Oh my goshness, if you haven’t seen The Lego Movie, you should. I watched it a couple days ago with Brazle and Hayley, and I am glad to say it is really, really enjoyable. Actually, I’m VERY glad to say it’s really, really enjoyable. You remember how 2013 was a barren wasteland of mediocre movie films? Remember how the Hunger Games movie was good and everything else was terrible? Remember how Planes was supposed to be good and wasn’t at all? Well, it is only February, and The Lego Movie is already better than pretty much every movie from last year except Catching Fire if You’re Hungry and Like Games. It has good music, attractive animation, a creative story, and tons of humor. Is it perfect? No. But it is fun, and I think it is safe to say this is a film for virtually any audience. Highly recommended.
A few deeper thoughts as to what works and what doesn’t:
Music: The Lego Movie has a pretty decent score. At least I think it does. I’m not sure if it was an issue with the theater or the overall mix, but it seemed like the music was really soft; like, it was actually hard to hear sometimes. Now, that might’ve be an issue with the theater. After all, I watched it in theater house 12 at AMC Quail Springs, a house known for technical difficulties. But, I’ve never experienced audio problems in 12, just video clarity issues. So it seems reasonable to assume the score was mixed a wee too soft. So, though the music was good, it was frequently too far “back” and even muffled at times. Oh well. At least what I could hear of the soundtrack was quality.
I must make a special note about “Everything Is Awesome”, the ridiculously catchy song that everyone’s going to hate because they can’t get it out of their heads. Performed by Tegan & Sara w/ The Lonely Island, “Everything Is Awesome” feels like the techno/dubstep/pop equivalent to “You’re the Best” from The Karate Kid. Except “Everything Is Awesome” is intentionally funny. But anyway, like I said, it’s a super catchy, funny song, and I’ve already started playing it at my weekly gig at the Skirvin Hilton. That is significant because I’m notorious for being slow to learn new songs, so it has to be really catchy for me to learn it so fast.
Animation: Before Toy Story was released in 1995, there were effectively two forms of animated films: traditional hand-drawn and stop-motion. Toy Story introduced computer animation, so now there are three animation forms. But then Paperman was released in 2012 and suddenly we lived in a world where combo animation exists, namely hand-drawn computer animation. (That hybrid style allows animators to capture the beautiful simplicity of hand-drawn animation while animating it with the freedom and fluidity of CGI.) Anyway, the point is that while The Lego Movie doesn’t quite invent another hybrid animation style, the film goes in such a quirky direction that it almost seems like it does. Instead of pursuing fluidity, the animators over at Animal Logic actually went out of their way to make TLM’s computer animation look slightly stilted and choppy a la stop-motion. This gives the film a comical, zany rhythm that complements the vibe perfectly. After all, these Lego characters aren’t supposed to be fluid like George and Meg from Paperman – they’re weird and loony, so the stilted style makes them seem that much more ridiculous.
It makes me think of “Mahna Mahna” from Sesame Street. You remember that? In the “Mahna Mahna” sketch, the singer character was pretty over-the-top to begin with, and the puppeteers enhanced that by presenting him in lots of crazy ways. They did stuff like bringing him into frame from all kinds of different angles and discontinuous sides of the screen; he might exit bottom screen but then enter screen right, completely horizontal. It is a bizarre and hilarious bit, and something similar to that type of kookiness is found in TLM.
In summation, the stop-motion-inspired CGI works extremely well. And just to reiterate; the film isn’t a combo of stop-motion and CGI in the way that Paperman was a combo of hand-drawn and CGI. The animation is completely CGI. But the style it patterned after stop-motion. Got it? If not, message me and I’ll explain it. Or go watch the film. You’ll get it. For now, let’s just move on. Oh wait, one last thing – the animated Lego water is just too freaking cool. Okay, now we can move on.
Story: Without any spoilers, I’ll just say that The Lego Movie features an intriguing story with a couple twists and lots of fun moments. There are some pacing problems (mostly arising from leaving in a few jokes that would’ve been better on the cutting room floor), but the overall flow felt pretty solid. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller make great use of Lego lore in creating a story that spans various locales and features lots of memorable characters. Because of the huge variety of Lego themes through the years, they were able to pull together such disparate players and motifs as Batman, 80’s Spaceman, Good Cop/Bad Cop, Western/Castle/Pirate Guys, and so on. This allowed for lots of great personalities, accents, and backstory textures.
The story moves at a fairly brisk pace, and though mostly humorous, the writers manage to convey a terrific “serious” message, namely that everyone is special. Some might think that is a cheesy, pansy thing to tell kids (akin to saying “everyone’s a winner” or giving everyone a trophy even if they lost), but the story doesn’t tell lies. It just reinforces that every individual is unique and has the potential to make a positive impact. I personally think it is incredibly important for kids to know that they truly matter, and I’m glad to see the message in a mainstream movie.
Humor: The Lego Movie is funny. It channels a vibe that heretofore has only fully been present in Pixar’s greatest efforts like Toy Story and Monster’s Inc. Actually, it is nearly too funny if that’s even possible. What I mean is, TLM has so much humor that it becomes a bit tiring at points. In full disclosure, I remember at least one time where something “funny”-but-in-truth-forced happened on screen and literally no one in the theater laughed. That’s never a good moment for a film – it kinda makes you feel embarrassed for the directors, like they’re trying too hard or something. Thankfully, that instant passed rather quickly, and I soon found myself genuinely laughing again. Overall, I found myself laughing out loud nearly beginning to end. The script is full of clever references, goofball Lego moments, and a silly creativity that seems akin to what I might’ve utilized when I was playing with my Legos and making up stories at age seven. I think the film could’ve been better for the dis-inclusion of a couple of the forced moments, but overall, the humor is a big draw.
Like I said at the beginning, The Lego Movie is a great film. It appeals to pretty much any audience, and with great music, animation, story and humor, it is destined to be one of the great animated films this year. Go see it. 7.7/10
Grant Stevens is a writer who actually types on a computer, a fact that has led him to wonder if he should adopt the moniker “typer” instead of “writer”. He knows there is a zero-percent chance of actually making such an adoption a reality, but that’s the kind of thing you wonder about as you wait by the phone for that call from the Pulitzer Committee. He loved playing with Legos as a kid, and now he wonders if it would be worth it to drop $300 on that sweet castle set he just saw on Amazon. Probably not. He is the current and future Emperor of the Use Ironic Correctly Society (UICS), and he does a lot of music stuff.