Okay, first of all let’s talk about that tune. Very near the beginning of the film there is a sequence showing how perfect life is for the residents of Lego City and it is played out to a poppy song called ‘Everything is Awesome’. It is designed to be ironic, cheesy and annoying but they were playing with powers they didn’t understand and could never hope to control. Yes, it is initially quite amusing but as it goes on you realise they have created a monster; a hideous, poisonous, rampaging ear worm that will bore through your brain until you are weeping for it to stop.
Right, to other matters. Occasionally a children’s movie will come out which connects with a lot of adults. Often it is because it reminds them of something beloved from their childhood, like The Muppets, or it has some kind of resonance with their transition from child to adult to parent, like Toy Story 3. Sometimes it is just a great piece of storytelling as is the case with Coraline, Arrietty or even Frozen. Judging by the reviews, for many people The Lego Movie is one such film,
but not for me.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just that everything is not awesome.
One thing that you can’t argue with is that there are clearly some very smart people working for the Lego Company. Most other toys from my childhood are now museum pieces, looked back on with nostalgia but largely reduced to slowly decaying landfill. The occasional He-man, Star Wars figure or Gobot (to Transformers what Betamax was to Home Movies) may be fetched from the loft of hoarder grandparents but these are undeniably now things of the past. Lego on the other hand has continually evolved since its creation in 1949 to make it as relevant and popular today as it has ever been, incorporating computer games, movies and theme parks. Someone knows how to market their product.
I’m not sure where the Lego movie thing started but it isn’t new. This is at least the third one following ‘The Adventures of Clutch Powers’ and ‘Lego Batman: DC Superheroes Unite’ although it is the first to get a cinema release and certainly the first to have such a large budget, a Hollywood cast and high profile directors.
Those directors are Phil Lord and Chris Miller who most recently directed 21 Jump Street but before that gave us Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. If you’ve seen that film you will know what to expect from this one; it is quirky, occasionally random and has a dry sense of slapstick humour. It is also quite manic and not always in a good way.
The cast includes Channing Tatum, Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, Jonah Hill and Will Ferrell although the stand out voice performances come from, soon(er or later) to be a lot more famous, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie and Will Arnett as Lego everyman, unicorn kitten and Batman respectively. Liam Neeson is in there two but that is stunt (mis)casting. He may have a great voice but Aslan ain’t no good at comedy.
The film does give you a sense of what fun it is to play with Lego. First of all, a child’s toy box is the one place where different film characters can mix without the need for complicated rights negotiations. They have obviously managed to get the permissions they need here though because we have Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman rubbing shoulders with Dumbledore, Gandalf, Mutant Turtles and Han Solo as well as historical figures Abraham Lincoln and Shakespeare. Of course Lego has a particular joy in the way that you can build and rebuild to suit any scenario your imagination can come up with and that is something else the film has harnessed. This idea of creativity against following instructions is a clear theme that runs through the when and when it is played subtly it works. Unfortunately this idea becomes over stated when the film takes a significant change of tack toward the end.
I think this conclusion it going to divide audiences a little and I think in most cases that division will be one of age. Some parents may find it a brave departure from expectations but all of my three daughters, 4, 10 and 12, said that they didn’t like the end. They thought it was weird and it didn’t work with the rest of the film. Certainly in the case of my eldest two, they understood it, they just didn’t think it was good. I have heard it described as a twist but personally, even though I appreciated the sentiment, I found it obvious having been clearly signposted quite early on in the film. The main problem with the denouement though is that it isn’t that child friendly and seemed more aimed at the people in the audience who have already done their growing up.
Also, the more you think about it, while it might be poetic, it isn’t really very feasible, although it does recognise that playing with Lego can be fun for adults too which is totally spot on. I had great fun helping my daughter construct Hogwarts out of these trademarked little bricks on Christmas afternoon two years ago.
So there are some nice ideas here but they aren’t always original. On a broader scale the themes are strongly reminiscent of Toy Story and some of the humour feels a lot like Robot Chicken, especially the relationship between Superman and The Green Lantern (which is really only funny if you know both characters and how they interact in the comic books).
Also, while I’m having a moan, the 3D is a mistake too. It doesn’t use the gimmick to any great effect and just makes everything darker which is stupid with a vibrant film like this.
On the upside the movie is a lot of fun and it is easy to be swept along for the ride. The animation is superb and the detail incredible but as a whole I didn’t think it was anything special. Don’t expect it to linger in the memory.
Apart from that infuriating song of course. That ain’t ever leaving your head.
Is this one for the kids?
A more cynical parent may have reservations about taking their children to something that is effectively one long toy advert but in that respect it is no worse than Star Wars or the Disney/Pixar films.
The movie is rated U but actually my youngest did find it quite unnerving in places. She settled into it fairly quickly but there are lots of scenes of characters threatening, aggressively shouting and letting off little tiny plastic firearms at one another. I think she just found it full on and a little in her face which I can appreciate as I felt exactly the same way.
I can’t even apply the ISWYS Test to this film because it is about little yellow brick people but there is a female lead and she pretty much holds her own with the boys. I was a bit disappointed in Wonder Woman though, I’ve come to expect more from her.