An animated action adventure set within a universe comprise entirely of the eponymous building blocks that have achieved cult status. The plot revolves around a dastardly corporate overlord (Will Ferrell) who plans to glue the Lego universe together. One ordinary Lego character (Chris Pratt), employed as a construction worker, is quickly recruited to help stop the evil tyrant in his tracks.
Befitting a movie made about the pleasure of assembling tiny parts into an unexpected whole, The Lego Movie is an intricate piece that delights in both celebrating and mocking movie archetypes, the commercialisation of childhood experience, and the authoritarian hands of parents. For a digitally animated film whose rather explicit message is that you have to throw out the instruction manual and let your instinct and creativity take over, it’s nonetheless a marvel of craftsmanship and careful design. Oh, and it has a theme song – a blur of euro synth tween voltage entitled 'Everything is Awesome' – that will be stuck in your head for days afterwards.
That happens to also be the favourite song of Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a construction worker in Bricksburg, the Lego block world where he has an instruction guide for everything, including how to make friends. In a city where everyone is hyper-enthusiastic for the same anodyne entertainment and old constructions are being replaced with repetitive structures, Emmitt just doesn’t quite fit in.
"A triumph of corporate marketing even as it advocates resistance to the corporate rule of Lord Business"
He is, of course, the perfect subject for a prophecy: in the battle between the perky, monstrous Lord Business (Will Ferrell), who wants to literally glue everything into place so there’s no deviation, and the mystical Vitrivius (Morgan Freeman), one of the Master Builders, an underground resistance who can create anything out of stray pieces, Emmitt is the Special, and when he stumbles upon the vaunted Piece of Resistance in a pile of rubble, master builder Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) has to take him on the run.
The plot is redolent of The Matrix, a film older than the target audience for this Hollywood blockbuster, and there are numerous witty allusions throughout the film that send up the pretensions of science-fiction mythmaking and then take them a daft step further. Wyldstyle, for example, knows that she must find the Special, but she’s annoyed that she has to play to play second fiddle to a man, especially when it turns out that Emmitt displays none of the talents he is supposed to possess.
None of this would be so entertaining if the means of production wasn’t so suitable. The film has a suitably square, stop-motion look, as if each and every shot has been made with traditional animation and a vast box of Lego, but the computer system that actually provides the film’s look allows for a fascinating, idea-laden environment; you’re swept along by the mix – and sometimes clash – of the verbal and visual gags. Co-writers and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had a degree of the same comic momentum in both their previous pictures, the animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the live-action remake 21 Jump Street, but The Lego Movie is swifter to set up a gag and wittier in the execution.
The voice work is excellent, and in the case of Liam Neeson, as Bad Cop/Good Cop, an enforcer for Lord Business who tends to the former personality not the latter, it’s a welcome surprise. There’s room for multiple celebrity cameos because the film references numerous Lego lines, including Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, with Wyldstyle even being in a bumpy relationship with Batman (Will Arnett), despite her growing bond with Emmett.
So the film is a triumph of corporate marketing even as it advocates resistance to the corporate rule of Lord Business, but the knotty ethics doesn’t detract from the rattling energy, droll quips and madcap references to Lego’s idiosyncrasies. A segue into the world outside the Lego environment drags a touch, but the emotional pay-off is tidily played as all those right angle legs keep on pumping along through plots, battles and banter. A majority of this movie actually is awesome.