Tie-ins are a difficult area to judge. At what point does a work stop being merchandising and start being a work of its own? I have reviewed some tie-in works, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because of its impact on the Internet and the Richard Castle Nikki Heat novels because of the meta nature of the books. While I have reviewed movies based on toys – G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra and Battleship – I haven’t touched any of the animated works. The cartoons came about after the easing of US Federal Communications Commission regulations restricting toy- and game-based series in the 80s. While several cartoons from the era were memorable, including Transformers and Jem and the Holograms, most were just there for merchandising.
Last month, The LEGO Movie opened. A CGI animated action movie, The LEGO Movie was based on LEGO, the construction bricks created in 1949 and refined in 1958. Given that the company wasn’t directly behind the creation of the movie, I felt that The LEGO Movie was an adaptation.
Since the film is still in theatres, I’ll try to keep the summary as spoiler-free as possible. The plot has Emmett, a Minifig, find the Piece of Resistance that makes him the Special that can stop Lord Business from using his secret weapon to destroy all of the different worlds. Unfortunately, Emmett isn’t all that special, but WyldStyle, who was looking for the Piece of Resistance, is there to help him in the fight against Lord Business. Along the way, Emmett and Wyldstyle get help from Batman to get to Cloud Cuckooland to find the Master Builders in hiding.
The movie uses many a bad pun.
The characters are well aware that they are in a LEGO multiverse and most can build items out of the scenery. The CGI makes it hard to tell whether the settings were built physically out of LEGO bricks or if the animators were just that good. The ground, where it isn’t paved by flat-topped bricks, has the classic LEGO brick struts, including the company’s logo. With adaptations, the little details can make or break the work. The eye for detail in The LEGO Movie is amazing. Emmett’s hair has a molding seam. The 80s Spaceman’s helmet has a crack where the piece always got a crack. The Minifigs, for the most part, come from existing sets past and present. The construction scene as the big musical number starts has a Minifig calling for a 1×2 macaroni piece and getting it, just as people playing with LEGO bricks have since, well, 1958.
The LEGO Movie felt like the writers were playing with LEGO while working on the script. Building of items, like a motorcycle from parts in an alley, referenced the LEGO videogames, where players could do just that. The buildings, the vehicles, the animals, the sets, all could be built given enough bricks. Given that LEGO is a toy meant for creating your own designs, the movie showed possibilities and encouraged imagination.
As an adaptation, The LEGO Movie worked. Emmett lived in a LEGO world and acted knowing he was a LEGO minifig. All the bits came together and screamed “LEGO!” as the movie progressed while still allowing the story to unfold. The story itself could not be told without the LEGO bricks.
Next week, the nature of tie-in media and adaptations.