Writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller made a name from themselves in 2009 with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and brought their irreverent comic sentiment to live action with 21 Jump Street three years later. Both were based on existing properties and frequently regarded as cynical cash-ins prior to their release but went on to shake the bellies of critics and audiences alike. Enter Lego, their latest effort, and about the most manically imaginative, outlandish splatter of colour one could hope to find (or indeed stomach) in an animated family comedy. The Warner Brothers logo rendered in colourful bricks is enough to tease a smile, initiating an unrelenting 100 minute work-out for the facial muscles as we are dragged through the Lego Universe like billy-o.
The plot – all ‘Prophesies’, ‘Chosen Ones’ and ‘Pieces of Resistance’ – follows average-figurine Emmet (a superbly cast Chris Pratt) who is mistaken for a ‘MasterBuilder’ and called upon to save the Universe. Joined by tech-savvy super-babe ‘Wildstyle’ (Elizabeth Banks) and the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Emmet must unite the Piece of Resistance – a strange red brick which has has affixed itself to his back – with The Kragle, a mysterious weapon wielded by the tyrannical Lord Business (Will Ferrell).
The ostensibly standard hero’s-journey fare will delight kids on a basic level, but it is as a subversive, pop culture-savvy satire that The Lego Movie truly excels. Beneath the carefree, smily exterior is a film enriched with the sort of lofty ideas usually reserved for dystopian science fiction. Whilst it is littered with references to comic books, The Simpsons and Star Wars (to name but a scarce few), through its veins pumps the same blood that fuelled They Live, Metropolis and 1984; a vision of a world controlled by corporations in which everyone smiles contently with overpriced coffee and overplayed pop songs and has a compulsion to “stick to the instructions”. The message may become a little muddled in the final third, but perhaps its contradictions are intrinsic to the very nature of self expression; another theme which Lord and Miller play with throughout.
Of course, this is no philosophical discourse, it’s the Lego Movie, and it’s brought to life with incredible visual wit and imagination, the animation a beautiful recreation of the stop-motion aesthetic made recognisable by BrickFilms. The level of detail is particularly pleasing, our miniature heroes proudly wearing their factory blemishes and play-time wear and tear (the crack in 1980s Something Space Guy’s helmet will have your inner child welling up). Lord, Miller and the excellent Aussie based studio Animal Logic fully commit themselves to the Lego-verse, rendering everything in staccato explosions of shuffling plastic, itself a stroke of comic genius.
A surprisingly chaotic, genuinely intelligent, painfully funny and lovingly made masterwork of animation with a strong, beating heart. Not bad for a $60 million toy advert.