Monday, February 10, 2014

The Lego Movie / ***½ (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Emmet Brickowski: Chris Pratt
President Business: Will Farrell
Wyldstyle: Elizabeth Banks
Batman: Will Arnett
Metal Beard: Nick Offerman
Unikitty: Alison Brie
Benny: Charlie Day
Bad Cop/Good Cop: Liam Neeson
Vitruvius: Morgan Freeman

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. Written by Lord & Miller and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman. Running time: 100 min. Rated PG (for mild action and rude humor).

I’m a collector. I have been since my very first Lego set. It was one of their moon landing sets. There was a space station, three astronaut figures, and a moon buggy. I was a stickler for the instructions, but I would also make some of the other designs that were pictured on the box but not included in the instructions. I was pretty good. I could make pretty much anything from a picture, but I never built purely from my imagination. I just didn’t have a knack for envisioning something new.

The hero of “The Lego Movie” suffers from that same problem. He’s determined to live life from the instruction booklet. That’s how everyone in the Lego world is supposed to operate, and for the most part they do. But Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt of the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy”) is so good at following the instructions that he’s pretty much invisible to everybody else.

The world Emmet inhabits is made completely out of Legos. The buildings, the cars, the clouds, the water, even smoke and fire are made out of Legos. President Business (Will Farrell), who structures his society in a world of complete order, rules this world. His corporation makes everything; from the material used to build skyscrapers to the most popular television show, “Where Are My Pants?” President Business gained his position by stealing a sacred weapon called the Kragle from the spiritual leader known as Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). However, a prophesy speaks of “The Special”, an extraordinary Master Builder who will find the Piece of Resistance, which is the only thing in the universe capable of stopping the Kragle.

Now, I could go further into the intricacies of the plot, which is as complex as many of the larger Lego set pieces, but filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are more interested in recreating the imagination of a child in their story. The pace of the film is insane as it skips from one event to the next at boggling speed. During the opening moments I began to wonder whether it would turn out to be a musical in the way each moment tries to one up the next. There is even a song in the first moments. The song is another of Business’s population controlling gimmicks called “Everything is Awesome” that culminates in an explosive ending. The song is played endlessly on the Lego radio stations.

The cityscape world we are first introduced to is not the only Lego world we experience. After Emmet inadvertently discovers the Piece of Resistance—another great reference, along with Kragle, referring to how children often mishear words and phrases and change their meaning with their own interpretations—he meets Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a Master Builder who introduces Emmet to a secret tunnel system that accesses other Lego worlds. They visit “The Old West” and another world that is based on total positive freedom where anything is possible as long as it isn’t negative. Chasing them from world to world is Business’s henchman Bad Cop/Good Cop, voiced with surprising vibrancy by Liam Neeson.

Not only are these unrelated worlds brought together by the plot but also characters that don’t belong together. Just as kids will mix their toys together in various adventures, many different types of Lego characters are brought together here. Batman, voiced to great comic effect by Will Arnett, is another Master Builder who seems more enamored with himself than his is with Wildstyle, his girlfriend. They eventually form a team to bring down President Business and his plans. The team includes a pirate Lego, the crazy ultra-positive Unikitty, and one of the classic spacemen from my first Lego set who is desperate to build a spaceship for anyone who will use it. Even some Star Wars Lego characters show up for one of the funniest moments of the movie.

The filmmakers truly have made this movie for all ages. Instead of animating the movie in the obvious CGI style of the many Lego direct-to-video movies or television shows that are popular with children today, they animate this story as if it is made of real Legos. The action resembles stop motion animation and the Legos only relate to their world in the way real Legos operated. If something doesn’t fit into their claw shaped hands, then they can’t hold onto it. Also when the regular Legos start to break from Business’s rules, their ability to build Lego designs resemble a first timer with a Lego set. It takes some practice to figure out just how all those blocks can fit together.

They also cull a great deal of humor from what we all remember about building Legos as kids. The spaceman’s helmet is broken in the same way we all remember our own spacemen helmets breaking. The instructions we all used to put the Lego sets together are also incorporated quite ingeniously into the plot. There are also some more grown up references to other films and pop culture references. Superman and Green Lantern have quite a hilarious relationship having to do with the fact that Green Lantern isn’t quite as popular a superhero as Supes. It helps that they’re voiced by Channing Tatum as Supes and Jonah Hill as Lantern, who are the stars of Lord and Miller’s “21 Jump Street” film franchise.

The film has come under some fire for its “anti-business” stance. It’s easy to see where these concerns come from; however, I felt it’s lesson was more about being an individual and embracing the gifts you are given rather than conforming to the crowd. Yes, it is critical of the corporate nature of our pop culture, with shows and songs that are all the same being shoved at us by a corporate entity that is only interested in sales and not individual accomplishment. While the lessons would suggest that must change for our society to progress, I think the intention is more of an internal morality than an attack on corporate culture. Certainly Lego’s success is one of amazing corporate accomplishment. So too is ”The Lego Movie”, which promises to become a family classic that embraces the uniqueness of what it is to be a kid.

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