The LEGO Movie (U).
What is it? : The highly anticipated big screen adventure based on the LEGO toy brand.
Out Now in America, Out February 14th in UK.
If there's one thing that should become instantly obvious the moment you lay eyes upon this film, it's that this is a damn pretty motion picture indeed. Although this is the first movie based on the Lego brand to hit cinemas, it's most certainly not the first Lego movie, there's in fact been at least 5 direct to DVD offerings, 4 of which were based on the popular Bionicle theme. What those films failed at doing was bringing the unique look and charm of the toys themselves over to the film, the Bionicle films merely adapting the story of the series, whilst the single non-Bionicle offering certainly used the iconic minifigure characters, but failed to imbue the world and all its movements with the Lego charm. Thankfully, the leap to the big screen has brought with it all of that, and then some. This is a Lego movie, and almost everything you see throughout it has been built out of the many different bricks and elements of the brand...basically, this is a world which, in theory you could build yourself providing you had right amount of Lego...which is a remarkably ambitious goal to achieve, especially when you realize that this is a CGI animation, not stop-motion...this is all computer generated, and despite being about little plastic men...it's perhaps the most photo-realistic CGI film ever made...and also the first to attempt that and not fall into uncanny valley territory in the process. But it's not just about how much it looks like Lego...it's the way the characters move in a jerky, faux stop-motion way that again makes it feel like something anyone can recreate, and it's the sheer scale and creativity of the worlds the film explores, be it sprawling city or cloud-top paradise...it doesn't just look like it's made of Lego, it feels like it was created using the same sense of unrestrained creativity that is the very ethos of the brand...simply put, this is as god damn perfect as a Lego film could have ever been, and it's one of the most charmingly animated, visually pleasing CGI movies I've ever seen.
When a film such as this comes along and gets a lot of hype, there's always a constant cloud of anxiety looming overhead at all times. This is a kids movie, and one based on a toy brand at that...and not even a brand with a solid story to adapt, just ideals and style. There's every chance in the world that The Lego Movie could have been nothing more than an empty shell, a film made purely to sell toys that aims to appeal to only the easiest of target audiences...or in other words, children. It could have just been fart jokes and goofy noises, 90 minutes of purile bumwash for the kiddy winks, but it isn't...what we've got instead of a charming, funny and heartfelt film that can, and will appeal to people of all ages, especially Lego fans (obviously). The Lego Movie is the tale of an average nobody who becomes the most important person in the world, pulled away from his mundane but nontheless happy lifestyle and set on a fast paced, action packed adventure which teaches both himself and his traveling companions the true meaning of being special, and it's a great ride from start to finish, providing high volumes of laughs and charm, patched together with often jaw dropping set pieces, all wrapped around a beating heart of a surprisingly touching story. Obviously there are films out there with more complex stories, there are also probably funnier films as well...but there are few films out there that can keep you smiling, keep you laughing, and most importantly keep you engaged for the entirety of its running length. Throw in the previously mentioned visuals and animation and you've got yourself one hell of a charming film, which, despite its blockbuster, big budget background and large scale set pieces, still feels like a personal, warm film at all times, with moments of surprising emotion. You will believe a movie about plastic toys will make you have feels....again...
It's a rare occurrence when a film both has a character for everyone...and also a cast of characters that everyone can love at the same time. You've got everything from a hyperactive astronaut to a unicorn cat in the main cast and all of them manage to be likeable on some level, succeeding where other films such as Wreck-It-Ralph failed by having a weak link in the group that divides people by being focused too much on one demographic. Like with Frozen and Olaf, my fears that Unikitty would spoil the film for me were thankfully unfounded because, whilst the notion of rainbows and sparkles and all that shit is in itself unappealing to me, the film is well aware this will be the case with a lot of people, and plays this into the comedy, whilst also not giving it the bulk of the focus like a certain Wreck-it-Ralph did. The rest of the cast was never really a huge concern for me, and thankfully they all indeed turned out to be fun and likeable aplenty. Whilst obviously Emmet is perfect in the lead and hugely entertaining, it's the side characters that are the most fun, Benny's (1980's something space guy) hyperactive, disturbing obsession with all things space and spaceship related will no doubt remind many of Portal 2's spacecore, and Bad/Good Cop whilst underutilized, delivers a lot of the films biggest laughs whilst also actually having a rather tragic arc, proving that even a bad guy can have sad scenes in a kids movie, and also that Liam Neeson actually can emote beyond raspy shouting. The runaway showstealer has to be Batman, though...who's just perfect in every way possible, and one of my favourite comedic portrayals of the character to date. Wildstyle, Vitruvius and Metalbeard are also great fun and on a whole, the cast is spot on. Like I said, with pirates, unicorn cats, spacemen, kickass punk gals and...Batman you've got someone for everyone, but at the same time you can't help but love them all, even little old Emmet.
