The Lego Movie begs the question, can you ever have enough? You’re already one of the most popular toy manufacturers in the world, you have theme parks and licensed in roads into every popular franchise ever conceived, your product’s ubiquitous, found in the homes of every child and manchild through the globe, yet you’re worried that it’s almost too commonplace. Lego’s so popular, so much a part of the pop cultural furniture, there’s a danger families will stop buying it. How to remind them it’s still out there and one of the most malleable and multifunctional playthings around?
Well the answer may look something like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s one hundred minute commercial, invested with real storytelling craft and wit in a bid to disguise its ontological bent: a movie that exists to sell Lego bricks. The story’s been conceived at Lego HQ – a 1:1 skyscraper made from product, long before any filmmakers were hired. The aim was to acknowledge Lego’s status as a parental favourite while underlining the fact that it’s still for today’s kids; a toy that could and should be passed from parent to child. It would have to be a story that hammered that point home while reinforcing, sorry celebrating, that Lego’s a product that’s alchemised by the childhood imagination.
Yes, don’t let all those scaled recreations of major cities fool you, Lego works best when it’s used to build whatever your heart desires; nonsense objects that channel your creativity and individuated freedom of expression. If a movie could show all of that while being made entirely from Lego, featuring Lego characters from various licensed tie-ins, yet feel good and have a self-reflexive element that would leave parents feeling satisfied and only too happy to give in to their kid’s post-movie plea for more Lego, then it could be very lucrative indeed: the greatest commercial ever made.
No one’s going to argue that Lord and Miller haven’t stuck to the brief. The Lego Movie is feel good hypocrisy with a big cheesy smile on its face. You’d have to have a Lego brick for a heart not to enjoy it. The Lego world it creates is sublime, it manages to tick off Lego nostalgia and modern tie-ins with aplomb and the in-story link between the playful application of Lego and the real world is handled with great skill and intelligence. The problem, as you may have gathered, is that it’s a fraud: a film that teaches tots to mine their creativity, to think for themselves, to reject the corporatisation of their lives, while they sit in the audience, docile, absorbing a feature length slab of product placement.
It’s little wonder that Will Ferrell’s controlling Dad is the villain of the piece. A man who’s forgotten the essence of the brand? Who’s impressed his own values on the Lego Group’s signature product? What a bastard. It’s hard to know who to hate more, him or Lego for having the gall to woo kids with a movie that tells them to follow their imaginations while inseminating them with brand loyalty.