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Review: “The LEGO Movie” – If You Build It, They Will Come

by on February 10, 2014

The LEGO Movie PosterLEGO.

Do I really need to say any more? The plastic interlocking building toy has been a favourite of generations of kids, winning awards and hearts in equal measure. Pretty much everyone alive today has fond memories of creative play with the stuff, myself included. So when I heard a big budget LEGO movie was coming produced by the talent behind Clone High and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I dropped a brick!

Then I swiftly picked that brick back up again to finish my limousine jet-ski time machine.

Of course, the question most will ask is how exactly do you make a consistent story from LEGO? Sure, there are sub-themes and product families in the LEGO line, but how do you pick one and tell a story? The LEGO Movie‘s response is to begin things in the city of Bricksburg, a thriving modern LEGO metropolis where everyone always has a smile and a role to play. It quickly becomes obvious that this city is a little too smiley when an average construction worker named Emmet stumbles on the Piece of Resistance, a legendary artefact below the city. The legend promises whoever shall find the Piece will be “The Special,” a creative and unique individual who will use the designs of their mind to thwart President Business, whose rule has bound everyone to follow instructions in every aspect of their lives. As President Business prepares his final solution, Emmet finds himself on the run with action girl Wyldstyle, wise mentor Vitruvius, and their exotic range of Master Builder allies. Can one minifigure who has never used his imagination save the entire imaginative LEGO universe?

Using the City theme as a starting point really works well, as it provides an easy entry point for most of the audience and allows them to instantly take to Emmet. Although he always has a smile and does his best, he’s something of a nobody, with no real friends or accomplishments. This provides his initial impetus to follow the prophecy he’s just become aware of (that, and being shot at by hundreds of crazy robots). However, the movie doesn’t waste time with what critic Doug Walker has termed “The Liar Revealed,” and instead Emmet’s lack of grace becomes an open hurdle for him to pass. Chris Pratt’s performance seals the deal, making Emmet a loveable little dork.

The LEGO Movie Good Cop Bad Cop Lord BusinessThe villains are represented primarily by Will Ferrell’s President Business and Liam Neeson’s split personality Good Cop/Bad Cop. Business is as threatening as a minifigure villain can be, presenting a sincere persona to the public but privately parading around in massive brick built helmet and boots. Neeson’s Good Cop/Bad Cop is an interesting character, playing on LEGO’s recent dual head printing to create a character who makes his struggles with his good and evil sides literal, but this idea goes underexplored before the movie exploits it for some wider exposition. President Business’ dastardly scheme allows the movie to offer some social commentary on rampant commercialism and 24-hour entertainment. A slightly curious choice for an animated movie based on a long running global toyline, but it actually works as solid satire.

The LEGO Movie Wyldstyle Emmet VitruviusWyldstyle and Vitruvius are able foils for our leading figure, voiced by Elizabeth Banks and Morgan Freeman, respectively. Wyldstyle serves up a fair share of kick-butt action, but is actually a thoughtful play on such female leads. Vitruvius takes a similar role for aged mentor characters and it’s clear both Freeman and Banks are having just as much fun as the script writers. That really is the guiding principle for this movie. There’s adventure and excitement, but the film never forgets what its foundation is, skipping all the horrible melodrama that family-friendly movies have been married to for too long. You feel for the characters across the highs and lows, but the film wants you to leave the cinema smiling, so there’s always a reassuring and well timed laugh to be had, as a result of the current situation, the long history of LEGO, or even the crew being willing to mock their own ideas.

It’s also clear that the production crew cares about LEGO history because there’s a lot of fun little nods to it throughout. Some are as obvious as the different worlds based on classic themes such as Knights and Space, but others run a bit deeper and obscure. The screening I attended contained LEGO fans of all ages and many of the older ones were laughing along with me at the more geeky gags (AFOLs represent!).

The LEGO Movie Unikitty Benny 80s-something-space-guy Emmet Vitruvius Wyldstyle BatmanA range of other characters recur throughout the film including Alison Brie’s Princess Unikitty, Charlie Day’s “1980-something space guy” Benny (SPACESHIP!) and Will Arnett’s Batman. Bats thankfully isn’t quite as dominant as promotion has suggested and his involvement provides one of two great reasons to stay through the end credits.

The animation is brilliant. When I first saw trailers, I assumed this to be a stop-motion production, but was amazed to discover it’s fully CGI. The animators have created living, breathing worlds that feel like a LEGO collection come to life, right down to that shiny yet smudged plastic and the broken, visorless helmet of spaceman Benny. The illusion is also furthered by the decision to bind the characters to the points of articulation a real LEGO Minifigure has. Other projects such as the popular LEGO computer games or TV series have opted to animate characters with more human flexibility, but the more rigid movements here have a cute appeal and tug even harder at those memories of simpler times.

The LEGO Movie is an absolute treat from start to finish. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have managed to produce a film that perfectly embodies why LEGO has a timeless appeal and stands proudly above the various other predictable and cheap CGI animated movies being released. I was a little worried from trailers that the film would be rather generic, and if you share those concerns, I can’t stress how much you need not worry. There’s wonderful stuff in this film I won’t even discuss because it deserves to be experienced in the way the creators intended.

If you’re a kid, a parent, or even just someone who remembers playing with LEGO, you’ll love this brilliant movie. Final verdict? Everything is awesome!

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