Nowadays, Hollywood seems to have acquired an interest in making movies based on licensable toy properties. Perhaps the continuing success of the billion-dollar Transformers franchise is to blame for this, but in the end it is most likely because original ideas seem to be at a premium in Hollywoodland. Unfortunately, and despite the financial success of the Transformers film series, precious few others of these films have made any significant splash amongst moviegoers and critics. For example, 2012’s Battleship is still derided as one of the worst attempts at a cash-in in recent years. For these reasons, amongst others, many eyebrows rose when it was announced that a movie based on Legos was in development. Now, in terms of properties, Legos most likely had the best chance at success, since the property had already produced a well-received videogame franchise that doubled as a modest financial darling, along with several decent direct-to-video films. Still, something like Battleship tends to leave people a little jaded about another movie based on a beloved childhood toy or game. However, any and all naysayers need only see the film themselves to understand that sometimes Hollywood gets what it means to be a kid playing with multi-colored bricks and unlimited potential.
The plot of The Lego Movie is a relatively simple story of an average citizen named Emmett who is revealed to be a prophesied hero who must save the world. Standing against him is Lord Business, President of the Lego-realm that Emmett is a denizen of, and hellbent on creating a new world order of … well, order. Lord Business thinks the Lego world is too chaotic, and endeavors to bring it in line using a super weapon called the “Kragle.” As the hero of prophecy, Emmet’s job is to discover the “Piece of Resistance” and use it to disable the Kragle and prevent Lord Business from carrying out his dastardly plan. Emmett stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance early on in the film, and is thus identified as the “Special,” the hero of the prophecy. However, Emmett’s discovery of the Piece is accidental, and it doesn’t take long before the freedom fighters that recruit him discover that he may not be exactly what they had in mind in terms of their leader and savior.
Part of The Lego Movie’s appeal is the remarkable amount of voice acting talent that they were able to get for the movie. At the center is Chris Pratt as Emmett, who does a spectacular job of portraying an everyman who must become a hero, and all the insecurity and doubt that comes along with something like that. Equally good is Elizabeth Banks, who portrays Wyldstyle, one of the freedom fighters who recruit Emmett, and a “Master Builder” who secretly hoped to be the Special of prophecy. In conjunction with the writing, Banks makes a solid case for having Wyldstyle be one of the foremost kick-ass heroines of the year. She breezes between confidence in her abilities and doubt and anger in her confrontations with Emmett, who she initially views as an undeserving, bumbling fool. Providing guidance to both Emmett and Wyldstyle is Vitruvius, voiced by Morgan Freeman. It is apparent while watching the film that Freeman is having a tremendous amount of fun portraying the wise, old master archetype who still knows how to put up a fight, a la Yoda from Star Wars. Meanwhile, Will Arnett nearly steals the show from the others by portraying the Lego version of Batman. Known for his comedic work, Arnett’s Batman voice is at once completely different from every other live-action or animated Batman voice while also being perfect for this film. His comedic timing is excellent, and it helps that Batman has some of the most amusing one-liners in the film. Finally, none other than Will Ferrell himself voices Lord Business. He does an excellent job, and the film’s script doesn’t allow him to overstay his welcome as so many of his live-action films are common to do. Big name actors and actresses fill up the smaller, supporting roles, but half the fun is in recognizing them while watching the film.
What is truly mind-boggling about the film’s animation is the obsessive attention of detail that can be seen when beholding the Lego universe created for this movie. Everything in this film is made out of Lego pieces. Nothing is out of place, and everything is completely consistent. While the majority of the film utilizes computer generated imagery, a few scenes were done via stop-motion animation. Either way, the film is lush, colorful, bright, and downright gorgeous to look at. The consistency in the world that is portrayed is simultaneously awe-inspiring and highly amusing. While strong animation is a given, these days, seeing an entire film through the lens of Legos is something one can’t quite imagine until they’ve actually seen it.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street fame, bring their animation and live-action direction expertise, as well as their comedic chops, to the table for The Lego Movie. Pulling double duty as writer/directors, the pair completely knock it out of the park with a plot that is simple, yet carries strong messages that should resonate with audiences of all ages. Themes include the significance of not forgetting one’s childhood, what it means to be unique and special, and the necessity and importance of creativity and freedom. All of this, combined with humor that will appeal to both adults and children, results in an incredibly accessible film that proves heady and entertaining.
Beyond this, the two manage to subvert and satirize several film genres, including westerns, sci-fi, adventure films, etc., recreating scenes that we have seen many times over in other live-action or animated films, but with an extremely clever and distinctly Lego vibe. This direction alone makes the film worth seeing for any movie buff, as they will recognize the stylistic influences and appreciate the way they are carried over to the Lego universe. Speaking of influences, Lord and Miller seem to have taken much of their influence for the film’s direction from, believe it or not, The Matrix. The parallels to that film are numerous, and incredibly amusing once one notices them. Finally, the way Lord and Miller utilize many of Lego’s longstanding licenses, such as Star Wars Legos, DC Superhero Legos, etc. adds several more creative wrinkles to a film already more creative than nearly everything Hollywood churns out these days.
The Lego Movie is, without a doubt, one of the biggest surprises of the year, at least in my humble opinion. This film didn’t exist on my radar until several days before it came out, when I noticed the swath of glowing reviews that had been posted by critics. I went in not knowing anything about the film, albeit with eagerness brought on by the buzz its release seemed to be getting, and was absolutely blown away by what I saw. While the story is inherently familiar, I have never seen it presented in this way, and I have never seen a movie like this in my life. One so rich in its creativity, so exuberant in its presentation, and so unabashed in its love for those multicolored bricks we all played with when we were younger, and might still play with to this day. Indeed, if nothing else, The Lego Movie is an aching love letter to childhood, one that should be read and seen by anyone and everyone. Plus, have you heard the film’s theme song? Few theme songs have ever had such an apt title. That’s because, when it comes to The Lego Movie, “everything is awesome.”