by Nur Hussein, contributing writer
I have been a fan of Lego literally all my life. I’ve been playing with Lego since I learned to walk, maybe perhaps a bit before that. I still play with them now three decades later. I am not sure this review will be impartial, as the idea of a Lego film filled me with glee since I first heard it was going to be made (unlike some of my friends who met the idea with skepticism).
Lego storytelling is a hobby for many fans of Lego; I like to make models and scenes and photograph them, using the pictures as writing prompts. More enterprising individuals make entire amateur stop-motion Lego films called brickfilms. The Lego Movie feels like a full-length blockbuster version of those films, in a good way. From the trailer alone I already knew that directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord understood their audience. They could have easily have rendered the entire film in smooth 3D, but they made the Lego look and move like stop-motion Lego (for the most part), seamlessly blending 3D animation and stop-motion (and 3D animation that looks like stop-motion). Even effects like flame and water are represented with Lego parts.
The premise of the movie is simple and familiar: Emmet, a boring construction worker and a bit of a loser, discovers he is the Chosen One to save the world, and he goes on a journey from zero to hero with the help of a ragtag bunch of friends he makes along the way. While the premise is no doubt an old trope, the execution is brilliant. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything clever in terms of story based on what I assumed from the trailer, but I was wrong. They went above and beyond with this, the action has a chaotic charm to it and it all leads to a Big Reveal which will make you go “Of course, it had to be that all along!”
Minuscule spoilers follow after this point, so go see the movie right now if you haven’t already. It’s amazing.
Just how original is this movie? Well, there have been stop-motion Lego films before, but this one is a full-length theatrical feature, and that’s not been done before. The movie doesn’t just tell a story with Lego characters, the very fact that it is Lego is a deeply woven part of the narrative. This is one movie where the medium is the message, and that’s where it’s brilliance lies.
The special effects are superbly done. The jerky, stop-motion movements of the characters are charming and a nice homage to brickfilms, but it’s never distracting. The way the Lego parts come together is beautiful. Whenever a character builds an object, we can see a cool “builder vision” POV where they evaluate the available parts and make it all come together. These sequences come across like a hybrid Matrix meets MacGyver meets Robot Chicken movie.
The story is on one hand, a hero’s journey, but interwoven is another narrative which is only apparent after the Big Reveal. It occasionally feels as if it’s haphazard, but it makes perfect sense once you look back on it in the end. The main character, Emmet (Chris Pratt), is a boring conformist at the beginning of the movie, and the antagonist is a minifig named Lord Business (Will Ferell). Business is an authoritarian evil tyrant that runs the various lands of Lego according to “the instructions” (the instructions being Lego manuals, which not only dictate how to build but how the minifigs should live their lives). Emmet eventually meets Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), part of a team of rebels who improvise builds and are looking for the chosen one who will save the world from being destroyed by Lord Business. Helping him along is wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman basically playing Morgan Freeman) and Batman (Will Arnett).
The main leads play their characters with earnestness and charm. Chris Pratt plays Emmet as believably affable and clueless. Will Ferrell seems like he’s relishing his villain role, and his mispronunciations of the names of household objects are hilarious. Liam Neeson plays a cop who works as Lord Business’ goon, with a dual personality (good cop/bad cop). Stealing the show is Will Arnett who plays Batman, hilariously lampooning the fact that he’s grumpy all the time (and kind of a doofus). He channels the Batman that we see in How It Should Have Ended’s superhero cafe. Also notable is Alison Brie’s Unikitty, a neurotic My Little Pony parody character, reminiscent of Pinkie Pie.
The production is where the movie shines the most. There is a tremendous attention to detail here that is designed to please anyone who’s ever played with Lego. There’s a classic spaceman whose helmet is broken at the bottom chin section, in exactly the way those helmets used to break when they got too old. The builders refer to Lego parts by the slangs developed amongst Lego fans like “macaroni”. The sets are huge and detailed. The whole thing is rendered amazingly, and it really does feel like Lego come to life. You’ll need multiple viewings just to appreciate it all.
The emotional response was spot on, the jokes were funny and I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit. And there are a lot of jokes. They’re clever enough to feel natural and not forced and random, and subtle enough that it doesn’t feel like cultural references are being thrown in your face for a laugh. The film takes a very dramatic and touching turn by the end, after the Big Reveal.
Overall this a way better movie than I was expecting (and I was already expecting to like it). Go see this and let your inner kid be enthralled.
Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein