Home > Reviews > THE LEGO MOVIE – Mark Mothersbaugh

THE LEGO MOVIE – Mark Mothersbaugh

legomovieOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Possibly the most unexpected box office smash of the last several years, The Lego Movie took cinemas by storm in the early months of 2014 with its combination of wild and wacky animation, knowingly self-referential pseudo-adult comedy, and some unexpected pathos towards the end which touches on themes of individuality and self-expression. The film is set in a fictionalized Lego universe, and follows the adventures of Emmett, an ordinary Lego mini figure who is mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary Master Builder, and is recruited by the sassy and spunky Wyldestyle and the blind wizard Vitrivius to help them in their quest to stop the evil tyrant Lord Business from destroying the universe. The film is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – the directors of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – and features an astonishing voice cast that includes Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Channing Tatum, and even Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams as Lego versions of C-3PO and Lando Calrissian from Star Wars. It’s an anarchic, chaotic mess of a movie that works as pure entertainment in spite of itself by throwing as many rapid fire verbal jokes and visual gags at you as it possibly can, in the hope that if at least half of them stick they’ll have a decent ratio of laughs to groans.

Musically, Mark Mothersbaugh’s score for The Lego Movie mirrors its visual accompaniment by being just as anarchic and chaotic as the film itself, but it also somehow works as an entertaining piece of throwaway entertainment, provided you can come to terms with its habit of shifting its tone and stylistic ideas from cue to cue to cue. Mothersbaugh has a history of scoring animation – his most successful projects in recent years have included the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs movies and Hotel Transylvania, and of course he began his post-Devo film music career scoring the Rugrats TV series – but this score actually gives him an opportunity to move around into multiple genres and multiple composing techniques, and some of it is very impressive indeed.

The score is built around two recurring thematic ideas. The first is the melody from the song “Everything Is Awesome!!!”, which was written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew and Lisa Harriton with additional lyrics by Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone of the comedy music group The Lonely Island. Everything is Awesome is likely to be the most memorable musical element viewers take away from the film, although at first glance it comes across as an irritatingly upbeat bubblegum pop song, with blandly positive lyrics, a ubiquitous rap bridge, and anonymous Disney-style lead vocal performances by singers Tegan and Sara and Jo-Li. However, upon further examination, the song actually revels in the same subversiveness as the film does, acting as a musical depiction of Lord Business’s fascistic vision of a world where everything is sanitized, everything is bland, and everything is easily digestible by mindless hordes of unthinking consumers: not very awesome at all, in fact. The Awesome theme re-occurs several times as the score progresses, blended into Mothersbaugh’s cues, most noticeably on an old-timey wild west saloon piano jangle at the beginning of “Saloons and Wagons”.

The second main theme is the heroic theme for Emmett, the unwilling and unwitting hero of the film, who must rise above his faceless anonymity and embrace his destiny to be a creator of original ideas. His theme runs through most of the score, accompanying his various adventures; it starts as an electronic ditty buried under the happy-go-lucky synth rhythms in “Emmett’s Morning” before being transformed into the centerpiece of several full-on action sequences such as “Escape”, and the wonderfully lively “Saloons and Wagons”. It reappears elsewhere with a more subdued aspect in “Emmett’s Mind”, with brass-led nobility in “Emmett’s Speech”, with choral majesty in “Let’s Put It All Back”, and with flamboyant disco-beats in “I Am a Master Builder”, keeping the score focused and keeping Emmett the center of attention – at least for a short time.

However, aside from these two central motifs, the rest of the score is pretty much a free-for-all, drawing inspiration from a multitude of genres and styles, and bringing it all together into one massive hodgepodge of ideas, some of which work, some of which don’t. This is another concept which is directly influenced by the film’s screenplay, which espouses originality, unfettered thinking and not being constrained by societal boundaries: I mean, in what other movie would you find Batman, Superman, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Shaquille O’Neal, characters from Star Wars, a robotic pirate, and a half cat/half unicorn creature who looks like she has dropped too much acid?

Mothersbaugh jumps from 1980s Top Gun romance in “Emmett Falls in Love” to an Ennio Morricone western pastiche in “Into the Old West” (with none other than Alessandro Alessandroni himself providing the whistles!), Howard Shore-inspired Middle Earth choral outbursts in “Middle Zealand” and pirate shanties in “Submarines and Metalbeard”, with no regard for taste or decorum. However, there are also some moments of unexpected beauty: “Requiem for Cuckooland”, ‘The Truth” and the surprisingly lovely and subdued “My Secret Weapon”, for example, enhance the comedy of the scene by musically playing it completely straight and going for the emotional sucker punch, and are very effective as a result.

