In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see The Lego Movie?
Back when I was in high school, making Lego movies was a big fad. There was an early YouTube clip of the “Camelot” song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail re-done entirely in Lego that I watched daily. I had friends that tried to re-create Star Wars scenes with them well before the video game franchise came around. I get it. Even before the hugely successful video game franchise, people were making Lego movies. I say that to say how much I thought The Lego Movie was going to be embarrassing.
The elevator pitch for The Lego Movie is, essentially, just “oh, it’s a movie about Lego.” I’m terrified to think of the board meeting where this was greenlit. On paper, there’s no way this could actually be a good movie. It seems like the lowest hanging fruit to base a film on (Battleship from a few years ago takes second place). It almost feels like something a TV show would use as an idea when making fun of Hollywood for trying to shovel-feed easily consumed movies to mass audiences. “Ball: The Movie” is probably the only thing easier to use as a joke.
But then, somehow, it works.
At this point, you’ve probably already heard about the universal acclaim The Lego Movie is bringing in. As of this writing, it’s boasting a 95% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “How could this go so wrong?” is a question that’s frequently asked when it comes to Hollywood but in this case, we’ve got ourselves scratching our heads asking “how could this go so RIGHT?”
After seeing it, the answer is pretty simple. The writers (of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame) choose to air on the side of caution and just… well, want to have fun. It’s a simple comparison to the actual point of using the blocks themselves, but I couldn’t help coming back to that fact when watching it. The movie never tries to be more than it is, it doesn’t try to reach Toy Story-esque heights or re-imagine the way we look at a toy that’s been a staple of childhood since the mid-1950s. It just simply tries to tell a fun story. And because of it, it works.
Chris Pratt plays the main character – Emmet – a construction worker who becomes the film’s “Chosen One.” I won’t waste time talking about the plot. It’s simple enough to engage but children and adults but that means discussing any real story points would be to spoil it. So, instead, let’s just talk about this one character. He’s simultaneously the story’s hero but it also feels like the movie itself is designed off of him.
The character is a simple-minded, good-hearted, silly guy. And this is all the movie sets out to be, too. Jokes don’t always land (although thankfully the laughter overshadows the clunkers) but that takes a backseat to the good-natured charm. While the plot gets over-the-top with how ambitious it becomes, it still feels like a simple narrative hitting all the familiar beats one would expect in a “save the world” story aimed at nostalgia.
It’s because of this that the voice acting works so well, too. Throughout the entire film, it just feels like these actors are having the time of their lives. Nick Offerman voices the pirate Metal Beard with such enthusiasm that I actually didn’t realize it was him until the end credits. Charlie Day brings his It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia manic charm to a role that would otherwise have just been a filler character. And throughout the entire film, Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks are the two main characters that have as much charming back-and-forth as any non-animated on-screen duo. Pratt, especially, deserves praise for managing to portray a character that is simultaneously bland yet still “the most interesting person on the world” (the film’s words, not mine).
The final element that lets the movie play around with its story is the visuals. This, at face value, is probably the only thing that was assured to be solid from that initial pitch meeting. Done in full CGI (with a few real Lego sets sprinkled in), the movie looks like it was done in stop-motion. It actually looks like these figures are all just interacting on a physical Lego set, adhering to the real-world limitations of the bricks themselves. For as broad and expansive the world the film takes place in is, the figures still have that waist that only allows them to bend in certain directions. It’s this crazy dedication to letting the animators run wild but while still confining them to a set of rules that makes this whole thing work. It feels real, in the weirdest sense.
At the end of the day, it works for one reason and one reason alone: it isn’t cynical. It genuinely feels like everyone involved, from the animators to the actors to the directors, are just having fun. They aren’t creating what could easily be the biggest product placement film in history (that damned Coca-Cola polar bears movie takes the crown on that one). This isn’t a corporate tie-in for them. This is a chance to create something legitimate based off of a culture’s shared experience of playing with these multicolored bricks and using one’s imagination.
Should You See It? Yes. That’s the film’s biggest achievement: for an hour and a half, there’s no cynicism. You’re earnestly encouraged to just smile and enjoy yourself. “Everything is awesome” is the refrain for the movie’s main theme the characters sing while completing mundane tasks. For a film that could have been a colossal failure and turned out to be weirdly charming, there couldn’t be a more appropriate sentiment.
Image source: ABC