CINEMA: by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
The Lego Movie: A totally awesome movie for grown-ups too
, May 24, 2014
The Lego Movie is AWESOME!!! It’s a children’s movie that manages to go beyond the multi-layered, Muppet-style approach, with jokes for both adults and kids, and offers something truly special.
Spoiler alert: I’m giving away key plot points. I knew them before I saw the movie, and it didn’t spoil it for me one bit; but some folks might see things differently.
Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is an ordinary guy living an ordinary life, drinking over-priced coffee, watching sit-coms like Where’s My Pants?, listening to insanely catchy pop-songs like “Everything is Awesome” and working hard at the construction site.
One day while at work, he sees a strange and beautiful woman, Wildstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), looking for something. When he goes after her, he falls into a hole and his world is turned upside down.
For Emmet has found the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping the “Kragl” and thus is the Special, “the most talented, most interesting and most extraordinary person in the universe” — as was prophesied by the blind wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), tasked with saving the world from the evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell).
So far it sounds like a typical Hollywood blockbuster, taking its lead from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey and aimed at kids, thus making it another parable from the cult of self-esteem, showing kids that self-belief is more important than talent or dedication.
Except that the characters are all made from Lego and the final twist rearranges all one’s expectations of what those clichés actually mean. The main story of The Lego Movie is the imaginings of a young boy (played by Jadon Sand) as he plays with his father’s elaborate Lego set in the basement.
His father (Will Ferrell) wants things to be perfect and treats Lego a bit more like an art project than a toy, and is prepared to glue Lego pieces together with Krazy Glue (the “Kragl”) to ensure “perfection”.
At first glance, the movie seems like a typical exercise in the importance of individualism. The Master Builders, of which the Special is the greatest, can make anything from Lego that they can imagine. But ultimately Lord Business is defeated by Emmet encouraging the Master Builders to “follow the instructions”, showing that teamwork and community require sacrifice and that “creativity” for its own sake, just like “conformity” for its own sake, is a dead end.
The Lego Movie is an allegory of the best sort. It reminded me of the 1960s cult British television series with Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner, and its 2009 remake with Jim Caviezel. The Prisoner appeared to be a typical spy story but came to be a meditation on the true meaning of freedom. Rather like G.K. Chesterton in The Poet and The Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale (1929), it showed that identity itself is a prison, but that even that limitation is itself liberty.
The critic Jeffrey Overstreet has written at Patheos about the parallels between The Lego Movie and Tolkien’s fundamental premise, namely that the Creator made entities who are themselves creative, and thus it is their responsibility to make things that are free to create.
The “Original Sin” of Tolkien’s world is the desire of certain sub-creators to make things for no reason other than selfishness, thus undermining the Creator’s loving desire for freedom.
The Lego Movie is a film that encourages searching discussion with children, while also providing a wealth of examples to get points across to them.
But enough seriousness. The movie is absolutely hilarious, with Vitruvius adding a wisecrack to every “serious” comment he utters, as well as Emmet’s chronic inanity.
Thanks to Lego’s licensing of other properties, the movie manages to send up so so much. There’s Batman (Will Arnett), who only works in “black — or very, very dark grey” and writes brooding heavy-metal songs showing how “dark” he is.
And there’s Bad Cop/Good Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), who simply has to swivel his head to do both sides of the routine. And the strained, stalkery friendship between Superman (voiced by Channing Tatum) and Green Lantern (Jonah Hill). Abraham Lincoln even has a flying chair.
Then there’s Middle Zealand, a hybrid of New Zealand and Middle Earth and Cloud Cuckoo Land (quite possibly a reference to one of the Greek playwright Aristophanes’ works), where negativity is buried deep inside and everyone has to be happy, ruled by the manic UniKitty (voiced by Alison Brie).
Everything, apart from the “Real World”, is lovingly rendered in stop-motion computer-generated imagery (CGI), replicating what it’s like to actually play with Lego.
The Lego Movie is a triumph of genuine creativity, showing that more is still possible within the realm of children’s stories.
It is so awesome that you just have to see it for yourself.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).