Published on April 3rd, 2014 | by Damien Straker
The Lego Movie (3D) – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on April 3rd, 2014
Roadshow presents a film by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Starring: (the voices of) Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman
Producer: Dan Lin and Roy Lee
Cinematographer: Pablo Plaisted
Editor: David Burrows and Chris McKay
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: April 3rd, 2014
One of the safest ways in which Hollywood preserves its bankability is not by investing in new ideas but by creating relationships between the onscreen images and tangible commodities like toys. Toys have become the target of Hollywood because they have the incentive of drawing in younger audiences, along with their parents, as they recognise the items or images on the screen. Transformers, Battleship and G.I. Joe are some of the toys that have been made into huge blockbusters but the ploy is older than that. Cinema merchandising can be traced back to the early blockbuster films of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in the mid Seventies. Video games have also been adapted into films for two decades because there is already an established fanbase and are deemed safer and more profitable than developing new ideas. Comic book films and action movies are becoming gradually imitative of the physics and design of video games, particularly in their elaborate action sequences. It is now a question as to whether cinema, particularly among young viewers, will ever be given the imagination and originality that it deserves, instead of relying on existing products for inspiration. Similarly, do films adapting toys remove children from the joys of having a tangible object or toy in their hands and encouraging them to develop their own imagination?
The transition from toys to films belongs to a broader timeline and capitalist trajectory. The Lego Group was established by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish carpenter who started making wooden children’s toys in the early 1930s because he had lost his job in the Great Depression. The name Lego is taken from the Dutch phrase “leg godt” which means “play well”. Lego has developed from simple wooden designs to plastic materials and now into a sixty million dollar blockbuster. While this computer generated feature from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) is undisputedly made to sell more of Christiansen’s toys, it’s relieving to say that it brims with visual charm and creativity. Cleverly, the film has been shot using regular CGI animation, courtesy of the Australian animation studio Animal Logic, but it has been made to look as though it has a stop motion aesthetic. Stop motion animation is time consuming because it relies on photographing an image or model, adjusting it and photographing it again. There have been Lego stop motion videos on sites such as Youtube that have used this process, which is where this film takes inspiration for its design. Along with using CGI, the little Lego figures were also examined to see how they look, feel and move and then incorporated into the film. Aside from the forgettable 3D, it is a film that is simply drowning in clever visual details and sight gags. This is where the film generates a lot of its charm, humour and nostalgia. It’s great fun to see those Lego figures back from your childhood, but with even more personality and expression, along with some of the classic old sets, like the Western world.
However, the greatest challenge for any film based on a toy, let alone one playing with Lego, is what to do with the narrative. The film’s script by the directors is very funny at times and witty, particularly with the way that it employs gentle nudges and self-depreciating humour towards pop culture icons like Lego Batman and Green Lantern. Yet the narrative leaves a lot to be desired. The plot is thin, relying heavily on standard MacGuffin devices and pleasant liberal messages about finding your personal gifts and using your imagination when the rest of the world is conforming. It’s sweet but hardly testing and it’s also padded extensively by action scenes that are only different from the ones they’re parodying because they’re in Lego form. At least the voice cast (Chris Pratt, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson among others are delightful) is highly colourful and distinctive and each character has their own moment of personal glory. I would have liked a few more of these character moments to put the film on a level closer to a Pixar film but small children are still going to love the visual spark alone. It moves faster than your old Lego set and without the pain of collecting any of the tiny pieces left behind. Despite its good intentions and its positive messages, do people want to see their children being told they can be imaginative while watching a film or discovering that same creativity as they build and craft Lego worlds for themselves?
Summary: It's relieving to say that it brims with visual charm and creativity