Review: The LEGO Movie

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 19 March 2014
Category: Reviews Comments View Comments


One hundred minutes of 100% product placement coalesce in a feature film all about LEGO in which a group of rebels task an average, ordinary, everyday construction worker with saving the world - whether he is capable of doing so or not.

The LEGO MovieI am so conflicted about this movie. I actually went in to the screening conflicted, based on a growing ill feeling I began to experience after having seen the trailer, and it took about three quarters of the film before I stopped feeling uneasy. It was the voice acting that initially discomforted me but soon that took a back seat to my frustration with the pace.

The story centres on a construction-worker minifigure named Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) who revels in being ordinary and average. Ordinary, and following the instructions, is the exemplary way of existing in Bricksburg, which is managed by the (probably self-appointed) leader President Business (Will Ferrell) of the Octan Corporation, whose alter-ego Lord Business is intent on world domination and micro managing everything to perfection. President Business's right-hand man and enforcer is Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), a police officer minifigure with two personalities.

Due to a series of unfortunate events, a resistance movement that spans several LEGO realms and is led by Master Builders (minifigures who can construct marvellous inventions without instructions, using just their imaginations and ingenuity), misidentifies Emmet as The Special, a Master Builder who, according to prophecy, will save the world. A fish-out-of-water tale ensues.

The LEGO Movie

I'll start with the voice acting problem, which is a combination of casting and how the characters are written, and it's not unique to this movie - animated Hollywood blockbusters (including the ones now being made in South Africa) all now seem to suffer from this. To me, Elizabeth Banks, as the rebel heroine Wyldstyle, did the best job of just representing a character in the world, allowing you to enjoy what's going on without having a celebrity in your face. Will Arnett (as a caricature of the gravelly-voiced Christian Bale Batman) and Nick Offerman (the pirate Metal Beard) did a good job too - they have talents suited for voice acting.

The rest feel as though they're self aware that they're doing voice work for The LEGO Movie, which is why I wish animated movies would stop using celebrities and rather use more voice actors. Most irksome to me was Chris Pratt (problematic, of course, because Emmet is the lead character) because Chris Pratt is just doing zany Chris Pratt. Equally, the prophet Vitruvius is voiced by Morgan Freeman but it's just Morgan Freeman doing Morgan Freeman. Liam Neeson was still Liam Neeson, just with stronger accents. It makes it very hard to immerse yourself in the world when you're just hearing celebrity voices everywhere. Alison Brie (Unikitty) and Charlie Day (Benny the 80s-era spaceman) do better but unfortunately are both given characters that are mentally off kilter and therefore get the in-your-face ultra-zany treatment anyway.

The LEGO Movie

That zany treatment is the other problem.

As with most contemporary Hollywood action blockbusters the pace is too fast but it seems doubly so for this one. Most of the film is just hyperspeed frenetic, zany action for scene after scene: zany, zany, zany, action, action, action. There is some very, very smart (and in many cases subversive) humour, both visual and in the dialogue, but the pace of that, plus the relentless action sequences for three quarters of the movie, is so fast that you cannot keep up. It is exhausting and you miss so much that it becomes frustrating. Your brain cannot process anything quickly enough - just as you're gripping onto something it's wiped out of your head because the next thing is there.

The LEGO Movie

I really cannot voice my frustration with this clearly enough. So much work went into the design of this movie - every object there is to see in almost all the scenes is (presumably) based entirely on LEGO pieces (I say "presumably" because nothing is on screen long enough to be examined properly but the production notes that were provided to the press seem to indicate that this is the case - and it would be in the spirit of the endeavour). Everything was crafted virtually (and in some cases physically to check the structural integrity of certain pieces) by a group of designers, based both in Denmark at the LEGO headquarters and at Animal Logic's offices in the US and Australia, in what must have been a massive labour of love, yet all that hard work and ingenuity is lost because of the pace. The same is true of the humour - very clever jokes are set up, gone, and replaced before you can catch half of them. You feel cheated.

The LEGO Movie

Pace aside, the animation is wonderful. The animators have largely worked within the constraints of how LEGO pieces move (often to comedic effect) and the set building and design is impressive. The lighting perfectly replicates how plastic is illuminated and reflects and there is also attention to physical damage and wear and tear detail, notably on the Benny the spaceman minifigure to illustrate his 30 years of existence as a toy, although the mental damage is another story entirely and a weird plot point, to me. Apparently the wear and tear and similar details extend to other pieces in the movie but I can't say that I noticed any of it, bar seam lines and occasional misaligned bricks, since you are just not given a chance to focus anywhere for long enough to take anything in.

The 3D is superb in places, notably shots inside Emmet's apartment where the scenes were created using a very shallow depth of field to make it feel as though you're peeking inside someone's LEGO construction. I really quite enjoyed that. Most of the movie isn't really enhanced by being in 3D, however, so those brief scenes may not be worth the extra ticket price.

The LEGO Movie

I can't comment on the audio because, once again, the screening cinema was too loud and everything was just blasted at us. The score is typical action fare and the film features an absolutely horrendous (by design) theme song that will permanently solder itself into your brain. It was written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew and Lisa Harriton; produced by the film's composer, Mark Mothersbaugh; and is performed by Tegan and Sara, collaborating with The Lonely Island, a musical comedy trio. (The video is in the media section below if you want to watch it.) Even this track is parodied, twice, during the closing credits, including via an unplugged folky soft-rock version (sung by Shawn Patterson and Sammy Allen) that almost makes the song palatable.

The film features lots of cameos that will please LEGO fans - initially it's in the form of some of the more unique brick parts and well loved accessories but then it broadens to recognisable minifigs that are more accessible to a broader selection of audience members - even those who don't own LEGO or know much about it. There are also voice cameos that will delight fans of certain other pop-culture areas (I don't want to spoil any of them), although the biggest of the bunch is actually not voiced by the actor concerned; instead a very skillful stand-in voice artist is used. That scene in particular is still a fun moment that pops out of nowhere and is a lovely surprise.

The LEGO Movie

The pace slows a bit as it heads towards the climax and the story then becomes a bit mundane, although it ties together very well at the end and brings in a moral in a clever way... before it then goes on to bludgeon the audience to death with it ad nauseum for about 15 very laboured minutes and, at the same time, confuses its own message. I almost began to miss the frenetic action sequences.

I found this film to be too smart for its own good - or perhaps, more accurately, just too 21st century Hollywood hysteria - and it destroyed much of the magic I was hoping to experience. Your mileage may vary. I, however, if given the choice in the next few weeks between having to watch The LEGO Movie or 300: Rise Of An Empire again, would pick the latter, which I'm sure is quite shocking for anyone who knows how much I love LEGO. The LEGO Movie might be a technically superior movie but, for me, it wasn't as enjoyable.

The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie is written by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller, is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and stars Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, and Chris Pratt.

The review screening was courtesy of Nu Metro.
The LEGO Movie is on circuit in both South Africa and the US.

Tags: #batman, #comics, #lego, #pirates, #robots, #screen, #speculative_fiction Opinion
Rating: 7/10
Rewatchability: 6/10 (at home, with a remote, in slow motion, to try and catch details you cannot otherwise see, ever)

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