15 February 2014


This review is SPOILER-FREE. You might not think you need that warning, but trust me, there's more to this than meets the eye...

In the wake of toy-movies like Transformers and Battleship, a move based on Lego might not sound especially appealing on paper. But people may well have said the same thing about making a film out of a 34-page children's book, or an implausible 1980s cop show, so having directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller on board here too should be more than enough to get you excited about The LEGO Movie.

Using CGI to mimic the stop-motion aesthetic of Lego home movies, the film starts out in the Lego district of Bricksburg, where construction worker Emmett pointlessly follows the same daily routine over and over again. When Bricksburg's leader, President Business, comes up with a plan to make the world even more rigid, Emmett's life more or less becomes a parody of The Matrix, with tough chick Wyldstyle taking him from one Lego world to another, and telling him that it is his destiny to change their universe forever.

While Lord and Miller cement their position as the reigning champions of animated comedy with this one, you might also be excited to know that it's been conceived with a similar sense of humour to the popular LEGO video games. Starting with LEGO Star Wars in 2005, they've been genuinely funny and surprisingly challenging puzzle games, based loosely on instalments of film franchises like Harry Potter, Batman and Indiana Jones, but with the story firmly re-planted in a giant LEGO set version of each film's specific world.

It's in one such world that we find Emmett, (voiced by Chris Pratt) going through the banality of his everyday existence with a big fat smile on his face. He follows instructions on how to live that are much like the ones you get in LEGO boxes, goes to work on a construction site that is seemingly demolished just in time for the next day of work, all while singing along to an infuriating earworm, "Everything Is Awesome." When his bog-standard hero's journey kicks off, you might fear the worst, but it starts running with a tremendous sense of humour and an eagerness to surprise that pays off on multiple occasions, and never stops until the end credits roll.

But what The LEGO Movie really captures, with disarming energy, is the infinite flexibility of playing with LEGO. The film has multiple worlds or districts that pull in references from the entire history of the plastic brick manufacturer's product lines, with welcome references to iconic models, amusing dismissals of stuff like Bionicle, and more than a little cherry-picking from the company's movie licences. In fact, in terms of character copyrights, this is probably the modern-day equivalent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

While that film brought the likes of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse together, Lord and Miller have managed to arrange a more eclectic rendezvous between the likes of Michelangelo, (the artist AND the Ninja Turtle) Dumbledore and Gandalf, to name a few without spoiling any of the big surprise cameos. The main attraction is probably Batman, and if they were to announce a whole LEGO Batman movie, with the same creative team, I would probably be more excited than I am about Man Of Steel 2/Batman vs. Superman/whatever it is Zack Snyder's doing.

Will Arnett is ingeniously cast as this version of Batman, sending up the Dark Knight films by divesting the character of any self-awareness whatsoever, and soon making you realise how much you've missed seeing a Batman film that doesn't take itself so seriously. And, as other reviewers have pointed out, there's also an innately satirical aspect to Lord and Miller exploring that character in the light of a children's property that has been appropriated by adults, but I wouldn't like to say more than that for fear of spoiling the surprisingly complicated plot.

There are times when it's more clever than funny, which could never be said to be a bad thing, but when it is funny, it's hysterical. This has to be one of the best vocal casts in an animated movie since The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists- on top of Pratt and Arnett, you have Morgan Freeman as the mentor, Will Ferrell as the bad guy, Liam Neeson as a hilariously conflicted cop, Alison Brie as a relentlessly chirpy feline-unicorn hybrid, Nick Offerman as a pirate who seems to have reconstituted himself entirely from other LEGO pieces, and Charlie Day as an infectiously enthusiastic spaceman, whose helmet has cracked in just the same way as those pesky plastic helmets always did.

But that attention to detail is just characteristic of The LEGO Movie, a film that starts out as a deliberately generic hero's journey, but continues to build in expertly executed sight gags, funny and interesting characters up until its slightly predictable but no less impressive volte-face in the third act. In the same way as you can see fingerprints on the plasticine that constitutes characters in Aardman movies, there's an unmistakable care for every aspect of the production, from the script upwards. The result is unavoidably commercial, but never, ever crass, taking the path of greatest resistance with what could so easily have been a lowest-common-denominator toy tie-in, and reaping the rewards in style.

The LEGO Movie is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The LEGO Movie, why not share your comments below? Arnett's Batman did a song. Will your Batman do a song, Ben Affleck?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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