The LEGO Movie takes place in an actual living LEGO world, where the maniacal Lord Business (Will Ferrell) masquerades as “President Business,” keeping the population complacent and oblivious with a drone-like existence built on generic pop-songs and rigid manuals for team-based LEGO construction. The old and wise Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) tells of a prophecy where a Master Builder (one skilled in the art of LEGO construction) will appear from the masses to thwart Lord Business’s master weapon, “The Kragle” – but no one in the world expected that man to be Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt).
See, Emmet is about as complacent and oblivious as they come in LEGO land – unremarkable in just about every way. But when he finds the mythical artifact that can finally stop The Kragle, Emmet instantly becomes the most important man in the world; although, he’d settle for the affections of warrior Master Builder, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). With help from the likes of Batman (Will Arnett) and other Master Builders, Emmet embarks on an adventure to save LEGO land – before the Master Builders discover that their prophesied hero isn’t what they think he is.
Toys and board games have been the inspiration for more than a few movies, but the results of adapting children’s playthings into blockbuster movies with mass appeal can be a real hit (Transformers ) or miss (Battleship) proposition. A movie based on LEGO building blocks seems like a far-fetched premise for a feature film – but thanks to the imaginative powers and heart of directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) The LEGO Movie is one of the most clever, original and fun adaptations of a toy or game ever put to screen.
Right from the start, the angle of attack is perfect; LEGO land (as imagined in this film) is an interesting and smart application of the LEGO toy experience, and the directors seem to really know the product well, which allows them to provide great comedic insight about how an actual world of LEGO people would move, function, and reflect our own daily rat-race. The colors are bright, the production design is thoroughly impressive, and the animation style (a mix of stop-motion and CGI) is no less than revolutionary when it comes to creating the (“LEGO-ness?”) of the characters’ movements and the physics of their world.
The film literally looks like a LEGO set has come to life onscreen – and in this case, 3D viewing is a MUST. The directors use the three-dimensional format in exactly the right manner: an immersive design that pulls you into the visuals while adding the proper “diorama effect” that makes the LEGO figurines and sets feel like the real objects, rather than animated interpretations of the them. In short: If you want the full “living LEGO” experience, you need to pay premium price – but it’s worth it. Each shot is stuffed with so much visual information, Easter eggs, and hidden gags that repeat viewings will be well worth your while, as well.
The only real downside to the directorial approach is that when some of the film’s bigger action sequences take place, the visuals can get a bit complicated to follow, and the animation style can get a bit choppy and break suspension of disbelief. For example: when lasers are flying and six to eight characters are all pulling off combat/building maneuvers against a horde of enemies, it can start to look like you’re watching someone’s impressive stop-motion project, rather than a blockbuster animated feature. But that deficiency is a small one, and admittedly comes with the territory.
The script for the film was also written by Lord and Miller – with story help from Kevin and Dan Hageman (Ninjago, Hotel Transylvania) – and it is equally as good as the direction, offering a multi-layered narrative with humor, wit, meta-minded irony and heart, which will appeal to kids and adults alike. The initial character/thematic arc is lifted straight from The Matrix – or pretty much every other “unlikely hero” archetype – but Lord and Miller manage to fit at least two other levels of meaning into the proceedings. While kids are invested in a hero quest, adults will pick up on sly-but-subtle metaphors (corporate uniformity vs. creative freedom, etc.) – and by the third act, when things take an especially clever turn, both kids AND adults can bond over the sort of themes expressed when The LEGO Movie really opens it heart and gets real.
The dialogue, banter, and winking ode to certain iconic characters (like Batman) make the film a highly enjoyable ride, but it is the injection of real-world emotion and some potentially heavy (but deftly handled) dramatic ideas that elevate this film above thin and saccharine second-tier animated features. Lord and Miller are not afraid to push the boundary a bit, including certain sequences that could’ve been too much for kids, but are delivered in just the right way to avoid frightening or offending young minds, resulting in some great comedy and drama at different junctures.
The voice cast is also pretty spectacular, and function as a great comedic ensemble in addition to breathing livelihood and personality into their respective characters (not surprising, really, since most of the cast are drawn from a pool of actors who have populated cult-hit sitcoms in the last five years). Chris Pratt (Parks and Rec) and Elizabeth Banks (30 Rock) are pitch-perfect (pun) as Emmet and Wyldstyle. Pratt in particular seems poised for his leading man breakout this year (Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is waiting on deck) and deservedly so, judging from his work here. Will Ferrell pulls out his Megamind persona to create a fun villain (his mispronunciation gags still work, surprisingly enough) - but he’s outclassed by Liam Neeson, who goes for broke voicing the bi-polar henchman, Good Cop/Bad Cop.
Supporting characters in the Master Builder clan include Will Arnett (30 Rock), doing a fantastic Batman riff; Alison Brie playing up her Community persona as an emotionally fragile “Unikitty”; Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec) as a hardcore pirate, and It’s Always Sunny star Charlie Day as an overly-enthusiastic astronaut. From there it’s just a gold rush of voice-cameo goodness, including Jump Street stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill poking fun at themselves, while everyone from Cobie Smulders to Keegan-Michael Key, Chris McKay, Dave Franco and others show up for a wink and a laugh. There are also some cameos from iconic celebrities that are just too deliciously great to spoil here; keep your ears open, is all I’ll say.
In the end, The LEGO Movie is a fun adventure with heart and originality that everyone (regardless of age) should experience in full, big-screen 3D grandeur. It’s another home run effort from Lord and Miller, who, like their blocky protagonist, may look like the most unlikely of cinematic geniuses, but whose unique imaginations may just hold the key to saving us from generic and formulaic movies.
When it comes to The LEGO Movie, “everything is awesome,” indeed.