“The Lego Movie” is possibly the weirdest, most psychedelic kid’s entertainment since “H.R. Pufnstuf.”
Released by a big corporation—Warner Bros—and based on one of the world’s most popular toys, it manages to feel as though a kid who threw away his Lego kit’s instructions and snapped the blocks together in random, fun ways made it.
When we arrive at the Lego universe it is ruled by the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), a tyrant obsessed with perfection and conformity. In his world the radio pumps out perfect pop sings like “Everything is Awesome,” and a group of robotic “micro-managers” ensures that everything is just so.
To guarantee the world he has created from interlocking bricks stays just the way he wants it, he has a plan to spray the entire thing—Lego people and all—with Kraggle, a super glue that will permanently paste everything it touches into Lord Business’s idea of excellence.
When Emmet (Chris Pratt), a Lego figure who was invisible in life, stumbles across the “piece of resistance” he becomes The Special, the greatest Master Builder in the universe, jopining a group that includes Batman (Will Arnett), a pirate named Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Green Lantern (Jonah Hill).
With the help of the Master Builders, a loopy wizard named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) a tough young woman with a sensitive side, Emmet must break free of the chains of conformity and defeat Lord Business.
The first thing you notice about “The Lego Movie” is the look. It’s computer-animated but looks like stop-motion. The film’s handmade composition isn’t slick, but it is playful, which is a perfect compliment to its Lego origins. (It should be noted, however, that the movie in no way plays like a commercial for the toys.) From the crude Lego flames to the awkward way the characters move, the movie is completely consistent in its vision of a Lego world.
The second thing you’ll notice is how off the wall the story is. It’s not just off-the-wall, it’s off-the-planet. Directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have taken the movie’s credo of battling against conformity to heart and made a big budget studio movie that bends all the rules. At its heart it’s a simple hero journey, a primal story about good against evil, but frenetic storytelling and inventive twists in almost every scene add a richness that belies its humble toy story origins.
It may be a bit too hectic at times—blame video game influence for that—and a titch too long for little ones with short attention spans, but the overriding message of dancing to your own beat combined with an unexpected and touching live-action section make “The Lego Movie” far more than an exercise in nostalgia for parents who grew up creating worlds from little plastic blocks or a way to sell more toys to a new audience. Instead it’s a wildly entertaining movie that uses the toys as a muse, and does what the toys have always done, light imaginations on fire.
When I tell Mark Strong, the handsome English actor with a jaw line perfectly suited to his last name, that he is almost unrecognizable as the alien enforcer Sinestro in the new Green Lantern movie he is chuffed.
“Good,” he says. “I miss the fact that I can’t be somebody that people don’t know. I wish that people would encounter Sinestro and say, ‘Who is that guy?’ Because to blend into the characters dates back to my theatre roots. In drama school I played the 75 year old character of Moses in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, aged 24. The transformation is the thing I enjoyed most of all.”
But what kind of movie star likes to go unrecognized? Surely not someone who has starred in Guy Ritchie and Ridley Scott movies and acted opposite the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Leonardo DiCaprio?
“The truth is I’ve never courted fame,” he says. “I don’t have a PR machine working for me. I don’t go to premiers and openings that I’m not involved in. I don’t do interviews or try and get on the telly just to keep my face around.”
An alum of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Strong, he doesn’t buy into the North American idea of stardom.
“It is a job,” he says. “That’s what we’re trained for. I think the fact that we have hundreds of years of tradition of acting in Britain… it isn’t exotic [to us]. It is a craft. For me film is exotic.”
Although he has high praise for the work ethic of recent co-stars Ryan Reynolds and Taylor Kitsch (from the upcoming sci fi epic John Carter) he’s not sure when some actors became divas.
“When did it become not a job, I wonder? Was it the advent of huge payments to film stars; when being a film star became really sexy and then actors had to somehow justify making that amount of money so they turned it into something mystical?”
Don’t look for Strong to go Hollywood anytime soon and demand a covered walkway between his trailer and the set. With three movies set for release this year and two new movies scheduled to shoot between now and January he’s doing what he likes best—keeping busy.
“It’s all about the work. I’ve never tried to be a big movie star. What I want to be is a successful actor.”
More from Mark Strong on The Green Lantern:
“The thing I responded to initially was the look of Sinestro—that iconic look which I subsequently discovered is based on the look of David Niven—the mustache and the widow’s peak. I thought if we could make that flesh it would be amazing. There are people who love this stuff and not only love it but live and breath it and I felt a great responsibility to deliver what was in the comics.”