was more than a bit sceptical, and from talking to friends and colleagues, I know that is a pretty common feeling. So, I hope this might reassure you. You really should go and see The Lego Movie; preferably with kids aged 7+, but if you don’t have any of those, go anyway.
Isn’t it just another not-very-good CGI animated film for kids?
Nope. Not at all. It is all done in CGI, but it’s been done with love, verve and panache. The animation looks like (an admittedly very good) stop-motion Youtube clip. Characters move jerkily, when there are explosions, it’s not super-smooth and realistic flames, but flickering Lego pieces that look like torches.
The film is directed by the same team who made the fantastic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and their creativity and originality has been brought into The Lego Movie. There are jokes hidden in every frame. They have (literally?!) created worlds within worlds here, with layers of jokes and visual references that will reward eagle eyes (with a pause button). It’s like the richness you get from an Aardman film, but even better…
OK, but what sort of weak story have they shoe-horned in…?
This is the really great bit. I’m keeping this review (for once) spoiler-free, as there is a significant development later in the film that caught me almost completely by surprise, and in a really, really good way.
The plot revolves around Emmet Brickowski, an everyman character in Lego World, who does everything he’s told by the detailed instructions he has for How to Live an Awesome Life. He’s in construction (obviously!) and thinks he’s living the dream. But then he meets a mysterious woman with amazing hair, and a Wizard-figure who tell him that he is The Special, and he has to save the Lego Universe using the Piece of Resistance to stop the evil Lord Business and his ultimate weapon, the Kragle. His quest then involves a misfit collection of characters including Batman, Uni-Kitty, Wonder Woman, Abraham Lincoln and a 1980s Space Guy.
I know, doesn’t that sound AWESOME?!?!
Really?! Please tell me what’s good about that…
- It’s The Matrix made even better in Lego. The whole quest is a brilliant parody of that seminal sci-fi classic, with Emmet taking the part of Keanu Reeves’ Neo. Except Emmet has much, much more depth and range to him than Mr Reeves. And this film doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as the Wachowskis do. If only Phil Lord & Chris Miller could have been involved in The Matrix sequels…
- The visual slapstick comedy is amazing. The way Lego can be endlessly assembled and re-assembled is exploited to the full, to such an extent that it’s impossible to pick up on all the fabulous details in every scene.
- It’s way cleverer than I expected. There are all sorts of riffs on consumer culture, including ridiculously expensive coffee.
- The references and details go well beyond The Matrix… Batman is a clear parody of Christian Bale’s uber-serious Dark Knight, who claims “I only ever work in black, or sometimes very, very dark grey” and has written a song whose lyrics consist mainly of him shouting “DARKNESS … NO PARENTS”. Perhaps my favourite of them all is the 1980s Space-Guy, with scuffed and chipped helmet, and a child-like excitement for building spaceships that almost exactly mirrored my childhood 30+ years ago…
Fine, but isn’t just a great big product placement exercise…?
Well, of course it is. The clue is in the name. But I Reckon the real strength of The Lego Movie (even more than all the surface-features I’ve already mentioned) is that it does a great job of capturing the spirit of playing with Lego, which is all about imagination and creativity, breaking up the original (by-the-instructions) model, throwing in different sets together and building something unique… then breaking that up and starting again.
I’ve written before about some of Lego’s more recent developments coming pre-packaged with social and gender norms. Many of the licensed sets from superheroes to Harry Potter are designed to create one very specific model, and the parts are increasingly intricate. Even though we buy those sets to recreate the Harry Potter world rather than to build our own, The Lego Movie seems to be explicitly encouraging people permission to ‘mess around’ with those sets, almost (IMHO) as if the The Lego People have rediscovered the original joy and self-expression that their ‘brick-based systems’ enable…
And if I haven’t convinced you thus far, there’s no hope for you. Let me finish with the lyrics from the awesome Everything is Awesome!!! song that plays over the end-credits…
Blue skies, bouncy springs,
We just named you awesome things
A nobel prize, a piece of string
You know what’s awesome, EVERYTHING!!!
Dogs and fleas, allergies, a book of Greek antiquities
Brand new pants, a very old vest
Awesome items are the best…