If you had said a year ago that a film about LEGO would become a major box office and critical smash, and establish itself as a major pop culture event, you might have had people laughing in your face. Apart from the 'Transformers' franchise, no toy-line has ever made a wholly successful transition to the big screen, and this toy-line is nothing more than a collection of coloured plastic bricks and little figures with limited movement. And yet, something extraordinary has happened: in the hands of writer/director team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 'The LEGO Movie' turns out to be the kind of animated film that comes along very rarely.
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is about as un-extraordinary as they come. A construction worker in a utopian city run by President Business (Will Ferrell), his life is thrown into chaos when he finds the legendary Piece of Resistance. He's mistaken by rebel Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) as the prophesised 'Special' who will save the world from President Business' evil plans with his ultimate weapon, The Kragle. Under the guidance of the wise but batty Vetruvius (Morgan Freeman), overly-positive rainbow unicorn cat Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Wyldstyle's disagreeable boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), Emmet tries to find the extraordinary within himself and fulfil his destiny. Oh, and everything and everyone is made of LEGO.
Lord and Miller broke out with their insanely imaginative hit 'Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs' (2009), but somehow they have increased the insanity with 'The LEGO Movie'. Launching with e velocity of a bullet from a gun, this is one of the strangest, craziest, most intelligent, barmy, hilarious and daring animated films (hell, films full-stop) in a very long time. It might be almost entirely CGI (thanks largely to Australia's own Animal Logic animation department), but the commitment to the principles of LEGO as a world-building material is staggering, so that the result is closer to stop-motion than fluid animation. Not a stone is left unturned in exploring our physical, cultural and social relationship with LEGO, how we interact with it and imagine with it and become obsessed with it. The visuals are absolutely spectacular, a kaleidoscopic hallucination of colour and movement, with each world Emmet visits more incredible than the last.
The film moves at a cracking pace, only stopping when absolutely necessary to give the narrative (and the audience) a chance to breathe. The screenplay is a perfect balance of great intelligence, great daring and great insanity, bombarding the audience with innumerable pop culture references and ridiculous characters. Like the best animated films, it walks the fine line between different ages, offering recognisable bawdy humour for the kids with more literate jokes for the adults (it references Ancient Greek comedies - seriously). At no point however does the randomness feel indulgent or unnecessary, with seemingly innocuous moments often becoming major plot points in the final act. There are also lessons to be imparted by the film, about letting your imagination run free and being wary of conformity (there a moments bordering on Orwellian, especially when we first meet Emmet). There is so much honesty and heart in this film, so much care and attention given to every frame that you can't help but be caught up in its spell.
Complementing the tremendous filmmaking is the exceptional voice cast.
Complementing the tremendous filmmaking is the exceptional voice cast. Chris Pratt gives Emmet a gorgeous everyman quality, happily content with his normality until he realises how much better he could be. Morgan Freeman, in his first animated voice role, is a blast as the batty old mentor (imagine a really incompetent Obi-Wan Kenobi), as is Will Arnett as the gloriously disagreeable Batman. Elizabeth Banks gives some strong grounding as Wyldstyle, possibly the only sane character in the whole film. Will Ferrell gives great relish and melodrama to villain President Business, bouncing beautifully off stern-as-steel Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson). The standout though (if that's possible) is Benny, an 80s-Something Space Guy driven by an insatiable desire to please everyone and build spaceships. He comes across as even more amiable and eager than Emmet to the point of insanity, and provides some of the most hysterical moments of the film.
Words can't really do justice to 'The LEGO Movie', it just has to be seen to be believed. Rarely does one film have everything in such perfect balance and is capable of defying generational and age gaps with such aplomb. The world Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have created is so rich in detail and character and heart that you'll need to revisit it just to take it all in. Pure insanity from its first frame to its outrageously incredible final moment, 'The LEGO Movie' is so much more than anyone would have expected from a film based on coloured plastic bricks. Without breaking a sweat, it's already earned its place as a classic.