Review: The Lego Movie (Lord & Miller, 2014)

Still from The Lego Movie

I put The Lego Movie in the category of Children’s Films Really Made for Adults, along with, well, I can only think of Shrek. (And both feature big-name comic stars: Mike Myers as Shrek and Will Ferrell as The Lego Movie‘s President Business.) Watching the previews a few months ago, the jokes seemed so unfunny to me that I quickly judged the film not worth watching. I changed my mind, however, when I kept hearing everyone I knew saying they liked it.

Will Ferrell as President Business

My own opinion is that The Lego Movie is no Shrek. The jokes are indeed a bit hollow and strained. There are moments of uplifting corniness and “everyone is special” propaganda that seem appropriate only in the most maudlin of children’s movies. Yes, I did detect the irony and self-mockery in these scenes, but, no, they are not quite ironic and self-mocking enough. In the child-adult divide, Shrek lands squarely on the adult side–it is grownups who best appreciate how the story subverts the classic Disney fairytale and who understand the darkness (and indecency) of some of the jokes. But The Lego Movie can’t decide what it is, appealing at once to the nostalgia and cynicism of a generation who was raised on Legos, as well as delivering the usual feel-good messages to the new generation currently being raised on Legos.

I did have to say I succumbed to some of that nostalgia. Just seeing a whole world constructed with the familiar pieces from my childhood, especially the more obscure ones, brought me no small amount of delight. God, even their little C-shaped hands, their interchangeable hair, the way that small plastic trees fit so satisfyingly into flat plastic boards. If you ever liked Legos (and I did), there’s plenty here to nerd out on.

The story line, though? Mostly fluff. Ordinary, bland, and toxically enthusiastic Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker whose creed is to follow instructions. Every morning he gets up, consults his instruction booklet, “How To: Fit In, Have Everybody Like You, and Always Be Happy!” goes to work, sings, and makes small talk with his co-workers. His favorite song is everyone’s favorite song (a pop tune that has four lines that will quickly get stuck in your head for a month), his favorite TV show everyone’s favorite TV show. But not everything is as it seems. In charge of this gloriously happy world (and, it turns out, all the worlds in the universe) is one President Business, a mega-evil corporate baron who wants everything to be just perfect and to stay that way, forever. Of course, as you would expect, there’s also an underground resistance team who is fighting him, headed by hallowed wise man Vitruvius (who could be no other than Morgan Freeman), tough girl WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), and the one-and-only Batman (Will Arnett).

In addition, the film begins with a Sword in the Stone-like prophecy: “the Special” (i.e. the anointed one) will find the Piece of Resistance and lead the Master Builders to defeat President Business. Not surprisingly, it turns out the most unspecial guy in the universe is the Special. Chased by the President’s henchman, Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), WyldStyle brings Emmet to meet the other Master Builders. Along the way they visit different worlds (or Lego sets), have all the necessary adventures, and develop the obligatory bit of romantic tension, etc. If at times it feels as though some kid playing with his Legos wrote the script, well, it turns out that may be intentional.

I won’t ruin the ending for you, but it is the ending that redeems this film. If you find yourself bored and ready to quit the movie, don’t: it’s worth it to stick around.