Emmet is an ordinary guy. There’s nothing distinctive about him at all, in fact. He gets up in the morning, does his exercises, watches the popular shows on TV, drops his laundry off at the cleaners, buys overpriced coffee, and goes to work at his construction job, all while listening to the most popular song on the radio, “Everything Is Awesome!!!”. He lives his life by following the instructions, quite literally in this case as he’s a Lego man (minifigure). His whole life is about following the instructions provided by President Business, whose corporation controls the entire city of Bricksburg, whether they’re instructions on how to make friends and fit in or on how to demolish anything “weird” at his construction job and build bland and “perfect” office buildings in their place.
Emmet’s life isn’t exactly going the way he hopes, as he’s ignored by his coworkers because he’s too uninteresting, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm. However, everything changes for him one day when he comes across a mysterious woman at his worksite and he touches a strange object he uncovers deep underground which fuses to his back. The object, named the Piece of Resistance, plunges him into the world of the Master Builders, a group of rebels who are able to create anything out of everyday Lego bricks. His discovery of the object fulfills a prophesy which says that Emmet is the “Special,” who will use the Piece of Resistance to defeat Lord Business and stop his superweapon, the “Kragle.” The only problem is that Emmet doesn’t have an original thought in his head (well, except for one) and is completely out of place among the tough and creative Master Builders.
If all that sounds a little silly, that’s because it is, but in a good way. The Lego Movie is often relentlessly silly, though never stupid. It’s also creative, random, gorgeous, occasionally hilarious, moderately profound and even a little emotional. It’s also a 100 minute commercial for Lego, even if the brand name is never actually mentioned at all throughout the film (except for the title, of course). However, the Lego movie has some interesting things to say about life, even if it wants to have its cake and eat it too. The film is in many ways about the dichotomy between those who follow the rules and those who break the rules, or those who blend in and those who stand out. Emmet wants nothing more than to live up to the established idea of success, and he wants to get there by following the instructions laid out for him. The Master Builders have no need or desire for instructions, and want to build things however they want to reflect their own individual styles.
As an engineer with a pretty healthy collection of Legos for a guy in his late 20s with no children, this is an interesting proposition, particularly as it comes to Legos. From an advertising perspective, The Lego Movie seems to be telling us that Legos are the perfect toy for both kinds of people, satisfying to those who want to follow all of the steps and end up with a perfectly constructed thing at the end, while also designed for people who want to take a pile of bricks and build whatever they can imagine. The film may be filled with anti-establishment sentiments, and plays exceptionally well as a criticism and satire of the conformity of modern life, but it occasionally sends mixed messages that dilute its vision a bit. Despite that, the film clearly stands for a world that allows everyone the opportunities to express themselves in whatever way feels right, and for that it should be applauded.
The Lego Movie has a unique feel, both visually and as far as its storytelling, and the movie really makes the most of its premise of a Lego world. When Emmet and the mysterious Master Builder, Wyldstyle, escape from the city they magically find themselves in the Old West, and they continue to jump from themed toy line to themed toy line as the movie progresses. The whole film has a great synergy with Lego products, featuring actual construction sets as well as clever nods to fans of the little colored bricks. (Whenever a Master Builder starts to visualize a new bit of construction they see all of the pieces around them labeled with the official Lego part numbers.) The film looks gorgeous, as if it were an incredibly detailed stop-motion film in which everything onscreen was built out of legos, from people and buildings to water and explosions. In fact, it’s all computer animated, but the details of the pieces, particularly as far as wear and tear, make them look like someone made this movie out of real Lego bricks bought throughout the decades. It’s one of the most visually inventive films I’ve seen in recent years, and the praise has to be directed both at the animation team and the filmmakers for their creativity.
As crafted by writer/director duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the film moves along at a quick pace, never staying put for too long. There’s a lot of humor to be found in the film, both from the juxtaposition of tone that comes from the world-jumping aspect of the movie and from the crafting of the characters. (One interesting thing about the film is that many of the lines from the trailer are used in completely different places in the film than in the trailer.) They’ve also filled the film with some top-notch voice casting, with not only big names but big names well matched to their characters. Chris Pratt’s Emmet is almost annoyingly clueless yet sweet in his own way, while driving Elizabeth Banks as WyldStyle to the very limits of her patience with his ignorance. Morgan Freeman is his usual funny self as the wise old Vitruvius, and Liam Neeson seems to be having fun as a good cop/bad cop paired in the same body, whose bad half enjoys throwing chairs whenever he’s angry. The rest of the cast is filled with recognizable names, from Nick Offerman to Alison Brie to Channing Tatum to Jonah Hill to Cobie Smulders and more, plus some interesting voice cameos for some of the many pop culture licenses held by Lego. There’s a giddy joy that comes from seeing Batman, Superman, Dumbledore, Gandalf, Abraham Lincoln, the Ninja Turtles and Shaquille O’Neal onscreen together, even if only in Lego form. But of all the characters, the one who steals the show is Will Arnett’s Batman, who is more than a little bit of a jerk but who isn’t nearly as slick as he wants to be, no matter how dark and tortured he acts. Only Will Ferrell failed to impress me as Lord Business, but I have to admit that I’ve never been much of a fan of him anyway.
The movie has a bit of what has been advertised as a twist/surprise ending, which I won’t dare spoil, although it seemed like the obvious conclusion for the film by about the halfway point. It’s this ending that gives the film its emotional punch, although I found it more conceptually meaningful than in its execution. It’s clever and the perfect ending for the film, however, as it really brings home the film’s themes and makes you think about what you’ve seen up to that point.
The Lego Movie is a great way to start 2014, as it is fun, fresh and creative. It may not be on the level of something like Frozen, but compared to a lot of the cookie-cutter animated films that get cranked out just to make a buck, it’s clear that this film was a work of love for those who made it. That extra level of effort really shines through and elevates this film into something far more rich and creative than it really had any right to be. As a fan of Legos, I was actually dreading the film a bit, scared that it might be too much of a cash grab or too dumbed down and childish, but I needn’t have worried. The Lego Movie may be selling a product and a philosophy, but it does it with a sense of awareness and meaning that could just have easily been missing. If my Legos weren’t already well used, I’d be in my closet right now dusting them off and bringing them back out.