In 1949, a small Danish toy company called LEGO – which translates to ‘play well’ – began producing little interconnecting bricks that would change the world of toys and create an empire that captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of children everywhere. Now, everybody’s favourite childhood toy is hitting the big screen…and it’s awesome.
This week, The LEGO Movie finally lands in Australia, where the bulk of the filmmaking process took place. The story revolves around a construction worker named Emmet, who is so ordinary that nobody even seems to notice him. But owing to a chance encounter and a case of mistaken identity, it becomes his job to save the LEGO universe. Luckily for fans, the universe consists of favourite LEGO settings filled with old and new objects and constructs.
Despite the heartfelt storyline and the big names attached to the film, there have been doubts from cynics who have labelled it a giant advertisement. Co-Director of Animation, Chris McKay, says that this is by no means the case. “We had a choice to make a ninety-minute toy commercial, or to make it about something more. I think because we decided to focus on making it about the charm of what the brick films were, the love of the experience of building and the experience of being a creative person, ultimately that’s what our movie is and why I think [it] works for different generations. It’s about that impulse that everyone has, whether you’re a kid or whether you’re an adult. Because when you’re sitting there building, especially when you’re building a bucket of bricks and you’re in front of people, you are vulnerable, you are exposed. Ultimately we all experience that, even on jobs, on dates, anything like that.”
Watching the movie, it’s obvious that many of the people involved in the process are life-long fans of LEGO themselves. McKay admits “I was a kid who played with toys all through college…so for me to get to do this movie where I get to play with toys, I mean you can’t beat that!” Head of Animation, Rob Coleman had a similar confession, “I’ve played with LEGO as far back as I can remember. I even dabbled with little brick film ideas when I was a kid. In many ways it feels like it’s come full circle.”
Considering the adult fans of LEGO involved in the film, it’s hardly surprising that it was made for both children and grown ups. Unlike many kids’ films where a few jokes are thrown in for the parents, The LEGO Movie has catered for multiple generations. Will Arnett’s portrayal of Batman is hilarious, and there are also a myriad of subtle gags that those with keen eyes may pick up. “There are hundreds of Easter eggs in this film. I would encourage people to look for little plastic pigs in the backs of scenes you may not expect to find a pig,” Coleman says. McKay says, “I think it was always important to us to make a movie that was broad and had jokes for everybody. But again, I think it’s less about the jokes…and more about the universal, visceral, primal impulses that the movie at its heart is about. I think that to me was the most important thing. Fortunately, that’s something that appeals to a wide variety of people.”
Coleman praises the crew for this duality between adult and kid enjoyment. “I think it starts with the script. These guys are very funny and I think their slant on life and the world comes across as verbal humour for the adults and then more situational or slapstick humour for the kids. I know they worked very hard at it with the writing and the editing of the film. Finding the right balance so adults and kids will come away with a fun experience…was very much in the DNA of the film and the script, and it started that way and just evolved more and more.”
This larger-than-life film is visually stunning and so intricate that it took three years to produce. Audiences will feel like they’re looking at real LEGO pieces, which is exactly what the team wanted to achieve. “When we sat down we said ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we made a movie in LEGO that if somebody had all the time and parts to be able to do it, could actually recreate all of that stuff.’ That was something that we always believed people would feel, even if you don’t explicitly see it. There were a handful of cheats in the movie at best. You literally could make almost everything in the movie,” says McKay.
Some cheats were necessary though, particularly when it came to the mini figures, says Coleman. “[Directors] Lord and Miller told us they wanted to stay true to the hard plastic; no bending. When we first started animating we were like ‘What are we going to do, we can’t get a lot of motion out of these guys’.” McKay’s background in stop-motion helped with this challenge and he suggested customizing the holes by making them bigger and adding plasticine so they could have motions such as shrugging and moving from side-to-side. Despite this, audiences will see the finished product definitely stays true to the spirit of LEGO. As McKay says, “Everything we did on this movie was made with love.”
Coleman agrees, “To engage with a little plastic character and feel for him, that starts with brilliant writing, then the staging choice to push in on our little hero, and then the subtlety of the performances. It all comes together and we have this emotional connection…and now we’re willing to go on a journey with this little guy; and it’s amazing.”
The LEGO Movie is cinemas Thursday April 3.