Denmark has given the world many things: excellent bacon, the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Vikings to name but a few. And while it may be difficult to admire their overly harsh approach to giraffe population control, you have to admire the sheer brilliance of one of their most celebrated exports: the Lego brick. A toy almost peerless in its versatility and ability to nurture the imagination, it has been a favourite since it appeared in 1949 and continues to thrive today. Its universal compatibility between different sets and product lines has allowed it to diversify into a myriad of different forms and media, each retaining the basic building blocks (ahem) of the brand’s DNA. It’s had great recent success in short animated specials for “Star Wars” and “Marvel Super Heroes”, spinning out from its popular video game series, but what of its attempt now to leap to the big screen? On such a vast canvas, does it play well (wink wink)?
In short, yes it does. We know from the animated shorts produced so far that the Lego guys can do clever comedy and “The Lego Movie” is as funny as you’d expect. It’s also much more subversive than you might have expected. Telling the story of Emmett, the most ordinary of ordinary Lego mini-figures in the vast Lego city, the film charts his accidental finding of the fabled Piece Of Resistance and transition to being the prophesised Chosen One, who alone in all of the Lego worlds is destined to be able to stop the plans of the evil Lord Business. He’s joined in his quest by a hilariously diverse band of fellow mini-figures and it’s in the motley, genre-straddling group that the true genius of the film starts to reveal itself. There’s a third act twist which I suspect will be a bit divisive and you’ll either find it elevates the film to another level or undermines everything that’s come before.
“The Lego Movie” has been criticized by some right wing media outlets in America (*cough* Fox ‘News’ *cough*) for being ‘anti-business’ (because the bad guy is called ‘Lord Business’. Duh.) but I’d have thought they’d love the film’s theme of an oppressive state (only build the models in the manuals, do as you’re told) being opposed by libertarian Master Builders fighting to be free to take the pieces and simply let their imagination soar. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a movie made for kids about a universe made of colourful building blocks?
The film unfolds its plot in a chaotic, freewheeling style, with unexpected twists and setbacks aplenty, the random introduction of new characters, locations and objects as required. In short, exactly the way children play with Lego when they’re creating their own worlds and it taps into an almost universal experience of childhood. I still remember the sprawling adventures I’d send my Lego men on when I was young: a home-made Spider-Man mini-figure rubbed shoulders with space guys and cops and who knows what else in a vast cobbled together spaceship/ complex that assimilated new Lego sets like tiny plastic Borg.
Whether it was achieved with CGI or stop motion animation, the attention to detail and devotion to making sure that everything within the Lego world is done with Lego, including laser blasts, fire and explosions, makes this film a real labour of love and it’s a treat to know that one of Co-Director Chris Miller’s very own Lego play sets was used in the film.
The voice cast is pretty great, with Chris Pratt’s Emmett a goofy and likeable hero. Will Arnett’s Batman nudges Christian Bale down a place on the list of great cinematic Dark Knights while Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Perkins, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Liam Neeson have great fun in their roles, especially Neeson as Good Cop/ Bad Cop. Only Morgan Freeman lets the side down a little. Frequently great, some of his line deliveries seem oddly flat and because the rest of the performance is so good, it jars when he misses the mark. Luckily, it doesn’t happen that often and there’s always so much going on that you won’t have time to dwell on it that much. There’s a richness to the background characters and even though they may be on screen for only a few minutes, they’re fully developed, like the deliciously one-sided relationship between Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and Superman (Channing Tatum).
Judging by The Mertmas’ reaction, the film plays gangbusters with its target demographic, although I suspect he may have started the film on Lord Business’ side: he was quite disapproving of all the models being ‘broken’ and he hasn’t stopped singing the mandatory manufactured pop anthem “Everything Is Awesome” since (Fun Fact: the journey home from the cinema lasts exactly 10 ½ plays of the song). I expected to love it more than I did; to be immediately smitten by the nostalgic romance of it all but maybe there was a little too much Lego Batman and not enough ‘1980-something Space Guy’ for me. I suspect it will grow on me during the many, many times I will end up seeing it again once it comes out on DVD/ Blu-ray and, to be honest, with the opportunity to explore all the detail and background gags, I’m sure I won’t mind.