Anyone surprised by the success of The Lego Movie probably hasn’t seen any of their Star Wars shorts or the delightful video games that preceded them. An unlikely conglomeration of the ubiquitous yellow bricks and a Star Wars game produced a hit, which became a trend, which turned into a legitimate phenomenon. Who doesn’t love Legos? And if you can combine something as awesome as them with something equally awesome – like, say, robot pirates – then the awesome factor goes through the roof. That vibe culminates in The Lego Movie, a film whose inexplicable coolness flies right in the face of the fact that it’s basically a 100-minute toy commercial.
How does that happen? How does something so clever and subversive and full of kid-friendly snark spring from such brazenly corporate roots? The mystery may never be answered, but with something as fun as The Lego Movie, you really don’t care. It works as a send-up of office blockbusters, a joke-a-minute social satire, a surprisingly good adventure story in its own right and – completely out of nowhere – a surprisingly touching lesson on the value of play.
It starts with the script, which delivers an adult variation of the way children construct stories on the fly with their dolls or action figures. The evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) and his minion Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson) want to freeze the whole of the Lego-verse solid: a place where everyone is perfect just like the instructions say they should be. The only thing standing in their ways is Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a cheerful and not especially bright construction worker dubbed “The Special” due to circumstances too complicated to get into here. As such, he is destined to save the universe from Lord Business despite the fact that he doesn’t appear to have any skills at all. He and his rag-tag band of companions need to make it happen regardless, on a journey that spans the length and breadth of fitted-brick creation.
The rapier-like deconstruction of epic movie pomposity comes as no surprise. Any movie that features Will Arnett as Batman clearly has its targets in plain sight, and you can smell shades of Warners’ old Looney Tunes subversion woven deeply into its DNA. But at the same time, it actually serves as a good story in its own right, boosted by Lego’s unique visual look and the kind of “believe in yourself” message that becomes all the stronger for the countless nudges in the ribs it gets along the way. That pays off big-time in the finale, which I won’t reveal any more of here, but it quietly hums beneath the remainder of the movie as well.
Above it runs an ADD-riddled roller coaster of mayhem, one-liners and yellow-brick silliness. The cliché of it being great for kids and their parents is in full effect here, no less potent for its overuse, and the good cheer becomes impossible to resist. A few dead spots crop up in the center section, when the overall tone has settled in and we’re less surprised by the rabbits coming out of its hat. But it finds its A-game again well before the finale, leaving a goofy grin on everyone’s faces as well as a quiet little statement about the things that really matter.
Again, it’s all the more surprising because a film like this clearly comes from the very soulless corporate conformity it hopes to decry. It should be an exercise in vast hypocrisy – I’m betting Lego sales will go through the roof after this – but somehow, The Lego Movie manages to combine seemingly incompatible ideas into a perfectly seamless whole. It’s all the more amazing because comparatively few of us saw it coming: the perfect time for a slice of joy like this to catch us unaware.