Chris Lord and Phil Miller are Hollywood’s current Kings of Impossible; taking on enterprises seemingly without adaptable merits, the pair have already made global smashes out of their previous projects. ‘Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs’, a delightfully strange children’s book without any real characters, and ’21 Jump Street’, a televisual relic of the 1980’s, both worked like gangbusters – winning over critics and hitting major coin at the box-office (both have sequels either released or slated to be) in spite of arriving with no real expectation. The two films also proved the versatility of the creative duo, as they moved effortlessly from a charming family animation to a hard-R rated comedy for adults, and this transition set them up perfectly for their latest – and greatest – feature.
Whatever you’re anticipating from ‘The Lego Movie’, it likely doesn’t begin to cover what a miraculous movie this is. While the Lego brand has continued to thrive year after year, it has been without an identity of its very own, instead creating character kits, playsets, videogames and animated features inside the existing universes of others. Star Wars, superheroes (both Marvel and DC), Lord of the Rings, James Bond, The Simpsons, Indiana Jones… hell, even Monty Python have their own branded ‘Holy Grail’ kit, and this level of cultural assimilation has kept the loveable Lego brick alive and in idle hands, even after all this time (The Lego Group was founded, unbelievably, in 1932). What this film does, and does incredibly well, is introduce new characters, integrate them with a whole host of familiar faces, and create an entire universe for them to share, so while characters from other established franchises can (and do) feature heavily, the protagonist whose adventures we follow is entirely new.
Emmet Brickowski is a construction worker (of course) seemingly of no consequence. He drinks the same overpriced coffee every morning, goes to work with the same team every day, and comes home to his empty apartment each evening, unnoticed by everyone, until a chance meeting with mysterious stranger Wyld Style sets off a chain of events that will change his world… and maybe save the entire universe. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s an almost word-for-word retelling of Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ template, the genesis of literally thousands of adventure stories, but TLM manages to not only subvert this established story trope, but transform it into a commentary on imagination itself. For a family adventure, there’s so much going on under the surface here – with discussions on consumerism, social acceptance and individuality, family, and the nurturing of a creative spirit among others – and all without distracting in any way from the central goal of the film. This is, after all, a comedy. And fortunately, it’s riotously funny.
Let me make this clear: I haven’t laughed as loud or consistently as I did at this film for a long time, and the filmmakers use absolutely every opportunity they can to bombard the audience with gags. From script-level upwards it’s an absolute joy, akin to something like ‘Airplane!’ in terms of the sheers volume of jokes being constantly dropped whether silly, satirical, referential or visual. Of course not every laugh can land with everybody, but it doesn’t matter – you barely have chance to catch them all, and the cast (almost entirely comprised of comedians) sound as if they had as much fun delivering these lines as the audience does soaking them up. Emmet is a sweet, awkward and unremarkable guy caught up in a remarkable situation, and Chris Pratt’s timing and delivery are key to him being such a winning lead in the story, while Morgan Freeman wonderfully sends up the Wise Old Man archetype this kind of story so often has, getting some of the biggest and silliest laughs in the whole movie. While the villainous role of Lord Business is no real stretch for Will Ferrell, it makes his performance no less funny, and it’s great to hear Liam Neeson poke fun at himself so willingly in a role that is at once a hard-nosed badass and an adorable goof. However, it’s Will Arnett’s Batman that practically steals the movie – lending his gravelly tones to a Dark Knight that is self-involved, snobby, and has sub-woofers in his Batmobile (“I call them The Dogs”), he delivers a great send-up of the character and is an absolute joy. I could go on and on; Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), Benny the Spaceman (Charlie Day), Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), Superman and Green Lantern (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) and even Shaquille O’Neal (himself) are all superbly utilised characters, lovingly voiced to hilarious effect.
And yet, the lasting impression the film leaves is sweetness. It shifts gears and takes a couple of major chances in the third act, in terms of visuals, thematics and character, but delivers a pay-off that is so earnest, so honest and wonderful, that you’ll be beaming from ear to ear. By the time the central anthem for the film is dropped for the final time (the almost unbearably catchy ‘Everything is Awesome!’), you’d have to have the hardest of hearts not to agree with its sentiment. Chris Lord and Phil Miller go three for three with their movies. The Lego Movie is a breath-taking achievement, an explosion of eye-candy, imagination, hilarity and heart.
I can’t wait to see it again.