I loved LEGO when I was a kid. I discovered a bag of LEGO bricks on a high shelf, and my collection expanded from there. I was always an “instructions” kid, although I did try to combine sets from time to time. But I always liked the minifigures the best. I liked using them to come up with stories and adventures. I mention all of this because The LEGO Movie is the best of all worlds. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have shown their genius once again through their unique blend of wit, humor, and heart to go far beyond what others would have boiled down to a crass, exploitative toy commercial. While the movie will undoubtedly sell toys, it manages to respect the “instructions” kids while encouraging them to go beyond the box, build their own worlds, and discover their own creativity and personality through these adorable little toys. But rather than aim for cheap sentiment, The LEGO Movie earns every emotion in a story that’s unabashedly silly and constantly hilarious.
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is the most ordinary “person” (i.e. minifigure) in his city of Bricksburg and probably the world. He follows the instructions for everything, loves the most popular stuff such as the lame TV show “Where Are My Pants?” and the infectiously catchy pop song “Everything Is Awesome”, and no one remembers him even though he’s unfailingly friendly. When he stumbles into a pit at his construction job, he unintentionally finds the “Piece of Resistance”, which means he’s meant to fulfill the prophecy set down by the wise “Master Builder” Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) to defeat the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). When the rebels discover Emmet’s painfully ordinary, they must work to help him become extraordinary.
As with their previous two movies, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, Miller and Lord have unquestionably proven themselves as brilliant storytellers who know how to play against expectations. A LEGO movie seems like it’s designed to sell toys, and it will. It will also sell toys beyond the “LEGO Movie” line since part of what’s being encouraged is mixing and matching toys from different sets. But rather than a cynical “BUY MORE FOR MORE FUN”, the movie celebrates how funny and joyful those combinations can be. The movie treks across different LEGO worlds from “The Old West” to pirates to an adorably cute world where anyone is free to build what they want. Yes, LEGO has become more license-heavy in recent years, but at the Council of Master Builders, it’s delightful to see Superman (Channing Tatum) standing alongside William Shakespeare. When Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) flies away in a rocket chair, it makes total sense because that’s the kind of freedom and creativity the movie is ultimately encouraging.
It’s fine to draw from the instructions, but as we see in Emmet’s case, it can also stifle creativity. His most creative thought is a “Double Decker couch, so everyone can watch TV and be buddies!” Meanwhile, the Master Builds are clicking together everything they can find and even, in the case of Vitruvius, going beyond the LEGO world by wielding a staff that’s apparently a mostly-used lollipop. The filmmakers could have undermined their point about creativity by only using bricks. Instead, they say that creativity doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop at the box. Also, it’s more entertaining to bring in these outside elements like q-tips and markers.
And without spoiling anything, they’ve taken the same clever twists to their screenplay. The plot follows the Hero’s Journey to the point where you feel like someone is going to break out an instructional manual, which would be hypocritical to the whole endeavor. But just when you think you’ve got Lord and Miller pegged, they change the entire game in a way that’s kind of mind-blowing. The filmmakers could have simply leaned on name-brand recognition and called it a day, and instead decided to do something surprising and brave. Their risk absolutely pays off.
The same goes for the stop-motion style animation. When the traditional mode of thinking dictates that all animation should be smooth and unobtrusive, Lord and Miller decided to pay tribute to all of the stop-motion LEGO filmmakers who came before. These pioneering LEGO fans took the toy they loved, and brought it to life bit-by-bit. While The LEGO Movie was mostly done only in the style of stop-motion, they did it so well that the filmmakers were able to sneak in shots that were actually done with stop-motion animation. Lord and Miller not only took the style, but then they used a bright, vibrant, gorgeous color palette to further bring the world to life with an emphasis on the plastic details of the figure. All of these touches not only help to bring the world to life, but they make LEGO fans like me flashback to the minfigures we loved and played with as kids.
And yet for all of the movie’s thoughtful subtext and construction, the story’s primary interest is on lovable characters with distinct personalities and a lot of emotion. The voice acting is superb, and Emmet is incredibly endearing. His warmth and generosity speaks to people who do all of the right things, but end up going unnoticed anyway. Additionally, his ineptitude is, like almost every other joke in the film, a blast. The LEGO Movie has a big heart to back up its even big brain.
At the very least, The LEGO Movie gave me a big smile on my face from the first frame to the end of the credits (and you should stay to the end of the credits). At its best, The LEGO Movie had me struggling to breathe from laughing so hard. I was slightly worried the film’s best jokes may have been in the trailers, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg in a movie that is constantly clever and courageously absurd. One of my favorite lines of the year is one that comes out of nowhere between two characters talking in a saloon. Some people won’t find it as funny as I did, but it speaks to Lord and Miller being on my comic wavelength like few others. However, it’s not a divisive comedy, and there are plenty of jokes that kids and adults will enjoy.
The LEGO Movie is something special. It takes me back to when I loved LEGO as a kid and reminds me why I still enjoy them as an adult. Lord and Miller made a movie about imagination that’s truly imaginative and literally thinks outside the box. It constantly plays against expectations and does so in a smart, understated, and above all, entertaining manner. They took a bunch of plastic pieces and assembled them into something that’s far beyond what other filmmakers would have even attempted. They embraced their creativity and encouraged their audience to do the same. It all clicks together perfectly.