Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Lego Movie

Everything is Awesome 

By all rights this should have been awful. Films based on toys usually are (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Battleship), but still make a packet at the box office as kids drag their unfortunate parents off to see two hours of loud, lazy, inane product placement. And their commercial potential reaches far beyond cinema revenue, as merchandise and toys will soon have parents begrudgingly reaching for their wallets once more. 

But instead of cynically exploiting the easy potential of its young target audience in this tried and tested manner, The Lego Movie instead satirises this very mindset, through which this film supposedly came into creation. The villain in the story is called Lord Business (Will Ferrell), the evil president who rules over the Lego-world through the distracting spectacle of mindless TV shows (called ‘Where are my Pants?’), infectiously catchy and similarly mindless pop songs (‘Everything Is Awesome’, guaranteed to resound in your head for weeks) and overpriced coffee (‘that’s $37, please’). A talented group of ‘Master Builders’ – including female lead Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and Batman (Will Arnett) - resist his tyranny, and are united when they find Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary construction worker who they believe to be the prophesised ‘special’ one. 

Parents forced along will be delightfully caught off guard at the flurry of irreverent and hilarious gags. For all its satirical underpinning, what really makes The Lego Movie such an enjoyable experience is the frenetic gag-per-minute (sometimes even per-second) ratio, hardly any of which, despite relying on relentless free association to fire as many as possible, fall flat. The jerky nature of the animation (which brings to mind the stop motion style of A Town Called Panic and the Cravendale milk adverts) compliments the rhythm of the humour, and achieves the remarkable feat of maintaining the appealing, DIY look of stop motion while simultaneously exploiting the huge scale potential of digital animation. At a time when animated features all look so monotonously samey, it is wonderfully refreshing to see something that looks so unique and lovingly conceived. 

Everything about The Lego Movie feels heartfelt and thought up by creative minds rather than boardroom think tanks, from its multitude of pop culture references, to its knowingly lame Lego puns (the ‘piece of resistance’), to its voice actors who all sound they’re having great fun. Arrested Development’s Will Arnett does a brilliant Batman and gets the film’s best lines (and songs), Mad Men’s Alison Brie is hilarious as the hysterically positive Princess Uni-Kitty (half unicorn, half kitten, all repressed rage), and Chris Pratt delivers his lines perfectly as the endearingly dopey hero.  

The final third does not quite deliver as many belly laughs, but a clever and playful twist that moves proceedings into more personal and sentimental territory gives the film added heart and grounds it in a sweet, child-friendly overarching message. 

With a sequel on the horizon, there is a fear that the film’s huge market potential could spark a series of films diminishing in quality that fail to find a similarly fresh new angle on this film’s premise, but, considered on its own terms, The Lego Movie has all the humour and joy of the 2011 Muppets reboot. Sure, by making a film lampooning big corporations that will sell loads of Lego merchandise the film does have its cake and eat it, but, as a character said recently on True Detective: what good is cake if you can’t eat it? 


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