For a film adapted from a popular toy brand, featuring actual products and sets, many of which are licensed off of other companies to begin with, The Lego Movie really doesn't feel like the 100 minute advert it could have been, even when you walk out of the cinema buzzing with love and nostalgia for the product and a yearning to build something from it. It would have been really easy to just go full throttle on the advertising and signpost every world and character with a big flashing, semi-literal BUY ME sign throughout, but what this film feels more like is a love letter, both to fans new and old and also to the product itself, and the grand history it has behind it. I think part of the reason that the film gets away with not being one big product placement despite literally being comprised of the product is that it's made up of so many different parts of the brand and all its themes, be they discontinued or not, that it feels like a world many people will already have, rather than something they need to buy. If you're watching this film, you'll most likely own Lego, and if you grew up with it, you'll most likely own a lot, and it's never all the same theme, and you'll always cross-contaminate all those different themes and sets...and the film knows this, and quite literally builds the world and the story around this very basic ethos. It doesn't feel like an advert because it feels like a world you already own, they've just crafted a wonderful story full of wonderful characters within it. Sure, there are sets based on the movie, but they feel like they've come from the film, rather than the film promoting them, which although perhaps sounding like bullshit, makes all the difference in the world when you've actually seen it.
This isn't really a huge problem, and it may not be a problem at all to some, but as a longtime Lego fan, someone who grew up on mainly non-licensed Lego themes...it was perhaps a shame to see the bulk of the cameos/surprises to be based around those licensed properties rather than an original Lego Theme. That's not to say there aren't any of those, because there are some here and there, but a lot of those are from the Minifigures line rather than a classic theme, which is a shame. Lego has a long, diverse history of its own right, and one which doesn't require the approval of third parties either, so it seems a touch odd that they wouldn't throw some more into the mix. At first count (and ignoring the ones that are integral to the film) I saw about 3 classic themes and one current one briefly cameo in a few sequences, two of which have far less screen time than I was led to believe by the marketing for the film prior to release, perhaps suggesting some of these cameos are on a cutting room floor somewhere. It's not that I didn't enjoy the inclusion licensed properties, quite the opposite indeed, if you think you've seen all that the film has to offer in that regard thanks to the trailers, think again, but I still would have loved to see nods to actual Lego characters and themes, and at that, more than just fleeting glimpses, one of which, about one of my most beloved of Lego themes feeling like more a punch to the face than a fun cameo for one of their most successful, long running brands. That said, Batman...so....
Animated films, like horror films are almost always on the shorter end of the spectrum, in animation's case this is because of the time, money and manpower it takes to produce them being far more than your standard live action fare. The Lego Movie is actually somewhat longer than most, coming in at around 1 hour 40 minutes, 10 minutes more than what I'd perceive as the average for a western animation...so it's perhaps a bit odd that the film feels oh so very short. Perhaps you could blame it on the "time flies when you're having fun" argument, because clearly it's not that short in a literal sense, being only 20 minutes away from 2 hours, and generally the things you enjoy often slip by far faster than the things you detest. But perhaps the sense of short length can also be blamed on the hyperactive, fast paced nature of the film, which blazes through sequences and worlds in what feels like a land speed record at times. This in itself isn't really a bad thing, but it's always a bit crushing when you wait for something for so long and then it zooms past in what feels like no time at all. The world and the characters are just so appealing and fun to look at, it would have been nice to savour it all a bit more, and spend some more time with them. So, I suppose you could say that one of the film's downsides is that it's too appealing an entity to be merely an above averagely lengthed animated film. Yeah, this point is bullshit...but...I guess you could still consider it a negative.
