Since its first delightful teaser over a year ago, I have been eagerly anticipating The LEGO Movie more so than any other movie releasing in 2014. I was instantly drawn to the idea of seeing the very Lego sets I played with as a kid (and still play with on occasion) recreated in a loving stop motion/CG film. I’m just not quite sure why I was so excited in the first place. Is it nostalgia or some kind of attempt to rekindle my lost childhood? Now that I’ve grown up, should I completely forget things that once made me happy in order to fit in with the professional world?
Wait, am I really thinking about all of this? It’s The LEGO Movie we’re talking about here! Strange thing is, The LEGO Movie actually builds on these philosophical dilemmas in an intelligent, wacky, and surprisingly sophisticated manner.
So yeah, everything is awesome.
The LEGO Movie
Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Release Date: February 7th, 2014
At first The LEGO Movie sounds like your average children’s adventure fare. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an average builder who always follows (quite literally) the rules of life until he stumbles on the “Piece of Resistance,” a mystical object foretold to put an end to President Business (Will Ferrell)’ evil plan to freeze the universe in place with the “Kragle.” And while the frame of the story is admittedly generic (average guy meets cool girl, average guy finds thing, average guy becomes the hero with the power that was in him all along), everything else in the film wonderfully covers it up with a sweet, yet somewhat parodical take on the hero’s journey itself. What makes The LEGO Movie stand out from the rest of the kid (or even “adult appropriate”) films is how it becomes an all encompassing and inclusive film for everyone. Everything is awesome, so everyone wins.
Before I get back to explaining what I mean by all of that, let me just gush how beautifully animated LEGO is for a bit. In a marriage between stop motion animation and (unfortunately noticeable) CG, the Lego people move and groove with a wonderfully charismatic grace. Emmet, average as he is, is well done. You wouldn’t expect to get proper emotions from an object with a cylindrical shaped head, but Emmet’s positivity radiates and is stupidly infectious. Beyond the animation (which is filled with little details like using actual Lego fire pieces and explosions comprised of tiny blocks), the Lego worlds are prime for nostalgia and “look at that” moments.
Basically The LEGO Movie is a celebration of all things Lego, and unfortunately that also means that LEGO troublingly comes off as toy commercial at times. Every licensed Lego product (from Speed Racer to hilariously even The Simpsons) is here in full force, and there’s a good chance kids (and some of us “adults” like myself) will be chomping at the bit to buy a set or two. To LEGO‘s credit, everyone will respond to this differently (which is why I couldn’t figure out if this is a positive or negative aspect of the movie). For parents, they might remember playing with “The Old West” sets, and kids’ll recognize the Batman set they have at home.
And that’s exactly how The LEGO Movie wants us to think. There’s a beauty in how exquisitely it handles every age group. You remember how I noted how simplistic LEGO seems at first glance? It’s because it needs a simple story in order to build layers and layers of thematic resonance. There is the fight between conformity and creativity, adulthood and the loss of imagination, collecting toys versus playing with them, and discovering and accepting the positive facets of oneself. The fantastic thing about Miller and Lord’s script overall is that you can still completely miss all of this and enjoy the film wholeheartedly because its packed with such love for adventure and childhood wonder.
It’s also filled to the brim with wonderful people doing wonderful things. Chris Pratt’s Emmet is enjoyingly (and never annoyingly) positive, Elizabeth Banks’ Wildstyle is a strong presence, Charlie Day gets to be Charlie as the 80s Something Space Guy, Morgan Freeman spoofs his standard casting and plays a wise sage who isn’t very wise, Jonah Hill is the best Green Lantern, Channing Tatum should just play Superman for real already, Liam Neeson turns out a splendid voiceover as a dual Good Cop/Bad Cop, and Will Arnett takes his growly demeanor and blends it with his comedic timing to become one the best Batman ever committed to film. There’s a scene where they’re all driving in the Batmobile and it’s the smartest Batman joke I’ve heard in years (NO PARENTS!).
It’s not a perfect film as it reminds you it’s a kid flick when the humor sometimes takes an immature turn, but it does so many things well it’s hard to notice. Someone like myself who has, and still has, a strong connection with his childhood and toys, may be walking away with more than someone who doesn’t like Lego as much. But on whatever end of the spectrum you fall, know there is still a strongly written, animated, and acted film here to be found.
There is enough here to draw someone in from every audience. And really, that’s what Lego philosophy is all about. You take an assortment of bricks, present them to someone, and hope they’ll be inspired enough to find their own meaning in that mass of blues and reds.
Matthew Razak: I was surprised to find that people were surprised that The LEGO Movie was smart, clever and insanely fun. I’ve been playing the LEGO games for years and I’m well aware that the company knows how to make a quality animated product, but many people don’t have that background and so they go in scratching their head about LEGO having it’s own movie. The come out smiling, though. The LEGO movie is just plain fun, with a little bit of heartwarming thrown in and just the right dash of adult cultural references and jokes to make it a blast for everyone. Great — 81