One of the things that makes The Lego Movie work so well is its plot. Not just because it features lots of high speed chases in different sorts of vehicles, explosions, gun battles and hand to hand combat, but because it uses – and uses well – one of the standard plot formulas.
Like other noteworthy blockbusters, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and many others, The Lego Movie’s plot boils down to The Hero’s Journey, as outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth, and refined for writers as The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler and Michele Montez.
Boiled down there’s the plot outline of the hero’s journey: a (usually) young, untested, seemingly ordinary person has their normal life disrupted by some event that calls them to an adventure – something new to them, risky, with an uncertain outcome but the possibility of great reward for themselves and/or those they care about. They undertake the adventurous journey getting tried in small and then ever larger ways, winning some bouts, losing others, and learning from both. Along the way they gather allies, explore new places, learn about the enemy. Finally the hero, supported by his new friends and allies, has to face the ultimate evil or bad guy and find a way to defeat him.
In The Lego Movie, the normal person is Emmet, who is as average a Lego person as there is. He’s living the average, ordinary existence until he accidentally stumbles onto an object called “The Piece of Resistance” and meets Wyldstyle, drawing him into a conspiracy to overthrow the stifling, tyrannical rule of Lord Business.
Obviously, though the plot outline is just a bare bones summary of the structure of the movie. The hero’s journey is a story structure profoundly embedded in the human psyche. Storytellers having been using it since the dawn of civilization – think of the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Argonautica, Beowulf, Dante, and so on. It works, but it’s just a good start. It takes more than just a good plot basis to make a successful movie. Over the next few days, I want to look at some of the other things that make it work: the characters, the writing itself, the setting, and the wonderful detail the filmmakers use.