Lego Movie, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/06/14 20:53:29

"Lego Trip"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I was about to start this review of "The Lego Movie" by expressing surprise that it was a film that exceeded my expectations until it dawned on me that doing that would suggest that I actually had any expectations to speak of going into it. After all, exactly what kind of expectations could one legitimately have about a movie inspired by little plastic toy bricks. Oh sure, there have been movies that have also taken their inspiration from such seemingly unpromising source material as toy lines, video games and trading cards but in those cases, there was always some basic element that could be expanded into a motion picture narrative. Legos, on the other hand, may offer kids the building blocks to a world of imagination but they would hardly seem to have the ability to do the same for screenwriters trying to translate their long-running appeal from the playroom floor to the big screen. And yet, despite that lack of any obvious narrative structure--or possibly as a direct result of this absence--"The Lego Movie" turns out to be a surprisingly smart and entertaining film that will charm kids and adults in relatively equal measure and which is also one of the more thematically ambitious American animated films to come along in a while to boot.

Set in the vast Legoland universe, "The Lego Movie" opens as the power-hungry Lord Business (Will Ferrell) steals a magical talisman called the Kragle from the benevolent guru Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) that gives him ultimate power that is trumped only by a mysterious entity known as The Man Upstairs. Business uses his new-found power to install himself as President of the universe and instills a regimented mindset in which everyone stays in their own respective worlds and follows instructions to the letter. However, there is a prophecy that states that there is an object out there that can negate the power of the Kragle and will one day be uncovered by one very unique person. This so-called Special will also be a Master Builder, one of a select few who can instantly put together the most fantastic creations without any instructions, have the ability to travel between the various worlds and, with the aid of the so-called Piece of Resistance, bring freedom to all the various worlds.

As it turns out, the Piece is accidentally discovered by Emmet (Chris Pratt), an eternally cheerful denizen of Bricksburg who happily and unthinkingly goes through an existence of eternal regimentation. Assuming that he is the Special, Emmet is picked up by the beautiful and rebellious Master Builder Wyldestyle (Elizabeth Banks) but she quickly discovers that he is more extra-ordinary than extraordinary. Nevertheless, he is in possession of the Piece and so Emmet joins her and Vitruvius on their quest to find and nullify the Kragle before President Business can use it to freeze the universe during that holiest of days, Taco Tuesday. There are, of course, plenty of misadventures along the way and the trio also receives assistance from the goofy Benny (Charlie Day), the eternally cheerful Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Batman (Will Arnett), who presumably needs no introduction and who is also Wyldstyle's boyfriend, a bit of news that crushes Emmet, who is inevitably crushing on her himself. Along the way, they run into any number of other familiar plastic faces, none of whom I would dream of revealing here--to preserve many of these surprise turns, not to mention the famous names that supply their voices, I would heartily recommend that you avoid looking the cast listing at IMDb for the time being.

This all sounds absurd enough on paper and could have easily been spun out into the kind of eminently forgettable bit of feature-length product placement that most observers presumably expected "The Lego Movie" to be. Happily, the writer-director team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who previously managed to find heretofore unimagined cinematic qualities in such seemingly unfilmable pop culture detritus as the plotless children's book "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and the mindless TV cop saga "21 Jump Street," have managed to go beyond the obvious and have hit upon a fairly inspired take that manages to simultaneously pay homage to a beloved iconic toy line while gently skewering the ways in which it has tried to remain relevant over the years via licensing deal ranging from the inspired (such as the "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings" and DC superhero franchises) to the downright questionable.

As the story progresses, it even manages to get a little thoughtful in the way that it contemplates how the themed sets, no matter how successful they have been from a commercial standpoint, have helped to stifle the creativity that Legos were once meant to inspire by insisting on following a rigid formula instead of simply making things up out of whole cloth (or brick). Films based on familiar brand names are becoming more and more common these days but rarely does one offer the kind of overt critique of the direction of said brand to the degree that "The Lego Movie" offers up here. If nothing else, perhaps this film will encourage some of its younger viewers to toss away the instructions as well and see what they can devise following nothing more than the vast resources of their imaginations.

This is not to suggest that "The Lego Movie" is one of those too-hip-for-the-room concoctions that tries so hard to show how smart it is that it forgets to be entertaining at the same time. At its center, the film is a gloriously goofy work that should easily entertaining younger and older audiences in equal measures. Kids will enjoy the bright colors, the breathless pace and the cheerful silliness of the action scenes that have the kind of crackerjack ingenuity of a group of creative kids at play. Adults will be impressed by the nifty visual style that finds a happy medium between the slickness of state-of-the-art CGI animation and the endearing herky-jerky movements of the old-fashioned stop-motion process, the fairly clever writing and the inspired vocal casting, including Liam Neeson's amusing turn as a one-man good cop/bad cop who switches faces depending one which persona he is inhabiting at any given moment. Regardless of age, all viewers will no doubt find "Everything is Awesome," the absurdly infectious theme song composed by the Lonely Island, stuck in their heads for days after seeing it.

There are a couple of minor problems with "The Lego Movie," to be sure--at 110 minutes, it does go on a little too long for its own good and it takes a big turn in the third act that ultimately works better in theory than in practice. However, these are flaws borne out of ambition rather than the usual laziness and are therefore easier to forgive. For the most part, however, this is a clever, resourceful and very funny film that is much better than any sober-minded individual could have possibly expected than it had any real right to be. In other words, "The Lego Movie" is the first genuine cinematic surprise of the new year and for once, it is a happy one indeed.

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