THE LEGO MOVIE
Lego has had long associations with film. There had been a previous Lego-animated film with Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers (2010), although this was only released to dvd. There were a further series of four traditionally animated films based on Legos now discontinued Bionicle line beginning with Bionicle: Mask of Light (2003). The idea that The Lego Movie draws itself from however is the popular fan film notion of using Lego pieces to create stop-motion animated films. These, nicknamed brickfilms, have become so popular there are sites dedicated to hosting them and film festivals Michel Gondry even directed a Lego brickfilm music video for The White Stripes at one point. Although, what need be said is that The Lego Movie is not a brickfilm per se although there are some scenes of stop-motion animation, most notably the end credits, most of it is regular CGI animation that has been touched up to look like stop-motion.
The Lego Movie comes from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo that had a huge success with the animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and then the live-action 21 Jump Street (2012) and its sequel 22 Jump Street (2014), as well as producing the tv series The Last Man on Earth (2015 ) and the animated film Storks (2016). They are next set to make the Han Solo origin film.
I have to admit to enjoying The Lego Movie far more than I was anticipating doing so. I wondered at the outset just what the film was going to do with the concept the idea of jerky stop-motion animated Lego figures being used to tell a story seemed limited in concept. The cleverness of the film proves to be its meta-fictional playfulness. It is a film that takes the format, design and quirky limitations of its characters and conceives an entire universe around them not dissimilar to the way Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) created a world that operated according to cartoon physics, or Strings (2004) conceived a world inhabited by puppets and, most recently, the film that The Lego Movie bears a good number of resemblance to, the Disney animated Wreck-It Ralph (2012) about the lives of characters inside videogames.
Here we get characters who seem to lead modular lives and sing songs about being able to build things and then break them all down again. Characters reach out to hold things with clawed hands and live in terror of the threat of being melted down. Like VGer in Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979), the deadly Kragle that the villain is seeking to unleash turns out to be Krazy Glue with some of the letters obscured, while he also employs (to sinister purpose) a number of other giant-sized everyday implements familiar to us that have somehow found their way into the universe. There is a surprisingly affecting scene towards the end where the film breaks the figurative fourth wall and has the hero ventures out into the real (live-action) world where we see much of what goes on is an analog of the relationship between a father and son. Like the essential dialectic that ran through Toy Story 2 (1999) whether toys should be collected or played with the debate that informs much of the film (and apparently in real life too) is between whether Lego pieces should be endlessly broken apart and reassembled (childs play, which the film wholeheartedly champions) or whether they should be made into static models.
By far and away, the greatest fun the film has is when it comes to mixing up familiar characters in particular, a number of familiar franchises that Lego has managed to license. In a copyright licensing coup, the film has managed to obtain use of characters from both Warner Brothers Batman is a central character in the story and we get supporting appearances from DCs Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, as well as from the Warners owned Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series and 20th Century Fox, including characters from Star Wars (1977) and The Simpsons (1989 ), as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These are also mixed up with numerous real-world characters such as Cleopatra, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln (who rides a rocket chair). The Star Wars parody and encounter between Batman and the Millennium Falcon in particular is extremely funny and leads to a side-splitting coda where the Millennium Falcon encounters the space slug from The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller give the film an enormous degree of energy. The various vehicle chases are fast and energetic. The script is peppered with some very wry and funny one-liners. There are some enormously likeable and amusing characters in particular, the Alison Brie-voiced Uni-Kitty, which looks like a Lego creation from the My Little Pony universe who is constantly trying to bottle up bad feelings and stay happy, and the Liam Neeson-voiced Bad Cop/Good Cop, which is constantly switching faces and personalities between either. The result ends up being an enormously fun movie that entertains with its sheer energy and humour, while never pandering any of it down to younger audiences.