Before The Lego Movie could hit theaters last Friday, some assembly was required.
Correction: A lot of assembly.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s incredibly entertaining “block”buster is a hyperkinetic Frankenfilm, cobbled together from a variety of sources both huge (the classic “hero’s journey” monomyth) and teeny (does a certain dolphin noise sound familiar?). The movie is also filled with casting in-jokes, snippets of dialogue borrowed from other movies, and callbacks to the directors’ past work. All in all, it’s enough to make your head spin, Lego minifigure-style – there’s no way for one person to catch all these references in a single viewing.
That, happily, is where we come in. Check below for a guide to some of the film’s most notable references, compiled both from the movie itself and a close reading of its actual script. And since the film’s jam-packed enough that there’s no way to note everything Lord and Miller are riffing on, feel free to add missing pieces in the comments. Caution: It’s spoiler city down there.
“A bunch of others we don’t need to mention”
After name-checking a few of the realms in the Lego universe – Pirate’s Cove, Viking’s Landing, etc. – Wyldstyle says this. As she’s speaking, a few more images of extra Lego locations flash onscreen. Among the things we see, just for a moment: the Lego Friends, a much-hyped line of new toys aimed at girls that debuted in 2012; Fabuland, a product range meant to appeal to kids too old for Duplos and too young for Legos, launched in 1979 and discontinued 10 years later; Ninjago, a line of ninja-inspired sets launched in 2011; Speed Racer, a subtheme of Lego Racers that was a tie-in to the eponymous 2008 film flop; and Bionicle, a line of sci-fi toys available from 2001-2010.
In the film, he’s voiced by SNL alum Will Forte (credited under his real name, Orville Forte), who also voiced Abraham Lincoln’s clone on Lord and Miller’s late, lamented ’00s cartoon Clone High. On that series, Lincoln pined for Cleopatra’s clone; a minifigure version of the Egyptian queen appears as a Master Builder in Lego’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. Also, when the builders are gathered in that big goofy dog-shaped dome, you can hear Clone High’s signature sound in the background.
After Batman’s plane crashes into the Lego sun, it makes a shape that looks like this.
Cloud Cuckoo Land
Princess Unikitty’s magical homeland is named after the perfect city in the clouds that’s erected by Tereus and Pisthetairos in The Birds, a play by Aristophanes. (The Lego Movie: surprisingly literate!) More generally, “cloud cuckoo land” has long been used to describe a state of unrealistic, idealized perfection.
“Come with me if you want to not die”
Wyldstyle says this to Emmet; she’s paraphrasing one of the most famous (and most frequently referenced) lines from the Terminator franchise, “come with me if you want to live.”
Croissants and turkey legs
Why are the film’s characters pictured holding them so frequently? Because Legos are European toys – and as a result, says Phil Lord, “the food that they have in their library is like sausages, turkey legs…” Continues Chris Miller: “…and croissants. And that’s pretty much it.”
“Get off my train.”
Bad Cop is paraphrasing Harrison Ford’s best-remembered line from Air Force One: ”Get off my plane.”
Harrison Ford himself was, unfortunately, unavailable to reprise his role as the cocky Star Wars pilot. Instead, the part is voiced by Keith Ferguson – who has voiced another Ford character, Indiana Jones, on Robot Chicken. (Lego animation co-director Chris McKay has directed 42 episodes of the stop-motion Adult Swim show.)
“He’s coming – cover your butts!”
Vitruvius’s advice recalls what engineer Ray Arnold says right before sending the first visitors into Jurassic Park: “Hold onto your butts.”
“He’s the hero you deserve”
Batman says this to Wyldstyle – a.k.a. Lucy – referring to ordinary guy Emmet. It’s a callback to what Lt. Gordon says about Batman at the end of The Dark Knight: “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.” Fun fact: Lego cast members Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson have both appeared in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.
“How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?”
Recognize this tune, which plays for just a moment in the film? If not: It’s Judy Garland’s take of a classic World War I song, from 1942’s Me and My Gal. It really has nothing to do with anything.
This is an introduction that’s become a meme; it was used most famously in Tim Burton’s original Batman.
Lando Calrissian and C-3PO
The former is voiced by Billy Dee Williams; the latter is voiced by Anthony Daniels. Both are reprising the roles they originally played in George Lucas’s Star Wars films. And after the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive gets stolen, it and its crew get eaten by one of the Star Wars universe’s nasty space slugs… a.k.a. an exogorth.
“Lasers. Sharks. Laser sharks.”
Some of the beasties protecting Lord Business’s evil office tower have frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads, á la Austin Powers.
Lord Business’s cape
Not a pop culture reference, but a reference to the real world that exists alongside the Lego universe: Look closely, and you’ll see that the bad guy’s cloak is actually a human necktie. Cool!
