A movie based on one of the most popular building toys of all time sounds like a 100 minute commercial fishing for nostalgia dollars on paper, doesn’t it? But the fact that “The LEGO Movie,” the third cinematic home run forwriting/directing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller, skirts the line between extensive playset pushing and satirical dressing down of its very own existence while still managing to be a funny, beautifully animated all-around crowd pleaser in its own right is nothing short of miraculous. A little over two months into 2014, we’ve already been treated to one of its best cinematic offerings, animated or otherwise. As much as I want to get back to building as we speak (that Simpsons House set isn’t going to builditself), I’m gonna need to throw up a minor spoiler warning from this point on. I won’t be addressing any portion of it directly, but if you haven’t managed to get to a theater to see this patchwork marvel yet and you’re still reading this sentence, don’t blame me if you infer anything from what I’m about to say.
Last chance to turn back…
And here we go.
The set-up of “The LEGO Movie” has the anarchic zeal of a goofy Filmmaking 101 final project. Our hero is Emmet (Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt), an average construction worker mini figure who follows the instructions (literally the LEGO instruction booklet that comes with his house) with a complacency that borders on psychotic. While poking around his construction site late at night, he stumbles onto an age-old battle between a renegade team of Master Builders, who can build anything out of any spare piece they find,and the orderly tyrant Lord Business (Will Ferrell), masquerading as the all-powerful business tycoon and president of the world President Business. Emmet is revealed to be the “Special,” a chosen one whohas found the fabled Piece of Resistance whose duty it is to use his nonexistent skills as a Master Builder to put a stop to Lord Business and his secret weapon, the Kragle, with the help of MBs including the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the energetic WyldStyle (ElizabethBanks), and Batman (Will Arnett).
It’s revealed early on that Emmet’s hometown of Bricksburg is but one LEGO world that exists in the LEGO Universe at large, complete with different sets including the Old West, ocean worlds, space worlds,and Cloud Cuckoo Land. Lord Business wants to freeze the world perfectly into place with the Kragle (a bottle of Krazy Glue with some of the letters rubbed out) and the race to craft Emmet into a Master Builder is on.
It’s yet another movie about a chosen one with a magical object and a destiny, but Lord and Miller seem to know that, too. Along with the overall conceit of a toy universe continually calling attention to the fact that it’s indeed a universe of toys, “The LEGO Movie” is a deft pop culture satire with its crosshairs focused on chosen one action movies like “The Matrix” and actual overblown feature length toy commercials like the “Transformers” franchise. Characters as diverse as DC heroes, LEGO stock figures, and 80s cartoons are all over the place, but Batman in particular is made ripe for a blunt comic dressing down, perfectly cast voice actor Will Arnett hamming up the now well known Dark Knight variant on the Caped Crusader that’s been done to death for almost a decade now. Emmet’s ultimate goal is given extra weight with a third act turn that giveshis actions, and the movie at large no matter how fun and beautiful it is, something that it would’ve been missing otherwise: heart.Trust me. You want this to be a surprise.
Its style of animation, completely computer-generated, is made to look like a stop-motion LEGO fan film blown up to cinematic proportions, complete with explosions, smoke clouds, dirt, and even water all depicted with the ubiquitous studs and blocks. The herky-jerky animation juxtaposed with the high-octane action is both visually arresting and seriously funny, playing with the notion that the film is constantly questioning its own existence in a cinematic landscape awash with advertisement disguised as entertainment.
A rallying against the misrepresentation of children’s entertainment,or at least supposedly family-friendly fare by older minds (“Man of Steel,” “The Lone Ranger,” etc.), is at the very core of “The LEGO Movie,”and amid the laugh-a-minute gags, the absurdly inventive animation,and top-notch voice cast, that’s what pushes it into special territory. There’s a stark difference between a movie that (forgive the pun) builds a thoughtful and engaging world around a particular object and a movie bent on selling a particular object, and “The LEGO Movie” lands in that first camp. It’s an oxymoron of itself and it’s one hell of a good time.
CineMasai’s favorite new characters:
Benny The Spaceman