The greatest advertisement ever made

LEGO

The Lego Movie could be the greatest advertisement ever made. I mean in this in two ways: First, after I saw the movie, I walked immediately to Target and bought Legos, the first time I’d given myself and not a child Legos since I was a child myself. I’m sure that the sales for Legos, one of the world’s most popular toys for decades, will increase dramatically because of the film. Second, the reason people are going to run to the toy stores is not just because the movie is an effective argument for the greatness of the Legos as toys, but it’s great movie in and of itself, despite that it is based on a toy and meant, despite its story’s ironically anti-corporate themes, ultimately to sell toys.

The plot seems standard, even clichéd at first. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker in a city that runs with clockwork precision: Everyone is perfectly regimented, efficient, and properly tasked. Everyone loves the same song “Everything is Awesome!” and the same TV show “Where’s My Pants?” and their leader President Business (Will Ferrell). The president is actually a dictator with a massive army of evil robots and nasty cops (the leader of which is voiced by Liam Neeson) at his command, and he is planning to destroy the Lego universe using a weapon called the Kragle.

There are some who want to stop the president, and they all believe prophesy that the most important, interesting, and best person ever, known as the Special, will find the Piece of Resistance, which will stop the weapon. One night after work, Emmet sees a mysterious woman at his work site and in trying to talk to her, falls down a hole and find the Piece. The woman, a black-and-blue haired ninja-like warrior, tells Emmet he is the Special, and she brings him to a council of the Master Builders, populated by Lego people who can take any collection of Lego piece and magically, with Matrix-like abilities create anything. (That this can actually be visually understood is because the animation depicts this universe entirely made up Lego pieces, from the people to the vehicles, to even clouds and smoke.) They all assume Emmet must be one, but he’s not. Nevertheless, he is expected to lead them against President Business.

As in most underdog-hero movies, the result of the quest and conflict is pretty much preordained, but writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, in addition to mixing witty and sly adult-oriented jokes with kid-pleasing slapstick, which they do better than most animated films of the last several years, work on multiple thematic levels, creating a morally and ethically complex film out of what could have been a cynical advertisement. (See, for example, the Transformers, GI Joe, and Pokemon movies.) And they present us with a surprising and surprisingly moving third act that cements the film as both a morality tale and a marketing ploy.

The film sets up a battle between mindless, automated corporate capitalism and creativity, freedom, and, in a way, mysticism. Emmet discovers that the latter is vastly preferred to the former by meeting the wild and diverse Lego people from across the Lego dimensions: the Wild West, pirates, space, DC superheroes, Star Wars, and one land that is not a branded type of Lego where utterly free-form experimentation rules. The characters Emmet meets are delightfully constructed, from Morgan Freeman’s God-like Vitruvius to Will Arnett’s brilliant parody of Christian Bale’s Batman and Charlie Day’s zippy and dippy Benny, a “1980-something space guy.” All of them help Emmet realize his destiny and save the Lego universe.

The point is clear – maybe too clearly and bluntly made – that following instructions has its place, but the joy in life comes from exercising imagination, embracing diversity, and following the road less travelled. Not surprisingly, Fox News has already started trashing The Lego Movie for its politics. I guess few things scare Republicans more than children who think for themselves and don’t worship President Business.

The Lego Movie
Written and Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and Will Ferrell
Rated PG
At your local multiplex

 

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February 10, 2014
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