Tim here. With The Lego Movie devouring money at a rate virtually never seen in the middle of winter, and receiving some of the most enthusiastic reviews of any animated film since Toy Story 3, any fears that it would be nothing but a craven toy commercial have been firmly put to sleep. Which isn’t to say that it’s not a toy commercial; but, as Nathaniel put it in his review, “Who cares? It’s wonderful!” Besides, it’s one thing to have a hard-core branding effort for some new plaything that nobody wants or needs, and quite another to have a feature-length advertisement for a 65-year-old icon that’s the best-selling toy in history. Lego doesn’t need The Lego Movie.
Still and all, the fact remains that there’s a mercenary heart beneath the film: not only selling Legos, but selling multimedia franchises controlled by Warner Bros. on top of it. This is done painlessly, even cleverly, and that tends to make it harmless; and in this respect, The Lego Movie represents a striking break from the history of cartoon-as-advertisement. For the most part, previous examples of this commercial impulse have been, in fact, unusually painful, dumb, and harmful .