The opinions of critics may not matter much, but Clare and I went to see this based on the recommendation of Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, the Wittertainers. We went to a screening at the largest multiplex in Oxford, the Vue at the Ozone Leisure Park because it is the only cinema in Oxford with comfortable chairs that face the screen directly. K&M have a “Code of Conduct” for cinema goers, but at the Vue, very few of the code rules are actually applicable – for example, I was less bothered by the neighbouring kids using their smart-phones to send SMS than I was by the fact they didn’t dim the house lights for the movie. Similarly, the sound is set up so loud that the people behind us could have been engaging in recreating their favourite episode of Jerry Springer and I might well have remained oblivious. We did, however, keep our shoes on, because I didn’t want to risk destroying my socks.
Including and despite these quibbles with the viewing environment, the main comment about the film is that Everything Is Awesome. Going beyond that, we risk what most people would regard as spoilers. Most of what I will write is nearly obvious as the fact that 99% of murder mysteries end with the villain in custody, but you need to know one key fact that is concealed from the viewer until late in the film for what I say to become obvious.
The basic chassis of the film is the well-used “Unlikeliest Hero” formula. The “prophesied” hero, whose initial apparent insufficiently is flipped on its head part way through the story via the revelation of awesome powers. In the case of The Lego Movie, this is justified by making the film explicitly fictional – it is a fiction constructed inside a larger framing narrative, of a young boy literally playing with Lego, making up a story as he goes along. The shape and content of the story the boy is telling becomes an argumentative tool that he uses to persuade his dad that the best use of Lego is storytelling, rather than simply as display objects.
The film as a whole thus operates on two distinct levels. In most fictions, such as The Usual Suspects or The Princess Bride, the two tiers exist in parallel – nothing that happens in one strand of the fiction explicitly affects the other. The structural innovation of The Lego Movie is to allow the two tiers to interact in the final act. The only other example I can think of where the two explicitly interact is The Never Ending Story, but there are probably others. This meta-fictional construction creates a canvas that can include the diverse genres and references that generate the content built upon the story chassis, and it allows the fiction to comment on itself in a general sort of way.
The range of cultural references in the film was vast, ranging from the use of Vitruvius as the unlikely hero’s wise mentor to Batman as the unlikely hero’s main martial ally… and love rival. It mashes up and hence comments on its multiplicity of genre components in a light-hearted and fun way, while always keeping the main plot rollicking along. Many narratives that try and do this genre incorporation end up pausing the main story for their side-trek, such as the Bill Murray cameo in Zombieland or the third-act derailment of Sunshine. The Lego Movie never loses momentum or focus, so the genre interpolations aren’t intrusive at all.
What we have then, in The Lego Movie is a surprisingly sophisticated use of a two-tier narrative structure, with great energetic zest, that executes the Anti-Oedipal story of Father-Son bonding and the Unlikely Triumphant Hero inside a hugely imaginative and beautifully rendered world. It’s all Awesome…
Of course, there is one small “but”, which is that it drops the ball on its gender politics. It technically passes the Bechdel Test, but essentially there is only one main female character. Alison Brie plays a female cat, which is where the “technically” comes from. The central female character is a great character, but I think to an extent that’s insufficient no matter how bad-ass she is. I also found it a little irritating that at the last minute they caved in to her ending up as the main hero’s girlfriend – in the final minutes she moved from being an ally to being a reward. To add insult to injury, the film ends with a new threat coming to Legoland – the younger sister. It’s light hearted, but I just found myself a little irritated right at the close of the film. Sadly, I think even considering this it’s still miles better in its gender politics than any close relative in so-called adult cinema.
I gave it an 8/10 on IMDB, and if the film had ended 30 seconds earlier without the inexorable love-match or little sister-as-threat, I’d have gone higher.