Just as I was about to lose hope for the Lego brand, what with the segregationist “Friends” line and adult collectors gluing expansive sets together as per their instruction manuals, a new wave of fans has popped up: the Lego animators, who use the plastic building blocks to produce YouTube clips of all shapes and sizes, bringing imagination back to the toy once named after the Danish words for “play” and “well”. At times, The Lego Movie comes across as both an homage to their creativity and a condemnation of those who, you know, don’t play well, but its ultimate message turns out infinitely more interesting.
True to the rules of Lego animation, The Lego Movie features nearly four million unique Lego pieces and just a handful of off-brand props like a magical melted lollipop, a deadly bottle of nail polish, and the world-threatening “Kragle”, which looks suspiciously like a scrunched-up tube of Krazy Glue. Every other element is composed of plastic bricks, from the stud-like drops of rain to the endless sea (complete with tumultuous waves) to the fiery explosions that occur whenever baddies shoot down our heroes’ makeshift vehicles.
Because Lego owns the license to so many franchises, we also get an eclectic cast of minifigs (short for mini figurines), each voiced by an unlikely celebrity. This includes Morgan Freeman as a Gandalf-like wizard, Todd Hansen as the actual Gandalf, Jonah Hill as the Justice League wannabe Green Lantern, Channing Tatum as his exasperated idol Superman, and Billie Dee Williams as none other than Lando Calrissian. However, my favourite cameo in The Lego Movie belongs to Liam Neeson as a (literally) two-faced henchman who embodies both the actor’s stoic badass and sensitive husband personas.
The star of The Lego Movie, though, is Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), otherwise known as that guy whose name you keep forgetting. In a world entirely made up of plastic blocks, he’d best be described as a round peg in a round hole, just another Lego brick in the wall. All that changes when Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a member of the Master Builder rebellion, confuses him with “the Special”, a minifig prophesised to hold the key to defeating President Business (Will Ferrell), who means to glue all of Lego World into one perfect position.
The plot of The Lego Movie is, at its heart, stupid and generic, but writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller know this. Filled with self-referential humour and subtle absurdities, their screenplay uses the formula as a target rather than a crutch. Consider the sudden appearance of Batman (Will Arnett) as Wyldstyle’s prototypical douchy boyfriend. Believe it or not, he’s essentially the same character as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, except played for laughs. It makes for a very clever gag, and I practically did a spit take during his obligatory breakup speech: “Because he’s the hero you need…”
Batman’s idiotic grunge ballad “Untitled Self Portrait” also proves a crowd pleaser, as does the insanely catchy pop diddy “Everything Is Awesome!!!” The latter track ironically celebrates being a cog in the system, and one might be tempted to think The Lego Movie pertains to creativity versus conformity. However, the Master Builders can’t seem to coordinate their flights of fancy, and Emmet remains unimaginative even as he teaches them about teamwork. He still follows an instruction manual. The difference lies in his deciding its contents and embracing a grander purpose.
You see, while fitting in for the sake of fitting in is somewhat of a waste, it does require the ability to discern how others feel and identify with their needs. This skill is known as empathy, and, when put to good use, it can help unite talented individuals under a common goal and even sway misguided adversaries. I didn’t expect such a complex moral from The Lego Movie. Too many family flicks today teach our children that they can be special snowflakes by simple virtue of existing. It’s refreshing to find one willing to argue that “special” holds little meaning if treated as a life ambition.
Another twist comes in the third act of The Lego Movie, when Emmet gains a new perspective on Lego World. I dare not spoil any more, except to say that “the man upstairs” goes through a journey similar to our hero’s as he transitions from oversized child to responsible parent. Though reminiscent of Toy Story (1995), the sequence packs a surprising emotional punch that speaks to the grown-ups as much as it does to kids. In the age of supercilious sci-fi, video game, and Lego geeks, it’s nice to be reminded that there exists no good or bad way to play as long as you know to share your toys.