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The Lego Movie Review: Haphazard Fun
If ever there was a children’s film that could be described as absurd, it’s The Lego Movie. From start to finish, the film is loud, choppy, brash, borderline obnoxious,and asks a lot of its audience by way of suspension of disbelief. And yet, it takes all of these potential negatives and combines them with just the right amount of heart to craft a film that is lovable, clever, inspiring, and genuinely funny.
Emmet Brickowski is a young citizen of Lego City who wants nothing more than to fit in. To do so, he becomes obsessed with following the exact instructions provided to him for how to be happy, staying in line with everyone else in Lego City by watching the same beloved television as everyone else, listening to generic pop music, working his construction job, and doing his best to fit in.
Still, he can’t break free from being more than ordinary. So ordinary, in fact, that there’s nothing remarkable about him. That is, until he discovers the Piece of Resistance and fulfills a prophecy that told of a “Special” Master Builder who would save the world from the evil Lord Business and his plans to freeze the world using the all-powerful Kragle. Case in point: this movie absolutely bends over backwards for you to accept its craziness, and oddly enough, you will, whether or not you make a conscious effort do to so. The reason it all works is because this movie embraces the source material in an inventive and clever way by speaking to play styles and how we’ve all engaged with Legos in our lives.
The opening scene involving the introduction of Emmet is a somewhat jarring and darkly comical one that, while a bit exaggerated, provides a fair amount of scathing commentary on the state of our modern conformist society. Who would have guessed following Lego instructions would have had something to say on that grand of a scale? This moment alone is really where we start to find the brilliant nuance that resides within the narrative. Really, The Lego Movie embraces the fact that in this world, there are two very distinct types of Lego players: those who follow the instructions in order to build big, creative works predetermined by the rules, and those who throw caution to the wind and use whatever they can find to build the most outlandish of creations. Those who favor order are much more likely to stick to logical rule sets and stay more formal in their play style, while those who aren’t as concerned with rules are the types who will throw the Ninja Turtles and Han Solo into an epic battle with robot cowboys. And why not? It’s clear from he start that there are very few logical rules in this universe, so there’s rarely a moment when you’ll find yourself questioning a leap the film might make. The beauty of The Lego Movie‘s narrative is that it takes this idea of separate building styles, plays with the states of order vs. chaos, and ultimately weaves them both together to form an inspirational message that speaks to individuality, being “special”, and using creativity and its endless bounds.
Story plays a large part in The Lego Movie, but one shouldn’t expect to see anything necessarily new or groundbreaking. An idea of a “Chosen One” meant to save the universe is motivated by the need to stop a goofy (albeit funny) MacGuffin, characters reveal their deepest and most personal feelings at dramatic high points, and the audience is meant to glean yet another message of “you are special” from its (at times) heavy-handed delivery. There’s a lot of rote elements to the film that will prevent it from ever being something that stands on its own in the same way a Pixar film might. Despite this re-treading of old ground, it engages these rote elements with enough ingenuity and creativity that every joke, plot point, and challenge put to the main characters still manage to feel fresh.
The majority of touching moments are saved for the final act, however, and the rest of the film is a fast-paced and frantic mix of exposition, over-the-top delivery, and quirky humor. It feels jerky and random, constantly jumping from one slapstick gag to another as our heroes catapult themselves all over the Lego universe in an effort to rally other Master Builders and defeat Lord Business. But again, what should have been cringe worthy and obnoxious jokes are instead endearing and highly amusing, engaging rote movie cliches and pop cultue while also taking them apart and making them the butt of the joke. Nothing is off limits, and the possibilities are endless in this world made up of so many different licenses, characters, and settings. So, when Star Wars characters pop in out of nowhere to help Emmet and the gang obtain a hyperdrive, you have no option but to laugh. It’s crazy, it’s absurd, and it’s really, really fun.
The film’s Lego-inspired visuals play a major role in allowing for these types of jokes to really soar, affecting a quick, jerky style of aesthetic looking more like stop motion than computer-rendered animation. That’s not to take away from the visual fidelity of the film, because at times, it’s absolutely stunning. Smoke billows up into the air in the form of tiny Lego pieces, as does water when anything falls in the ocean. Fire erupts in the form of the fiery Lego pieces we’ve all used to deck out medieval sets, and, even in its intentionally jerky execution, the animation is so seamless, sets so beautifully designed, and characters so well realized that it’s difficult to not get sucked into the movie thanks to its visuals alone. It’s a lot like seeing an expertly-crafted Lego set in real life, only with sentient characters who remain in constant breakneck motion.
The very nature of the film itself will lead many to assume that The Lego Movie is nothing more than soulless product flaunt meant for children that should have gone straight to the DVD bargain bin at Wal-Mart. But through inventive use of its source material and an earnest narrative, it avoids being bad family movie fare and instead successfully finds its way to become a comedic and sentimental film. Its characters and very world may be made of the trademarked and iconic plastic bricks we’ve all come to know and love so well, but The Lego Movie brilliantly uses the toy’s own conventions to play to its narrative strengths, resulting in a film that is as clever and ingenious as it is haphazardly funny.