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THE LEGO® MOVIE (2014) review

February 8, 2014

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written by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

produced by: Dan Lin and Roy Lee

directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor) 

runtime: 100 min.

U.S. release date: February 7, 2014

 

I love it when movies prove me wrong. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I find myself folding my arms in my seat with a “you got me” grin. It usually happens when I have it in my head that a movie is going to suck. Like, even the idea for a movie – say, ahem – a movie about LEGOS toys. Sounds desperate and dumb. I rolled my eyes when it was announced. What’s next, I thought, a Tinker Toys movie? Lincoln Logs, maybe? Boy, was I stupid, because, man – this movie is awesome!

Clearly, I wasn’t thinking. Once I remembered how much fun those infectious LEGO video games have been, it became obvious what directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street”) were thinking by creating an animated movie set in a universe filled with those yellow-faced mini-figures. They know that anything can happen when it comes to these colorful bricks with plenty of opportunities for endless assembling adventures.

In the buzzing city of Bricksburg, set in the LEGO universe, resides construction worker, Emmett Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), an enthusiastic and happy average guy who doesn’t make one decision before referring to his handbook How to: Fit In, Have Everyone Like You and Always Be Happy! Those aren’t just suggestions, but part of the many instructions and rules created by President Business (Will Ferrell, devilish and smarmy), owner and founder of Octan, the mega-corporation that enforces normalcy and obedience to ensure an awesome life.

Such awesomeness is starting to take its toll on Emmett as he begins to realize that, although he is following every step in his handbook, he’s beginning to see the loneliness of it all. One day after work, he locks his eyes on a strange and beautiful woman wandering around a no-civilian work zone, but before he can find out who this she is, he tumbles deep down into dark cave illuminated only by a glowing red rectangular object. He touches the alluring object, which triggers a life-changing series of events which begins by Emmett learning that what he touched is the fabled Piece of Resistance, a crucial brick that will thwart President Business’s – who’s actually the villainous Lord Business – plan to glaze all the LEGO worlds with a gooey substance known as KraGle, which will keep everyone and everything in place permanently.

 

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This is told to Emmett by that mystery girl, a bold warrior named Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who’s has been searching everywhere for the Piece of Resistance, working with Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), a blind wizard who had proclaimed that one day a “Special” would come and lead an army that will save all the realms from the nefarious rule of Lord Business.

Before he knows it, Emmett and his two new friends are being pursued by the schizophrenic Bad Cop/Good Cop (a hilarious Liam Neeson), leader of the militant robot police force employed by Lord Business. The villain wants that Piece in order to guarantee that nothing will interfere with the mighty KraGle. Emmett is dragged from one adventure to the next, in order to rendezvous with the heroic Master Builders and lead them in a revolution. But Emmett’s biggest obstacle is himself, he must believe he has enough courage and creativity within him to live up to the prophecy and bring down Business.

That may sound like you’re average Chosen One storyline, and it is – but, since it plays out here with such exuberant playfulness and delightful cleverness, even the most jaded critic or cynical moviegoer will be won over. With its colorful design and enjoyable stop-motion animation style, “The LEGO® Movie” is undeniable entertainment that varies in its hilarious humor, from sarcastic quips to elbow-nudging wordplay.

One could easily say that this movie is just a feature-length commercial and, while that may be true, it’s also a smart move for a company that has provided hours of constructing fun since 1949. Of course, the toy company hasn’t been sitting on its clasp hands, waiting for this movie to get made, there’s been a cartoon series, a brand of toys related to fans of Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC comics (not to mention their own popular brands, Bionicle and Ninjago) as well as several LEGOLAND theme parks around the globe. This film though, will nevertheless earn even bigger fans, especially moviegoers who may feel like the whole concept is too childish for them.

