Lego, as a toy, is possibly the most genius idea of the last half-century. A bold claim, perhaps, but hands up who played with coloured blocks and yellow-faced men as a kid?
My own childhood is a patchwork of bizarre constructions. I recall saving my pocket money, as young as six, to go down to the toy shop of a Saturday and purchase another small addition to my pool of materials. A bucket of bricks could amuse me for hours.
But as a film? I don’t know… I’m sketchy of the rules surrounding films based on toys — they certainly aren’t as inescapable as the rule that dooms all video-game-to-film ventures — but Michael Bay’s Transformers films can hardly be seen as a good omen.
(Though, actually, that’s no different to every other Michael Bay film, so perhaps it is unfair to heap the blame at Transformers’ door.)
Thankfully, whatever childhood magic Lego weaved with bricks, it manages to do with celluloid. Yes, The Lego Movie is good. Very good. Better, actually, than anything that is essentially 100 minutes of advertisement has any right to be.
Protagonist Emmett (Chris Pratt) is a Lego man living in a Lego city, ruled by President/Lord Business (Will Ferrell) in a very 1984-style conformity regime. He is insufferably happy and excitable, until he accidentally uncovers “the piece of resistance”, and is sucked into a prophecy to stop Lord Business unleashing a superweapon called “The Kragle”. Emmett is aided by an underground community of master-builders including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), and a host of others.
Two important points to make: firstly, this is funny. Very funny. The jokes are witty and referential, the characters entertaining, and the voice actors are clearly having an absolute ball. It all works together, including (especially) the irritatingly ear-wormy bubblegum pop song “Everything is Awesome“.
Secondly, it knows its audience. And it’s not who you think.
The Lego Movie is a kids film, but in the proud heritage of such films as Toy Story, it isn’t just for kids; it’s for anyone who has ever been a kid. There are of course jokes which will go over the heads of younger viewers, but it is deeper than that. The core message is timeless and ageless, and I really did feel that the twist was outstanding.
Recall, for a moment, the garish extended Google advert which was The Internship. It was bilge — and I say this as a determined Google fan. Part of its problem was Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, but a bigger part was how shamelessly it toed the Google party-line. It thought Google was uncompromisingly brilliant, and it wasn’t letting you leave until it was sure you know it.
The Lego Movie carries none of that with it. Part of it is the lack of Wilson and Vaughn (I’m being facetious, but the excellent casting was definitely a key point in favour). But it also had an anarchic, chaotic, do-and-be-damned attitude, which is exactly what I remember about my own Lego days. Instructions are fine, but I’m building what I want. It’s clearly the directors’ approach to making the film, and it really does benefit for it.
Go in sneering, but I guarantee that if you ever played with Lego you’ll come out grinning. What should have been a self-righteous flop has come out somehow as a heart-warming, endearing, and bloody fun feature. Like I said; better than it has any right to be.
And with that, I’m off to find my bucket of Lego. The damned 100 minute advert worked.