Editor’s Note: Finally, a movie based on a toy that’s not just a soulless cash-in. Electroshadow senior contributor Marie B takes a look at “The Lego Movie” and finds a lot going on underneath its shiny plastic surface…
When “The Lego Movie” first started its run the reaction of many viewers, critics and regular joes alike, was pleasant surprise. Apparently, no one thought you could make a good film based on a brand name toy that had no previous back-story to draw from (“Battleship”, anyone?).
But despite the low expectations, “The Lego Movie” manages to achieve critical and commercial success on a modest budget, a feat not easy to come by in these days of mega-blockbusters and over-extended franchises. It does this by putting together the key ingredient for movie success: a recognisable brand name, a good script, a great cast, solid direction and, to top it all off, a catchy theme song.
I’ll describe it in one word: Awesome.
On a surface-level view of the film, it’s easy to see why people responded to it so positively. For one thing, the graphics are beautifully rendered. Everything is shiny and plastic, just as Lego should be. I was particularly pleased to see that they even move as Lego should move, with that slight jerky movement that’s reminiscent of 8-bit video game characters.
Secondly, the voice casting is superb. In most animated films, a big name star or a star with a distinct-sounding voice can be a distraction. Demi Moore in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and Nicolas Cage in “The Croods” come to mind. But somehow, here it all works. “The Lego Movie” uses one of the most recognisable voices in film history, Morgan Freeman, and yet you buy him as the wise old wizard Vitruvius. Bad Cop/Good Cop and Pa Cop are so obviously Liam Neeson, but you don’t mind. I even have a theory that they only hired Charlie Day to play Benny the 80s Spaceman so that he can do that one particularly memorable scene. I won’t spoil it for you. But here’s a hint: “Spaceship!”.
Thirdly, it builds a universe that is unique to Lego but one we understand. It uses everything we remember about playing with Lego pieces to create a smart but relatable world. Just look at the items that the Lego characters fear the most and you’ll understand what I mean.
Fourth, it has adorable cameos. Batman? Check. Green Lantern? Check. C3-PO? Check. But they have them in Lego form. It doesn’t get cooler than that.
Fifth, it’s funny. Whether it’s the way it Lego-fies the typical hair toss, to how it spoofs Christian Bale’s Batman voice, to the dialogue, to the physical comedy, it’s just plain funny.
Yet the film’s greatest strength lies in its deceptively simple story. It begins as the tale of Emmet, your typical Lego man, who wants to fit in. But, it turns out he’s not so typical after all. He is “special”. So far, so predictable. But as the story progresses, you begin to realise that there is something deeper being told. Make no mistake, although “The Lego Movie” looks like a children’s film, feels like a children’s film, and plays like a children’s film, the themes it tackles are very much for the grown-up and appropriate for today’s times.
Beyond the obvious positives mentioned above lies a focused story that is a testament to how in-tune writers-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are to their subject matter and what it stands for. Both men understand what the heart of Lego is and have created a movie that fits perfectly with its brand equity. Because buried underneath the plastic finish, the blocks and the squares, the parodies and the cute antics, is a message about freedom, creativity and imagination.
It’s a message that’s important when you consider how everything, even creativity, has become automated. Want your pictures to look vintage, lomo-fied or look like an oil painting? There’s an app for that. Want a creative collage of your pictures that you can send out to friends instantly? There’s an app for that. We’ve all but forgotten about the fun of discovery, of building. Of pure & simple play.
How appropriate that the toy that embraces and encourages flights of fancy and inventiveness is now a movie that reminds us never to lose them.