The Lego Movie – Made by those who love Lego for those who love Lego. (Film review)
If you’re reading all the reviews of The Lego Movie, and they become oddly analogous, strangely lacking insight given the overwhelmingly positive scores, you would be forgiven for thinking the cinematic off-season has driven super-hero/super-natural weary critics into a frenzy of appreciation for anything that isn’t going to ask them to analyse a relationship between Divergents or the moral compass of Captain America. However, I need to inform you right off the bat, that the problem isn’t culturally environmental, it’s that the third act of The Lego Movie contains a spoiler that does affect the rest of the film, and even my very mention of that fact can taint and ruin this truly wonderful film for those who trade their work-a-day-dollar for this most enjoyable pleasure. I’m adding my bland audit and cryptically enthusiastic praise to the already existing hordes, but so conscious was I of not wanting to spoil this, that I waited for the films release to post my review.
Instead, lets ask ourselves, what children’s films are for, shall we, because The Lego Movie does take children’s cinema in a new direction, while retaining all those ideals that made Toy Story such a success and that is a connection to the way children play with toys.
Take the opening vignettes of toy story:
What wowed audiences right from the start of Toy Story, was the conspiratorial engagement between a child and their toy to saturate the real with the imagination. Not that we weren’t aware of the importance of much loved toys in child hood, but Toy Story impassioned that idea with homage, rather than marketing acumen – something regularly misunderstood by makers of children’s cartoon films. It had spirit and a soul, those elements only defined by their absence. Lego is fifty years old today, which means the first kids that loved it are turning fifty this year. Lego has stood the test of time, it made its move from gimmick to staple long ago, and has always been recognised as educational no matter how much it exploited current trends with its pop cultural box sets. Toy Story showed us that children’s films can contain moral lessons, and reverence for the spirited child’s relationship that develops around toys. Toy Story used toys culturally recognised through longevity as well, such as cowboy dolls, Mr Potato head and the dog with the spring in its belly. it seems children enjoy their films more, when the adult sitting next to them is also having a good time.
Where Toy Story spoke to the theme of the old overtaking the new, The Lego Movie speaks to the idea of imagination and creativity not always looking insensate and perfect. Much has been made of The Matrix parody, a gimmick children will miss entirely, but one included to highlight the longevity and spirit of this truly loved child’s toy. Lego is about making worlds out of worlds, pits reality against creative vision, and yet also grounds itself perpetually in the mechanics of building and the very tangible present. The connection to The Matrix is delightfully obvious, in that case, as well as refreshingly connective for adults. The Lego Movie is about the relationship between a child and a specific toy, rather than about the toy or the child themselves, and this very subtle difference brings the audience alive to what we’ve always known and didn’t, couldn’t or never knew to voice.
The graphics and animation are fast, and if I was pressed to find a fault with the film (which I am not) it would be that the CGI lacks detail that helps with cognitive rationalising and that licensing decisions have obviously informed the narrative. The film rockets through its paces in a way that either has to be forgiven or endured, the former being the primary choice (obviously) by most critics and I suspect most audiences. The other slight problem, if problem there be, is the relationship between narrative and licensing. There is way too little Lord of the Rings parody and (particularly for this viewer) far too little Star Wars, Marvel have clearly monied everyone else out, or no one else got a look in, and that’s a shame because a lot of famous Lego box sets only get brief referencing. Having said that, The Lego Movie is doused with enough irony that any capitulation is swept aside with self reverential satire.
As for characterisation, I’ve rarely seen it done better. Morgan freeman as Vitruvius is noting short of inspired, and Liam Neeson’s good cop bad cop is so good, one experiences a warmth of connection that will live long through the films tortured family home reruns that we all know are the torment of parents in the digital age. As for Will Ferrell, suffice to say this is the first time I’ve actually liked him. I can’t reveal too much about his character (that spoiler problem again) but I can say that he totally aces this role – so well that I can’t imagine anyone else possibly doing it. Finally, I’m getting on my bandwagon here (because there are far too voices speaking these problems), and despite my previous identification of no problems, the only poorly represented aspect of a film that sets a whole new benchmark for children’s film making, is (drum-roll) the way women are treated in the film. Besides being virtually non-existent, the token side-kick-ass-hot-babelicious thing is SOOOOO boring and over, that it is astonishing they even remembered to put it into the film. Girls play with Lego too (I know! Shocking revelation) so why they must be perpetually ignored or shunned in a film that triumphs the imagination over conventions is a felicitous question that provokes the films only genuine problem – all this despite the ironic cleverness of the Tegan and Sarah theme song.
However! That enormous problem, did not alienate me as a viewer who loved the film, and that is a bit of a coup, and speaks to how brilliantly The Lego Movie is made. I took my five-year old niece to the preview (and my forty-three year old brother and my sixty-five year old ,mother) and we sat there with Lego masks plastered over the top of our 3D glasses with stupid grins on our faces for 2 hours. We babbled excitedly after and rode a rollercoaster of happiness for hours after, and that is really what films like this are all about.