“Everything is awesome” according to the whimsical song that’s played repeatedly across plastic protagonist Emmett’s (the voice of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World star Chris Pratt) hometown. He spends his time assembling things out of tiny bricks, obediently following the manual. That, however, is exactly what Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’s The Lego Movie (2014) doesn’t do. Funded by Lego, it’s a showcase for a construction toy that deconstructs everything in sight. Emmett’s neatly interlocking world is demolished almost immediately when he discovers that he is “The Special”, destined by prophecy to stop antagonist Lord Business (Will Ferrell).
And just what is Business’ suitably evil master plan? To use the “Kragle” to keep everything fixed in one place: total world order. And so Emmet teams up with the Master Builders (those with the power to create without following figs. 1 through 23) to use the fabled Piece of Resistance to destroy the Kragle and let people be free to build stuff the way they want. That it in itself is a surprisingly subversive message. Instead of saving the world from doom and putting things back the way they should be, The Lego Movie celebrates the destruction of the status quo; it understands that what makes Lego fun isn’t the instructions, but the ability to throw them away. It’s the perfect fit for the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), 21 Jump Street (2012) and its well-received sequel released earlier this year.
Pratt is spot-on as the eager everyman desperate to fit in, supported by Elizabeth Banks’ Wyldstyle and the two-faced Bad Cop (Liam Neeson). Ferrell is enjoyably megalomaniacal as the corporate overlord, a loud, dark contrast to Morgan Freeman’s softly spoken wizard, Vetruvius, and Alison Brie’s hyperactive part-unicorn-part-kitten. Elsewhere, Mark Mothersbaugh’s adventurous score pieces together every genre from comic books to westerns, as Lord and Miller showcase each Lego universe on the market (“I don’t like this place,” grumbles Batman, displaced in Cloud Cuckoo Land). What could have been a cynical parade of product lines becomes an experiment in experimentation; stop-motion and CGI seamlessly collide in a rich exploration of the possibilities of imagination.
The Lego Movie is ultimately a movie about the Danish bricks and why people play with it. This free-wheeling creativity is what Miller and Lord capture so un-neatly on screen. For the business lords at Lego, that makes it a flawless piece of corporate marketing. For everyone else, that makes it an anti- corporate celebration of flaws. The Lego Movie shows us a world controlled by fear, commercialism, over-priced coffee, dumbed-down TV and social conformity, then takes it apart brick by brick, before erecting something unique and wonderful in its place. You could construct systematic lists of all the clever decisions made by the filmmakers, but as that infectious melody starts up again, your inner-child throws that paper away and assembles three words instead: everything is awesome.