The Lego Movie is probably the best unabashed, 100-minute toy commercial anyone is ever likely to see. It certainly helps that the toy on offer has a long history of superior quality, and that the imagination- and creativity-focused brand values the film is designed to bolster are essentially unassailable. But it still could have been a disaster in the wrong hands, especially given the cloying, self-acknowledged cliché at the center of it: You are special. Believe in yourself. And the story adheres so rigidly to the familiar hero’s journey template that there is never any doubt about where it’s all headed, how it will get there, and how many corny jokes will unfurl in the process.
Thankfully, though, within these populist kid-movie confines, The Lego Movie manages an abundance of delightful surprises. Keenly attuned to the kinds of open-ended, self-guided interaction Lego toys encourage in kids and adults alike, it builds the narrative around a variety of clever allusions to recognizable play patterns, creating a bustling Lego world that is only vaguely aware of the mysterious human forces that shape it. For instance, household items that commonly find their way into Lego collections – like pennies and board game pieces – loom large in this world, regarded with wonder as “relics” and humorously misidentified and repurposed in ways only a child could. And while the film’s eye-popping visuals are all CGI, the approach deliberately evokes stop-motion animation, whose tactile charm underpins the fact that virtually everything on display could be built with Lego bricks and pieces in real life.
In case it’s not obvious, I have long been a Lego devotee (and I used to make Lego animations myself). But I still had misgivings about this film, just as I would with any mass-market animated feature (after all, even Pixar has been slipping lately). Apparently I needn’t have worried. The Lego Movie is, like its namesake, a smart, fun, and irrepressibly exuberant celebration of ingenuity.