It’s fair to say that, where the box office is concerned, toy-franchises and tie-in movies really don’t mix. Battleship, G.I. Joe, Mars Attacks!: all of these bombed, critically and commercially, largely because they lacked the heart, invention and imagination to make anything more than a glorified feature-length toy commercial.
Luckily for the folks behind The Lego Movie, they hired Phil Lord and Chris Miller, a directing team who have developed an exceptional knack for crafting witty, imaginative hits out of unexpected sources like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street. And they’ve worked their magic once again to turn The Lego Movie into one of the most delightfully weird movies you’re likely to see. Ever.
It’s certainly one of the funniest. Lord and Miller throw-out odd one-liners (“And it’s true. Because it rhymes.”), pop-culture references (“We’ll wing it. That’s a Bat-pun.”), and take pot-shots at corporate America (one of the main themes is how homogenization stunts creativity) with a childish alacrity. They posit a world of organisation and clockwork precision in which everyone watches the same sitcom (Where are my pants?), endlessly sing the same generic pop-anthem (Everything is Awesome!), and where everyone follows handy instruction manuals on how to fit-in – a sly wink to Lego’s own imagination-sapping instruction pamphlets.
The only one who doesn’t fit-in, no matter how hard he tries, is an optimistically lonely construction worker named Emmet (Pratt). He’s pretty unremarkable, and, though he follows life’s instructions with a peppy enthusiasm, there’s nothing special that makes him stand out from the crowd. Obviously, that all changes when he somehow becomes inextricably glued to the Piece of Resistance, a prophesised widget that marks Emmet as the special master builder who is destined to stop the megalomaniacal Lord Business (Ferrell) from unleashing the ‘Kragle’ and ridding the Lego-verse of all creativity.
This relatively simple set-up is used as a jumping-off point for the directors to run wild with their imaginations, dreaming-up increasingly fantastical sequences that encompass a range of genres. Sci-fi, pirates, westerns, and spy-thrillers are all given the Lego treatment as the plot pulls in a hodgepodge of characters such as Batman, Gandalf and a random spaceman with a cracked helmet (what’s his name again?). It’s absolutely bonkers, but enjoyably so.
At times the chaos does become a little bit too much as the directors try to cram in so many bizarre ideas that the plot becomes difficult to follow. Yet, Lord and Miller manage to pull it back by grounding all the madness in a hefty dose of sentiment. The message behind Emmet’s zero-to-hero story is that everyone has the ability to become whatever they want to be and that life should not be constricted by rules and regulations – something which, as cynics would have it, nicely fits-in with Lego’s core marketing message.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Will Arnett often steals scenes as Batman, a dark, brooding artist and Emmet’s principal love rival. Liam Neeson adds frustrated chair-kicking to his particular set of skills as the Good Cop/Bad Cop. And Will Ferrell makes a good villain as the nefarious Lord Business, complete with extendo-legs.
By embracing the retro clunky-look of the toy in animation, Lord and Miller have built a wildly imaginative and witty piece of work that still manages to embrace the cross-generational bonding that Lego continues to engender in families across the world today. Now that’s how you successfully turn a toy-franchise into a movie.
Runtime: 100 Minutes Genre: Animation/Comedy Released: 14th February 2014
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller Writers: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Cast: Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks
Click here to watch the trailer for The Lego Movie