To say that The Lego Movie not only works as a coherent film, but is an exceptional one, seems to be nothing short of a miracle. With a “chosen one” style of story, a sense of humour that is at times ridiculously random and laden with pop-culture references, mixed with a level of sincerity that feels almost exogenous, it’s a film that could have easily turned into a soulless, disastrously expensive toy commercial. But what you’re left with is one of the most beautiful messages ever left by an animated film.
Comedy director duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller team up again for their first animated film since the brilliantly fun Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and their surprisingly enjoyable adaptation of 21 Jump Street (2012). Also known for the cult-classic cartoon, Clone High, Lord and Miller specialize in animation that features expressive characters and a random sense of humour that will never cease to catch you off-guard.
This translates in interesting ways in The Lego Movie, as the film is deceptively (although very convincingly) animated as if it’s made with stop-motion Lego. Everything in the world is restricted to being as authentically Lego-like as possible, which means the character’s movements are identical to the physiology of a Lego person (making for an interesting demonstration of jumping jacks). This also goes so far as to apply to fire (which is hilariously represented as sputtering flashes of the generic flame piece), explosions, and water. Yet, despite these restrictions, the film is bursting with the colour and expression that the directors are known for, thanks to great facial animation, expressive characters, and a world that coincides well with their pop-culture and social commentary injected humour.
Meet Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt): his favourite band is A Popular Band, his favourite song is “Everything is Awesome,” he lives his life by a book called How to Have Everyone Like You and Be Happy (which includes advice such as “cheer for the local sports team and buy expensive coffee”), and he works at a construction company that tears down buildings that are “weird” and builds new ones based on strict guidelines. He is just like everyone else. In fact, he’s so completely ordinary that no one likes or knows him. Unbeknownst to him or the citizens of the city he lives in, the city is run in a state of hegemony by President Business (Will Ferrell), who is actually a nefarious mastermind named Lord Business who wants to destroy the universe.
While at work, Emmet stumbles into a deep hole and finds a relic known as “the Piece of Resistance,” which gives him prophetic visions before knocking him out. He is then awoken in an interrogation office by a two-faced officer who plays both good cop and bad cop (Liam Neeson). He is promptly rescued by a feisty “master builder” named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who demonstrates that master builders can look around them and see the exact serial numbers for each piece (the real serial numbers for each Lego piece) and assemble what they need. She informs Emmet that by finding the Piece of Resistance, he has fulfilled the prophecy told by the God-like master builder, Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), which means that he is supposed to be the “most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person alive: The Special.” She quickly becomes angry when she finds out that Emmet’s favourite restaurant is “any chain restaurant” and that he has no imagination whatsoever.
What unfolds is a journey through multiple Lego lands as Vitruvius, Wyldstyle, and her boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett), try to unlock Emmet’s potential to be imaginative and creative. This includes a trek through the land of Middle Zealand (a funny quip at the universe and filming location of The Lord of the Rings) and up to the colourful land in the sky known as Cloud Cuckoo Land, where there are no rules and no negativity (the characters pick up on the paradox). In this land, Vitruvius meets with all the master builders to discuss how they are going to stop Lord Business from destroying the universe. These builders include Superman (Channing Tatum), Milhouse, Michelangelo (the builder and the ninja turtle), Abraham Lincoln (voiced by Will Forte who reprises his role of Lincoln from Clone High), Gandalf, and Shaq (voiced by the actual Shaquille O’Neal). From there, they try to form a plan to save the Lego people.
What begins as a humorous children’s movie, with obvious queues from The Matrix, quickly becomes an incredibly smart narrative on the nature of creativity and what it means to be someone who creates things. Emmet begins with not being able to create anything at all, but with reassurance he finds the confidence to create things despite being the most ordinary citizen in the whole of Legoland. It even transcends the bounds of its original script as a “chosen one” story to one of complete inspiration: that everyone has the ability to create things.
It also acts as a catalyst for Lord and Miller to vent their frustrations on the stagnation of society, with every citizen walking in lock step to the dry-cleaners at noon and then going to get over-priced coffee at their own Lego version of Starbucks. Even the opposing sides act as an allegory for the battle between creativity and compliance, with one side having a diverse cast of master builders, and the other just being an army of robots that all look the same. Just about anyone who watches this film will walk away feeling the need to create something or break out of their routine schedule.
As a work of animation, it’s absolutely fantastic. Animation studio Animal Logic (which, funny enough, produced the visual effects for The Matrix films, along with 300 and Happy Feet) went above and beyond to make the film feel as authentic as possible. This is helped by a hilarious and fantastic script that is written by the directors and based on a story written by Dan and Kevin Hageman (Hotel Transylvania). It is apparent that Lord and Miller are true fans of the toy series, especially with references to the fictional gas station, Octan, which started appearing on Lego sets in 1992, as well as references to Fabuland, a transition storybook line that existed between 1979 and 1989. Many of the Lego pieces and sets were even rendered from the directors’ own collections.
There is so much more that can be said about this film, but doing so might spoil the absolutely amazing plot twist that happens at the end of the second act. What originally started as a film called Lego: The Piece of Resistance has now become a film that truly defines its title. The film doesn’t just feature the toy and emulate its characteristics, it pays homage to it on an intimate and personal level that could only come from someone who not only knew the toy’s history, but what it meant for them to play with it as a child. To them, Lego created a world where people inspired each other and everything was possible. The Lego Movie encompasses not only the aesthetic and surface level of what Lego is, but the imaginative spirit that it inspired in all of us.