This weekend my oldest daughter and I had the opportunity to check out the soon-to-be released The Lego Movie from Warner Brothers. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.
The LEGO Movie was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same dudes who did Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (totally loved it) and 21 Jump Street (not so much). The cast is phenomenal, and features some of the funniest players in Hollywood, including Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell at his Will-Ferrell-iest, Liam Neeson (swoon), Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett (double swoon), Nick Offerman, Charlie Day and the hilarious Alison Brie.
I’ll be honest, I pretty much expected a 100 minute long commercial for LEGO, much like many of the other toy-to-movie/TV projects out there (I’m looking at you, Monster High). I’m not usually a fan of the whole toys being used as movie characters (with the exception of Toy Story, obviously), but, without giving any spoilers, I can say that the concept just works here.
The LEGO Movie is a perfect example of when branding and storyline can enhance each other instead of detract. Watching this movie was like a nice trip through childhood nostalgia land. Who didn’t play with LEGOs in their childhood (and beyond)? It’s a quintessential childhood experience that inspired millions of kids to create and use their imaginations.
The LEGO movie’s plot is what you would expect from a movie geared at kids and tweens. Pratt stars at Emmet, a regular Joe type character turned hapless hero thrust into a crisis he is not prepared for. Ferrell plays the bad guy Lord Business who (in what I’m guessing is an homage to Star Wars) also plays the President of the land President Business. President/Lord Business is a perfectionist control-freak who controls the LEGO world (though the word LEGO is never mentioned) with an iron, dictator-like hand. His detests imagination and creativity, so master plan is to destroy the world so everything will be in its place.
Morgan Freeman plays Vitruvious, a blind wizard-type guy who is reminiscent of a yellow, LEGO Gandalf. His protege is a gothy-angsty character named “Wyldstyle,” played by Elizabeth Banks. Their mission is to fullfill a prophecy by finding “the Special” and also an important relic that can finally put an end to Lord Business’ shenanigans. At one point freaking Batman appears, played by the always-on-point Will Arnett. Batman is probably my favorite character, and he was certainly my daughters. From there on out it’s the typical “let’s learn to work together to save the world” trope. However, even though it was, at times, a little predictable, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I won’t give any spoilers, but the ending of the movie is unexpected and completely satisfying, for kids and adults alike. The beauty of The Lego Movie is that, while it is absolutely the most product-centered movie I’ve ever seen, it never feels like a promotion for the toy. As a huge LEGO fan, I feel like Lord and Miller managed to stay true to the LEGO world and it’s almost cult-like following.
Considering how many characters and sub-characters there are in this movie, I’m a little disappointed that there weren’t more heroic lady-folk. Portraying every badass female character as some kind of anomaly is doing none of us any favors. That being said, Wyldside is a decently fleshed out character for a movie like this. Her overall take no prisoners attitude is fun to watch, but I was impressed with how much her character evolved. Elizabeth Banks was spot on here, and managed to portray a genuine sounding vulnerability underneath Wyldside’s touch exterior.
I also appreciate that the film makers didn’t play into the fallacy that women can’t be flawed, stubborn not-always-right etc. and still be tough and deserving of respect. It might seem like I’m looking too deeply at a kid’s film, but I felt good seeing my daughter watch Wyldside.. For once the female protagonist wasn’t perfect, or only flawed in the ladylike, non-threatening ways ways that is par for the course in movies like this (now I”m looking at you, Disney). In a lot of action movies, the female badass character has to be an over-serious, oh-so-much-smarter than the bumbling male character. Think Jessica Biel‘s character in A-Team movie (Bradley Cooper era, not Mr. T era, unfortunately), or even Scully, from the X-Files.
Wyldside is intense, judgemental, a little naive, but she’s also a brave, smart, and loyal character. You don’t always like her, but you’re still rooting for her. I think it’s so important for kids, and especially little girls, to understand that you don’t have to be perfect to be a hero or do something meaningful, and also that you don’t always have to be nice to be effective.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that, at least technically, The LEGO Movie passes the Bechdel Test, aka two female characters exchanging any dialog without mention a man. Banks’ Wyldside converses to Brie’s My Little Pony-esque Unikitty a couple of times in the movie (though not really in a meaningful way, but they definitely weren’t talking about the menfolk).Considering how many kids movies who don’t pass, this was definitely a plus in my book.
The animation is also amazing. According to the directors, their goal was to go beyond standard animation and build a virtual world made exclusively from LEGO pieces and accessories. The result is impressive and often hilarious. The only legit complaint (if you can call it that) was that, unlike many other 3D movies aimed at kids, you pretty much have to wear the 3D glasses the entire time to get the full effect. So if your child is like my two younger kids who hate wearing anything on their face you might want to catch a non-3D version.
In my opinion, The LEGO Movie is a better-than-average family movie, one I would be comfortable taking both my 10-year-old kids and my 79-year-old Nana to see. The movie is rated PG, and some of the jokes might be slightly offensive for those of you born with an unusually low bar for what you think is offensive (not Mommyish readers, it was take a lot more than some fart-related humor to offend you guys).
All in all, The LEGO Movie was a funny, beautifully rendered and at times touching movie with an uplifting message that doesn’t seem forced or false. And really, anything with both Liam Neeson AND Morgan Freeman has GOT to pretty good.