Let's not bury the lede: The LEGO Movie
, even this early into the season, is the best animated film of the year.
I mean, sure, it's only February, but this is one of the funniest, most clever animated films in years. Not since Who Framed Roger Rabbit
has a film both toyed with (pun intended) and adhered to (pun again!) what has come before, a beautiful balance between the novel and the unique. It's a kids film for adults, and an adult film for kids. Basically, just ignore the age that's listed on the box, it's only there as a guide.
Story wise, it's as much a mash up as that bundle of bricks most of of us kept in some container. My LEGO Bricks were in a mix of Tupperware containers and plastic bags, sorted by colour for ease of build, and they're still that way today. I admit up front that I'm a total LEGO nerd - I've visited Billund, home of the factory, just to take in a bit of wonder and the Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene that's likely floating through the air there like pollen. Hell, I won this in a brick building contest. So, sure, I could be a bit biased, but is there anyone that's had the experience, the veritable catharsis of spending time with oodles of bricks making something, that hasn't in some way achieved this kind of Brick bliss?
So, yes, this is a film that's based on a branded property, but LEGO is so deeply ingrained in the psyche for many of us that it ceases to be a thing and just is, well, part of us. And what makes this film remarkable is that it touches on this core element, this kind of Campbellian myth of building blocks that runs through the spirit of so many people.
Heavy stuff for a bunch of bits, but kudos to both Ken and Dan Hageman (Hotel Transylvania) for the story, and to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs) for the direction and script. These guys completely nail both the tonality and whimsy of a film based on a building system, and do so in a way that makes it seem effortless.
Visually, the film is a stunner, employing CGI for the brickfest, the "reality" is augmented to create a kind of jerky stop-motion movement that's completely infectious. They toy with the work of LEGO, with one particularly stunning sequence showing the complex dynamics of ocean waves realized by a series of blue and while coloured LEGO plates. Naturally, the CGI could be made to look more "real", but this is a world of fantasy, and as such the studs that lead to the horizon become inherent to the visual language of the film.
We've become accustomed to vast vistas realized through computer imagery, but I found myself even more impressed during Metropolis-like sequences, forgetting for a moment the procedural animation likely used to populate such scenes, and instead fixating on the amount of time it would take people to assemble this seemingly infinite number of LEGO sets. It's this tangibility that sets the film's look apart, a tactile immediacy that's frankly intoxicating. Rarely have I ever fallen into a 3D film like this one. I kept wanting to play with what I saw before me, to study the intricate constructions, and to become a part of the world on screen.
It would be a shame to spoil some of the major cameos in the film, but suffice it to say there are a couple of golden ones that should be left until you see the film for yourself. By toying with the properties that LEGO has become associated with, we get to delve into the kind of meta-textual referencing that is littered through most films aimed at children, yet here it seems positively organic to what's taking place. This is the mash-up of the imagination of kids, and never feels like the machinations of marketers.
Plus, there's the soundtrack, especially one particularly incessant song (orchestrated by the always delightful Mark Mothersbaugh, making the film feel a bit Wes Anderson-y) that's still ringing through my head hours later. Add to that an excellent voice talent, a witty script, beautiful visuals, and an engaging story line that is heartfelt, intelligent and funny.
Literally, what more could we ask for from this film?
Serious LEGO nerds will bliss out, naturally -
there are echos of the classic LL928 (with a set numbered one above),
there's talk of "1x2 keyholes", and even during moments of construction
you see part numbers flying around various gears and bits. Yet this is
all ephemera, for the key theme of the entire film is this - like life,
LEGO is meant for play, not display. And while sometimes instructions
are handy, it doesn't hurt to occasionally build with what's around you,
and make a go of it without quite knowing what you're going to end up
With very few films opening in the next short while that work as well for children as for adults, expect this movie to do gangbusters at the box office. I don't usually care about what a film makes, but this one in particular is so much fun, and the possibilities for future combinations as manifold as the building blocks on display, that I wish it nothing but the biggest success.
Skeptics, leave your grumblings at home. The LEGO Movie is a blast, a plaything for any age, an exquisite assembly that's literally more than the sum of its parts. For as per the song that runs throughout: 'Everything is awesome, everything is cool.'
The film opens wide in theatres throughout North America on Friday, February 7.
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