Product placement as artistic expression, The Lego Movie is less interested in the product proper than in the way people play with said product. Instead of a big-screen toy catalog, this is a kids’ comedy about social engineering.
As Lego enthusiasts know, there are two extreme types of Lego personalities. Some meticulously follow the directions for each set, constructing exactly as instructed and never daring to disassemble a completed project. Then there are those who dump the pieces of multiple sets in one big pile and form bizarre creations, most of which enjoy brief, strange lives before being dismantled and reformed into something weirder. Identifying where you fall on the Lego spectrum will explain a lot about your approach to life.
The Lego Movie opens in one of the first scenarios, a carefully planned city where a nondescript construction worker named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) compliantly goes about his ordered routine, the same one followed by everyone else. Emmet and his coworkers build according to their assigned instructions, bop their heads to the same hit song (“Everything Is Awesome!”) and line up to pay for overpriced coffee each morning. If there is ever any grumbling, their domineering overlord President Business (Will Ferrell) placates them with promises of Taco Tuesday.
Taco Tuesday is more than enough to pacify Emmet, at least until he meets WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks). A loner with impulsive streaks of color in her hair, WyldStyle decidedly does not follow instructions. Soon she sweeps Emmet into an adventure aimed at deposing President Business and bringing individuality, spontaneity and creativity back into the Lego universe.
The Lego Movie feels like a junior version of Jacques Tati’s Playtime.
What is the shape – physically and philosophically – of a healthy society? That’s the unlikely but guiding question behind The Lego Movie, which was written and directed by the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street). They explore it with the quick wit and giggly humor of a children’s film, yes, but also in a way that respects (indeed, challenges) its target audience’s intelligence. From throwaway lines (“I think I heard a whoosh”) to priceless character cameos (the pompous Batman might be my favorite, though I’m also partial to the Abraham Lincoln who zips around in a space chair), the movie doesn’t let a moment pass without a laugh. You watch in gleeful anticipation, because every brick might just contain a gag.
Aesthetically, The Lego Movie is a head-on collision between rudimentary imagery and spastic sophistication. Rather than create anthropomorphic versions of Lego figures, the film stays true to the geometric body types, flat facial features and even removable hair pieces of the real-life toys. It lends a hand-crafted sensibility that’s oddly endearing (similar to that of South Park). A tactile feel is also brought to the animation, as the CGI employed mostly mimics the herky-jerky movement of stop motion. Altogether, the picture embraces the multitude of color and shape variations inherent in Legos and then puts them in a frantic spin cycle.
During the “Everything Is Awesome!” number, this is thematically ingenious, if a bit deranged. It’s like the flip side of Alex’s experience in A Clockwork Orange, as we’re force-fed a barrage of happy happy joy joy sounds and images. The action sequences, however – in which our heroes create elaborate escape vehicles and other devices on the fly – move at such a harried place that they may induce seizures. (Although they are, I might add, still more comprehensible than your average Transformers action scene.)
In any case, this commitment to endless, exponential creativity is connected to the movie’s underlying worldview: that ingenuity should always trump conformity, whether you’re planning a community or playing in your basement. (Notably, the picture distinguishes ingenuity from chaos, especially during a hilarious trip to a Lego free-for-all known as Cloud Cuckoo Land.)
Indeed, in its celebration of creative community as a compromise between suffocating order and individualistic anarchy, The Lego Movie feels like a junior version of Jacques Tati’s Playtime. In that 1967 comedy, Tati’s bumbling tourist Monsieur Hulot inadvertently throws a wrench into the meticulously planned goings-on of a modern city. And Tati, of course, was partly working within the tradition of Charlie Chaplin, whose Modern Times had fun with similar themes in 1936. If those two films are deep (and funny) enough for you, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to fully and freely embrace The Lego Movie.