The LEGO Movie

By Casey Tourangeau

Mailed on February 07, 2014

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Dear Kristen Anderson
Digital Set Designer

Dear Kristen,

I have to admit that I was a bit depressed when I heard that The LEGO Movie was being animated digitally. Particularly because LEGO itself -- the bricks and plates, the classic minifigures--would seem to be a dream tool for creating an old-fashioned stop motion movie.

But I totally understand that modern production costs must have dictated that such a quaint approach was too time-consuming and (more importantly) too costly for what might be considered a two-hour toy commercial. But when you designed the sets for the movie, you clearly did so in consideration of the real-world limitations the actual LEGO bricks would have imposed. The buildings, rooms, the double-decker couches, Abraham Lincoln's flying chair--they're all built with the same absurd creativity that an 8-year old in the basement brings to playing with LEGO. And, thanks to you, every frame of The LEGO Movie is infused with that sense of joy.

That came as a relief to me. I wouldn't say that I was dreading The LEGO Movie, exactly. Its pedigree is solid: directors and co-writers Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were responsible for the kid-favourite Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (the first one, not the terrible second one) as well as the not-at-all-kid-friendly 21 Jump Street (another movie that was far better than expected). And the voice talent - which includes Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrel, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, and Morgan Freeman to name a very few - is top-notch. Still, LEGO is a product with such a large and rabid following that everyone involved could have been forgiven for treating the actual movie as an afterthought (you know, as long as it met its financial expectations).

But almost everything in The LEGO Movie works fabulously: it's funny when it wants to be, with crack comic timing; the action scenes are genuinely exciting, devoid of the frantic editing or long shots typical of CGI-heavy films; it's even touching in ways one doesn't quite expect. And like any LEGO creation worth its salt, The LEGO Movie is assembled from the bits and pieces of other movies. The building blocks come from The Matrix, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and even Metropolis._ _

Emmet (Pratt) is a construction worker in Bricksburg, happy to live life by the rules and play the part in society he's ben assigned. He spends his days going to work, listing to the same song as everyone else ("Everything is Awesome!!!") and watching the most popular sitcom ("Where are My Pants?"). Life in Bricksburg even comes with its own instruction manual, which tells citizens how best to fit in. After being left behind at work one night, Emmet meets Wyldstyle, a Trinity-like freedom fighter (but better motorcycle-driver) who has her sights set on deposing the oppressive President Business, who admonishes his citizens to "stop messing with my stuff." Leading the President's forces is Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson)--because when you're made out of LEGO, you can be both.

Wyldstyle believes Emmet him to be The Special, the chosen one who will lead the revolution and free the masses. How this relatively straightforward plot comes to involve a blind wizard, a classic 80s LEGO spaceman, a cyborg pirate, a magical cat with anger management issues, Batman, and even Lando Calrissian is a lot of the fun. It sounds convoluted, and it kind of is, but I don't mind convolution when it involves Batman's attempt at songwriting (sample lyrics: "Dark-ness/No parents"). Besides, the way a story unfolds on the fly feels a lot like a child rifling through a box of random LEGO pieces and rationalizing how each new find should fit into the story's world.

That world (worlds, actually, since Emmet passes through at least five of them) is fantastic, though I can't help admitting to a certain amount of jealousy that you were given the opportunity to work on it. It sounds like a dream come true: you spent your days designing and constructing fantastic new worlds brick-by- virtual brick. You actually got paid to play LEGO--and you didn't even have to clean up the mess afterward. Bricksburg, the Old West, New Zealand, and, yes, Cloud Cuckoo Land are all sets kids will be asking for as the credits roll.

The main message of the film is to let go of the instruction manual and let your imagination guide the way, and the fact that this message will most likely be used to sell products with instruction manuals that will allow kids to faithfully recreate the supposedly ad-hoc creations in the movie is a bit ironic. But The LEGO Movie has enough energy and wit to push these distractions aside (maybe a little too much energy; as the film moves towards the climax, it could have taken a little more time to better develop some late revelations).

But these are minor quibbles, the two or three blue bricks in an otherwise yellow castle wall. The execution may not be perfect, but that structure will stand strong.

Going to look for my 1980s spaceman,


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