DIR/WRI: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller PRO: Roy Lee, Dan Lin MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh DOP: Barry Peterson, Pablo Plaisted ED: David Burrows, Chris McKay DES: Grant Freckelton, CAST: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman
‘You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.’
These words, famously stated by gatekeeper Morpheus to describe The Matrix in the iconic film from 1999, might at first appear to have little to do with The Lego Movie. How could the Wachowskis’ dystopian diatribe against the hyper-real, mass-media environment of the late 20th century have anything in common with a film which functions at its most superficial as a 100 minute advertisement for children’s brick-based playsets? Yet, some clear parallels can be observed in the story of an average man, traversing a metaphorical rabbit-hole to be told that reality as he knows it is a deceptive construction; but he is a long-promised saviour, come to fulfil the prophecy of shattering this illusion and saving the world.
The hero of The Lego Movie may even be more expressive than The Matrix’s Keanu Reeves – the yellow-faced Legoman, Emmett (Pratt), a mild-mannered construction worker. His daily routine is dictated by ‘the instructions’, a technical bible which guides him on how to fit in, make friends, and be happy. The (Lego) Matrix undeniably has him: We see it when he looks out the window to greet the day (to see every other Lego-man and woman looking out the window, greeting the day), or when he turns on his television (to watch the universally-seen sitcom, Where are my Pants?). It is a ritual-driven world, pulled over his eyes to protect him from the truth – which in this case, is that its seemingly-benevolent ruler, President Business, is secretly planning to destroy the world.
When Emmett accidentally stumbles upon a priceless relic, the key to disarming President Business’ most deadly weapon, he is mistakenly identified as ‘The Special,’ an extraordinary person heralded as the saviour who will thwart President Business. Recruited into a troupe of renegade ‘master builders,’ famous figures who play by their own rules, the overwhelmed and underprepared Emmett begins his quest through a maze of secret tunnels, other realms, and the idea that the instructions are just the beginning.
The plot is as by-the-numbers as Emmett’s instructions, but the joy of The Lego Movie is in its execution. Writer/director team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring the same self-effacing reflexivity to The Lego Movie as we saw in their previous zany capers, 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which opens it up in a number of fairly astonishing ways for a film about Lego. Themes of conformity vs. creativity, free will vs. fate and determinism, along with surprisingly on-point commentary about monopolist multinational corporations and the increasing specialisation of Lego playsets reducing creativity and self-determination are introduced – but, fittingly for a Lego movie, in a playful and accessible way that can always be broken down and reshaped.
Visually, the film delights in its own ‘Lego-ness,’ with intangible properties like water, smoke and fire being rendered in the small round pieces and shiny plastic familiar from Lego sets, as well as using the interlocking characteristics of its bricks to great effect. While the action is largely computer-generated, it retains the erratic energy and aesthetic of stop-motion animation which perfectly complements the film’s humour.
The Lego Movie’s cast of characters is joyously brought to life by a hilariously self-aware script and lively voice-acting. Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt brings his characteristic brand of earnest positivity and expert comic timing to our hero Emmett, a character believably out of his depth.
There are no missteps in the huge supporting cast either; Elizabeth Banks makes for a punky, articulate heroine, while Liam Neeson’s conflicted Good Cop/Bad Cop is a particular highlight, and Will Arnett’s Batman may be one of the most enjoyably self-aware portrayals of the character in recent memory. (Your move, Ben Affleck.) Alison Brie, Nick Offerman and Charlie Day capably round out the ‘who’s-who of US sitcoms’ filling out Emmett’s team as the bubbly Unikitty, mutant cyborg pirate Metalbeard, and Benny, The 1980-Something Spaceman. (Keep your ears peeled too for other famous cameos, including Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill from 21 Jump Street reprising their double act as a couple of superheroes.)
The Lego Movie, particularly in a striking third-act narrative rupture, could maybe be read as a metaphor for the state of the Lego corporation as it stands in the 21st century –as a battle between individual, creative thought and disciplined, specific model-making. But it can just as easily be seen as a hilarious caper about what happens when you stop following instructions and start having fun. Built to last, The Lego Movie could be Toy Story for the 21st century.
G (See IFCO for details)
The Lego Movie is released on 14th February 2014