Review: The LEGO Movie (2014)

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Director: Christopher Miller & Phil Lord
Screenwriter: Christopher Miller, Phil Ford, Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman
Cast: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman & Charlie Day
Runtime: 100 min // Certificate: U

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj4GeCk5SBk]

Alright, cards on the table; despite the rave reviews from a number of people whose opinions on cinema I trust rather a lot, I was somewhat apprehensive about seeing The LEGO Movie. For all of the apparent humour, the obvious appeal to nostalgia and the constant reassurances that it wasn’t just a 100-minute long advert, I couldn’t shake the fear that I was about to sit through little more than an extended lesson in creative marketing. Amuse me all you want but if the ultimate intention is to sell me a product then chances are I ain’t gonna be interested.

Well, consider me pleasantly surprised. Sure, the purpose of The LEGO Movie is to convince us all that LEGO is the greatest invention since the wheel, and though the commercial aims of the enterprise are laid on pretty thick and fast in the final act, there’s a genuine warmth behind the whole affair that makes it a thoroughly entertaining watch. The film packs a real desire to treat its audience with respect, to tell an intriguing and amusing story, and to indulge in some simple but amusing satire that both children and adults will be able to enjoy. It might not be as “laugh out loud” funny as I’d been hoping but the film oozes such an admittedly-calculated appreciation for the merchandise it’s trying to sell that it’s quite difficult not to fall just a little bit in love with it. I mean at the very least one has to have a grudging admiration for the writers for getting away with such a brazen misuse of screen time to sell a product…

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As with all the best animations, the most striking thing about The LEGO Movie is its incredible attention to detail. Though I thought a lot of the jokes were a bit lame, the sheer wealth of sight gags and sneaky references to television shows, real-life events and other films means that you can’t help but get caught up in the madness of it all. The rewatch factor of a film like this is huge for the simple fact that there is just so much going on. Such relentless chaos has the potential to become irritating and overbearing, yet it’s handled to perfection here. Furthermore, the manner in which the LEGO is utilised is simply inspired. Miller and Ford don’t miss a trick in milking the product to its full potential; the water, the clothes the characters wear, the food – even the self-deprecating references to less successful LEGO ventures, not to mention the dreaded DUPLO – are all played for laughs, and it works – perhaps in spite of itself – rather brilliantly.

Of course the film’s greatest success is the manner in which it utilises classic ideas to tell a generic children’s morality story. The plot of the film revolves around the machinations of evil Lord Business (Ferrell), who wants to use a weapon known as the “Kragle” to destroy the LEGO World. Emmet (Pratt), an ordinary construction worker with no discernable qualities of his own, stumbles across the only thing capable of stopping Lord Business – the brilliantly named “Piece of Resistance” – and suddenly finds himself thrown into a war to save the entire LEGO universe. The themes are simple; the film is all about how one man can save the World, and how wonderful creativity can overcome the prescriptive boredom of adulthood. It’s a film about growing up and about taking on a challenge, yet it’s told via a set of characters that children will immediately recognise and, as such, it works far better than it has any right to, particularly when you consider that the plot is mostly awful.

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The characters that the film focuses on are a further highpoint, with Liam Neeson’s turn as “bad cop” (a character who can rotate his head 180 degrees to become “good cop”… inspired or what!) stealing the show. The voice performances are decent, the characters are hilarious and there’s a real sense of nostalgic joy to the film. Unlike The Internship, which was also little more than an advert about how great its product is, The LEGO Movie makes a genuine effort to entertain its audience, to make them laugh and to tell a heartfelt – if not a bit crude and cloying – story.

Ultimately, The LEGO Movie is a whole load of good fun. I don’t think the twist at the end worked anywhere near as well as it needed to in order to convince me that the commercial aims of the film were acceptable, nor do I think the jokes are as tight as they could’ve been, but if you just sit back and embrace the chaos, The LEGO Movie is almost – though not quite – awesome.

Speaking of which, that song is disgustingly catchy and I hate the fact that I can’t stop listening to it…

★★★½

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