A lot of people (I was one of them) were pretty snotty when this project was first announced. No doubt they’ve been hastily deleted now, but there was the usual rash of oh-so-witty social media comment such as this:

“A film about Lego bricks? How ridiculous. First the Battleship board game, now this? What next, Hungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie?”

Many likes, favourites and retweets followed. What larks. After all, who doesn’t like a good bit of sneering? It’s in the fine tradition of the internet to shit all over something before it’s even got beyond a concept stage, and we all contribute to some degree.

The tide started to change however, when Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were announced as directors. After some cult TV success with the underrated Clone High, they’d successfully graduated to the big screen via the surprise hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and transitioned into live action with the 21 Jump Street film and TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine. All solid work which had gained them a variety of admirers. When the film’s trailer hit, suspicions that this might actually be pretty good started to seriously grow, and it’s something of a triumph against a sea of naysayers that The Lego Movie is really quite brilliant.

One thing that hadn’t actually occurred to me until I saw the trailer was just how many different intellectual properties Lego are connected to. The film only scratches the surface of their possibilities, but still manages to include a major role for Batman, supporting turns from other DC Comics superheroes Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, Star Wars legends Han Solo, C-3PO and Lando Calrissian, Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and countless other cultural references and cameos that somehow don’t seem shoehorned in at all. The result is a pretty unique kind of cultural milkshake that’s a far more original experience than most people expected a film like this to deliver.

Of course, all these great conceptual ideas aren’t up to much without a decent execution. Thankfully, the filmmakers have taken the Pixar formula as a blueprint (something perhaps all films should do to some extent, not just animated ones), and put together a fairly straightforward quest structure with a really positive message and a plethora of distractions for adults. In fact, I remember watching it and feeling a little disappointed until the last half hour or so. While it’s certainly funny – and the range of humour is about as wide as you can get, from basic slapstick to unexpectedly sophisticated satirical jabs at materialism, populist distractions and the merging of corporations with politics – the first hour or so is also quite childish. Everything zooms by at breakneck speed, plot elements are thrown together seemingly at random, locations change with headache-inducing regularity and there are a few too many shots of all the characters screaming while being thrown into the air. As the film approached its climax, I found myself thinking it was a shame that all these juvenile storytelling elements dragged the film down in my estimation. But then the big reveal takes place, and it’s round about here I need to flag up a

Towards the end of the film, our protagonist is hurled into a vortex that is supposed to essentially remove him from existence, in what appears to be an act of self-sacrifice. At this point, the film suddenly switches into live action. A child is playing with a huge Lego set in a basement. The toys he’s playing with are the characters from the film – everything we’ve seen so far has been invented by this child on the fly. As his dad comes downstairs (played by Will Ferrell, who obviously also voices the main bad guy Lord Business in the Lego story), we discover that this man is the actual owner of these Lego toys, and hates the way his son sneaks down to play with them (just as Lord Business hates anything chaotic that doesn’t follow his rules). He doesn’t approve of the way his son deviates from “the instructions” and mixes different Lego themes together, and he intends to glue the pieces down so it can’t happen again (again mirroring the Lego plotline). In other words, the entire story we’ve seen so far is essentially part of a larger meta-narrative whereby this child has projected his own family difficulties and disputes with his father into the story we have just been watching. Not only is this a really clever twist that chimes with the film’s overall themes of being creative and thinking for oneself, and not only does it gives adults a little lesson to consider about encouraging their children’s imaginations rather than suppressing them, but it also essentially explains all the film’s previous rough edges to that point. The reason everything seems to clash together so much, and so many disparate elements are clumsily thrown in, isn’t because the filmmakers don’t know how to tell a story, but because that is how kids enact a story when they play. Watch any kid and see. Of course Batman randomly turns up – that’s what a kid would do. Of course everything’s really messy and overstimulated and a bit too fast – that’s the way kids play with their toys. In other words, the film’s biggest surprise actually redeems everything that happens before, which is what elevates this film from a good to a great one.

Quite apart from all this cleverness, I think people also underestimated just how universal the appeal of those little Lego bricks would be. Almost everyone just seems to get Lego. If you didn’t directly play with them as a child, you at least knew about them, or you were a parent who looked on approvingly as your children did. Great pains have been taken to replicate the appeal, from scuffs and bite marks to wonderful little details like the snapped chinstrap on the spaceman character’s helmet (those things always broke). Lego bricks are great. They’re a creative and educational toy, and this is a creative and educational film. It’s about as much a triumph as anyone could have hoped for.

Confounding Cynical Expectations9
Mixing Pretty Much Every Cultural and Historical Reference You Can Think Of Into One Film9
Entertaining/Informing Both Adults and Children (Probably More Adults to be Honest)9
Some Clumsy and Childish Storytelling Techniques6
The Reason Eventually Revealed for Those Techniques9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • Although technically female, both of the characters are made out of Lego and one is an anthropomorphic unicorn/cat chimera. Genuinely have no idea if that matters or not. I asked Alison Bechdel about it and she hasn't replied to my emails.
8Overall Score

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