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.