This big budget animation, complete with impressive voice cast (Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pratt), clever effects and the inevitable range of tie–in merchandise, was almost bound to be a hit with children.
Happily though, this is a film which their parents - particularly those 30 and 40 some-things nostalgic for their own brick-built childhoods – will enjoy just as much.
It is a clever, funny and ultimately surprisingly moving tale. An old-fashioned quest, it follows Emmet, an ordinary mini-figure inadvertently plunged into a battle to save the world when he accidentally discovers the 'piece of resistance', a fabled long-lost relic which can thwart the evil megalomaniac Lord Business.
On the way the hapless Emmett, hilariously unprepared for his adventures, falls in love with Wyldstyle – a pleasingly robust, confident and clever female lead – and joins forces with a bunch of maverick outlaw 'master builders' who have fled Bricksburg where Lord Business (as his smiling alter-ego President Business of the Octan corporation) has brainwashed his citizens into always following the instructions – his instructions – in order to wipe out creativity and imagination.
These characteristics are in strong supply in the fabulous sets and scenery. Computer-generated, the film nevertheless has a satisfying stop gap animation feel befitting the plastic-jointed mini figures. The early scenes unfold in Bricksburg, a bustling city in brick-built miniature where everything from people, buildings and traffic down to the water in the showers and the clouds, is made of LEGO.
As Emmett's epic journey unfolds he travels through other unknown parts of the LEGO universe where he meets mini-figures from some of LEGO's most popular collections (Old West, Pirate Cove, Space, Star Wars, Super Heroes etc) who want to break the rules and build whatever takes their fancy.
The danger of this project was of course that it might end up a long advert for LEGO. As it happens the film manages to come across not as this, but rather as a celebration of the iconic Danish toy and of play in general.
The moral is not to be constrained by the instructions – be guided as much by your imagination. An answer perhaps to criticism sometimes levelled at the LEGO Company that lucrative tie-ins with franchises such as Star Wars and Harry Potter have diminished its creative possibilities.
In fact the film, created with heavy involvement from the lego Company, takes a few pops at itself – references for instance to some of the themes which flopped. While the adults in our family enjoyed some sophisticated satire (Lord Business's sideline in selling over-priced coffee for example) and plenty of gags which passed the children by (office workers unable to resist photo-copying their plastic bottoms when the opportunity arose), the children revelled in the exciting story, funny dialogue and fantastic sets.
"It was awesome," declared George, a four-year-old LEGO fanatic (now determined to join the ranks of the film's master builders), "because absolutely everything is made of LEGO." He loved seeing so many of his favourite characters – Hans Solo, a ninja turtle and a very pompous Batman in particular.
The plot was, he says, "funny, exciting and a few bits were scary but not for me – I'm too big". Older sister, Alice, seven, preferred the everyday hero, Emmett and his accidental moments of genius and inspiration. Charlie, nine, was amused by moments of interaction with the human world – the use of a sticking plaster, very painful to remove, as a torture instrument in Lord Business's Evil Lair for instance. He recognised that the film had something serious to say though.
"It is about being yourself, playing around with ideas and using your imagination," he says. He does issue one complaint– seconded by his parents and siblings. "The theme tune, Everything is Awesome. It won't get out of my head".
Catchy tune notwithstanding, the LEGO movie is a feel-good family treat.
Happy half term!