Over the past few weeks, Den of Geek writers have been voting for their favourite films of the year. In 5th place? The LEGO Movie. And here’s why…
5. The LEGO Movie
Everything about The LEGO Movie takes you by surprise.
It’s a big corporation-funded effort that hates corporations. It’s based on a best-selling toy that comes with pages of detailed instructions, but it’s about the joy of throwing those instructions away. It’s a celebration of the creativity of the individual, but it makes a song of conformity, Everything is Awesome, so catchy that we all end up happily singing it. It tells us, in what must be the ultimate oxymoron, that absolutely every one of us is special. And it is brilliant.
But the strange thing is that it’s not even that innovative. It obeys three long-standing rules for family movies that seem to have been forgotten along the way by many recent efforts. By sticking to these simple instructions it manages to produce something that feels fresh to a jaded audience:
1. Make a great lead character you can root for
Emmet is your average every-LEGO-man. He lives in Bricksburg, a city where everyone is working hard and building away on the orders of President Business, without really thinking about what they’re building for. Emmet wants to do a good job too, but he also has a deep-seated (and very recognisable) need for somebody to think that he’s really great, and when he meets the enigmatic Wyldstyle and gets declared to be ‘the special’ from some ancient prophecy he goes along with it. It’s an unobtainable and unrealistic dream of being the centre of the universe, and yet it’s exactly where the film is going without once turning Emmet into a superhero.
There are lots of other superheroes in The LEGO Movie but, in an entertaining subversion, they’re just not great enough to save the world when it turns out that President Business is actually the evil Lord Business, and has plans to destroy everything. It’s not enough to be super. You have to be identifiably average in order to be really special. That’s the glorious contradiction at the heart of the film that appeals to us all.
2. Write funny, amazingly catchy dialogue that never patronises
Some family films are filled with jokes that are designed to go straight over the kids’ heads, and sometimes that comes across as sarcastic, or mean-spirited. The LEGO Movie never falls into that trap. It’s for children of all ages: the ones that love Star Wars, the ones that love Harry Potter, the ones that love Lord of the Rings, the ones that love Batman, and the ones that love clever lines that stick in your head forever afterwards. From “darn darn darn darny darn” to “Never place your rear end on a pirate’s face” with a big dose of “SPACESHIP!” along the way, there are so many lines that are perfect for small and big children everywhere.
3. Have a simple but really important message.
Many great family films over the years, from The Wizard of Oz to E.T. to Labyrinth, have opted for the sentiment that there’s no place like home. Others, such as Despicable Me, Up, and Mary Poppins have concentrated on the importance of family, conventional or otherwise. The LEGO Movie shares the same theme as the Harry Potter stories, A Bug’s Life, and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 1 & 2 (the previous animated films from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller; they directed the first, oversaw the second) – even the smallest of us can change the world. What a great theme that is, and why mess with it?
By getting these rules so right, in other areas The LEGO Movie could afford to take a few risks, and it’s the animation that really strives for a unique effect when it could have so very easily gone for something less challenging, both to create and to watch. The limitations of playing with real LEGO pieces are strictly observed in the film. The minifigures can only be articulated in ways that you can do yourself at home with your own minifigures, and they are made to look as if they have really been played with. Each item and piece of scenery, although computer-generated, looks as if it has been built. It makes the action incredibly frenetic and disjointed and full of interesting moments. It does mean, in the grip of such colourful and constant movement, that it can feel a bit overwhelming at times, particularly as the film approaches its climax. But that’s when the biggest risk pays off – we enter the real world, and the muted colours and quiet, steady movements of the camera leave us utterly charmed, and refreshed enough to plunge back into Bricksburg for the final battle with new vigour.
The LEGO Movie was a huge success, and deservedly so, but it does mean that we’re now faced with another spectre of corporate control in the form of upcoming sequels. Can something that celebrates individuality so brilliantly really continue to work when it’s no longer one of a kind? We’ll have to wait and see, but the sure understanding of what makes films work suggests that Lord and Miller will be able to take the usual limitations of a sequel and turn it to the audience’s advantage.
Maybe we should try not to get too cynical about it all, and trust in the idea that every single one of these planned LEGO movies might just find a way to be special. After all, if any filmic universe can find a way to reinvent itself every time brick by brick, it will be this one.
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