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One Brick, Many Possibilities

March 1, 2014

The LEGO movie wasn’t really on my radar until a month or two ago, and even then I wasn’t paying much attention to it.  Yet another toy tie-in movie (YATTM), lots of franchise tie-ins and what seemed like gags – didn’t exactly strike me as something that would be all that great.  Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to the 4×4 piece that warranted a second look.  And so I went to see it.  How does it stack up?  (geddit?)

Potential spoilers ahead!

To give you an indication, I’ve seen it twice now.  Colour me very surprised.  This is a movie that had no assurance of being any good, and yet, it is a very fine movie indeed, well done, and well worth seeing.  I’m shocked, but it really does succeed where many movies have fallen flat.  The why is that fundamental truth why:  great storytelling, with a good script and surprising depth.

Above all, it is an expert balancing act that makes this movie work so well.  There’s visual humour, but it’s not all cheap gags (in fact I’d say there’s few cheap gags and the gags are mostly of the more expensive kind).  There are cameo gags, but it’s not all cameo gags.  There’s (sometimes surprisingly poignant) reflection on current affairs/events/concerns, but it’s not all that or overly heavy handed about it.  There’s philosophical queries, but mostly handled through real character interaction rather than talking-head pontification.  The visual style even changes a few times (for reasons that become apparent in the final act).  It’s very fast paced, but self-referentially so and anyway it doesn’t feel like they’re skipping bits of story to do so just to get to the next action sequence.  Everything is fits together snugly. (geddit?)

And the script writing is great, written with wit, nice world play, nice absurdism, and even brilliance.  Vitruvius – with a name taken from the roman architect (which the word itself comes from master builder).  And then he says “These two birds will carry our message to gather the other master builders at Cloud Cuckoo Land,” referencing an ancient Greek play (!) called the birds, where two characters a perfect city in the clouds called, no lie, Cloud Cuckoo Land.  Holy.  The.  Crap.  And thus, in the ever-present song of the movie, singing “a book of Greek antiquities” has just that much more meaning.  Holy. The. Crap. Again.

Scriptwriter, I salute you.

And then, the nice way the characters point, poke, prod at convention, almost pointing out the subtext, with little throwaway lines… “I’m on TV, so you know you can trust me.”  “Yay, sports team!”  “That’ll be $42…”

The film runs so tightly together that the surprise third act, that story-wise could have fallen flat on its face… works.  Borderline sappy and cliché, but again, beautiful balance.

The rest is just executed solidly, including the stop-motion copying CGI for the film itself, the voice acting, and the character triumphs.  One of the few knocks I might give is the high preponderance of destruction, but in a LEGO world, maybe not.  Besides, I forgive that entirely for having the villain at the end be given a choice, and them actually accepting that choice and reforming.  They don’t renege, they don’t return later to backstab, they don’t do any of the usual Hollywood unfortunate thing of that being nothing but a plot point to show how irredeemable and “true evil” the villain is.  This was an intelligently written and human villain – who in the end grew, along with everyone else along the journey.  And isn’t that what a good story is all about?

So, yeah, I’m a bit smitten by this movie.  I rate it a solid fair plus, for a movie that does what a movie ought to do well.  In my animated movie pantheon, it may not hit quite hit the level of a Wall-E or Ratatouille, and certainly not a Spirited Away, but it holds its own competently and proudly.  It is a proud movie, it is a movie movie, a movie that wants to be and was written to be a movie, a story, and not just something to do because, hey, instant-insert-toy-fanbase-here-receive-cash.  No, they took a theme, they ran with it, unabashedly, and they put in care, time, effort, and soul.

See it.  And then, five hours later, realize you have the all-to-catchy theme song stuck in your head.  And realize you just don’t care.  ‘Cuz it’s awesome.

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