Hats off to writing/directing partners Chris Miller and Phil Lord – three times now they’ve picked up existing properties thought to have Hollywood screenwriting’s equivalent worth of junk bonds, and three times they’ve turned said properties into spun gold for their employing studios. First it was CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, then with 21 JUMP STREET, and now based on that most open-ended, plotless of children’s learning toys, THE LEGO MOVIE.
The brilliant thing about Lego – as anyone who grew up playing with it will attest – is that it’s what you make of it that counts. Sure, each kit has instructions on how you could piece together the blocks inside the box to resemble the picture on the outside, but eventually, inevitably, all those kits end up together in one bigger box. Then imagination takes over, and the sky’s the limit - which in a way is also the age old battle between order and chaos, and that's precisely what Miller and Lord pick up on as their central theme, beautifully disguised as the simplest of stories.
The plot moves with the scatological energy of a five year-old’s creative writing assignment, yet adheres to a straightforward hero’s journey - centring around Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt), a happy, naïve and optimistic construction lemming who is unexceptional in every way, until he is deemed by wise, blind mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) to be ‘The Special’, which plunges him into an adventure to save the world from the evil scheming of President Business (Will Ferrell), with help from an assortment of heroes and rebels including WyldStyle (think Trinity from THE MATRIX, voiced by Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), the pirate Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and 'nineteen-eighty-something space guy' Benny (Charlie Day). As I said: kid’s stuff, right…?
Well, the veneer may be kid's stuff, but a lot of near-miraculous inspiration has gone into making a tone like this work. The pitch of THE LEGO MOVIE is near perfect, but its red cordial-levels of energy alone wouldn’t be enough to get it over the line. In fact, how long you can stay focused on the craziness of the first two acts will probably depend on your age, but fear not - the storytellers have a third act kicker (which I’ll not spoil) that renders all of the delirium that came before entirely earned.
Even the animation style - CG masquerading as stop motion – is perfectly judged and finely executed, with the clunky, staccato movement of the ‘bricks’ and characters resulting in some of the funniest moments.
In the end though, THE LEGO MOVIE works so well because it has so much heart: for the young it works entirely as a superficial story they can relate to and understand, but there’s also satirical detail to burn, as well as a palpable tidal wave of nostalgia for older viewers. All credit to the creators, who have matched brick for brick the storytelling investment we made every time we played with it. I'm avoiding the 'A' word here, so let's say it's pre-CARS Pixar great.