Here’s something startling about The LEGO Movie. You probably know already that the brick blockbuster entranced critics and audiences, raked in $461m globally, and conquered cynicism about toy-franchise films. But when you see it on Blu-ray, you will want to plunge your hands into the screen and start making stuff.
The small-screen shocker is how tactile those 15m virtual LEGO bricks are up close. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Hollywood’s new kings of comedy, after sequel-satirising triumph 22 Jump Street) admit in the cast-packed giggly chat-track, that LEGO-ness was key to the movie’s humour and its overall texture. Their exuberant Matrix-spoofing epic sweeps talentless worker Emmet (Chris Pratt) into a revolt against tyrant Lord Business (Will Ferrell), via a succession of elaborate fantasy worlds – candy-coloured Cloud Cuckoo Land, a rollicking Wild West... Yet every numbered LEGO piece the film’s questing Master Builders grab – whether it’s to make a jaw-dropping motorcycle, spaceship or (gloriously insane) submarine – exists in the real world. There’s a weirdly loveable LEGO reality to it all.
Being fast and furiously paced, it’s easy to overlook how cleverly the film itself mimics its central theme – that tension in LEGO-building between staying true to the instructions, or freestyling creatively. Lord and Miller’s script deftly pillages the Terminator and Batman series, The Lord Of The Rings and spaghetti westerns, and builds something new and eye-catching with the bits, as Emmet and co do. The movie’s omnivorous story crams in rivalries, non-stop visual and verbal gags, even Michael Bay-style action sequences.
Lifting us beyond the note-perfect spoofing, however (check out the dusty artistry of the Wild West world) are the breathtaking transformations. Let Lord and Miller talk you through that glorious western dash where runaway pigs and debris form a getaway stage coach, then a plunging sunset train ride wreathed in LEGO smoke. Granted, the story sometimes has the gleeful sugar rush of a toybox binge. But the deleted scenes included here also show the team’s discipline in dumping funny but superfluous scenes at storyboard stage.
You see the same kind of balance at work in the film’s careful mix of kid-friendly slapstick and adult-tickling satire. Lord Business’ super-regulated surveillance society Bricksburg numbs its populace with ear-worm anthem ‘Everything Is Awesome’ and a paramilitary police force led by Liam Neeson’s tough Good Cop/Bad Cop. His swivelling personalities are underlined by the expressive character design (by animation outfit Animal Logic), which sends up Neeson’s hard-man movie persona ruthlessly.
The sly Making Of (alongside the commentary, the best of an extensive crop of extras) highlights how Chris Pratt’s versatile voicework gives plastic doofus Emmet a heroic as well as comic aspect. Actors’ improv abilities played a vital role here, especially Will Arnett’s gravel-voiced riffing around his blowhard Batman lines. Adding dialogue right up until the final edit, the directors searched ruthlessly for the right gags. With similar care, composer Mark Mothersbaugh’s sweeping score also does some emotional heavy lifting for the cast. Hear that whistling à la The Good, The Bad And The Ugly in the Wild West scene? He got Ennio Morricone’s whistler Alessandro Allessandroni to do it.
This fierce attention to detail and the rich visual world makes the film a freeze-frame fiesta. Pounce on the pause button to savour the Tolkien-teasing ‘Middle Zealand’ montage, an exquisite set of gags centred on the locale’s key features: “knights, mutton, torture, illiteracy, leeches, and er, dragons”. But why no commentary from animation co-director and Robot Chicken veteran Chris McKay, who tweaked the CGI animation to punch up every gag? He’s down to direct the sequel after all (due 2017).
Whether you love or hate the big reveal that caps the movie (some think it slows the action, others get out their hankies) it’s still fascinating to learn that there was ‘push-back’ from the higher-ups about including it. Lord and Miller held out firmly for their audacious ending, making one wonder if The LEGO Movie isn’t also a not-so-secret satire about the Hollywood rulebook versus filmmakers’ unbridled creativity. Score one for the Master Builders this time around.
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