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My 12 for ’14: The Lego Movie and Everything is Awesome…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The very idea of The Lego Movie invites cynicism.

It is the latest in the long line of toy-to-film adaptations that includes such auspicious cinematic magics Transformers and Battleship. More than that, it is a film about a toy that has found particular success licensing existing properties – so it would be very easy to turn The Lego Movie into a collection of recognisable characters having generic adventures while selling their toys to an eager young audience. In a market where studios like Pixar had raised the bar for family-friendly animation, The Lego Movie seemed like it could be cringe-worthy.

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Instead, The Lego Movie is one of the most purely enjoyable movies of 2014. It is a film that appeals to all children, no matter their age. From seven to seventy, The Lego Movie is constructed with such energy and enthusiasm that it is impossible to resist. Even the most hardened cynic and most ruthless pessimism will struggle not to smile at certain points as The Lego Movie marches to its own wryly and playfully subversive beat. The amount of charm on display here should win over everybody.

The Lego Movie is still a feature-length advertisement for a world-renowned brand, but it manages to capture the fun and the excitement of that brand in a way that will feel familiar to those viewers who do remember playing with blocks; no matter how long ago.

thelegomovie3Phil Lord and Chris Miller have a pretty great year. Their other film of the year, 22 Jump Street, was vying for a place on this list – ranking among the best comedies of 2014. There, the two ruthlessly skewer the conventions of the comedy sequel, laughing as the lead characters are forced to go through the same motions time and time again, just with a bigger budget. The closing credits of 22 Jump Street might be the comedic highlight of the year, an absolutely hilarious sequence that serves to mock the very premise of the film itself.

Indeed, Lord and Miller have a knack for deflating a lot of the potential criticism of their work, by steering the movies into that same criticism. Resurrecting 21 Jump Street as a comedy feature film seems absurd, an example of how desperately Hollywood is pilfering the past for a commercial hit; Lord and Miller turned that desperation into one of the film’s best jokes as characters reflected on how crazy it was to re-launch an old (and quite flawed) “programme” and expect it to suddenly work again. Similarly, 22 Jump Street parodied unnecessary comedy sequels.

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The Lego Movie very cleverly picks apart its own central narrative, playing with the classic “chosen one” story that has been popular since Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Perhaps The Matrix is the most iconic and overt example of the story in recent memory, making it an easy point of comparison for The Lego Movie. Lord and Miller have a great laugh at the expense of the expected story beats, as an ordinary worker named Emmet discovers that he has been prophecised to save the world from evil President (and, er, Lord) Business.

Of course, everybody dreams of being told that they are special or exceptional. The old joke suggests that everybody believes they are above average. Movies are fond of the story of the hero plucked from obscurity who ultimately saves the universe; bonus points if that hero was anointed by prophecy or destiny. Emmet gradually discovers that he really is not exceptional in any substantial way, except in his ordinariness. Indeed, as the movie repeatedly points out, Wyldstyle would make a much more qualified “chosen one”, if only the system worked that way.

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However, its wry and clever plot aside, The Lego Movie works best as a celebration of the sheer diversity and potential offered by the eponymous building blocks. Sure, kids can build according to blueprints to match pictures on the box, but there’s a tremendous amount of fun to be had mixing and matching, throwing everything together. Sometimes you end up with a space ship designed from whatever happens to be nearby. Sometimes you hit on a delightfully mundane piece of genius like the double-decker couch.

The Lego Movie draws together a spectacular ensemble, as Emmet finds himself working as part of a team with a wide variety of characters – both licensed and otherwise. The Lego Movie finds room for all of its characters, playing together – whether it’s the delightfully uncomfortable relationship between Green Lantern or Superman, or Batman’s stealth infiltration of the Star Wars cast. Drawing in appearances from DC superheroes, the world of Harry Potter, the Simpsons, and loads of other worlds, it genuinely feels like The Lego Movie is confined only by imagination.

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There is something beautiful about that, about the joy in bringing all these little toys together and playing with them in a way that would not be possible in any other context. Batman composing a song about his dead parents and boasting that he only builds in black (“or very, very dark grey”)? Benny the Astronaut’s singular fixation on building a rocket ship? Abraham Lincoln and Michaelangelo as time-travelling cops? It sounds like an absurdist sketch show, not one of the year’s highest profile family films.

Oddly enough, for a world constructed out of carefully-measured and meticulously-placed blocks, The Lego Movie is a celebration of an open world without walls, a world of childlike imagination run wild. Maybe everything is awesome.

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