As far as the “enjoyable, genre-lampooning movies that imagine a certain medium as a universe in which characters from many franchises interact”, I’m gonna have to say that Wreck-It Ralph was both more engaging and more feminist than this one. That said, however, this was a truly funny and enjoyable movie, and I definitely recommend you go see it. Spoilers lie ahead.
The movie focuses on Emmet, a construction worker minifigure who lives a contented life as a cog in the machine of his city. He does his job, he follows all The Instructions, and he doesn’t look for trouble. Trouble, however, finds him, when he discovers The Piece of Resistance, an object which, it is prophesied, is the only thing that can stop the evil Lord Business, current ruler of LEGO world, from destroying the universe as they know it. Recruited by a team of Master Builders (minifigs who can create stupendous things out of the LEGOs around them without any instructions) who believe he is the prophesied Special, Emmet must take down Lord Business by using the Piece to disable Business’s master weapon.
Alternatively, imagine The Matrix, but with LEGOs. It’s literally the exact same plot.
Outside of this narrative, however, we also have a framing universe. In Wreck-It Ralph, we had human gamers playing games populated by sentient characters. In The Lego Movie, the LEGO minifigs appear to be sentient beings, but their story is actually entirely guided by whoever is playing with them at the time. It turns out that all the LEGO characters and worlds we’ve seen are a collector’s mint condition pride and joy, and the wacky stories and imaginative creations are made up by his son, who believes that LEGOs are toys and should be played with, no matter how silly the end result of creating outside the instructions is. It becomes clear that Lord Business is the kid’s comically evil imagining of his dad—Business’s master plan is to glue all the minifigs in place so that everything is perfectly by the book, and as dad comes home and sees that his son has been—gasp—playing with his LEGO worlds, Emmet’s final battle with Lord Business begins to play out.
In general, I really enjoyed the movie. It was hilarious in a ton of ways, from sight gags to pop culture callouts. I, as I’m sure many comics fans were, was particularly amused by the portrayal of Batman as a self-obsessed melodramatically dark dudebro. It was incredibly genre-savvy—even their rule-free secret resistance hideout was a location called Cloud Cuckoo Land, a reference to a TV Tropes trope of the same name, and it often lampooned concepts like “the mysterious mentor offers a last nugget of wisdom before dying”.
The movie also subverted the “normal guy discovers hidden powers and saves the day” trope, because, as it turns out, Emmet has no special powers and in fact “dies” (falls out of the LEGO diorama onto the basement floor) without attaining them. Even when he “comes back to life” (is placed back into the scene by the kid) and has become a Master Builder, it isn’t his newfound skills, but the empathy he’s always possessed, that convinces Lord Business to turn over a new leaf. The one thing that concerns me is that this subversion may not be clear to a young audience, since he does still get the magical powers and save the day.
And more than anything, the graphics were amazing. I can’t imagine animating an ocean or an explosion so that it looks like it’s been made entirely out of stop-motion LEGOs, but this movie did it and it was stunning.
The moral of the story is, ostensibly, that there’s no wrong way to have fun or build something out of LEGOs, and that putting something that is, at its core, a toy on a silly pedestal and never touching it again is the height of folly. Furthermore, it says, it’s okay if other people think your ideas are stupid or pointless as long as you believe in them.
The biggest complaint I have about this movie, as with most hero’s journey movies, is that there are barely any women. Lucy (the Trinity to Emmet’s Neo) is the only major female character besides Unikitty, the peppy talking cat-unicorn. She has a bit of her own character arc, but she is often shown in terms of Emmet crushing on her. She also goes from going out with Batman, the stereotypical jerk alpha male dude, to falling in love with Emmet over the course of the movie, which falls a little into The Nice Guy Deserves The Girl territory, and reinforces the stereotype that a girl can’t have a romance-free plotline. And despite this being (yes, really) Wonder Woman’s big screen debut, we don’t see much more of her in the movie than we saw in the trailer. It would have been nice to have a bit more of a female presence—I think it would have made the most difference if the kid playing with the LEGOs was a girl.
All that said, I definitely recommend this movie. It’s an interesting idea and a fun experience that also delivers a solid emotional message. Check it out and let me know what you think!