The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie

In an era where blockbuster movies direct their immense budgets towards overcoming the restrictions of cinema, The Lego Movie succeeds by embracing its limitations.

Those limitations are found in its animation; computer-generated, sure, but constructed from Lego blocks in their millions. Directors/screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller get a lot of mileage out of their playful approach to the artificial aesthetic; The Lego Movie is chock-a-block with visual jokes and sly references. Water isn’t animated as liquid, but an eddying wave of circular Lego pieces. Fire is similarly animated with tiny transparent blocks. It all has the charm of mid-century stop motion animation despite the 1’s and 0’s behind it. And that’s before you even get into the way the film uses its broad access to copyrighted characters for mischievous parodies – Superman (Channing Tatum) bickering with the needy Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), or Renaissance painter Michelangelo hanging out with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo.

The film is also restrained by its requirements to be straightforward enough to sell Lego to children while engaging a broad audience. The storyline – a spin on The Matrix, chosen one, piece of resistance, evil plot, place name, backstory, etc – is completely conventional. Not only does a third act reveal justify this completely, it’s mostly just an opportunity for the filmmakers to pack the film with clever jokes and enthralling action, ably assisted by a smorgasbord of television-sourced comedic talent (Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Alison Brie, Will Arnett, Charlie Day and the list keeps going).

There are two morals waiting at the end of this story. One undercuts the predictability of its narrative (everyone is special/believe in yourself) while the other cleverly supports the fundamental goal to move Lego products (reject conformity/embrace creativity …through LegoTM). I’m being a little snarky, but it’s truly impressive how Lord and Miller have managed to create a substantial film that is, at its core, a feature length toy commercial.

The Lego Movie is as playful and enjoyable as the best Dreamworks or Pixar release, but it falls short of the greatness of the Toy Story series or How to Train Your Dragon. While the filmmakers have adeptly bounded the majority of the hurdles placed before them, the film’s insistence on bubbly, breakneck pacing and snarky satire means that the characterisation stumbles.

It’s not that the screenplay doesn’t present Emmet (Pratt) and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) as well-rounded characters. They are! They’re blessed and cursed alike with flaws, dreams and distinct personalities. But it’s hard to imagine having the same affection for them as, say, Woody and Buzz, when they return in the (already confirmed) sequel. The Lego Movie is a thoroughly entertaining, excellent film, but it falls just short of being truly awesome.

3.5 stars

12 thoughts on “The Lego Movie (2014)

  1. It’s the type of animated-flick that’s perfect for anybody to watch it. Mainly the older-ones in the crowd, since it’s clear that the humor is really aiming towards them. Good review Dave.

    • Thanks Dan! Yeah, the average humour is probably aimed higher than most of these sort of films, but there’s enough colourful adventure and excitement to keep the littlies entertained.

  2. Great review. And totally agreed. Though this is essentially a toy, commercial, it is also very good. But not quite as memorable as some of the best animated films, probably because the characters aren’t as well developed.

    Which is, basically, exactly what you said. 🙂

    • Cheers! I think the conclusion … as clever as it is … naturally undercuts the drama of the third act while the silliness of the comedy weakens the characterisation a bit. I think if it were a little more meaningful it might be a little less fun! I’ll definitely be watching it again, though!

    • Yeah, it’s an entertaining (and, often, quite intelligent) film throughout! It’s only in retrospect that I realised that, unlike other great animated films, I’m not really that invested in the characters (for example, if they had a whole new cast for the sequel I wouldn’t mind so much). No slight on the actors, though, who did great work!

  3. I love this film. So, so much. It’s more fun than it has any right to be. I agree–it does fall a little short of the likes of Toy Story and How to Train Your Dragon, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Nice review!

    • Thanks! It’s definitely an incredibly fun film, and a surprisingly great considering it’s basically a commercial!

  4. I found the style of humor much more appealing than the Shrek movies (to name animated franchise). The Lego movie relied more on its quick pacing and joke density, whereas Shrek derived a lot of its comedy from pop culture references. The former will undoubtedly age better; if you don’t believe me, go back and watch Shrek. Some of the references are downright painful.

    Hopefully this reflects an ongoing trend in parents accessible animated features!

    • It’s definitely miles better than Shrek, a film I don’t have a great deal of respect for despite enjoying it when it came out. There are some pop culture references here but they’re mostly related to things that will age better (it’s hard to imagine people not being aware of Harry Potter or DC superheroes in a decade or two).

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