Lego Movie Review

Movie review from National Post by David Berry

The best job Don Draper has ever done was when he sold Kodak on their Carousel, that incredible little slide projector that took us around and around our own lives. The key was nostalgia, the force that beats us ceaselessly back into the past’s warm, turquoise waters, reminds us of the times when everything was okay, or anyway seemed okay. I am not sure when exactly companies started selling our ideal history to us, but I know that they now have it one step easier: Now they can remind us of a history that they helped create.

As an adult, I know full well that Optimus Prime was made solely to sell me his toy (and also later a GMC truck), but I still spent warm afternoons pretending to be a semi and working on my Transformer noise (and I absolutely know that some of you just instinctively made that same noise in your heads, too). Hasbro does not even need to consciously remind me of my childhood, now: The fact they’ve been making these toys for 30 years means they only need to mention them, and I will take care of the rest.

Though it’s inescapable, it’s maybe right to feel uncomfortable about this, especially as the process of strip-mining our nostalgia gets deeper and more desperate. But we should maybe also remember that we formed those attachments for a reason: Even if we were being manipulated by rapacious capitalists, something about what they made fired our imaginations, flushed our chubby cheeks and gave us some of our first actual connections with the world.

The Lego Movie comes near the break of a wave of grown-up toy commercials with multimillion dollar CGI budgets, which is probably why its imagination, its cleverness and its heart feel almost revolutionary: It’s the only film in this cycle of memories that nails not just the product, but exactly why you fell in love with it. It’s not just pointing towards your childhood, it’s actually putting you there. It owes this to an absolutely base-level understanding of the sheer exploratory joy of Lego: The movie is built like a child’s game (on a few levels), the sheer chaos of pieces spread out across the screen and assembled with a furious kind of fun.

Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is an average construction worker who takes the movie’s theme song, Everything is Awesome, to heart. Living in a world where everyone carefully follows the instructions, even when it comes to being a normal person, he is eventually drawn in to a Lego world prophecy when he accidentally stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance. It turns out Emmet’s (and everyone else’s) highly regimented life is the creation of the evil President Business (née Lord Business, played by Will Ferrel), who is striving for a world of placid perfection against the more freeform Master Builders, including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman in full sage mode). Emmet and the Master Builders will go across a Lego store’s worth of worlds (Old West; Middle Zealand; Pirates) to try to put an end to his evil plans.

The Lego purists in the crowd will note the hypocrisy of battling against the instructions: one of the frequent complaints of this particular streak of nostaligia-ists is that the company has made a push towards the dastardly sets (Old West, Knights, Lord of the Rings, Pirates), pre-imagined worlds that are all about following the instructions, not just dumping out the tub and going wild. But the fact that this movie is smart enough to swallow that argument and then play it out as a central conflict is part of its charm; so too is the fact that it spins it up into a more broad critique of society, sort of a thinly veiled, more deliriously silly, all-Lego version of Brave New World, where fitting in and having fun hide something more sinister.

Good as it is for them, it might take the kids a few years to pick up on that message; luckily the movie plays out its philosophy on the screen, careening around with imagination to spare. The humour is wide-eyed without ever being dull, playing around with stuff like a police officer who only needs to flip his little yellow head around to be both the good and bad cop (voiced perfectly by Liam Neeson) and Emmet’s puppy dog reactions to, well, pretty much everything. The little touches — every flame is the clear plastic Lego kind, every spilled glass of water turns into clear single pieces — also help bring personality to the action sequences, which tend to be as exciting as anything real people have managed to pull off recently.

Without giving too much away, what’s even more impressive is that they manage to tie this all together with a bit of meta-story that manages to cut not just into the feeling of being a kid, but specifically the feeling of a kid who loves Lego. It makes what could just be a toy movie — even just an inventive and funny one — into a movie about toys and what they can do for us. And just like those toys, The Lego Movie might have had its origins as just another thing to be sold, but it works because, once its in our hands, it feels like an intrinsic part of our world. The fact that we bought it doesn’t make it any less ours, in the end.