After another week of disappointing theatrical releases, I decided to stay in and review something that everyone has been telling me I should be watching – The Lego Movie.
I wasn’t that enthusiastic about the movie. The Lego video game series is good for a chuckle, but the joke seems to be, “boy, you sure can build a lot of things with these toy blocks.” It surprised me when the raves started coming in, but I remained on the fence.
Well, I am not sure if everything is awesome, as the catchy theme song repeatedly asserts. But the movie is. It is probably the best true spoof since Scream.
The film is absolutely a cliche of every single kid’s adventure film. You can practically see the dog-eared copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in the background. None of the characters go beyond the level of the flat pieces of plastic that make them. The plot is incredibly convoluted – how you can shoehorn Batman (Will Arnett) and Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) into the same scene is still not something I quite understand.
So why am I not destroying the film? There are two reasons.
The first is that the film acknowledges each of its short comings and uses it to cast a wide net on what most kid’s films are like. The main character, Emmett Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) is such a terrible character that he would be insuffereable in any other movie. He is relentlessly happy, following his “instructions” to the letter. He is useless in a struggle, no one he meets remembers him, and his favorite past time seems to be watching his favorite sitcom, Where are My Pants.
So when people tell him he is “the special” who is destined to save the world and get the girl, Emmett doesn’t believe them. And the weird thing is that he doesn’t change throughout the film, but then again, arcs are rare things in the modern animated canon. I wouldn’t say that Emmett has an arc, but that’s the point. He saves the day by “following the instructions” and not changing his worldview at all.
The entire movie is like that, with the tongue firmly in the cheek. The person who calls the hero to the adventure is named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who is a literal wizard for no reason other than to give the film a fantasy element. The main villain uses household items that he doesn’t know the names of – in one scene, he refers to nail polish remover as “the remover polish of Naile.” Even Wyldstyle, the girl who falls in love with Emmett, is not hyper-sexualized like is disturbingly normal in animated films. She looks like any other Lego figurine. Badcop (Liam Neeson) is named after his primary trait and we never learn just WHY there is such a character.
Not once does the film take any of this seriously. The primary joke is about how this has all been done before and has been considered original or even acceptable. The Lego Movie never considers its plot to be good. Its strength rests in the knowing twinkle throughout the film. There aren’t many films where, upon the destruction of their homeland, the character who is a literal cross between a unicorn and a cat will yell out, “Marshmallows!” in an attempt to stay positive.
The second reason is that the film really does feel like something a kid would create with a little imagination. That’s the best advertisement for Legos, and it’s so subtle that it is not immediately evident. I won’t spoil how this is addressed, but the film is smart to put the film on the level of the toys. It also explains all of the cliches I described above. What The Lego Movie is saying is that most of its peers could have been written by an eight year old with an overactive imagination. We have discovered repeatedly that is right.
I gave Frozen a lot of grief because it took itself and its dated themes so seriously. Had The Lego Movie taken such a tone for even one scene, it would have crashed and burned into something horrible. But luckily, it never did. The film recognized its strengths and used them for its entire run time. It’s an endlessly clever film that’s perfect for kids and the parents who watch it with them.
I can’t imagine a better animated film coming out in 2014.