Film Review: The Lego Movie.

„Rest in Pieces.“

The Lego Movie, finally having arrived in Austria, is a movie title as bland as it gets, but make no mistake: this film is so much more than just an easy cash-grab or merely pandering to small children. Do not trust the movie’s marketing strategy, disregard the movie’s trailer (which makes it look like it is only aimed at 10-year olds), and distrust your notion of ‚being too old for this kids stuff‘. Trust the critic instead:  The Lego Movie is the movie Pixar has been meaning to make for years, the one that entirely engages and enthralls you, no matter how old you are.

Quelle: The Lego Movie Trailer, YoutTube Screencap. No copyright infringement intended, this is for educational purposes only.

Everything is awesome in the world of Brick City, a Lego metropolis in which everything is (literally) built according to plan. Emmet, a happy-go-lucky construction worker, is probably its most average and uncreative inhabitant, until he one day falls down a mysterious pit – and all of a sudden is taken to be the Special, the one destined to thwart the evil plans of Lord Business: erradicate all sorts of creativity forever…

This article won’t contain spoilers. Read away!

To be frank: you’ll shit bricks.

Whatever your first impression of The Lego Movie will be: the movie is actually much, much better than that. It would be wrong to single out a single aspect of the movie that elevates it above one’s expectations, however; what is so entirely astonishing is on just how many layers The Lego Movie not only works, but truly exceeds. The Lego Movie has a surprisingly profound story, is entirely hilarious, and is an absolutely mesmerizing experience to watch for the sheer visuals alone. If you think I am being hyperbole here, you may be right – but I challenge anyone coming out of the movie theater to not gush about this miracle of a movie.

It’s not perfect, of course, but most of that is actually because the movie is not entirely convinced of its own greatness. Every once in a while, the pacing of a scene a little off, as the movie rushes from one gag, fight scene or plot point to the next, seemingly in a hurry to bombard the audience with one beat after another. The movie’s ADD-friendliness is the only hint that the movie is targeted at an audience that actually actively buys the products of the Lego company, and one wishes the movie were just a tad slower – and considering the movie’s 100 minutes running time, it could have been. The action scenes are a little too rushed, too – it may make those scenes more thrilling, but takes away from some of the movie’s beautiful cinematography.

To state the obvious: The Lego Movie is entirely rendered digitally, but except for the facial animations looks exactly like a brick movie – you know, the stop-motion ones that people upload on YouTube. The animation is gorgeous to look at, turns the movie into a unique visual experience, and is relentlessly exploited for its comedic potential. Oftentimes, the use of Legos simply looks adorable, e.g. when a fire burns down as less Lego flame-pieces are used frame by frame, and it makes you laugh out of purely sentimental reasons – you know these flame pieces! At other times, the movie self-consciously mocks the shortcomings of Lego bricks, as when Emmet rides a horse or is holding hands, neither of which Lego minifigures are designed for. In any case, the animation is an absolute hoot: if you have ever played with Legos, a wave of nostalgia will inevitably wash over you, as a myriad of familiar pieces, mini-figures and even entire sets are not only used for comedic effect, but are made to form a vast and fully realized world.

It is no exaggeration to state that The Lego Movie is a movie well worth watching twice, in large parts due to the combination of its beautiful visuals and the amazingly detailed set pieces (pun intended). Insanely large and detailed Lego cities, landscapes and vehicles are a sight to behold, full of inventive and funny ways of how the Lego world translates to ours. Such a density of sight-gags is truly rare, both in the back- and foreground. Here, however, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made an awkward decision: several scenes are shot with a very shallow focus. I guess this supports the 3D-version of the movie and makes it feel more cinematic, but it also needlessly takes away some of the fun one can have while exploring the screen. And that’s something you will want to do throughout the movie, as it is rarely content with staying at one location for too long, with each setting being realized in a gloriously detailed manner.

