Review of The LEGO Movie, Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
The LEGO Movie begins just a few clicks away from facepalm status with a series of childish comedy-laced scenes that make us think “Oh please, not another hour and a half of this!” The cliché jokes start immediately: “Of course there’s a prophecy,” which is true “because it rhymes.” The bad guy is named “Lord Business,” and our protagonist, Emmet, is a brick-headed construction worker who needs an instruction manual to get through the day.
Emmet lives in a world that is an extravagant, chaotic blend of Toy Story meets Wreck It Ralph meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Together with an eclectic band of companions including a secret-agent girl named Wyldstyle, her boyfriend Batman, and a wizard-like sage called Vitruvius, Emmett adventures from locales like Lego city to the Wild West and the Middle Ages. The events happen in such that a friendly pirate ship just happens to pass our heroes in the middle of the ocean, and the Millennium Falcon appears at the very moment they need a hyperdrive to build a spaceship.
But let us not get bogged down in the intricacies of the unremarkable plot. Soon enough, The Lego Movie charms us because it is childhood nostalgia done right. It captures to a tee the ethos of building Legos so that we feel like kids again. All the universal Lego tropes are present. When our heroes conspire to build a submarine, for instance, they raise the eternal debate of color. Batman only builds with black bricks (and sometimes very dark grey – which, as any Lego builder will tell you, differs from light grey), while UniKitty demands “blue razzleberry” and “sour apple” – those colors you only find in the girly sets.
Or, consider the tension among Lego builders between creating something out the instructions versus breaking it apart, adding it to the bin, and making your own things. Emmet, the movie’s protagonist works in construction, where they build everything by the instructions and call out to each other for the pieces they need like a one by two brick or jumper plate (not unlike my brother and I used to do during long afternoons in our bedroom). Yet Emmet stands in contrast to the “master builders” who create their own original models at lightning speed. He is unoriginal, no doubt, but his simple-mindedness ends up helping to thwart the plot of Lord Business to freeze the entire Lego universe in model glue.
Perhaps most comically, one of the characters is a “1980s-something spaceguy,” complete with a helmet broken right below the chin (which is where they always break) and scuffed up insignia on his chest. He looks exactly like some of my oldest minifigures, which are now almost 20 years old just like him.
The movie also captures the distinct feel of indie Lego entertainment. Every element of the world is made exclusively from Lego bricks. Even explosions and waves are made out of Legos. With its stop-motion cinematographic style, the entire film is essentially a glorified homemade YouTube video. It yet another nod to builders, it even introduces “relics,” real-world objects like cuetips, half-eaten suckers, and batters that often appeared in my own Lego bin back in the day.
Any attempt to subject the Lego Movie to critical commentary misses the point. The childish absurdity that prompts groans at first is vindicated in one fell swoop thanks to a clever twist (SPOILERS): the story and the universe it which it takes place do in fact come out of the mind of a child. When Emmet falls through the hole of nothingness, he comes out into the real world. Nearby, a boy no more than ten years old named Finn is playing with his dad’s vast expanse of Lego models – including a city area, a pirate area, a huge tower, and so forth exactly like the world of the film. Finn has been naming the characters and guiding the story the entire time! No wonder Gandalf and Wonderwoman were at the same council of master builders. Soon his dad comes in and rebukes him for playing with his Lego scenes, and we see that the villainous Lord Business is in fact Finn’s father personified as a Lego character. He poses a threat to the Lego world because he wants to suck all the fun out of it. There’s no room for spaceships or cyborg pirates, for instance, in the town belonging to “the man upstairs.”
I hear a lot of complaints among Christian parents and cultural critics that the adults in children’s entertainment and movies are often portrayed as ignorant, out of touch, and ultimately more foolish than their children. One could make the same case here, but this time, we ought to let it slide. I can’t tolerate the thought of gluing Lego models together either, and the notion of a father refusing to let his son play with his Legos is criminal. That kid’s adventures were my adventures not too many years ago. His mishmash of worlds in all the models he built was my creative outlet too. Legos were never meant to be stuck together permanently, but built, destroyed, and remade over and over again throughout all the days of youth.
I submit that there is no childhood activity more wholesome than that. The LEGO Movie preaches that all those countless bricks and minifigures are sacred and supreme above all other symbols of boyhood. And to that I say a hearty “amen!”