The Lego Movie. Image: Warner Bros. Pictures.
The Lego Movie. Image: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Lego Movie
Dir. Chris Miller & Phil Lord
****

It really shouldn’t have worked. By all rights, The Lego Movie should be a bloated exercise in corporate cynicism, ruthlessly hawking overpriced plastic to kids: a 90-minute commercial they pay to see. God, I love capitalism!

Now, I could unpick the politics and hypocrisies of the movie for hours on end, but all art deserves a fair hearing independent of the economics and politics of its creation. Did I just implicitly compare The Lego Movie to Triumph of the Will? You bet I did. Too much of the conversation surrounding the movie will revolve around the fact that it celebrates individual creativity in the face of soulless capitalist homogeneity while being a product of that same beast – it’s all perfectly pertinent, sure, but the film’s the thing.

And what a thing it is. The Lego Movie somehow, gloriously, works. It tells the story of an incompetent Chosen (Lego) One who, despite being the most generic person in existence, ends up leading the fight against the evil Lord Business, who wants to stifle all creativity and force everything to adhere to a strict set of rules. And while its trappings are nice – a fabulous voice cast replete with pitch-perfect cameos too good to spoil, with Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, and Will Ferrell particular standouts; distinctive and colourful animation; a song that simply will not get out of your head – so many mediocre films boast similar strengths. What sets The Lego Movie apart?

It’s the script. The story is clever enough to make its central character, Lego everyman Emmet, an open parody of cookie-cutter leading men, and its save-the-world plot weaves expertly between parody and pastiche as need dictates. Any film based on Lego needs a healthy degree of postmodern awareness, and this is a film whose references are as diverse as the 000 American election, Austin Powers, and Fellini’s 81⁄2. A pop-culture kaleidoscope explodes onto the screen, riding a wave of reflexivity towards Real Human Truths®, and the first 20 minutes or so bares some surprisingly sharp satirical teeth. At every turn, you get the sense that the film has something to say, usually “Lego is awesome!” – but what might have come across as corporate nihilism in a lesser film instead becomes genuine joy in the craft of both cinema and Lego.

This is not to say that The Lego Movie is perfect. Like most kids’ films, the middle drags and the last act goes on about five minutes too long, despite the fantastic left-field sequence near the end (you’ll know it when you see it) which brilliantly contextualises the whole film.

Still, it’s easy to find flaws if you’re looking for them; for instance, I’m still not convinced of the merits of characters like Princess Unikitty or Metalbeard. The movie is witty enough that even its least interesting moments are peppered with great gags, but the real meat is in the first and last 20 minutes.

The film’s problems can basically be summed up as ‘it’s an animated kids’ movie’. Ambition is necessarily limited and commercial appeal is played up; just think back to the horror shows that were G.I. Joe and Battleship to see how badly that can go wrong when the subject matter is a line of toys. But The Lego Movie’s miracle is its perfect synthesis of toy and theme, resulting in a film that is actively enhanced and improved by drawing artistic inspiration from blocks of Danish plastic. It simply shouldn’t have happened.

But it did, and it gives me hope – and fills me with dread, as success guarantees shoddy knockoffs. All we can do is pray that The Capsela Movie or whatever misshapen monster the industry vomits out next has half the charm, intelligence, and wit of The Lego Movie, because I don’t think we’ll see anything quite like this again.

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