“Everything is Awesome,” the song heard at the beginning of The Lego Movie, sets the mood for the film right away: it’s fun, hilarious, and unapologetically zany. Remarkably, writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller—known primarily for their work on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street—sustain this tone throughout the film, and their exuberance prevents it from being the drab product placement that the very concept of the film would appear doomed to be.
The story they tell concerns the fate of Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a construction worker whose approach to life revolves around conformity. He drinks expensive coffee, enjoys popular music, and roots for the local sports team, all with the same blasé acceptance and blissful ignorance. His life takes a drastic turn when he meets Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a mysterious woman convinced that he is fated to stop President Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world with a powerful weapon known as “the Kragle.” She brings him on an adventure that takes him through numerous LEGO® locales, and introduces him to a myriad of beloved figures, most notably Batman (Will Arnett). Car chases, encounters with villains, and narrow escapes ensue.
If all of this sounds incredibly simplistic and child-like, it’s because it is—and that’s precisely the point. Like Spike Jonze’s under-appreciated 2009 adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, The Lego Movie beautifully represents the wonder and free-spiritedness of a child’s imagination. Whereas Jonze’s film uses a slow, languid approach to evoke nostalgia for childhood and symbolize a child’s restlessness, Miller and Lord use their giddy style and frenetic pacing to depict the joy of a child at play. The shallow, archetypal nature of the characters and plot allow the audience to enter the mindset of a child experiencing the thrill of creativity (through a toy—as the film wants us to remember—like LEGO®). Seeing this feeling represented on screen reminds us of why the simple block toys have endured for so long and been a childhood fixture for so many.
The film falters a bit when Lord and Miller make this all a bit too explicit through the film’s final plot twist. They tell us what we, having experienced childhood, already know implicitly without needing to have the point shoved down our throats by the filmmakers. Not only is the twist redundant, but it puts a damper on the spell the film casts. Though their explicitness broadens the age range to whom the film will appeal by explaining to children exactly what they’re doing, it’s ultimately a futile gesture. Children don’t need to go to a movie to have the joy of childhood preached to them—they’re often living it.
Despite this misstep, Lord and Miller redeem themselves by injecting the movie with a political message which gives it implications beyond being merely a fun journey inside a child’s mind. They suggest that one must use his strengths and individuality in conjunction with others in order to achieve the best possible results for everyone. Only by cooperating with one another, the movie says, can we truly utilize ourselves to our maximum potential. The movie’s message is a welcome antidote to the fascistic undertones that have plagued Hollywood action movies since Dirty Harry, and have been seen on the big screen recently in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Lord and Miller’s decision to make Batman an antagonist for Emmet and a frequent target of derision further positions their message as a mockery of the politics of Nolan’s work. Unlike those films, The Lego Movie explores the problems of placing power in one person and extols the virtues of uniting and working together. The movie shows the value of institutional structures to guide individuals and use them in a way that most benefits everyone.
None of this is to suggest that The Lego Movie amounts to a dry political statement. Any socio-political commentary which one can read into the film’s subtext is overshadowed by the overall whimsical tone which it carries on throughout. A child’s mind is a fun place to be, and The Lego Movie gives us the pleasure of spending time back inside of one.