There have been plenty of movies that ended up with huge toy tie-ins. There have even been movies based on animated TV shows that were almost solely created so as to sell toys: Transformers. But now, with The LEGO Movie opening on Friday, we have an original motion picture built around a brand of toys in a way we haven’t seen before. Sure, there have been animated movies set in the universes that certain LEGO sets are created around, but making a movie about LEGO itself is a whole new level. It’s like, instead of Battleship, they’d made Crappy Milton Bradley Board Games: The Movie.
The worry with such product-driven movies is that they usually favor marketability over creativity. So, is The LEGO Movie just another 90-minute toy commercial? Or is a film about the building set we all loved as kids (and still love as adults) able to build something new out of the available pieces? Here’s some things you should know:
- Will my kids like it? If the 70% kid-filled audience I saw it with, including my 14 year-old son, are any indication, the answer is a big yes. There’s a ton of humor in the movie that hits just right for kids, and anyone who has grown up with LEGO sets will see kits and characters they’ve known. And in a world where things can break apart easily, physical humor can be turned up to 11 with guffaw-inducing results.
- Will I like it? Very much yes. This is one of those kids movies where there’s so much going on, and at different levels, that everyone can have a great time. Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs movie that was so well-received, and they use the same rapid-fire pace of joke delivery. But there’s also an obvious love of LEGO at play in the story that will hit any lifelong fan right in the geek-brain. References to the sets of our youths, like the ’80s Spaceman set, and shout-outs to the DC and Star Wars minifigs and sets, just pour the nostalgia on, and the core theme of using your own imagination to create new things resonates with every one of us who built the most awesome spaceships out of random bricks.
- It’s an animated feature, so it’s all about the voices; who do I know in the cast? Front and center are Will Ferrell having a tremendous time as the “big bad” Lord Business, who is already in charge, but who wants to destroy the LEGO universe with the diabolical artifact known as the Kraggle. The unlikely hero is a generic construction worker minifig named Emmet, played by Chris Pratt (the upcoming Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy), who literally falls on the MacGuffin that can save the universe, and is assumed to be the chosen one at the center of a prophecy. The prophecy was delivered, and reinforced over and over again, by Vitruvius, a blind wise man who acts as Emmet’s mentor. He looks like the pieces from a Gandalf minifig and a Dumbledore minifig were combined, and speaks with Morgan Freeman’s voice. This may be the funniest role Freeman has ever done. There are plenty more, and a couple surprises that I won’t spoil, but Liam Neeson is a standout you should keep your ears open for.
- It’s a movie about toy sets; can the plot be more than a 2×2 brick thick? I’ll admit, I went into this expecting just a classic hero’s journey plot centered around LEGO sets and some humor, and while that’s certainly there, I was surprised and delighted by the layers. Without giving away a big spoiler, there’s more going on in this movie than the ads show, and by the end, someone must have been chopping onions, because the screen got a little blurry for me (in a good way). Hint: it has to do with dads.
- LEGO has recently gotten some flack for being very boy-focused; will girls get anything out of this movie? While it won’t quite pass the Bechdel Test, there is a strong heroine who is shown as a powerful, creative character in her own right. And more than one female character is cited as part of the pantheon of “Master Builders” in the LEGO universe who can make anything they want because they have strong imaginations (they see part and kit numbers with a sort of Cumberbatch/Sherlockian meta-vision). There were plenty of girls in the screening I saw, and they all seemed to have a great time, so yes.
- What about the toys? Are there cool LEGO sets? Oh yeah, more than you can count. The LEGO universe in the movie is kind of like a multiverse, with each world focused on one of the classic LEGO lines. Emmet lives in the classic City world, where he’s a construction worker, and technically the movie is “based” on that set of toys. But, without spoiling too much, we also see the old west, pirates, and the medieval world, plus references to plenty others, old and new. In one sense, The LEGO Movie is a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, because you keep seeing characters from movies, shows, and other media that have been licensed by LEGO over the years for kits and minifigs.
- There’s a catchy tune in some of the ads; how’s the music? There are two stand-out songs in the movie. The first, “Everything is Awesome,” is the perky anthem of Emmet’s City world, and so upbeat it acts as an instant earworm that you’ll keep singing either because you’re happy, or you’re being ironic. The other is Batman’s song. Imagine a Death Metal song about Batman’s life. It’s that funny. The overall music duties on the film go to Mark Mothersbaugh, who music nerds will know as a primary member of Devo, and who has been doing TV (and especially animated TV) music for years now, from Rugrats to The Regular Show, and more. He’s a master of tune and tone, and every world our heroes travel to have their own themes and moods set by the music. It could be worth picking up the soundtrack, especially for the daily drive to drop the kids off at school.
- All right, bottom-line it for me; why should I go see it? That’s a tough question, because I don’t know you. But let’s just say, if you’re a kid, you’re going to laugh a lot, and learn a lesson about imagination and believing in yourself. If you’re a parent, you’re going to laugh a lot more than you thought you might, and enjoy some stuff that your kids won’t get, or even notice. And if you’re an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO), you’re going to laugh a lot, enjoy the story, and completely geek out at a movie that’s filled with the toy that has filled your imagination all your life, and that was obviously made by people JUST LIKE YOU. Does that answer your question?