Lego Movie, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe misses the point & creates a fastidious list of things that are awesome
Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average Lego minifigure, is mistakenly identified as The Special, the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously under-prepared. (From WB’s original synopsis)
If you assumed The Lego Movie was a multi-billion dollar corporation’s blatant attempt to trick you into paying to see a 90-minute advertisement, you assumed correctly. However, if you also assumed said advertisement would be a complete waste of time and creative talent, well then, you obviously don’t know Lord & Miller. Writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller began their career together making comedy with a Canadian cartoon called Clone High and, when that failed to find anything but a cult audience, they cooled their heels in Hollywood sit-coms (most notably, How I Met Your Mother). Fame and fortune came calling when they were handed the reins on an adaptation of Judi and Ron Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. There was no reason an incredibly short children’s book should’ve made a good feature-length movie. In fact, the adaptation was, plainly speaking, a bad idea. But Lord & Miller delivered a fantastically warm, fuzzy, friendly, funny, and limitlessly rewatchable movie that made Sony Pictures a load of money. Their sophomore effort was Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill’s satirical adaptation of 21 Jump Street – another bad idea they delivered with wit, style, and plenty of meta-satire. Both Cloudy and 21 Jump Street were popular enough to deliver sequels, which brings us to The Lego Movie – yet another bad idea.
On its surface, The Lego Movie is merely another burst of screwball energy and sweet-natured self-awareness from Lord & Miller. No time is wasted before jokes and colourful images are furiously thrown at the audience’s face until they are positively overwhelmed with the utter cuteness of it all. But the stakes are higher on this particular bad idea, because, if it failed, The Lego Movie wouldn’t only be a scar on the directors’ clean record – it would label them as sell-outs. So Lord & Miller infuse the film with self-aware satire and a powerful central theme about the virtue of creativity and expression. Some of the more shocked critics spent their energy praising the directors for sneaking subversive, anti-establishment sentiments into an elongated toy commercial, but what they’ve really done is to find a way to encourage creative play while still touting the coolness of Lego’s licensed themes. In my book, emboldening children’s imaginations is a more valuable feat than subversively teaching them to be suspicious of covert corporate advertising. I assume that not everyone was impressed with the effort, but even the most cynical viewer must’ve been surprised by the satirical political slant that opens the film (I suspect that some people misunderstood the film altogether and found the irony offensive).
The film’s detractors were probably disappointed that Lord & Miller’s plot was so antiquated and that their characters were such archetypes (the screenplay follows Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to the tee), but these narrative shortcuts make sense within the meta-commentary. It is implied (then plainly states) that the entire film is taking place in a child’s imagination as he plays with the Lego toys. I suppose this could be seen as a flimsy excuse, but I believe The Lego Movie also works on its own merits as pure entertainment. The bigger issue is the threat of Lord & Miller running their beloved meta-commentary into the ground. The approach fits here, as it certainly did for Cloudy and 21 Jump Street, because the franchise brands interacting is a major selling point and one that needs to be addressed openly. Without the self-aware qualities (a prevailing trait throughout the other Lego properties) the concept would seem too crass. The problem is that the pop-culture references and throwaway lines simply aren’t as funny the second time around. Fortunately, we still have dozens of character beats and physical gags to laugh at in their stead.
In defense of the cynical, money-grubbing corporation, Lego has built a charming multi-media brand for themselves. Besides scoring the franchise rights to just about everything children and nerds consider great in this world, they’ve produced adorable video games and genuinely funny animated shorts that make scummy corporate advertising fun (we’ll just ignore Ninjago and Bionicle for the sake of continuity). Lego has developed a ‘house style’ of animation that connects the video games and shorts. Lord & Miller don’t stick to the studio’s STV animation’s smooth, springy look for their feature version. Instead, the animators work with a style that apes the artefacts of stop-motion animation (note that Lego has embraced talented fan-made stop-motion shorts over the years and include a section on the company’s official YouTube page). The characters and digitally created bricks don’t stretch or bounce – they remain rigid and feature the same limited articulation of their physical counterparts. There is slight jitter between movements for good measure, as if frames are missing (no simulated motion blur was used). Also, every single thing in the animated sections of the movie, aside from small crumbs of trash (like a used Band-Aid, a half-eaten lollipop, and a tube of Krazy Glue), are made out of Lego pieces – even water and clouds. This isn’t only visually more interesting than the house style, but it fits the spirit of creativity the movie embraces – as if someone is recording an epic Lego play session and digitally removed the child’s hands from the image.
