If you're going to appreciate this movie on any level, you first have to be prepared to "LEGO" of the notion that you're about to watch a giant toy commercial.
It's called The LEGO Movie, for goodness sake. You must have known what you were getting into. But trust me, you'll be surprised at how quickly you forget about that trepidation.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. This movie's theme song has been stuck in my head for 7 straight days. And I know I'm not alone out there. Every kid and his/her parent leaving that theatre last Saturday was singing this on their way out to their car. What was cute and fun for the whole family then, is now probably the cause of great dysfunction. My girlfriend, growing weary of her own incessant singing, sat in a dark room for an hour, listening to Mellow Indie on Songza in an effort to numb that relentlessly optimistic techno beat!
The sweet irony of having that song stuck in your head, is the fact that The LEGO Movie is about a conformist city of brainwashed little LEGO guys, who by decree of President Business (played by Will Ferrell) can only listen to one song over and over again - that same song you listened to above. The whole audience that morning became the city of Bricksburg. But hopefully later in the week they were all able to move on, like Emmet, the hero of our story.
The only reason I even considered watching The LEGO Movie is the film's directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Phil and Chris had a hand in both Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs movies, and both 21 and 22 Jump Street. They also created cult cartoon series, Clone High. They have great comedic sensibilities, and in the case of the Cloudy movies, made me reconsider the way I felt about CG animation.
The LEGO Movie has both an irreverent sense of humour (as has been pretty consistent with the brand, if you've seen any of the other LEGO parody films or video games) and a great, unexpected visual flair. There's a lot of texture to this movie. It always feels like something a nerd could've made in his/her basement, even when you have no idea how it was accomplished. Explosions are made out of LEGO! Ocean waves are cascades of rippling LEGO. Every detail of the film appears to have been practically made by Master Builders. The shower scene with Emmet is particularly inventive.
Most of the movie is CG, while a small percentage is stop-motion animated, keeping in the spirit of the countless fan-made "brick films" on-line that helped to inspire it. Animation director Chris McKay spoke to the reasoning behind that decision in an interview with IO9.
"You can't create a movie like this, with this level of detail and ambition and scope, in stop motion. Or, at least, if you're going to do it, it would be very expensive and take a very long time to produce.
"We said, "Look, we're going to make this movie with a certain set of limitations." Because the biggest problem with CG is there's no rules. You can do whatever you want. We wanted to create something that felt like it was grounded in reality.
"I worked in stop motion on Robot Chicken and Moral Orel. There is something about being physically on a set in an 8-inch scale, animators getting their hands on - there's a real charm to that. We wanted to try to make this movie feel like that. There's a charm to those brick films. I think part of that comes from the heart and soul of the filmmaker who comes to the table and wants to create something that is probably beyond their scope. There's something about trying to achieve that thing, that big gigantic thing, on this tiny little scale and format. With these charming little guys. To me, there's something really sincere and sweet about that."
"We wanted the movie to feel like that. We wanted to take what could have been the most fucking cynical cash grab in the world, and turn it into something warm and beautiful and charming [that] takes itself seriously in the right ways."
I hope Michael Bay reads this interview before he completes his next soulless Transformers train-wreck.
The screenplay is also part of The LEGO Movie's charms. Grounded deep in reality, it dares kids to be creative, but shows them the benefits of practical thinking in a group dynamic. It scolds adult LEGO-maniacs for never straying from the manual. It shows a world where everyone has a place, if we learn to better understand each other. Not bad for a toy commercial, right? And of course it's pure nostalgia, invoking those memories of your own LEGO builds when you were a kid. I had one of those 1980's space guys, and his helmet was cracked in the exact same spot as the one in the movie!
The LEGO Movie is a treat for both kids and adults. There are so many layers to the backgrounds and the humour is subtle and subversive enough to warrant repeat viewings. I'm sure my niece and nephew would agree, as they sat silent and slack-jawed like their uncle for the entire 100 minute running time.
The LEGO Movie is better than it has any business to be. And that's why you won't mind singing that damn Tegan and Sara song, as you gleefully drive to Toys "R" Us to buy your kids the Cloud Cuckoo Land playset.
Everything is awesome, indeed. See you in 5 years for The LEGO Movie 2!