Other than the exasperating nature of the Awesome song, the one other aspect of the score likely to polarize listeners is the sheer amount of electronic dance music layered over the top of Mothersbaugh’s orchestra. The zippy-zappy electronic tones are everywhere, bouncing around, imparting a sense of manic force onto the entire score. It makes a large portion of the score feel like it has had too much coffee and sugar, and is now ricocheting off the walls trying to focus all of that energy somewhere. The electronics are creative, certainly, and I’m sure it took massive amounts of time to put together all the layers of samples to make them sound coherent, but I can certainly envisage anyone less attuned to hearing 1980s computer game scores, European rave music or contemporary dubstep recoiling in horror at cues such as the “Prologue”, the aforementioned “Escape”, “Cloud Cuckooland and Ben the Spaceman”, “Reaching the Kragle”, the irrepressibly cheerful “Emmett’s Plan”, or the thrilling “Wyldestyle Leads” with all their blips and bloops and relentless pulsating loops. I’m sure many people will also hate the “Untitled Self Portrait” song performed by Will Arnett as this movie’s Batman, which is a hilarious send-up of all those dark, brooding teenage angst songs so beloved of disenfranchised basement-dwellers everywhere.

Despite my own misgivings I liked The Lego Movie, both film and score, and had a lot of fun watching it and listening to its score. The way the stylistics of Mark Mothersbaugh’s work here mirrors the underlying point the film is making is admirable, and suggests a great deal of thought and detail went into its creation, despite superficial appearances to the contrary. However, this will be a score which has limited appeal to less adventurous film score fans, mainly because of the massive amounts of electronica, and the intentionally annoying earworm-y nature of the Awesome song, and any recognition for ingenuity may be moot in the face of the crazy electronica. I have a feeling that this may one of those scores where you can admire the creativity behind its creation, and acknowledge the design and conceptual ideas, but don’t actually care to listen to it all that often.

Buy the Lego Movie soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Everything is Awesome!!! – Awesome Remixxx!!! (written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, performed by Tegan and Sara feat. The Lonely Island) (2:43)
  • Prologue (2:28)
  • Emmet’s Morning (1:59)
  • Emmet Falls in Love (1:11)
  • Escape (3:27)
  • Into the Old West (1:00)
  • Wyldstyle Explains (1:21)
  • Emmet’s Mind (2:17)
  • The Transformation (1:46)
  • Saloons and Wagons (3:38)
  • Batman (1:23)
  • Middle Zealand (0:28)
  • Cloud Cuckooland and Ben the Spaceman (1:25)
  • Emmet’s Speech (2:02)
  • Submarines and Metalbeard (1:49)
  • Requiem for Cuckooland (1:23)
  • Reaching the Kragle (2:35)
  • Emmet’s Plan (1:54)
  • The Truth (3:16)
  • Wyldestyle Leads (2:46)
  • Let’s Put It All Back (2:02)
  • I Am a Master Builder (2:48)
  • My Secret Weapon (4:19)
  • We Did It! (1:31)
  • Everything is Awesome!!! – Awesome!!! Version (written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, performed by Jo-Li feat. The Lonely Island) (1:26)
  • Everything is Awesome!!! – Unplugged (written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, performed by Shawn Patterson and Sammy Allen) (1:24)
  • Untitled Self Portrait (written by Mark Mothersbaugh, Will Arnett, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, performed by Will Arnett) (1:08)
  • Everything is Awesome!!! – Instrumental (written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew and Lisa Harriton) (2:41)

Running Time: 58 minutes 27 seconds

Watertower Music (2014)

Music composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. Conducted by James Sale. Orchestrations by James Sale, Daniele Luppi and Ricky Edwards. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel. Edited by Andrew Dorfman and Tim Ryan. Album produced by Mark Mothersbaugh and Shawn Patterson.

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  1. Christopher
    March 9, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Good review, Jon. I think you’ve described it very accurately and judged it very well. I for one love the Batman song. “Darkness….No parents…” :)

  2. April 4, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Not having seen the movie I take the design and mirroring the movie for granted, but as I listened to the score as stand-alone piece of art, the style-jumps and re-occuring song together with the objections made at the bottom of your review pretty much sums up the reason why I, and probably many likewise, couldn’t stand listening to it.
    Good review though, as usual

  3. August 20, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Hi Mark,

    I’m a teacher in the UK and I would like to use some of your writing to help my children learn about writing music, film and book reviews. Is that okay?

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