As I write this, there is a large Lego Iron Man stood on my desk. I got him for Christmas last year. I built him, modified him slightly (gun-hand!) and now he just sits there, occasionally getting moved into a new pose. I used to have a collection of Star Wars Lego, and the same thing happened there, too.
But that’s not really what you’re supposed to do with Lego, is it. It’s not meant to stay, unchanging, in one fixed shape. I am doing it wrong. And The Lego Movie desperately wants me – wants all of us – to remember that.
Building a universe
In the film’s Lego world, the heroes are the Master Builders – experts in tearing apart existing things and building new ones from the pieces. They can make a motorbike from the junk in an alley; a stagecoach from a barn; a submarine from bits of the world itself. These Master Builders are the worlds’ last hope against the evil Lord Business, president of everything, and his strict enforcement of the rules he calls “the Instructions”.
That name – Lord Business – is no accident. As much as the film criticises people who only build the model on the box, it’s criticising the Lego Group far more. To say anything else would probably spoil it; just know that The Lego Movie has no love for the company’s recent business-model, and no interest in following it. It’s not even interested in selling toys. Instead, it’s selling a mindset. It’s selling a way of life. It’s selling… imagination.
Because that’s what this film is: pure, unfiltered imagination thrown up on the screen. Robot pirate with a shark for an arm! Unbearably cute unicorn-cat with anger issues! Ridiculous giant stompy evil boots! Batman! It’s random, chaotic creativity given free reign. It’s hilarious – and it’s wonderful.
Building on past success
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are already well known for this, of course. 21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and short-lived cartoon Clone High (look it up, it’s great) are all crazily inventive comedies in one way or another, but the pair have never had such an ideal medium before. Lego is perfectly suited to their kitchen-sink attitude, building impossible structures out of mad ideas and little plastic bricks.
What they manage to do with those bricks is incredible. Everything in this film – everything – is made from Lego. A train pours out a trail of blocky white smoke, things explode in a shower of glowing orange cubes, and at one point there’s an entire ocean of Lego with little studded crests on the waves. The animation may be CGI, but it lovingly recreates the stunted movement of the real thing – it looks like a spectacularly beautiful, impossibly vast, DIY fan-film.
If I have one complaint it’s that there’s sometimes too much going on. The intentional clunkiness of the animation can sometimes leave scenes – particularly action scenes – feeling swamped and overcrowded. Weirdly, this is less of an issue in the film’s 3D version, where the depth of field spaces things out and gives a better idea what to focus on. Otherwise, though, both versions look equally great.
You may think the story would get lost in all this visual madness. I’ve not even mentioned the main character – a hapless construction worker who turns out to be a hero of prophecy – in this whole review! But one of Lord and Miller’s other uncanny strengths is to anchor the chaos to an emotional core. On the surface, that story sounds pretty rote, but it goes in directions I never saw coming and becomes something really heartfelt and earnest. This may just be me, but I was so powerfully and personally moved that it was a little overwhelming. It affected me on levels I didn’t even know I had!
So, after all that buildup
The Lego Movie isn’t about Lego as a product, but it perfectly embodies Lego as an idea: taking themes and concepts we’re familiar with and rebuilding them into something new. It’s boundlessly imaginative, unrelentingly funny, and just plain ridiculous amounts of fun. Yet, throughout, it manages to stay sharp, subversive and unexpectedly touching. This is a film that distils all the joy and wonder of childhood – and it made me want to be a better adult, too.
When it was first announced, a movie based on Lego sounded like a terrible idea. It still does. But, after seeing it, I can’t imagine a single way it could have turned out better.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an Iron Man to redesign.
The LEGO Movie is out now in UK and US. Our reviewer bought his own tickets (twice).