And boy, do the settings get creative. Lego lends itself very well to that, and The Lego Movie fully takes use of that. Many of the character designs are great, such as Unikitty, the compulsively happy cat with a horn, or two-faced Good Cop/Bad Cop. Oh, and there’s also Metal Beard, a pirate with a hilarious mecha body. But the real heroes are of course the settings – from a large and sprawling city to an awesome pirate ship, a trippy cloud country (to which our heroes get via driving on a Lego rainbow) to a hastily improvised submarine that reflects all the main characters‘ personalities – it’s difficult not to be wowed every few minutes.

Put random brick pun here.

Any movie can look good but fail on a narrative level. The Lego Movie has such a great visual appeal that it would still be redeemable if its story were a stinker. Here, however, lies the movie’s greatest strength, in that it refuses to just use a good but arbitrary plot (as Pixar’s Cars did, for example: it had a genuinely cool premise, but never really tackled the question about the premise’s message). The Lego Movie uses its Lego world not only for its gags, but also has the plot itself revolve around it.  As the movie tackles the „Chosen One“ trope (in a refreshingly multi-faceted way – a prophecy is only true because it rhymes, after all), it turns Emmet’s great quest into an exploration of creativity, a question of identity and the importance of teamwork. The Lego Movie does not treat these as empty phrases, but is willing to delve into and even subvert them when it wants to – e.g. to show that while being creative is totally awesome, building something according to a plan may be just as satisfying.

What works particularly well is how all of these themes work on a meta-level as well. The Lego Movie is a story about the joy of Lego minifigures just as much as it is about how much fun it is to play with them. The  attempt to rid the (Lego) world of freedom and creativity is perfectly symbolised by the Kragle, the antagonist’s superweapon of choice. It would be a shame to spoil just what the Kragle really is, or what an ingenious artifact Emmet can use to stop it, but rest assured that The Lego Movie employs objects that are taken from the real world in some truly imaginative ways, thereby going full circle on its themes. Even the evil Lord Business turns out to be more of an allegory than just the stereotypical baddy, and watching The Lego Movie redeem him in its 3rd act is a sight to behold.

Quelle: The Lego Movie Trailer, YoutTube Screencap. No copyright infringement intended, this is for educational purposes only.

Last but not least, it has to be reiterated just how funny The Lego Movie is. I have literally never laughed this hard in the movie theater. I was particularly happy about how the movie avoided the use of broad humor that would only cater to children – but there are no fart jokes or the like. Of course I have a natural affinity towards this movie, as I used to be a huge fan of the toys when I was young – but then again, who wasn’t? The Lego Movie certainly rewards old-time Lego fans with some great gags, such as the hilarious „1980 something space guy“, who really is the quintessential but somewhat bland and unspecific 1980s Lego minifigure (and I even remember their helmets breaking at the exact same spot where it was broken in the movie – such a splendidly observed detail!). Even without any sort of Lego memories/ knowledge, the movie delivers a ton of laughs -many of which are well-earned thanks to the movie’s commitment to its style and its high gag density. And we’re not talking about gags that are merely funny – The Lego Movie delivers a relentless stream of laugh-out-loud moments. Only in the 3rd act do the laughs die down a little, but do so to make way for a more emotionally charged climax.

Lego could not have hoped for a better film, and considering the inventive twist in the 3rd act, it is difficult to see how the directors can top their first Lego movie in terms of originality. It cannot be denied that, at its very core, The Lego Movie was commissioned to work as an advertisement for Lego. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller seemingly found the perfect handle for it: instead of having the brand drive children to the theaters, they let the brand drive the narrative. The Lego Movie is a great example for advertising done right – the movie creates tons of brand awareness, while at the same time promoting the positive message the toy company has been spreading for decades. The movie itself is excellent, but more than anything it showed its integrity towards its origins – and that’s a feat I will gladly pay for to watch.

Conclusion: 9,5 out of 10 points.

The Lego Movie is an entirely astounding movie: heartfelt, poignant, and filled with humor to the brim. Don’t be fooled by its marketing campaign, which is geared towards children: this movie should be a must-watch for any Lego fan regardless of age, and is still an exceptional film for all the others. Just go and watch this movie: you deserve a happy surprise.

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