You don’t have to be mad for plastic toy mini-bricks to enjoy The Lego Movie. But it helps. Mostly the film does the madness for you and it isn’t just a product-placing madness. A certain Danish toy giant will benefit – no one can doubt – from the flocking through turnstiles of the entire world filmgoing population (judging from box office returns so far). But in a 100-minute fit of colour, comedy and surreal invention, the good craziness overpowers the greedy kind. The Lego Movie may the best model animation film, albeit here computer-assisted, I have seen. And I grew up with Jason and the Argonauts, two King Kongs and, recently but not least, the outrageously adorable A Town Called Panic.
That Belgian masterpiece is the closest DNA match. In Panic, daft but loveable figurines moved about a toy landscape, engaging in the great issues of life, death and frame-by-frame ambulation. It was like a Glen Baxter cartoon come to life. The film’s miser budget was part of its charm. The Lego Movie is faux naïf on a Midas budget and still has an off-the-chart charm. You have not lived – you have only breathed and existed – before you have seen deserts made of Lego, clouds of Lego, flash-floods of Lego and, climactically, a heaving ocean of Lego. Imagine The Perfect Storm gone cubist, created by an infant Braque or Picasso.
There is more. There is food. (Leg’o’ turkey.) There is romance. (Lego-ver?) And there is swashbuckling adventure from here to the horizon in a world-domination plot enlisting pirates, cowboys, gangsters, Batman and an evil genius called Lord Business. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, co-scripting and co-directing, previously made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This film is to that film what the Parthenon is to a heap of marble. It is a fully finished, fully furnished artistic impudence. Even the comic dialogue excels. I liked the nanoscopic shrift given by the heroine to the demands of early plot exposition: “Blah blah, place names, proper names, backstory stuff … ” And it is not enough to cast Liam Neeson as the voice of the one-man “Good Cop Bad Cop”, with his swivelling Janus face of yellow plastic. You must mickey-take Neeson’s Irish accent and then conjure a trans-dimensional reunion with his Irish Lego-dad on the Lego lawn of a Lego Irish cottage.
The film is never hampered by its chosen medium. It goes everywhere and does everything, from pitched aerial battles to cities at bay against inferno. It travels every element, though spends less time than it might in the deepest depths of the sea. Perhaps that will be next. They have to save something for a sequel. 20,000 Legos Under the Sea?