Despite its ‘educational value’, the minifigures have charmed with their cute simplicity – an unassuming blandness that’s seen them seamlessly adapt various big-name properties (Star Wars, The Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter, all the key marvel and DC characters), which has skyrocketed their popularity and collectibility far beyond the specified age ranges listed on the boxes. The spin-off videogames – with their slapstick cut-scenes – haven’t done any harm either.
Ignoring previous straight-to-DVD features (made for the likes of Bionicle and, erm, Clutch Powers) and the Star Wars shorts, a LEGO movie has felt like a long time coming. But can a toy best known for its miniature scale really fill the big screen? And how do you resist making the thing feel like one extended commercial break for the Danish company’s latest wares?
Thankfully, The LEGO Movie is so madcap hilarious that you never feel like you’re being sold out. The appointment of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller was a shrewd move. Having cut their teeth on the immensely likeable Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, they went live-action with high-school cop-com 21 Jump Street. On paper, that should have been a shameless cash-in too, but it ended up being one of 2012’s most satisfying comedies.
Here, they’ve assembled a cast of regulars from your favourite US sitcoms (Chris Pratt and Nick Offerman from Parks And Recreation, Will Arnett from Arrested Development and Alison Brie from Community) and teased great work from A-listers (Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman) to ensure that the funnies fly thick and fast. Bigger than the star names, though, are the supporting cast of LEGO favourites who’ve been roped in to fill out the ranks.
Arnett’s Batman is inspired: a moody blowhard who’ll only work with black bricks (“or very, very, very dark grey ones”). He might get the lion’s share of the belly laughs, but there’s plenty more to go round – 21 Jump Street stars Channing Tatum and Jonah hill have a cracking dynamic as Superman and Green Lantern, and Neeson’s terminally conflicted Bad Cop (whose rotating yellow brick head occasionally flips to the Good Cop side) is an unexpected highlight.
Front and centre, though, are the new creations. Emmet Brickowoski (Pratt) is a bog-standard construction worker who follows every instruction to the letter, until a run-in with punky Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) – imagine a cuddlier Lisbeth Salander – sets him on course to fulfil a prophecy. Their banter creates more sparks than your average romcom and, like many of the gags, you wonder if it’ll be lost on younger kids.On their travels, they take in the Old West, ‘middle Zealand’, Cloud Cuckoo Land and the high seas, teaming up with Batman and souped-up pirate metalbeard in an effort to stop the dastardly Lord Business (Will Ferrell) putting an end to freewheeling creativity with a mysterious weapon known as ‘the kragle’.
If the plot sounds creaky, rest assured that it’s skewered and subverted as much as Batman and co. possibly can – genre tropes are mocked, ‘chosen ones’ are in for it, and The Terminator’s just one classic movie touchpoint up for parody. There’s an anarchic childlike glee to the way it’s all thrown together – as with actual LEGO sets, pieces can be reassembled to create something entirely new – and the various set-pieces, including freeway chases, shootouts and laser-sharks play like blockbuster versions of the fan videos you’d find on Youtube.
Reportedly part stop-motion, part CG-animation, you won’t notice the joins. There’s an insane level of invention on display – the world is brimming with hilarious background detail, and everything you can see is made of LEGO pieces, even the water. The characters are given more expressive eyes and mouths than their toy counterparts, but their movements are just as restricted – and the animation makes a virtue of this, from their clippy hands to their plastic wigs.
The world lends itself to 3D, the stereoscopy making it feel like you could reach in and take part. It’s not without its flaws. Some of the set-pieces feel a little too noisy, and the resolution to one particular plot mystery isn’t entirely satisfactory, taking you out of the moment ahead of the climax. and given the irreverence for just about everything, there’s rarely a feeling of genuine peril.
Even so, it’s likely to be a film that you’ll want to revisit, to catch some of the background gags you missed first time and to wallow in its joyously nostalgic environments.