Let me start this off by saying the Third Act of the film isn't bad, at all..it's just perhaps not the way I would have gone had I been in charge. To understand my gripes with the big twist of the film, you have to understand that I've known about it since they first announced the production of a Lego film years and years ago, where it was actually announced that this would be a hybrid CGI/live action production involving a child from the real word being sucked down into the world of Lego. This isn't actually what happens in the final product, and the twist has been kept under wraps so much since then that you'd be mistaken for assuming it wasn't part of the film at all anymore, but it is...and whilst it provides the biggest emotional punch of the entire film, I kinda wish it hadn't been. This being the SPOILERS!? section I can explain what I mean in better detail. Basically, the third act of the film involves Emmet leaving the animated Lego world and entering the real one we all live in, where it's revealed the whole films events have spawned from the imagination of a child, and the villain of the story is actually his dad, who has a huge Lego collection but detests unstructured building or creativity. The fact that this whole story has been the expressions of a repressed child acting out against his father is a big suckerpunch to the gut, and the conclusion where the father discovers his son sees him as a villain is deeply emotional but...really...I'd of rather not had this element at all. The film was plenty charming and emotional as it was without the live action elements, and the promise of a spectacular closing battle is pissed on somewhat by this battle of fathers, sons and words. Maybe it's just because I loved the Lego world they'd created so much I was bummed out when it took a backburner in the closing act, but I really don't think the film needed this, it could still have had the emotional speech without the real world getting directly involved, and then we could have seen all the cool battles taking place in full effect, but I get what they did, and it did work...and...well, without it we wouldn't have had that badass Duplo scene, would we? I just hope that, if there is a sequel, it'll be entirely set within the Lego world because, frankly...the live action potential has been used and now they should move on.
This is, perhaps the films biggest flaw...the very message it's preaching goes against both the brand it represents and the world its exploring on a whole. So, again this is SPOILERS!? so I can explain this fully...the moral of the film is not to simply follow the instructions, to be creative and be your own thing, and that's what makes you special...which is true, and lovely, but this is coming from a company that deals almost entirely in instructions and preconceived concepts these days. The very fact that Batman is around whilst this speech is being given (sorta) is the ultimate contrapuntance because he isn't an original character thought up through a child's imagination, he's a licensed character who has a line of instruction heavy Lego products on the shelves as we speak. The irony is that Emmet's world, the one which is apparently the least creative, requires the most imagination on the part of the child, because there's no existing stories or ideas in the Lego City line beyond the placement of jobs, you have to make your own stories, as opposed to the master builders who mainly come from licensed themes where you'd most likely be recreating scenes from their respective films or shows. The film tells us all to be creative and original, but is based on a line of toys which go against that very nature, which almost suggests that Lego itself is a product of evil Lord Business...which...well, oops! Also of note is how it treats the live action father, who is representing an adult Lego fan and is basically the villain, who is then saved by his child...but...there's something a bit iffy about demonizing what is most likely a large slice of both the brand's market, and the film's target audience..I mean, a lot of this film's initial appeal is the nostalgia and history behind it, which is something that'd be lost on a lot of kids, so it then feels odd to treat these fans with such disrespect. I mean, yeah, it's funny and so long as you aren't easily offended, it's not a problem...but again, the notion conflicts with the brands own ideals.
When you don't have a Disney logo at the start, truly amazing CGI films are few and far between these days, this is mainly both because few studios seem to be able to embue the animation with the same charm that traditional/stop motion productions can pull off, and also because they're designed to appeal almost entirely to children. The Lego Movie could have just been another one of those, a disappointment to anyone over the age of 8, but instead we ended up with a witty, beautifully animated and endlessly charming product that will no doubt become an example of how blockbuster animation should be done. Lego fans young and old will adore the film, and whilst a lot of the little charms and nods will be lost on non-fans, the appeal of the characters, creativity and heart will still resonate with them all the same. It's only really not worth watching if you can't stand the pace and tone of the film, which, in two words is hyperactive and bombastic. Otherwise? This is definitely one worth watching, and if you're a fan of Lego, you owe it to yourself to see this in cinemas.
With The LEGO Movie, 2014 has found its first smash hit, not only will it most likely be one of, if not the best animated films of the year, it's also one of the best I've seen in many years. It's got the looks, it's got the humour, it's got the charm and although perhaps hard to believe, it's most certainly got the heart. I've been a fan of Lego almost all of my life, it shaped who I am as a person, and it means a lot to me to this day...so to see its big screen debut so full of the same sense of creativity and joy that the products gave me as a kid is truly fantastic. It's not only a great tribute to the brand, but it's also a fantastic film in its own right that creates a new world of characters and possibilities out of something we all know and love. In an ideal world the third act could have perhaps been a little different, and more tributes to original Lego themes would have been nice...but really that's just nitpicking, because simply put, this film is awesome. I mean...how can you say no to a film with both a mecha pirate and ninjas and wizards and dragons and astronauts in it? You can't. Go see this shit.