The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, 2014)

What it is is beautiful (spoiler notice)

Ah, Lego. The grand hobby. Not merely a toy for children, but an infinite arena of creativity where hundreds of thousands of adults around the world explore their ideas or simply enjoy the delightful sound of bricks clicking together. Lego holds an enormous pull on creative minds. The Lego Movie is at its surface an animated feature aimed at kids, but shhh, don't tell that to the packed theater audience I sat in, which existed exclusively of excited 20- and 30-somethings.

It was surprising to hear this film was being made, since how do you write a story around a construction method consisting of ABS plastic bricks and, emphatically, no story at all. Rather than choosing any one of the Lego themes (where is my Ice Planet 2002 movie?), the choice choice was made to let it be about all the themes. And all the characters. It's set in a universe of universes, where licensed franchises like Batman, Harry Potter and Star Wars intersect with Lego classics as Pirates, Knights and City. Standing in the midst of this zoo of well-featured characters is everyman Emmet. It's here that The Lego Movie brings up its main theme: Emmet is utterly unremarkable, ordinary to a fault. He possesses no creativity and follows instructions to build an orderly life in the city universe which is ruled over by Lord Business. The latter is such a stickler for protocol and perfection that he seeks to glue every brick in its place, making a statue out of the world. The thought of gluing Lego together is enough to make any enthusiast gasp!

Charming touches that expressly channel the brand's creativity abound. Lord Business feels he's much better than the rest, but how to make him rise above the crowd when every minifig is made to exacting, diminutive size? Why, by giving him huge artificial legs; telescopic stilts that grow mid-walk to emphasize his mood. Standing against this evil square is an anarchic legion of 'master builders', minifigs who have the capacity to dream up anything and construct it out of their environment at whim. Emmet obviously gets embroiled with these people and at the end both parties learn a valuable lesson: it's good to step outside the lines and follow your own intuition, but working as a team to build from instruction is healthy too. It finds a middle ground between conformism and anarchy, which is a pretty neat theme for a film about bricks.

Plot and theme almost continuously take a backseat to a non-stop barrage of gags. Many of them carry a nod and a wink to older viewers, not to mention the loving jabs taken frequently at adult fans of Lego. But there's an insecurity underpinning its frantic pace, one utterly unfounded. I found myself gasping for breath, begging for the scenes to slow down and offer better character development or linger on a true emotion. Instead the movie is hounded by a perverse fear it'll bore its audience and as a result its ADHD speed mentally drained me halfway through. Any sensitive person will find this an exhausting experience. Annoyingly, the choice to put jokes over development erodes the potential of this film. The first two acts are little more than a drawn-out chase sequence, with few interesting plot points. Enjoyable, but shallow.

Luckily, near the end comes a surprise foreshadowed all throughout the film. Emmet is sucked into the 'real' world, where the whole Lego universe turns out to be the wondrous basement of a family man. The narrative was devised by his son sneaking in to play with the rigid dioramas bearing signs that say “hands off” and “do not touch”. The father intrudes on the story now, and is at first angry with his son for despoiling his perfect land, then sympathizes as he starts to understand the kid's urge to be creative and the unfair lure of his basement. At face value it's a sugary sweet element in the plot, but as a Lego fan myself – carrying ambitions of having one day tables of cities and wondrous displays – it clocked me on the jaw.

It's exactly what the film needed to elevate from amusing animated comedy for a YouTube crowd, many of its elements carefully poised to enter internet memedom, to something touching and worthwhile. Despite its lack of development until the end, it's packed with good jokes and clearly made by and for (grownup) Lego fans. Look no further for proof than astronaut Benny, with his cracked classic helmet and constant urge to create a gloriously old-school 80s spaceship out of blue and gray.

Roderick Leeuwenhart