 

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The thing is, it is childish, but that’s exactly why it’s for everyone (even if they don’t know it). The movie fantastically taps into the perspective of play a child has, compared to that of, say, an adult collector who refuses to open a package in order to maintain a toy’s collectible market value. I’m not going to go into too much of the differing approach to toys that children and adults have, since that might give away the most ingenious twist I’ve seen in a long, long time. But, knowing that there will be adults who will roll their eyes when I highly recommend they see this wonderful movie, I firmly believe that is the exact same reason they should see it.

To reiterate, I was skeptical as to why a such a movie was getting made and now that I know why I want others to experience their skepticism getting squashed by this funny, exciting and action-packed movie. It’s also enhanced by an excellent use of 3D, instead of rushed post-conversion. In fact, it doesn’t feel like any aspect of this movie was rushed.

The success of “The LEGO® Movie” though is first and foremost due to the clever screenplay, written by Lord and Miller with the same zippy sense of humor they brought to their last two movies. Their world-building is exceptional, missing nothing as they give  thought to every minute detail. This is noticed immediately as they introduce us to Bricksburg, with their overpriced coffee, the citizens puzzling anticipation for events like Taco Tuesdays and the mechanical workday which buzzes along thanks to the catchy and annoying song, “Everything is Awesome!” (provided by Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island). Along with the tongue-in-cheek social commentary, there’s also some touching characterization for Emmett. He’s a genuinely nice guy (albeit kind of dim-witted) who just wants to find his place in life as he goes along with the pre-programmed flow, yet he’s crushed when he learns none of his co-workers or neighbors find him desirable to hang out with or remotely interesting. His new role as the “Special” gives him a chance to change all that.

Lord and Miller know that a few of the tropes they’re using are familiar, so they throw in some zingers at just about every turn to make their movie refreshing and keep it zipping along at a lively beat. This can especially be seen in all the silly detours Emmet and company take on their journey. From an Old West town (where composer Mark Mothersbaugh provides an old timey version of “Everything is Awesome!”) to Cloud Cuckoo Land, a floating land where they meet the unicorn/anime kitten hybrid, Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), who comes across like she’s made out of pure sugar with a dash of spice. There’s a good degree of insanity in each LEGO world they visit, with all the exquisite detail and lush environments making it all almost overwhelming to take in fully. Clearly, this is a movie that requires repeated viewings.

 

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The movie benefits from an insane amount of supporting characters, some familiar and some new, all boosted by a phenomenal cast of actors who are more than willing to let loose and have some fun. In fact, you probably won’t find any other recent film with Neeson and Freeman where they have this much fun. Pratt is perfect as Emmett, basically playing a LEGO version of his “Parks and Recreation” character, Andy Dwyer. He’s a sweet and easy-to-get-behind protagonist and just right as our gateway character, working off Banks’ action heroine Wildstyle in a charming manner.

There are a handful of other standout supporting characters here with some superb characterization that will make them quite memorable. Wildstyle’s boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett, absolutely perfect) steals every scene with his comical deadpan delivery, adding a different take on the popular caped crusader. Arnett owns the role, especially in a scene where we shows off his music of choice while flying in his Batwing. But that’s just one of many brilliant scenes with this welcome version of the character.

Other enjoyable characters are Benny (Charlie Day), a 1980’s spaceman obsessed with building spaceships and Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) who will gladly regale his tale of how he came to be a robo-pirate. These two round out the main motley crew of characters that back-up Emmett, but be prepared for some other surprise cameos. I’m not just referring to the other DC characters like Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders, moonlighting off Marvel Studios) and Superman and Green Lantern (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, respectively), but I’ll just say there’s some characters from “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” as well. Ooops, I said too much.

“The LEGO® Movie” is like a hyper-crazy cross between “The Matrix”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Toy Story” and it’s a movie that can be enjoyed on many levels, but what I continue to come back to is how much respect I have for the screenplay. That’s surprising to me and outside of being proven wrong by the movies, I also enjoy being surprised.

 

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RATING: ****

 

 

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