This $60m advert that deconstructs Hollywood leaves you feeling exhilarated and utterly conflicted
Everything is awesome. And forever compromised. The Lego Movie is a $60m (£38m) advert that’s clever, smart and extremely funny. It’s marketing as art, art as commerce, and commerce as fun. It’s also an attack on corporate mono-culture. And a deconstruction of stupid Hollywood. You leave it feeling exhilarated and utterly conflicted. Thrilled by a branded film.
Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is an ordinary block. A construction worker in Bricksburg, he drinks chainstore coffee, watches dumb network comedy and loves the same hit song as everyone else. His life runs to a plan dictated by Lord Business (Will Ferrell), an Orwellian ruler whose desire to keep everyone thinking inside the box has extended to a secret plot to super-glue his subjects in place. The Master Builders – a rebellious cabal of free-thinking creative-types – are too disorganised to get their bricks together. Only Emmet – who bumbles into prophecy after coming into contact with the magical “Piece of Resistance” – can save Bricksburg from a sticky end.
Writer-directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord freak out while they cash in. The Lego Movie is absurd, but its conventional story arc and cookie-cutter leading man serve to highlight the laziness of much Hollywood product. They pissed off Fox News with their “anti-business” message, but the film’s not arguing for anarchy. It’s a wry and edgy satire promoting individuality, responsibility and compassion. A kids’ film that tries to teach the very grown-up message of accepting difference, even difference you can’t agree with.
Emmet learns to break the rules. The Master Builders learn to compromise. Co-operation wins out. Imagination is key. It’s a brand identity that Lego wants to cultivate, even as their actual product becomes uniform and instruction-based. Product placement is a necessary evil in big-budget film-making. Better it’s done frankly and with wit, than slipped in by stealth.
The Lego Movie made $468m at the box office. It’s success is great news: who doesn’t want to see clever films do well with a broad audience? It’s success is bad news: the market demands the product and a sequel and a spin-off are on the way. Brands have made films before, but rarely have they been made with such pride, love and attention. Who knew sponsored content could be this good? Who knows if we want it to be?
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