The Lego Movie (2014)
Slim Pickens last weekend gentle reader, as a perusal through the cinema listings left me with miniscule choice on what is next to be assembled. Whilst Starred Up had got some reasonable reviews I really was not in the mood for some grimdark prison brutality, and some of the other thriller types currently perambulating around can have the entire plot and set-pieces divined from a cursory look at the trailer – I mean you don’t have to be a genius to figure out the final moments of this given that they have helpfully decided to include ’em in the god-damn preview. I’ve already seen and reviewed this, there’s also not been much floating around retrospective wise which is unusual for London, I’d like to have seen Wake In Fright which would be completely new to me but it’s only showing at a few odd weeknight screenings. But we must soldier on, and after a good six weeks on release I assumed it would finally be safe to go and see The Lego Movie, as hopefully the herd will have thinned out and there will be less risk of the filn competing with screaming children for attention. I must admit that I didn’t have any particular burning interest to see this on the big-screen but as its emerged as one of the biggest films of the year I think we armchair critics need to make an effort to see everything we can, if only to preserve our credentials and also keep the writing habit well lubricated and in traction. When it comes to kids films I generally only used to make an effort for Pixar, as predicated however their quality and attraction has seriously waned since the Disney acquisition, so despite what their defenders shriek Brave, Cars 2, Monsters University and Brave are all pale imitations of the likes of Up, Finding Nemo or the Toy Story series. The latter is very much the mould for this movie, a knowing and mostly amusing construction of pop culture references, youth orientated story design and humour, dazzling state of the art animation techniques and A list voice talent – but is it all that awesome?
In pixelated polished glory Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt, on course for a phenomenal year with this and the eagerly awaited Guardians Of The Galaxy as well) is an enthusiastic drone level builder in the world of Lego, an animated realm of functional symmetry culled from the Danish kindergarten building toy. Eight and a half years ago
Obi Wan Kenobi the venerable wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) vainly attempted to shield the perilous superweapon known the “Kragle” from our central antagonist, the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). He fails but in defeat retorts the special prophecy of a future savior known as the ‘master builder’, a plastic guru whom will locate the mysterious ‘Piece of Resistance’, a holy relic which is the only artifact capable of neutralising the Kragle. In the eight years since his victory Lord Business has consolidated his control over the moulded and conformist society, dominating the docile masses with low tier TV and overpriced luxury products, crushing dissent and hypnotizing the masses into simply following instructions and everything will be OK. He also promises that an ominous sounding ‘special day’ is swiftly approaching where his new plan for the world will be unleashed, and nothing will ever be the same again. One evening the lonely and disenfranchised Emmet stumbles across the sultry and mysterious Wyldstyle (Elisabeth Banks) as she furtively searches for something in a construction site, immediately smitten he also manages to accidentally retrieve the legendary ‘piece of resistance’ and is misidentified by the secret resistance as the master builder whom will be able to restore order to the numerous Lego districts. When scheming Lord business gets wind of these pesky interlopers he dispatches his henchman Good Cop / Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) to bring the fugitives to justice, and the race is on to defeat Lord Business and fulfil the beloved prophecy with just one problem – Emmet isn’t a ‘master builder’ at all…….
Like everyone else in the Western world born in the past five decades I grew up with and have very fond memories of whiling away juvenile afternoons with the intrinsic creative and imaginative prompting of the Lego toys, building simulacra of my favourite cartoons and superhero comics and commencing battle between incongruous franchise universes, Star Wars versus Battle Of The Planets one week, Star Trek versus Action Man the next – 22 years old I was (A-ha). Still I must admit to being a little ambivalent to the enormous subculture of DIY animation films, computer games and fan site community which has been under construction for the past decade, it strikes me as a little desperate I guess, fun for the practitioners I’m sure but a rather sad grasp at nostalgia fuelled whimsy from independent outsiders. Thankfully the film doesn’t disappear down this rabbit hole as co-writers & directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller deftly navigate that difficult tightrope of children’s appropriate entertainment, super-glued to a whirlwind pop cultural nerd & geek references for the adults. Following a rather conventional chase narrative the film is smart enough to keep the momentum moving through a variety of set-piece structured worlds and a rather clever ‘twist’ toward the end which sets the external infrastructure for the whole imaginative constellation. The animation is appropriately stuttered yet sensational to behold, particularly when the film fabricates each carefully and colour rich assembled action set-piece in each of the Lego realms that Emmet and his companions visit throughout the course of the film, the most amusing being a Will Arnett voiced Batman and his bitching sound system, and the Alison Brie vocalised Princess Uni-Kitty from the pop-art, manga inspired, pastel whirlwind insanity of cloud cuckoo land which was probably my favourite geographic creation. I was expecting more of the much admired Liam Neeson Good Cop / Bad Cop routine character which falls into desperation after the first amusing flourish, but at least Will Ferrell constructs his least irritating, subdued performance for quite some time which is all the more resonant due to his restraint.
So is the film a pocket-money snatching, shamelessly corporate 90 minutes of $200 million supra-marketing or is it a clandestine and cleverly concealed sociological satire which has got those geniuses over at Fox News so barking? Well I’m not so sure that the subversive message of the film is quite the pseudo communist brainwashing that the right would have you believe, but the sly satire on conformity and obeying unquestionably your elders will probably ring true with the younger crowd, as Emmet shifts his ideology through the film from blindly following instructions and not challenging authority to thinking and believing in yourself. It that light it was a canny move to enlist Mark Mothersbaugh for scoring duties given his history as founding member of the post-punk art-rock corporate cell Devo, his contribution giving the indoctrinating ‘Everything Is Awesome’ film theme an ironic social attitude. The inevitable ‘message’ scene doesn’t manage to evade the deeply tedious, stirringly scored ‘ahhh’ trappings of most kids fare but it is thankfully brief and to the point, and the film is also wise enough to close on a simultaneous killer punch line and sequel establishing story beat, leaving you exiting the theatre on a high whilst marvelling at the films colourful and animated invention. Inventive, amusing, The Lego Movie is one of the most original and innovative oblique kids movie from Hollywood since Pixar had their pixels corporately crushed;