I am still trying to understand how The Lego Movie came to fruition. Movies like this just don’t get made. I’m not talking about films that seem to be nothing more than an elaborate marketing exercise for a particular brand, because that kind of thing happens all the time. The fact that most of the major studios are owned by international conglomerates looking to use movies to peddle their myriad products to the masses is the everyday reality of filmmaking today. What I’m talking about is a movie that skewers almost every aspect of the Hollywood film production landscape. This film takes no prisoners in its attack, drawing on pop culture references galore to take aim at the predictability and superficiality of the movie business. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about all of this is that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have constructed a movie that is both extremely intelligent and hilariously funny.
The entire premise of the film is the tried and true Hollywood staple of an everyman who becomes a hero. In this case, our journey belongs to Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Pratt), a clueless construction worker who has lived his entire life in accordance with the ‘instructions’. We meet Emmet in a Truman Show-style opening sequence in which he goes about his day oblivious to the repetitious manipulations being inflicted by the not-so-subtly named President Business (Will Ferrell), a benevolent dictator in the eyes of his subjects but really a maniacal tyrant seeking total control over those living in this beautifully rendered world of interlocking plastic bricks. When Emmet inexplicably stumbles across the Piece of Resistance, he is hailed as the ‘Special’ and charged with thwarting President Business’ plan to unleash The Kragle on the unsuspecting citizenry. Emmet is joined by a gaggle of sidekicks including Morgan Freeman’s blind prophet Vitruvius, a robot/pirate mash-up known as Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), an arrogant self-centred Batman (Will Arnett) and the requisite love interest in Wildstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) in his quest to save the day.
The film is very much about demonstrating just how versatile Lego can be and therefore the characters construct all manner of crazy contraptions. The animation team from Australia’s Animal Logic has done a superb job in bringing the characters and their world to life without ever losing sight of the restrictions (of movement, for example) that a Lego world necessarily demands. As strange as it may sound, there is an authenticity to the world they have created. The bustle of the city peak hour is rendered brilliantly and is a better endorsement for Lego than any number of advertisements could ever be. Early in the film there is a scene in which the filmmakers poke fun at the exorbitant prices at Starbucks-like coffee chains (a $37 latte anybody?), but Lego taking aim at those who charge excessive prices for their products seems somewhat ironic.
In addition to lampooning movie genre conventions – Liam Neeson’s good cop/bad cop character and the fight that breaks out in a western saloon are two examples – the film also takes a swipe at the banality of television sitcoms. Furthermore, by bringing the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and Gandalf together with sporting stars such as Shaquille O’Neill and historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare, the filmmakers seem to be reminding us that real heroes do not wear a cape and tights or earn millions of dollars from contracts and endorsements. Of course, the dispiriting aspect of this is the fact that, whilst the younger audiences at whom the film is ostensibly targeted will be more than familiar with the fictional figures and sports stars, they will have no idea as to the identity of the real-life characters represented or their contribution to the world.
Miller and Lord, who are also responsible for Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs, understand the demands of catering to a younger audience and they keep the narrative moving at a frantic pace. Without giving too much away, the ending is both surprising and inspired, offering a conclusion that makes sense of everything that goes before it and makes a somewhat ludicrous premise into something very real. It is very rare to find such a blatantly opportunistic and commercial film that is able to transcend the artifice and deliver something that is entertaining and meaningful, but The Lego Movie is such a film.