In addition to the rigid, faux-stop-motion animated movement, The Lego Movie is made to replicate the look of a live-action miniature shoot. The directors, animators, and cinematographer Pablo Plaisted reproduce the limitations of anamorphic lenses and source lighting in the computer. These include shallow/soft focus, distorted frame edges, diffused highlights, lens flares, and chromatic aberration – all artefacts we’d expect from a film-based feature. This makes for less precise and less consistent image qualities than one would normally expect from an entirely computer-generated movie and a more interesting 2.40:1, 1080p Blu-ray transfer to review. The artificial artefacts restrict the crispness of some edges and allow the more vivid hues to bleed and bloom (which must’ve been hell for the film’s technical team), yet there are no notable digital compression artefacts to speak of. Even the grain appears to be an intended faux-film effect. When the details are tight, especially in close-up, they reveal a symphony of little cracks and scratches in every Lego piece, implying that the set has been fervently played with. The busy wide-angle images that often appear during action sequences or establishing shots are laced with filmic effects (blooming highlights and lens effects in particular), but are still impressive in terms of complexity and a lack of compression effects. The film’s palette is extremely eclectic (especially the hyper-vivid Cloud Cuckoo Land), but base colour quality is warm enough to cause soft glowing and bleeding effects, which are, again, an intended part of the film’s design.
The Lego Movie is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound. This is an energetic and aggressive mix that fills out the channels without losing the tiny scale of the toys being depicted. The loudest action sequences effectively rumble the LFE and blend bulky, real-world noises (jet engines, car horns, and the sub-woofers in the Batmobile) into the clicks and clacks of the Lego world, but the soundtrack is never overrun with too much naturalism. Like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the sound design focuses more on punchy dynamic ranges than constant streams of bombast, so there’s plenty of silence for subtle directional effects to playful bounce around. The dialogue tracks are clean, as expected, and given a wide range of movement throughout the stereo and surround channels when needed. Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh returns for his third collaboration with Lord & Miller and creates his most theatrical score yet, including traditional symphonic and electronic melodies (he actually found famed The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly whistler Alessandro Alessandroni for his Ennio Morricone-inspired western motifs). The pop songs – including Tegan and Sara’s infectious main theme, ‘Everything is Awesome,’ and the house music that plays in Cloud Cuckoo Land – sound like they’re coming out of off-screen sound systems while including echo/reverb effects.
- Commentary with directors Lord & Miller and actors Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, and (via telephone) Elizabeth Banks – This is a super-sweet, silly, and entertaining track, but not really as informative as I’d prefer. The focus is placed on making jokes (Pratt pretends he was the film’s ‘visual supervisor’) and discussing characters over technical artistry or storytelling. Still, it’s a good place for those of us that need the background jokes explained.
- Batman: A True Artist (1:10, HD) – A fan-made music video for Batman’s ‘Untitled Self Portrait’
- Michelangelo and Lincoln: History Cops (1:20, HD) – A faux-grindhouse trailer starring the Lego versions of the historical figures.
- Enter the Ninjago (2:10, HD) – A gag short where a Lego executive forces the companies ninja toyline into the film.
- Bringing Lego to Life (12:40, HD) – A jokey behind-the-scenes EPK aimed at the younger audience that includes cast and crew interviews.
- 'Everything is Awesome' Sing-Along (3:20, HD)
- See it! Build it!:
- Introduction with Senior Designer Michael Fuller (00:50, HD)
- Build the Double-Decker Couch (3:50, HD)
- Build Emmet’s Car (3:00, HD)
- Introduction with Modeling Artist Adam Ryan (00:40, HD)
- Digital Double-Decker Couch (2:10, HD)
- Digital Emmet’s Car (1:50, HD)
- Stories from the Story Team (4:00, HD) – Raw storyboard footage (including unused scenes) with commentary from the storyboard artists.
- Fan-Made Films: Top Secret Submissions (3:50, HD) – A series of 15-30 second fan shorts introduced by Chris Pratt.
- Outtakes (2:30, HD)
- Additional Promotional Content (3:50, HD)
- Alleyway Test (1:00, HD) – An original animation test.
- Deleted Scenes (3:20, HD)
- Dream Job: Meet the Lego Builders (13:30, HD) – A mix of a look behind-the-scenes and a sort of ad for the company’s professional designers.
It shouldn’t surprise me that The Lego Movie is so enjoyable, because I know what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are capable of, but it still seemed like such a cynical, horrible idea that I was gob-smacked that it turned out so well. A second watch reveals limitations in the film’s many charms, but the good continues to outweigh the bad by a pretty wide margin. This Blu-ray recreates the gorgeous, film-like look perfectly, features a very strong DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and is loaded with entertaining, if not particularly informative extras.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 17th July 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Directors and Cast Commentary, Batman: A True Artist, Michelangelo and Lincoln: History Cops, Enter the Ninjago, Bringing Lego to Life, 'Everything is Awesome' Sing-Along, See it! Build it!, Stories from the Story Team, Fan-Made Films: Top Secret Submissions, Outtakes, Additional Promotional Content, Alleyway Test, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Cast: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy and Family
Length: 102 minutes
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