My greatest fear going into The LEGO Movie was that it would be an obvious 90 minute ad for the brand, sacrificing a chance to create a truly unique stop-animation feature. Strangely enough, my fears were partially realized. It is true that the movie is little more than a glorified advertisement, yet everything about it is so charmingly wonderful that I can’t help but love it, even if it’s trying to sell me a product. With incredible animation, a hilariously anarchic tone, and a surprisingly smart story, The LEGO Movie is a huge win. It intelligently blurs the line between art and commerce, forcing me to rethink the way I view advertising. It’s the first great film of 2014, not to mention one of the best animated features in upwards of a decade.
The story is nothing short of brilliant, though admittedly it’s very hard to summarize; this is largely because it’s wild, twisted, and constantly in flux, much like the imagination of a child. The basic premise is that there’s an evil corporate guy, President Business (Will Ferrell), who runs the LEGO world, and a lowly construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt) is destined to bring an end to his tyrannical rule.
There’s a reoccurring double entendre about following instructions that fits well with the LEGO bricks motif, all the while hinting at something much deeper. The LEGO masses all watch the same stupid television show, sing the same song every day at work, and all follow approved instructions before they build anything. It’s hard not to see the social commentary and blatant mockery of the mainstream socio-political forces that dominate our culture, many of which demand conformity at the threat of ostracization.
We’re given a history lesson about the LEGO world; a past existed where all people were free to build as they pleased, and no one controlled all of the precious bricks. But things have changed, and powerful influences began to add structure to the free-building masses. The brick people are now so obedient and collective that they don’t even resist being glued in place by President Business’s machines, believing firmly in his legitimate right to governance.
There’s some very obvious, blatant, and direct anarchist themes here, all of which come as a welcome surprise. We’re told how President Business is a corporate giant whose companies run everything from coffee shops to voting machines. There’s a lot of metaphor there, and certainly a lot of philosophical meaning that can be taken from the characters and the story. But what makes all of this even more genius is that it also fits in with how children play with LEGOs.
LEGOs are a toy where you can follow the instructions and build models made from the provided blueprints – or you can throw the instructions away, and have more fun by building anything you want and creating any world you choose. These are building bricks, and the only limit on using them comes from your imagination; and, it just so happens, that your imagination has no rulers.
The movie unfolds in a series of chaotic events, with LEGO characters ranging from Batman to the Ninja Turtles popping into scenes randomly, never once meshing with the plot rationally yet making perfect sense all the same. This movie represents the mind of a child; it’s a call to everyone who watches to remember what it was like to be a kid, playing with LEGOs, and building insane stories that didn’t follow a linear structure.
To drive this feeling home, random artifacts from the real world – like golf balls and Band-Aids – will suddenly appear in scenes, leaving the characters and the story to instantly utilize them. After all, interruptions from my mother or my brother never stopped my play time; their interference became part of my story, and I just kept the whole thing moving. It didn’t have to make sense to anyone who may be watching, as long as my story made sense to me.
I think The LEGO Movie shares my logic. The cast of characters are all from different licensed franchises, and combining them into a narrative doesn’t make any sense. But the movie doesn’t seem to care, encouraging you to let loose your inhibitions and follow suit by just going with the flow. I had no choice but to oblige because every fiber of my being felt like a kid again.
I can’t tell you how the movie comes together, but I can say that the ending is both predictable and unbelievably rewarding. The LEGO Movie is a shameless ad for LEGOs, but it’s also a masterful work of art, delivering a wave of memories and emotion in every insane scene. The stop animation is a spectacular mix of primitive charm and sophistication, with the movie appearing as though it were entirely animated by hand using only LEGO bricks. It’s amazing to watch, and if you lose yourself in the movie, it’s even more wonderful to experience. If you are or were ever a kid, you absolutely must see this film as soon as possible.