Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Screenplay by Lord and Miller; based upon a story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Lord and Miller; based upon LEGO construction toys. Produced by Roy Lee, Dan Lin. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh. Photographed by Barry Peterson, Pablo Plaisted. Edited by David Burrows, Chris McKay. Production designed by Grant Freckelton. Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Allison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman.
The credits for The Lego Movie state “based on Lego construction toys,” and so it is. For the cynics, TLM is not short on evidence suggesting it’s little more than a feature-length commercial. But is it too much to ask for a brand name-driven marketing opportunity to be well-written, heartfelt and fun? Not too much to ask at all, as it turns out; The Lego Movie is really good. Really, really good. In fact, it may be the first animated film in a long while where adults will get twice as much out of it as kids. Children will enjoy the vivid colors and characters, and resonate with the film’s buried, life-affirming themes (yes, really). Adults will get a kick out of the sly humor, clever dialogue and subversive storytelling. Above all they’ll appreciate how hard and rare it is to make a family film like this: wickedly funny, deceptively spontaneous, sneakily smart and surprisingly touching.
The movie starts, confidently, with the funny business. For a hero, we have a city-dwelling Lego man (everyman? everyfigure?) named Emmett (Chris Pratt) who is feckless but loveable. He lives in cozy conformity, listens to the same song every day (“Everything is Awesome”), cheerfully performs his construction job, and expertly follows the directions. Deep down he’s unfulfilled. There’s a buried part of him that suspects that perhaps everything is not awesome. He is correct. Everything’s changed by a chance encounter with the sassy, adventurous Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who, like Trinity in The Matrix, rescues Emmett from his life of insidious drudgery, and brings him into a resistance movement allied against a plot for world domination. But of course.
The villain, Lord Business (Will Ferrell) is bent on using a secret weapon, the Kragl, on all of Legoland. He embraces tyranny, hates freedom, and wants to force all of his toy brethren into an existence as plastic as their own bodies. All that can stop him is a special relic called the piece of resistance, which has found itself stuck on poor Emmett’s back. Dogging them is a policeman (Liam Neeson) who is literally both good cop and bad cop: his head swivels to shift personalities at whim. Eventually all discover that Emmett is apparently “the special” foretold by the master builder Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman)—like all prophecies, Vitruvius’ words are incredibly helpful except for when they are not in any conceivable way.
You’re free to roll your eyes at the mention of the word “prophecy,” since The Lego Movie ultimately kids that trope for all it’s worth. It has a lot of fun subverting and upending its own basic structure, mocking the places it could have gone if it had, well, followed the directions. Instead, it starts as a mild satire of overly familiar “chosen one” hero journeys and ends as an acidly funny rebuke to that myth, wholesale. This is really clever storytelling: evoking a Joseph Campbell structure in order to comment on and demolish it. With lots of jokes.
The film is a who’s who of dependable comic talent: in addition to Pratt, Ferrell and Banks, we have the invaluable Will Arnett as Batman, played as the kind of bad boy blowhard who never stops talking about how awesome he is. Allison Brie is the voice of Princess Unikitty, the scarily pleasant leader of the sugar-sweet Cloud Cuckooland (think My Little Pony with more rainbows). Nick Offerman is Metal Beard, who has a pirate’s head and a Transformers-style body. Charlie Day is 1980’s Spaceman, a retro-astronaut who craves an opportunity to build a spaceship. There’s also plenty of sight gags, in-jokes, actual jokes, movie references, cameos, surprises, and enough heart and cleverness to suggest that this is a passion project, as unlikely as it may seem. One of hundreds of loving details stuck in the corners of each frame is 1980s Spaceman’s helmet, which has a split in its chinstrap at about the exact same place that my own helmeted Legomen did, and yours as well.
The Lego Movie is so much better than it needed to be. For that we can thank the filmmakers, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. These are smart gentlemen who have also made adult comedies (21 Jump Street and its upcoming sequel); the upshot to that is when working in animation (e.g.: this and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), they make movies for kids that love them and don’t talk down to them. And the film isn’t just insanely fun and frantic and madcap (though it is that)—it brings itself home with a third act twist that earns the right to be powerfully soulful. It lands on a touching note that becomes a true ode to the power of imagination over conformity, one that is felt on multiple levels. Still can’t believe I’m saying this about The Lego Movie? I don’t know what to tell you. It’s only right that the film is titled the way it is, anyway, because by the end its numerous pieces have snapped tightly together like a bunch of…well, you know.