The only acceptable reaction you could’ve had when Warner Bros. announced that they were developing a project called ‘The Lego Movie’ is a big groan, or an appropriately chilling cringe. You can’t go deeper into product placement than making a whole movie about a specific product. It’s true that Lego is as recognized and powerful a brand as ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Batman’ (franchises whose characters actually appear in The LEGO Movie), but there was something especially disappointing about taking such an abstract (and wonderful) toy as Lego and turning it into what was surely going to be a generic cash-grab of a movie.
Enter Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directors of such comedic gems as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and 21 Jump Street (2012), With these previous movies, Lord and Miller showed a surreal comedic sensibility that lends itself wonderfully to animation. They also showed that they had the talent to come into properties that don’t particularly lend themselves to movie adaptations and look for the most basic concepts present in said properties in order to reverse and play with them. Consider, for example, how 21 Jump Street showed us two undercover cops who go back to high school to discover the social order has been flipped since the time they went to school. What was once popular behavior, is now considered unacceptable; while what once was nerdy is now cool.
Both of these trademark elements are present in The LEGO Movie. Like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it is a madcap comedy, with kinetic plotting and images that never rest or stop unless a joke demands it. It’s all about coming up with the funniest possible gag, and it works beautifully. It’s a little early to say this, but I’d be surprised we end 2014 without The LEGO Movie being amongst the funniest movies of the year. There is something that separates Lord and Miller from other comedy directors, and that is that no matter how crazy and unrelated their jokes seem at first, a second thought will make clear how they are all connected and respectful of the movie’s themes and universe (although to be fair, their movies live in the kind of universes where the weirdest jokes feel at home). The amount of detail and commitment that the directors show to the premise of their story, from animation that resembles the motion of lego pieces to a weird running joke about how the most common thing kids built with Legos are starships, the movie is true to itself through and through.
Never has the particular style of comedy of Lord and Miller been as exploited as in The LEGO Movie. They have basically make a movie about the philosophical implications of playing with Lego. The first thing that is impressive about this, is that these guys really took their job here seriously. They sat down to think about what is it about Lego that connects with children and makes the toy so beloved. The second thing that is impressive about this, is that what they came up with, while being absolutely hilarious, lends itself to a number of different interpretations. I can’t wait to read articles analyzing the theological and psychological aspects of this movie. And if you don’t thank the pop culture gods for the fact that The LEGO Movie could inspire such a thing as an article about theology, well, then we have a very different view of the world.
The LEGO Movie is not a perfect movie. For all its originality and inventiveness, the approach of the filmmakers comes with a few disadvantages. First, that the merciless ratio of jokes-per-minute simply makes it so that not every single one lands as effectively as you would wish. The second, and more important one, is that focusing on the comedy and the big ideas of the movie, make it so that there is little -if any- emotional resonance to the story of our protagonist. There is a lot to think about the decisions made in The LEGO Movie, but it is hard to come up with a fresh message about the philosophy of playing with toys when there’s already been three great movies made about that.
My last complaint about The LEGO Movie is, of course, that it is the “Lego” movie. As shameless an attempt at product placement as there could ever be. Still, the fact that the movie manages to be as good as it is, is in and on itself kind of a miracle. Similarly, if I don’t outright love The LEGO Movie, and think it might be my least favorite of Lord and Miller’s work, it is so idiosyncratic in its pace and style that it no doubt signals the moment in which we all have to accept that Lord and Miller are amongst the most fascinating comedic auteurs working in cinema today.
Grade: 7 out of 10