No one, absolutely no one, could have ever suspected that The Lego Movie would be as good as it was. Boasting a stop-motion inspired, completely-made-out-of-bricks animation style, countless different franchises and IPs, and a loud, catchy pop song in “Everything is Awesome,” it was evident that it would look and sound the part at the very least. In a Hollywood landscape where it seemed that just about every movie was a reboot, a sequel, or an adaptation of some obscure toy, imagine how audiences and critics alike were caught off guard when The Lego Movie itself directly knew all of our anxieties and used them to its advantage. Stealthily, we got a movie that used one of the biggest toy brands and some of the biggest franchises to create a narrative about the beauty of individuality and creative self-expression, a heartwarming tale about a father and son reconnecting, and the dangers of conformity under a capitalist society (no, seriously).
In short, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directors of the first film (and most recently Into the Spider-Verse), know what the hell they’re doing. There have been a few Lego spin-offs in the meantime since 2014, but here we finally are with a sequel to the original The Lego Movie. This time around, Lord and Miller have producing credits, with director Mike Mitchell (Trolls) taking the reigns. But, rest assured, their under-99-layers-of-irony-but-still-as-genuine-as-can-be essence is still everywhere. The result is a sequel that is a lot less subtle about its meta-narratives and has fewer moving parts in its plot structure, but still understands everything that made the original great while excelling at being just as emotionally satisfying.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part picks up straight after the first one left off: the baby toys from planet Diplo arrive in Bricksburg and begin to terrorize the citizens and destroy their buildings. As the attacks continue over time, Bricksburg becomes Apocalypseburg, a hardened and cynical city run with aggression and bitterness (a nice connection to the state of living in 2019, because goddamn, do we know how that feels). It’s in this societal tone shift we find Emmett, the optimistic and lovable construction worker hero of the first movie, unable to adjust to the modern despair, to the concern of his best friend Lucy a.k.a. Wyldstyle. Visited by a strange helmeted figure, the five leaders of Bricksburg are invited/abducted to a meeting hosted by the queen of the Systar System. Emmett, left behind, decides to go on a quest to save his friends after having nightmarish visions of a Lego armageddon.
Successfully characterizing the feeling of growing up and feuding with a sibling, there are a lot of different ideas that are explored, as opposed to the first film’s layered but connective tissue of themes. I particularly loved the riffs on masculinity, the exaggerated framing of a threatening, destructive little sister, and the strong warning of letting cynicism rule your heart. It’s increasingly impressive to see how Lord & Miller films can tackle heavy subject matter, such as the emotional isolation of trauma, explain them through iconic franchise characters, such as Batman, and never cease to do it both with comedic quirkiness and graceful respect. While all children’s films are very much centered around morals, both of the Lego films are able to both channel messages that are so simplified and paint with some more mature strokes that are clearer with age.
But if a huge part of the Lego films’ whole schtick is the element of surprise, it’s sad to admit the novelty of the first film’s hat-trick has worn off just a smidgen and it makes the second film feel artistically weaker. The half-framing-device-half-plot-twist of a kid trying to reach out to his business-oriented father is called back to time and time again when exploring the kid’s relationship to his younger sister. There are a lot more live-action segments in the sequel, even just in expositional flashes showing us how the story beats match up with the conflict between the two characters. While it works, and it leads up to a fulfilling emotional finale, it’s less elegant than what was previously executed. Within a plot that as a whole is generally less intricate as the original’s bold subversiveness, it sticks out a lot more than it should.
But despite the jarring lack of surprise in The Lego Movie: The Second Part, there are enough genuine thrills and intimate character arcs to show us that this franchise is no one-trick pony. Maybe it’s not as sophisticated than its original concept, but it trades in the complexity and daring statements on society and individualism to make a much less subtle, but not a scratch less charming, sequel. Its loud optimism and unapologetic amount of heart may never reach the heights of the original in ambition, but it does maintain emotional satisfaction. At the end of the day, any children’s movie that is smart enough to stealthily write in a subplot that calls out Chris Pratt’s toxic movie-star persona while juggling the complexities of finding happiness in times of despair is a pretty awesome one to me.