Published on June 15th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant


DVD This Week: The Lego Movie

One of the highest grossing movies of 2014 was also one of the most imaginative; is the Lego movie art, a toy commercial, or both?

The Lego Company almost bit the dust a few years back, after a period of over-innovation led them to hemorrhage money.  But they bounced back to become an even more dominating toy company than they’d ever been (in fact, you can read about their return to form in David C. Robinson’s book, Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry).  I have a lot of fond memories of creating universes with Lego as a child, and I still buy it for the kids in my life today.  However, I also feel like the plethora of prefab kits made from licensed properties from Batman to Pirates of the Caribbean have sucked all the imagination out of it, making sets more like puzzles than tools of imagination.  It’s harder to buy generic sets (and so damn expensive, right?).  It strikes me that the new Lego teaches kids to follow the directions more than it teaches them to free play and create.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the smartest thing The Lego Movie does is address this notion head on in a clever and subversive manner, showing us the true potential of the toy.  And let’s face it; as much as I enjoyed this movie, it’s really an hour and 41 minute toy commercial.  But at least it’s a new set of instructions for the kids that says, you don’t always have to use the prefab instructions — you can create a world where Batman and a pirate might hang out.

Emmet is a lonely, generic Lego construction figure who enjoys watching the latest shitcom on TV and eating in chain restaurants — in other words, he doesn’t really think for himself.  He is mistaken for the ‘Special,’ a chosen one that can stop the evil President Businessman from destroying the Lego universe.  He is joined on his quest by Lego characters old and new.  The voice work is pretty spot on, with a huge cast that includes Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Jonah Hill, and tons more.

The Lego Movie bursts off the screen like the shell from a howitzer in a big, fun, noisy explosion of colour and imagination (a word that will come up a few times in this review, I’m sure).  It’s not only visually amazing, but also downright ingenious in interpreting what Lego play looks like when it’s a real place in our minds.  There are hilarious little bits and details — for example, some of us will remember the 80s Lego Spaceman; in the movie, his Jupiter chest insignia is rubbed out and the chin of his helmet is broken, same as most of the Spaceman figures from that era.  There probably hasn’t been a family movie that is as strong on visual gags and detail since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.  And making it look more like stop-motion than just straight CGI was a brilliant analog way to make it feel more realistic.

If I had any real criticism it would just be that the plot is reasonably formulaic.  I had figured out most of the movie and where it would go in the first 10 minutes, so there weren’t any real surprises in terms of story.  It’s basically the Star Wars/Joseph Campbell mythology hero story meeting Tron and the MCP.  That said, I love the meta aspects of where it does go and you do care about the characters.  And hey, it’s a kids’ movie, so lay off, right?  It more than accomplishes what it set out to do.

The Lego Movie is funny, smart, hyper-kinetic, and it plays to kids just as well as it plays to adults.  It truly does capture the experience of playing with Lego, and of our unbridled and child-like imaginations, whether we’re 8 or 80.  Now there’s nothing left to do but sit back and watch Lego sales skyrocket.

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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