Actually, this doomsday device is a tube of Krazy Glue with some letters rubbed off – much like Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s V’Ger.
Sure, he’s composed scores for tons of movies, including Lord and Miller’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs films. But could Lego’s directors also have hired the Devo co-founder because the band’s old energy dome hats look like Lego pieces?
The film’s heroes, who can assemble awesome doodads simply by using whatever Legos happen to be nearby, go by the same name as ”the highly-trained and super-creative builders who design all of the official Lego sets.” Human Master Builders also “create giant, detailed sculptures out of Lego bricks for Legoland Parks and special events all around the world,” according to Lego’s official site. Fun fact: The Master Builder is also a play by Henrik Ibsen. Both he and the Lego corporation have Scandinavian roots; Ibsen was Norwegian, while Lego is a Danish company.
“Meet me downstairs in 10 seconds”
It’s a common enough joke that this could be a total coincidence – but this line, spoken by Wyldstyle’s Elizabeth Banks, is very similar to a memorable gag from Wet Hot American Summer (“meet me at the picnic table in 10 seconds”), which also costars Elizabeth Banks.
“Mess with the cat, you get the horns!”
An enraged Unikitty paraphrases Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club: “Mess with the bull, you get the horns.”
The salty pirate’s name is a play on Blackbeard, the notorious real-life buccaneer who’s inspired scores of seafaring adventures. He’s voiced by Nick Offerman, who, like fellow Lego stars Chris Pratt and Alison Brie, currently headlines an NBC Thursday Night sitcom. (Costar Will Arnett had one too, briefly, when Up All Night was still a thing.)
The name of The Lego Movie’s fantasy realm is a play on two things: the setting of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famous books (Middle Earth) and the place where Peter Jackson filmed his adaptations of those books (New Zealand).
Lord Business’s evil corporation is named after a fictional brand of gasoline introduced to Lego sets in 1992. Its name is a play on “octane,” a standard measure of fuel performance.
The Old West
Listen closely, and you’ll hear a familiar whistle during this sequence – Lego composer Mark Mothersbaugh tracked down the actual guy who whistled on soundtracks for great Western scorer Ennio Morricone, and got him to record a tune for Lord and Miller’s movie.
When the Lego figurines slowly begin to rebel against Lord Business, building new things brick by brick, their enlightenment is a reference to that of the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, according to Lord and Miller’s screenplay.
“Release the copper choppers!”
Bad Cop’s command recalls “Release the Kraken!”: a catchphrase originally spoken by Zeus in the 1981 film Clash of the Titans – and memorably said by the king of the gods again in the 2010 Clash reboot. Liam Neeson plays both the new Zeus and Bad Cop. (In Lego, he voices Ma and Pa Cop as well.) Actually, the Kraken gets two shout-outs; at another point in the movie, Lord Business calls out, “Release the Kragle!”
The ‘bots spinning “Everything Is Awesome” seem like a nod to real life famous robots Daft Punk.
He’s voiced by Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island. The comedy rap group also lends its special flair to a cover of “Everything Is Awesome” that plays during the film’s credits.
“Shaq, do you know what time it is?”
Shaq’s answer: “Game time!” He and Superman are quoting a famous NBA pre-game chant… though it’s most heavily associated with the Chicago Bulls, for whom Shaq never played. Details!
Superman and Green Lantern
The former is voiced by Channing Tatum. The latter is voiced by Jonah Hill. Both starred as partners in 21 Jump Street, also directed by Lord and Miller. Another 21 Jump Street star, Dave Franco, has a small role in Lego as well; he plays minifigure Wally.
The Think Tank
Lord Business’s dastardly holding cells for the Master Builders, where he uses their brain power to come up with new sets of instructions, is pretty much just a Lego-ized take on The Matrix’s people pods.
The crazy lights that appear when Emmet falls through the portal to and from the “real world” – a.k.a. a cardboard tube – pay homage to the work of visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull; Phil and Lord name-check him in their script. Also, Finn calls his tunnel “the magic portal” – a reference to The Magic Portal, the first stop-motion Lego “brickfilm” ever made.
Morgan Freeman’s wise, blind wizard is named after Marcus Vitruviu Pollio, a Roman thinker best remembered for a ten-book treatise called De architectura, or On Architecture. Fun fact: The word architect is derived from the Greek roots arkhi- (“chief”) and tekton (“builder”).
She’s voiced by Cobie Smulders. Once upon a time, Joss Whedon tried to make a live-action movie about the superhero starring Smulders. Unfortunately, the film didn’t pan out – but Whedon did eventually get to cast Smulders in The Avengers.