When The Lego Movie was first announced in the early 2010s, expectations were kind of mixed. Several recent toy and game franchise movies had come out around that time with dismal results (but the worst, 2015’s Pixels, was yet to be suffered).
Which made this movie all the more delightful, as it surprised everyone by being such a refreshingly well-made take. This could have been any direct-to-DVD sloppy effort like a thousand toy-related movies that have gone before it, but somehow the gremlins of Hollywood miraculously took the day off and decided not to ruin a perfectly good childhood memory for a change. The Lego Movie all but swept every award category that year that cares about animation (BAFTAs, Annies, ASCAP, ASFFH), and even got a nomination from the notoriously animation-hating Oscars.
With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 95%, a Metacritic score of 83 (universal acclaim), and an IMDB rank of 7.8, the question of reviewing isn’t so much “Is it good?” as “Can it possibly live up to the hype?”
We have the writer-director Siamese twins Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, familiar from the Spider-Man franchise and the early 2000s TV series Clone High, among others. The voice talent includes Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie (sigh, melt, melt), Anthony Daniels as the authentic C-3PO, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman (obligatory whoa), and Jonah Hill, to name just some of the more senior of the star-studded cast.
In the Lego universe, Emmet Brickowski is a blue-collar everyman who aspires to nothing but to follow instructions and be a productive drone. But a whim of fate bestows him with a prophecy that foretells of his saving the universe, which is signified by a strange piece stuck to his back. That puts him in the crosshairs between villain Lord Business (bent on world domination and destruction, yada yada) and a ragtag assemblage of heroes known as Master Builders who can’t go forward without Emmet’s assistance because he is The Chosen One – whether he feels up to it or not.
So just ignore that above paragraph, please? The plot is nothing but a framework for the movie’s style, which is really what makes it shine. Yes, it’s phoned in, a fact which the movie immediately owns and then redeems itself for in a second. And by middle of act two, it manages to work out a witty structural logic that makes perfect sense in the Lego universe and nowhere else.
How’s This Play Out?
The brilliance of this movie lies in the execution. It has an off-beat, memeish sense of humor that will remind you of the first time you saw Toy Story. It’s not afraid to poke fun at itself, not afraid to appeal to adults and children at the same time, and – with commendable bravado – isn’t even afraid to poke fun at its own brand product. I lost count of how many jokes rested on identical swiveling heads and letter-C shaped hands. The humor is the Parker-Stone “anything goes” variety, where the fourth wall barely exists and the humor is cheerfully self-referential, letting nothing stand in the way of a good joke. This incredible light touch is a rare balance few comedies attain.
In fact, it’s hard to think of a script with better taste. While most animated comedies of this rank would spoil themselves with several-too-many pop culture references that would make it stale a few years later, The Lego Movie goes for just enough of these jokes without damaging its shelf-life. It goes for just enough satire without being caustic. Seriously, it did “president Business” as a perfect satire of 2019 Donald Trump… in 2014, two years before he got elected. And most remarkably of all, it does no harm to its brand while also not being an overbearing 100-minute toy commercial. Like the fan base of Legos themselves, the movie’s tone is just a bit nerdy. It takes a detail-oriented mind to assemble a 3000-piece model without making a mistake, and this movie says “We get you! You’re one of us!”
Every character in this movie is endearing in their own way. On paper, Emmet Brickowski sounds boring and predictable. But he’s actually a walking bottle of Prozac, so over-the-top plucky that you don’t mind when he endures hardships because, seriously, it is not healthy for anyone to be that happy. Wyldstyle is a tough and capable heroine who doesn’t grind the action female trope into an unbearable stereotype. Lord Business is a hammy villain with his chief dragon Bad Cop starting out as a one-note joke that gets surprisingly developed throughout the story. By the time we get to the superheroes (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, etc.), they all do a competent job of being gratuitous character stand-ins without being grating.
As for the visuals, in addition to being at the top of the CGI-curve, this is one of those movies you’ll want to pause to absorb the details, since whole city-scapes flash by in a jump-cut. It’s just a bit more thrilling to think that every scene in this movie is basically possible to reconstruct with your own bricks at home. It would take a collection bigger than most houses, but we horde bricks for a reason around here, right?
So is the hype well-founded?
Can we find anything to nit-pick about this movie? For the sake of balance, we can say that this isn’t the most substantial story ever told, and while an enjoyable hour+40, not a lot of it sticks with you. The movie does focus on a ton of nonstop action and not a lot of explanation.
Obviously it’s no Casablanca, but who would want to see Bogart and Bergman in brick? It’s exactly the right approach for the situation, and we should all hope that movies of this sort represent a turning point from the depressing sludge that is the default setting for 2010s cinema. Please, can we head back to light-hearted fun?
We’ve seen enough caped superheroes brooding off the top of tall Gothic buildings.