This movie is like your childhood: built brick by brick, with countless hours spent in freeform creation. It’s also more fun and hilarious than a bunch of scuffed, stop-animated toys has any right to be.
Unlike your fond memories though, Emmet and Co don’t trade on just nostalgia but create a firm base of narrative from which to climb to great heights and reach the Cloud Cuckoo Land of builder heaven.
The LEGO Movie story’s protagonist is Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary, rules-following, and perfectly average LEGO mini-figure construction guy. Because of a site accident, he’s mistaken as The Special (the messianic, most extraordinary person in the world).
Drafted by the perky and beautiful Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks—and, no, she’s not a DJ) into a fellowship of strangers that includes the ancient mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Benny, the 1980-something Spaceman (Charlie Day), and even Batman (Will Arnett), this gang of misfits will go up against the order-obsessed despot and villain Lord Business (Will Ferrell).
Here are a few facts about this Warner Bros movie and LEGO Corp to supplement your screening pleasure.
Writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller built on the premise of nostalgia and how anyone who ever designed a universe from a heap of LEGO parts on their bedroom floor feels a sense of triumph afterwards.
“Chris and I were inspired by the ingenuity and humor that comes out of the international LEGO community,” says Lord. He’s referring to such outlets as LEGO Cuusoo, the “ReBrick” forums where people can share their creations.
“There are two different ways people play with LEGO bricks,” Miller relates. “One is to follow the instructions on the kit and put together this awesome thing, whatever it is, which you then set on your shelf and never use so it doesn’t break, and the other is to take a pile of random pieces and make something from your own imagination, then take it apart and make something else. ‘The LEGO Movie’ uses these two different approaches as the basis for its story, which is really about innovation and creativity and the importance of change.”
The film also features 183 unique mini-figures, many of which are particularly special to the directors. On an early visit to LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark, Phil Lord saw a host of the new mini-figures and was delightfully re-acquainted with some of his childhood favorites, which he wanted to include.
Up against stiff competition with next gen videogame consoles, as well as Mattel and Hasbro, LEGO was in shambles in 2003, when sales had fallen off and dropped 35 per cent in the US and 29 per cent worldwide.
A year later they were in the biggest loss of the company’s history: debts nearing the US$1B mark that was almost equivalent to their annual sales.
Rescue came in the form of hackers and cybersleuths who, as it turns out, also had a soft spot for the family-owned toy company. In exchange for ideas on how to turn their business around, the programming community asked for supplies of bricks and old sets and, in constant collaboration by 2004, the owners of LEGO were able to implement a sound plan to save their ailing company.
It was a mix of cost-cutting, core philosophy renewal, and a return to the grassroots. They sold off every part of the business that wasn’t absolutely essential to the core product; these included properties in the US, South Korea and Australia, four theme parks, and a videogames development division. They also downsized rapidly, letting go of around 1,000 employees and then outsourced many of its processes, reducing worker numbers by 3,500 more.
The result wasn’t just a leaner and more productive company, the direct consequence of all that restructuring and corpo-hacking eventually brought us the widely popular MMORPG Lego Universe, and the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System kit (as well as its next iteration: the LEGO Mindstorms NXT, which was released in 2006).
From the get go, the filmmakers only had Chris Pratt as a first choice to voice Emmet the Construction Guy.
A self-described nobody, Emmet adheres to the rules in every aspect of his life, content in the belief that he is the most ordinary, unremarkable person ever. Emmet never met an instruction manual he didn’t like. Whatever the rules are, he’s glad to follow; whatever song is playing on the radio, he’ll sing along; whatever everyone else has for lunch or watches on TV, well, he’s cool with that.
“This challenge takes him through LEGO realms he didn’t know existed, where everything is just ridiculous but in a good way. It’s all beautiful, imaginative, exciting and very funny. There are lovable characters, amazing sets, insane action, a lot of love and a really positive message that you can feel comfortable bringing your kids to see.”
Most recognized for the role of Andy Dwyer on NBC’s comedy series “Parks and Recreation”, Pratt most recently starred in the comedy “Delivery Man,” and will soon be in the Marvel feature “Guardians of the Galaxy”, where he plays Star-Lord.
Lord and Miller spent a fair amount of R&D working on the scuffs and fingerprint smudges, trying to achieve a realistic amount of variation and irregularity in how the bricks are put together and come apart.
“It’s easy to make straight lines with CGI, but the look we wanted was tactile and organic,” said Lord.
The physical limitations of the LEGO mini-figures is their charm, the filmmakers thought. So, to execute their ambition, they turned to Australian animation studio Animal Logic, and brought in Chris McKay (“Robot Chicken”) as animation co-director.
Visually, Lord and Miller sought a photo-real, non-traditional computer animation style resembling stop-motion, to give their characters and settings the endearing homemade aesthetic that defines LEGO construction. Rather than cheat the images with seamless CG backgrounds and drawn bricks, the animators created each individual component and virtually built every scene brick by brick—a technique that proved especially useful when the story called for buildings and other objects to be blasted to pieces and then re-assembled, on the fly, into weapons or high-speed escape vehicles.
In the movie, the characters move and interact authentically, often as if being puppetted by an unseen hand. Even in their expressions, the mandate was not to stray from the standard mini-figure repertoire: flat painted eyes, brows and mouths.
Elizabeth Banks, the voice for Master Builder and Batman’s girlfriend Wyldstyle, eschewed footwear while recording her dialogue.
“I rarely wore shoes,” Banks revealed. “I was usually barefoot because I like to jump around and move. You can’t make noise over your vocals, so I have to take my shoes off, especially in an action movie. There’s a lot of punching and jumping and running, and I did all of that behind the microphone.”
Imagine the “Taken” actor in this schizoid scary/goody role! Lord Business’s number one enforcer is the alternately intimidating and wacky Bad Cop/Good Cop, a swivel-headed mini-figure with a split personality, both of which is voiced by Liam Neeson.
Liam Neeson said that he found echoes of the Arthurian legend in Emmet’s journey: “The basis of all those stories was the quest, going after the impossible and trying to win it and, in the process, bettering the world, and that’s certainly the basis for ‘The LEGO Movie.’”
“When I saw some of the animation, and bearing in mind the history of New York police, I thought he should be Irish, and specifically from the North of Ireland,” said Neeson, “The Good Cop, he’s Irish too, but he’s a wee bit more feisty.”
Along with Batman, the Spaceman is one of two existing LEGO mini-figures in the ensemble. He’s a space traveller from the early 1980s and Benny was a precious part of the filmmakers’ childhoods that there was no way they were going to leave him out of the fun. Benny has a helmet with a broken chin strap, suggesting that perhaps oxygen deprivation may have contributed to his current, off-kilter state of mind.
This unlikely musical collaboration between Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island is not only insanely catchy and EDM-perky, it will also stick in your head like Krazy Glue.
With lyrics like “Skim milk, white bread, done my homework weeks ahead / Skipping stones and best-friend bracelets / Lemonade, I like to make it,” trust me, you’ll find yourself humming it at the breakfast table the day after the movie.
Also, walking down the street, commuting to work, while in the office. . .oh, you get my drift. Am doing it right now, darn it!
The LEGO Movie opens in 3D and 2D cinemas on Thursday, February 6. Tell us about what you loved about the movie in the Comments Section.