Few movies in the recent past have managed to be so manically enjoyable while still maintaining real heart like The Lego Movie – an animated effort that in theory should never work, but on screen succeeds in nearly every aspect. To sum up co-directors/co-writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s insanity-laced ode to creativity in the words of its inimitably catchy main tune, “Everything is awesome.”
The Lego Movie takes place in a, you guessed it, world completely made out of Legos, with different realms representing the different toy play sets manufactured by the company over the years. Everything from cities to the Wild West to medieval times has its own realm. Within this wild world, we met Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), an average Lego man who is happy to go about his days as a construction worker. Life isn’t perfect (he has no friends) but he’s content being one of the masses who runs through the same manic, smile-filled routine every day, until he’s sucked into an epic battle for the future of the world.
Emmet just so happens to be the “Special,” the one person who can stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world – a discovery made after he has the Piece of Resistance stuck to his back, the only thing that can destroy the all-powerful weapon known as the Kragle. From there on out, it’s a mad dash to save the world in a journey that spans that realms and includes Lego cameos from nearly every character who has ever been immortalized in these classic toys.
While the story may seem run of the mill – everyman finds power within himself to save the day – it’s really the creativity in which it is executed that makes The Lego Movie so enjoyable. Every scene is jam-packed with vibrant colors, kinetic action, and tons of laughs. The movie has a heart, but it’s also working to wring as much comedy out of every scene as possible. In a way, the narrative almost seems pieced together on the fly, which is fitting for a film based on building blocks. It seems as though everyone involved with the making of this film thoroughly enjoyed the process and it shows. There’s a feeling of exuberance that is inescapable.
At times, the movie seems to move along at almost too fast of a pace, especially during the first act. Everything moves at a breakneck speed without looking back, almost to the point of being tiring, as references, sight gags, and dialogue fly by. However, once Emmet’s journey has been set, the film sets into a more comfortable, although still fast, rhythm. It’s a satisfying story that isn’t completely unique, but has enough twists on the formula, including one insanely inspired turn that is cleverly set up throughout the film, to not seem monotonous.
During his journey, Emmet is joined by a colorful cast of characters spanning all types of Lego styles. There’s Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), a wise wizard, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a stylish and heroic love interest, Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), a pirate who has replaced his entire body with a robot made of nautical-themed parts, Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), an anime unicorn/kitten hybrid with anger issues, and Batman (Will Arnett), who absolutely loves being Batman. They each add something to the narrative and the film has fun subverting their expected roles throughout the adventure. Plus, they are joined by countless cameo characters. Everyone from Superman to Gandalf to Dumbledore (love that weird voice work) to Shaquille O’Neal (voiced by the real guy!) to Abraham Lincoln in a flying chair makes a mark.
There’s also a truly surprising cameo that elicited thunderous cheers from the audience, but it’s too good to spoil here. It’s brief, but one of the movie’s most memorable moments.
Really, it’s the way that The Lego Movie is pieced together that makes it such a treat. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission. No movie has ever looked like this before. It’s obvious that the directors and animators are thoroughly entrenched in the world of Lego toys, as every bit of the film stays loyal to these time-tested building blocks that have spanned decades. No matter how large the building or how intricate a character, everything within the Lego world works as a practical toy. If you were to freeze frame this film, you could successfully recreate anything you see.
And the detailed animation gets even smaller than that. Characters are scuffed and dented like real Legos. This gives close-up shots more character while also making them feel more tangible. The blocky characters move in ways that their limitations as toys create. At times, The Lego Movie almost feels like stop motion animation, although the CGI work allows the filmmakers to create scenes that would be impossible in the real world. The movie feels like a mix of low budget and big budget, which is perfect for a film about toys that are propelled by the imagination of their user.
The Lego Movie is also a treat for anyone who picked up the toys as a kid. Characters and settings pay homage to play sets throughout the ages and the film isn’t afraid to poke fun at some of the zanier toys of the past (sorry, Bionicle) while still showing them lots of love. No character is more evident of this love for Lego’s past then Benny (Charlie Day), an indiscriminate spaceman from the 1980’s with all the wear and tear that a toy his age would experience in the real world.
Being set in a world made of Legos, spontaneous creativity is in the spotlight throughout the film. Characters disassemble and reassemble vehicles and weapons on the fly, making for some of the most dynamic and mind-bending action scenes on film. Motorcycles are shifted into jets, buildings are reconstructed into pig-drawn carriages, and Batwings morph into Batmobiles in mere moments. At times, the sheer volume of action on screen can make it difficult to follow exactly what is happening, but the kinetic nature of it all is still worth taking in.
The jokes come at a rapid pace, but not to the point of overloading the narrative. Lord and Miller have fun throwing in strange sights, non sequiturs, and nonsensical breaks in the narrative that only work in a movie this dizzying. Seeing characters from vastly different licensed worlds interact and butt heads is also a joy to see, and something you will never see again. This is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-level licensing at play here. There are also so many sight gags that it is impossible to catch every single one. Backgrounds, foregrounds, and wide shots are chockablock with details, making a repeat viewing worth it in order to catch what may have been impossible to see the first time.
Lord and Miller were smart to approach the material with a level of sincerity that matches its tongue-in-cheek wit. Through and through, The Lego Movie is an ode to childhood wonder and excitement, as well as a call to adults to reconnect to the passions they once felt. From the very beginning, you’ll feel like a kid again, consistently astounded by what you are seeing play out in front of you on screen and with an urge to express your own creativity.