The LEGO Movie (2014) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for mild violence and rude humor
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast (voices): Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Jadon Sand, Charlie Day
Small role (voices): Anthony Daniels, Will Forte, Dave Franco, Jonah Hill, Jake Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Channing Tatum, Billy Dee Williams
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Screenplay: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Review published February 7, 2014
If I could get the featured earworm ditty, "Everything is Awesome" to stop cycling incessantly in my head, I'd be able to put my imaginative mind to better use at this moment. Reviews don't write themselves, so let's just plow ahead, shall we?
Chris Pratt (Her, Delivery Man) voices the main hero, a happy-go-lucky construction worker from Bricksburg named Emmet Brickowski, who finds his world changing when he discovers a strange plastic piece at his work site, dubbed the "Piece of Resistance". Unfortunately, his possession of the piece brings about a life of danger, as it is greatly sought after by the wicked President Business (Ferrell, Anchorman 2), who needs to possess it in order to bring about the destruction of the world of LEGO, with the help of something called the KraGle (fans of Star Trek: The Motion Picture will delight in an allusion here). With the assistance of a cool, tough gal named Wyldstyle (Banks, Catching Fire), her would-be significant other Batman (Arnett, The Nut Job), and a wizard named Vitruvius (Freeman, Last Vegas), they must avoid President Business and his minion, Bad Cop/Good Cop (Neeson, Battleship), in order to thwart these nefarious plans and bring the LEGO inhabitants to create a newer, better world for themselves.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) collaborate for comedic magic yet again with The LEGO Movie, continuing their trend for making wickedly funny films with snappy imagination, ceaseless quipping, and unbridled energy. Their The LEGO Movie takes a bit of time to get into its rhythm, mostly because for a good, long while, it is directed as if by someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder had been given about three Red Bulls and told to shoot film. With its herky-jerky animation and perpetually busy mise-en-scene, it moves by with so much energy and color that some may find it all too oversaturated and hyper-stimulating. If you're averse to frenetic and noisy flicks, this may not be the wisest choice, as the action almost never takes a breather throughout.
However, once you're able to tune in to its particular, supercharged wavelength, The LEGO Movie begins to reap rewards with its ceaseless visual cleverness, its vibrant musical cues, and the underlying commentary about the need for creativity in ones life that eventually comes into fruition down the road as the storyline takes some unexpected turns, getting into areas that will remind viewers of the Toy Story series, a heaping helping of the plotline of The Matrix, and the multi-world environment mixed with multi-franchise character conglomeration of Wreck-It Ralph.
As you can imagine for a film featuring almost nothing but plastic pieces (or computer generated graphics meant to look like them), this is a movie that is built upon a great deal of special effects. It's not the sort of film that is designed to blow you away with its attention to detail in this capacity, as all of the environs within the LEGO-verse is meant to look as it were built out of LEGO bricks (fire, explosions, smoke, clouds and ocean waves), save for a few choice exceptions that get explained later in the film. It looks and feels very much like a full stop-motion animated feature, with cartoon facial expressions thrown in, but all in perfect time with the kind of hip and snarky sense of humor of its filmmaking team of Lord and Miller.
Emmet's world begins with his adherence to instructions for every part of his life -- the same routine, the same work, the same song to sing, and the same TV show to watch; he's a blissfully ignorant fellow. But there's someone out there that thinks even this is too much freedom, and thinks that once a creation is made and perfect, it needs to be preserved in such a state for all time, including the LEGO people in it. It is only then that Emmet and many others band together and discover that not only is the act of never changing something that is akin to destruction, but that choosing to live every day with instructions has also lost appeal; why be a just a spoon-fed consumer when you can be a creator, even a collaborative one? I suppose that's the LEGO philosophy on toys all along, but it can apply to many areas of life as well.
But this isn't just a movie with a message theme, and doesn't really play as such for most of the duration. In between the main plot are many satirical references to pop culture due to the license agreements that LEGO has with many properties, including that of the movie studio that is putting the film out, Warner Bros., to include characters from the DC Comics universe, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore from Harry Potter, and from (now) Disney, the Star Wars universe. But there's also some smart historical references brought in due to such LEGO characters as Abraham Lincoln and Shakespeare -- even one of the main characters, Vitruvius, alludes to a famous ancient Roman architect. The works of Vitruvius inspired Da Vinci's 'Vetruvian Man' drawing that details the precise measurements of a human man and all of his pieces. I suppose, if one also likes to read a bit of theology into the film (references to the "Man Upstairs" and "Lord" makes it not a coincidence), that construction of a LEGO world is imitative of our own creation, as well of the universe that we all live in.
And yet, with so many LEGO people based on great intellects and those with superpowers, it's important to the film that its hero, Emmet, is the most boring, flavorless character of all. More than that, he's a construction worker, which means that he just puts pieces in place as instructed by someone else. He is the most average in every way, which is meant to suggest that you don't have to be a great mind to be a builder, and that LEGO inspires its users to put their imaginations to good use to come up with their own creative pieces independent of the designed toy that may be on the package. Are they tooting their own horn a bit here? Yes, of course, but at the same time, one can't deny that toys such as LEGO are far more stimulating to play with than pre-made toy houses, cars and spaceships, so let's just call this a win-win situation for the egregious product placement movie.
While when it's all said and done, it may be a double-caffeinated 100-minute commercial for the LEGO product, but at least it is a clever, amusing, and sometimes surprising one. And, it offers some interesting food for thought, as well as a bit of sentimentality, for kids and adults alike, about becoming too entrenched in one's ways, as well as the reward of putting one's mind to good use. Here's to thinking outside the box of bricks.
©2014 Vince Leo