Directed By: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Written By: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman
The directing and writing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have quickly made a career out of taking concepts that appear ludicrous and crafting clever works full of inventive storytelling. Starting with the cult animated series Clone High to the surprise hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to the even more surprising comedic reboot of 21 Jump Street they have shown creativity can begin in the most unlikely of places. Even with that said their latest, The Lego Movie, feels like they have bitten off more than they can chew.
How do you make it more than a pale imitation of Toy Story, or how to you avoid it becoming a licensers dream with a constant barrage a franchise characters that do nothing more than add name recognition? Lord and Miller answers those question by creating a movie brimming with lively imagination. It is a vibrant childhood dream filled with brightly colored visuals that force a smile on your face. This is much more than a shiny new toy ready to be unwrapped. Inside its Lego framework is a narrative chock full of satirical wit and inspired dialogue. Some of its commentary does border on heavy-handedness, but it provides a reprieve by never taking itself too seriously.
With no Lego lore to adapt they had to create their own. Having a wide open resource allowed them draw inspiration and characters from a large variety of well-known sources, but they keep the main protagonist just an ordinary—none special construction worker. Chris Pratt provides the voice for Gary, a person who loves life and all its awesome redundancy. Things change when he stumbles upon the mysterious Piece of Resistance. Based on the prophesy the person who finds the piece is the ‘Special’, and will bring down the totalitarian ruler Lord Business before he can release his ultimate weapon—The Kragle.
As a character Gary is a blank slate who gets built piece by piece as the story moves. His ordinariness becomes extraordinary as he is surrounded by larger than life characters like Batman, Superman, 1980’s Astronaut, and new characters like Wyldstyle who is brilliantly voiced by Elizabeth Banks. Overall the voice cast is full of superb talent like Alison Brie, Will Ferrell, Charlie Day, and surprisingly in his first role in an animated film Morgan Freeman. Will Arnett nearly stills the show with his portrayal of Batman. He knows how to play the unintentional humor without being too obvious.
When a film like this has such a frenetic pace and is so full of characters it can be easy to get lost. Fortunately much of the first half of the film is a glorified and extended chase that moves between all the different Lego dimensions. Gary, Wyldstyle, , and the rest of their team are running from Lord Businesses forces led by Bad Cop/Good Cop, both voiced beautifully by Liam Neeson. These chase sequences are fantastically designed as they took classic action movie clichés and added Lego block controlled chaos.
Often with animated films there is a struggle to please both children and the adults who accompany them. Sometimes this causes animators to resort to raunchy humor that is above the head of the children, but easily understood by parents. Lord and Miller resort to that trope on occasion, yet it is never something they solely rely on. There is a great deal of broad cultural observation, especially in the way pop culture becomes an easy distraction from life’s real issues. It starts with its annoyingly catchy anthem “Everything is Awesome” that pokes fun at our humanistic need to fit in.
Conformity becomes a rather large target as Lord Business creates a world where individual expression is outlawed. However, it shows absolute individualism should also be avoided. The Master Builders are never able to thwart Lord Business because they are never able to compromise due to their selfish desires. This attempt to play both sides is admirable, yet not always successful. When it begins to reach its conclusion it is hesitant on where to land in order to please both sides of the equation.
That is only a minor gripe in an otherwise impeccable narrative structure. For one it takes one of the biggest chances for a studio film it quite a long time. In one quick instance nearly everything about the film completely changes. Such a drastic change may be too much for some; while for others (myself included) will appreciate how the way it brilliantly recontextualizes the story adds a great deal of additional humor and instant rewatchability.
What also adds rewatchability is the immaculate animation. It has the unique charm of stop-motion animation and the fluidity of computer graphics. Everything from the characters to the buildings to fiery explosions to the ocean water is made up of Lego pieces. Seeing this energetic world take shape is awe-inspiring. You have to respect the scrupulous work of the animators endured as every minute detail was treated with care.
With Pixar in a rebuilding phase we have seen new animators arise and try to take their place. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller never attempt to copy or emulate what Pixar has done, instead they take things in completely different directions. They have made animated movies that enjoy the fact that they are animated movies. Never do they shoot for realism, rather using eccentricity as a fun house mirror’s reflection of relatable issues. The Lego Movie shows fun for all ages does not have to mean you have to segregate the fun so everyone has a small piece to enjoy. By layering its comedy and giving actual subtext to its plot Phil Lord and Christopher Miller showed The Lego Movie is a toy we can all play with—any way we want.