THE LEGO MOVIE
2014, PG, 100 mins.
2014, PG, 100 mins.
Chris Pratt as Emmet (voice) / Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle (voice) / Channing Tatum as Superman (voice) / Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius (voice) / Will Arnett as Batman (voice) / Jonah Hill as Green Lantern (voice) / Will Ferrell as President Business (voice) / Cobie Smulders as Wonder Woman (voice) / Liam Neeson as Bad Cop/Good cop (voice) / Alison Brie as Uni-Kitty (voice) / Nick Offerman as Craggy (voice) / Charlie Day as Spaceman Benny (voice)
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller / Written by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, and Chris Miller
Just let that digest with you
for a second.
This movie has absolutely no business being as good and – to take a page out of its show-stopping and catching jingle – as awesome as it is. THE LEGO MOVIE is, on paper at least, one great big glorified 100-minute toy commercial and a massively elaborate bit of product placement disguised as a movie. Here’s the miracle of this film, though: Yes, it exists to highlight and sell a brand that’s been in existence – in one form or another – since the late 1940’s, but as far as marketing tie-ins and movies-as-products go, THE LEGO MOVIE manages to have a tremendous amount going for it beyond that.
A lot more.
The film is also a wickedly
sly and subversive satire with more hysterical laughs-per-minute than most
live action comedies of recent memory.
More importantly, this is a work of eye-popping beauty and
boundless joy and imagination where you can clearly sense the creative
jubilation of those behind the scenes.
Going in, I was never expecting THE LEGO MOVIE to have legitimate
things to say about the nature of blind conformity and naively following
powers above you on the social/economic ladder.
There’s a shocking amount of storytelling thoughtfulness,
thematic ingenuity, and dazzling artistic bravado on display here, which
more than helps erode just about anyone’s fears that the film is just
another obnoxious attempt to sell merchandise.
There has not been an animated film the likes of this made with
such exhilarating originality and designed to appease both younger kids and
older adults in a long, long time.
In the land of Bricksburg
exists a lowly, but happy and spunky construction worker Emmett (voiced
with loveable hyperactivity by Chris Pratt), whom, like his other worker
bees, leads a rather slavish life of conformity under the watchful and
oppressive eye of President Business (Will Ferrell, a perfect voice fit
for this film’s capricious and non-stop energy).
Even though everything in his daily life appears to be content,
Emmett could use for a little more adventure.
It comes when he's accidentally believed to be “The Special",
or a yellow faced one prophesized to become a master builder and save the
world from tyranny. This
comes to his attention with the appearance of the beautiful Wyldstyle
(Elizabeth Banks), a courageous warrior hunting for the – ahem – Piece
of Resistance, a red brick that’s capable of stopping Lord Business once
and for all. Poor Emmett,
rather unwittingly, has possession of it…it’s glued to his back.
Speaking of glue, Business
plans to ravage the world with his newest weapon, the Kragle, which shoots
out a mysterious and unstoppably sticky substance that bares a striking
resemblance to Krazy Glue. Realizing
this, Wyldstyle and Emmett become targets of Business’ right hand man,
Bad Cop/Good Cop (a sublimely silly Liam Neeson), who displays schizophrenic
tendencies towards sweetness and hostility.
While on the run, Emmett and Wyldstyle hook up with a blind wizard
named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the one that believes in the prophecy of
Emmett as the Special, as well as a whole group of eclectic heroes,
ranging from, yes, Batman (played with a lovable narcissistic glee by Will
Arnett), spaceman Benny (Charlie Day), a lumbering and huge pirate
Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and many other supporting players far too
numerous to mention. Within
no time, Emmett and his newfound allies race against the clock to stop
Business’ nefarious plans of global domination once and for all.
Something needs to be said
about the overall look of THE LEGO MOVIE.
I could see how it would have been so tempting to ostensibly make it
in pristine and perfect CG animation, but directors Phil
Lord and Chris Miller have opted to imaginatively combine bravura stop
motion and CGI animation, which lends the film a more immersive
and tactile appearance that gives an ethereal credibility to what’s on
screen. The distinct and
iconic Lego look of the characters – made with such stark simplicity –
is lovingly preserved; hell, they even move in herky-jerky motions, which
seems fitting considering the limited range of movement in their limbs.
Even subtle things, like, for instance, water, looks like it was
made of an incalculable number of hard-edged Lego bricks, which only
further lends to the film’s engagingly crude and retro - yet unendingly
beautiful - façade. Crucially,
THE LEGO MOVIE creates a stunningly realized and evocative world where no
corner of the silver screen is misused; you just may need to see this film
more than once to drink it all in.
Beyond the film’s eye-poppingly
gorgeous look, THE LEGO MOVIE is devilishly smart in the way it
deconstructs not only our expectations of it, but also for how it sends up
the conventions of its genre.
Even the whole established city of Bricksburg - containing millions
of citizens that rather happily (mostly against their wills) tune in to the
same mindless sitcom “Where Are My Pants” daily and all sing the same
work tune “Everything is Awesome” – becomes more of a Orwellian
nightmare than a truly inviting and endearing place to live (even though the city does look rather inviting…but maybe that’s the
frightening point). The film
also has a ball twisting and lampooning the image of some classic comic
characters (that have, incidentally, become mighty Lego merchandise
juggernauts in their own right),
like Batman, who comes off less as a prowling and vengeful vigilante and
more of a preening douchebag that’s in love with his own image as a
justice seeker. Neeson himself also has a field day playing up to his
recent image as a shoot first, ask questions later action hero in his role
as Bad Cop/Good Cop. He’s
never been more positively unhinged and deranged in a performance.
Just when you think that THE LEGO MOVIE has no more sublime surprises up its sleeve, along comes a rather ingenious third act twist that further speaks to the nature of the toy line itself and how it has been transformed – and maybe not for the better – from an innocent time waster for children and into something that adults obsess over and use for their own self-serving purposes. The fact that this film actually moved me in its final act is kind of thanklessly extraordinary. THE LEGO MOVIE, brick for brick (sorry for that), is one of the biggest surprises at the multiplexes right now. Here’s a kid’s film that’s not just a soulless kids film designed to push a marketing agenda. It’s a work of astounding visual invention, razor sharp drollness, and it's shockingly deft at imbuing some delightfully madcap satiric energy into the proceedings. At 100 minutes, the film’s breakneck and non-stop energy may prove to be exhausting for some, but that’s a minor quibble. The film has a communicable level of affection for its subject and understands the type of film it is, but then, rather brilliantly and unexpectedly, it digs deeper into the creative well that I thought was dry so very long ago for animated films. THE LEGO MOVIE, as a result, is pure blissful escapism.