On the surface, The Lego Movie feels like a shameless cash grab. Though beloved the world over, the Lego toys aren’t exactly known for their rich storylines. Recently the company has branched into video games and direct-to-DVD films with some success, coating popular franchises like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings in colorful animation and quirky sight gags. But how does the Lego brand do on the big screen?
The answer: way, way better than you’d think.
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Writer-director team Phil Lord and Chris Miller understand something very important about Legos: nobody takes them all that seriously. Hell, that carefree attitude even becomes a plot point towards the movie’s climax, in a clever reality-bending twist that’s better experience unspoiled. Thus, The Lego Movie is bright, fast-paced, and ruthlessly upbeat. It begs you to lighten up. And as the bubblegum pop soundtrack blares and the set pieces get quirkier and the plot gets more ridiculous, you’ll feel your cynical heart melting. You might even find yourself caring about these yellow, plastic cartoon characters a little bit, no mean feat for what is essentially a 100-minute commercial.
The loose, ever-shifting plot follows Emmett, a nondescript construction worker played by Chris Pratt. Having your wacky adventure star an ineffectual everyman is a plot device as old as time, but rarely does a movie go so far out its way to convince us how utterly, crushingly unimportant its protagonist is. Emmett has no special skills, no interesting backstory, not even a particularly strong moral compass. All that distinguishes him is an insurmountable optimism for every normal, pointless aspect of his humdrum life. Naturally this gets thrown out the window with the appearance of Wyldstyle, an attractive “master builder” played by Elizabeth Banks. Wyldstyle insists that Emmett is secretly a Lego messiah, and suddenly the two are on the run, jumping from playset to playset, one step ahead of the villainous President Business (Will Ferrell) and his henchman, Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).
The voice cast makes this movie. Lesser actors could have rendered the film unbearable, but The Lego Movie makes full use of its eclectic cast of Oscar and Emmy darlings. Pratt, Banks and Ferrell sport impeccable comedic timing, and Will Arnett spoofs Batman perfectly. Hearing the sonorous voices of Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman coming out of the mouths of cute Lego figures simply must be heard to be believed. You could go to this movie blindfolded and still get your money’s worth five times over.
The animation is, at times, a bit overwhelming. CGI melds with some of the most complex stop-motion ever put to film to create a world that drops your jaw one minutes and assaults your eyes the next. Kids will love it. Adults may wish for a few slower moments in which to regain their bearings. Fortunately, if your eyes wander and you miss a gag, there’s always another one hot on its heels. And try to remember, this is a kid’s movie through and through. If you’re uncomfortable tapping into your inner child for an hour and a half, go see the new 300 movie instead.
Overall, The Lego Movie defines the term “pleasant surprise.” Lord and Miller delve into their subject matter so shamelessly and with such enthusiasm you can’t help but crack a smile at what they come up with. This is a movie about toys. Thank goodness it knows how to have fun with them.