Transformers, GI: Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Cabbage Patch Kids, Super Mario Bros, Battleship, Masters of the Universe, Moshi Monsters, Toy Story, Care Bears, Dungeons & Dragons, Cluedo, Pokémon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite, Barbie, Gobots, Max Steel, Strawberry Shortcake.
For many years, the entertainment industry has tried to turn childrens toys and games into franchises. Some of them have worked. A lot of them haven’t. Most of them have never passed the threshold of making a good franchise movie become genuinely great movie, period. The LEGO Movie doesn’t just merely pass that threshold, it whizzes past it at breakneck speed.
This has a tonne to do with the people behind the scenes. Philip Lord and Christopher Miller, co-directors and co-writers of the screenplay continue their reputation of “turning **** ideas into better than expected films” (Lord’s words) after their films based on a children’s book (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and a remake of a TV show (21 Jump Street). Somehow they have turned a potentially shallow film about toy sets and construction into a story about imagination and the potential of letting loose sometimes instead of always blithely sticking to the instructions.
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker, helping to destroy and rebuild buildings in his hometown. He’s a generic worker that follows the instructions handed to him by President Business (Will Ferrell), always following the same routine right down to drinking the right brand of particularly expensive coffee and listening to the same song over and over which, yes, will stay in your head for a long time after the movie ends.
He accidentally stumbles into finding an artifact, the Piece of Resistance, that would stop President Business’s ‘Kragle’ super weapon and after being declared ‘The Special’ by great wizard Witruvius (Morgan Freeman), Emmet begins a whirlwind quest with Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett)
The voice acting is an eccentric mix and there is not a bad or lazy performance in the bunch. Emmet as a character that is very grounded, constantly confused by what’s going on with Pratt giving a performance that really allows you to root for him and Elizabeth Banks’ Wyldstyle is a good counter balance with a eccentric, more confident personality. Will Arnett’s Batman is the best on screen Batman since Adam West with plenty of nods and winks to that character’s wider pop culture reputation, while still managing to bring a unique arrogance to embody the role, and we haven’t even mentioned the contributions of Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell and Charlie Day on top of the variety of other voice actors who seem to have so much fun with the roles they play. Animated films seldom have such an excited, entertaining cast.
With this in mind, it would have been easy for some performances to upstage the story but thankfully this never happens as the main antagonists get their own time in the sun in equal measure throughout the story and along with the main cast, there are some really great cameos that would not be right to spoil, who add to an already long list of the film’s best moments.
It’s surprisingly hard to tell that the majority of the film uses a CGI engine as the bricks, the LEGO characters and figurines appear so fluid and real. With the help of Australian animation firm Animal Logic (creators of the highly underrated ‘Downtown’ collection of bumpers and indents for Cartoon Network a few years ago) and the added directorial help of Robot Chicken’s Chris McKay, the animators have crafted something that might as well have been built by hand with thousands of man hours, right down to the smaller side gags that go on in the background that offer the perfect backdrop to this film’s unique brand of lunacy.
By the third act, without giving anything away, the film takes a different turn from the largely comedic elements of the first two acts. Comedy does remain, of course, but the story is raised to something more than just a series of gags with a strong message that anyone who has played with LEGO will understand. In that way, this film embodies the passion and ingenuity that has been a huge factor in LEGO’s ever growing success and the fact it is done with such elegance, emotion and class contributes to a deeply heartfelt and rewarding effort. The whole movie is a master class in fine tuning ideas and modesty and through that in particular, The LEGO Movie is set apart from so many other films in this genre. It feels genuine and human with a message that will ring true to kids and parents alike.
It’s hard to make an overall summary of The LEGO Movie without seeming hyperbolic but the bottom line is that this film is one of the most unexpectedly joyous viewing experiences you can ever be a part of. It all glistens of not just due to the hard work and dedication to fine tuning in its construction but also the sense that everyone involved, from the voice actors to the animators, right down to Lord and Miller themselves, just had so much imagination, so much comedic timing, so much enthusiasm for the project overall to make it downright superb. Lord and Miller have taken an idea so outrageously shallow and corporate and turned it into one of the best family movies in years further solidifying their reputation as the most exciting directorial double act in Hollywood today.
If there is ever a reason for you to go to the cinema and watch it with a packed audience of kids and adults alike, this is it.
The LEGO Movie is out nationwide today.