Toy adaptation movies have been going on for quite a while, but for every Clue we get a Battleship. For every Transformers we get a G.I. Joe (you decide which one is the good or bad film in that comparison). When the trailer for The Lego Movie first hit the internet, I thought it was a giant joke. After all, we’ve been treated to an ongoing series of video games and DVD movies featuring the Danish building blocks for several years now. Not only is it not a joke, but it’s actually a quality piece of entertainment that provides multiple layers for children and adults.
Playing on the multiple licenses Lego has acquired over the years, The Lego Movie sees a building block world in jeopardy: essentially thanks to the dictatorial Lord/President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), the different worlds have been blocked off from each other. Western Legos are locked into a Western world, Space Legos in a space world, and (where our story begins) the City Legos are locked in a City world. It is Lord Business’s plan to use a super weapon to freeze all of the Legos in a world of his own creation, but a prophecy speaks of a special Master Builder who will find the power to defeat Lord Business. When you have an array of famous characters including super heroes, ninja turtles, Star Wars figures, and wise wizards, it’s hard to believe the special would be a simple (and simpleton) construction worker named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt, best known for his equally simpleton Parks and Recreation character, Andy). Emmet is exactly the person you don’t want to know the world’s fate rests upon: he’s into idiotic television shows, music, and tries hard to follow all of the rules for happiness, which are (of course) laid out by Lord Business in the first place.
While watching Emmet fumble around may have made an entertaining movie by itself, The Lego Movie capitalizes on the licenses by pairing Emmet up with a team that includes Batman (voiced by a perfectly-cast Will Arnett), an ’80s era astronaut (Charlie Day), the aforementioned sage wizard (Morgan Freeman, who amazingly transcends everything else he’s ever done comedically), and a rebellious female freedom-fighter named Wyldstyle (the always hilarious Elizabeth Banks). Of course, there are cameos galore of other franchises, including a quick but funny joke about confusing Lord of the Rings‘s Gandalf and Harry Potter‘s Dumbledore, but the ensemble really builds around Pratt’s Emmet, even if that building comes on the foundation of what an idiot Emmet is. With all of that talent, you can’t be surprised that Lord Business has his own henchmen, an army of robots led by the stereotypical, chair-kicking Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson).
Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have already shown their comedic talent, both in animation (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and live-action (21 Jump Street) so it’s no surprise that the script here nails just about every possible punchline, from the stupidity of Emmet’s everyday existence to landing jokes as the various franchises and stereotypes interact. Some of the jokes even come at the expense of the audience, such as the mindless example of music in Emmet’s world, “Everything is Awesome,” that is guaranteed to have hooked itself into audience-members’ brains before leaving the theater. Between the script and the talent involved, The Lego Movie is a well oiled comedic machine. But what I find more interesting about the movie is that it’s surprisingly deeper than it initially lets on. The oft-criticized (but thankfully never revealed) “twist” that comes late in the movie doesn’t feels less like an exercise in convenience and more a Matrix-like, post-modernistic form of expression. It’s an element of the movie that is sure to divide some audience members, but I suspect few who reject the idea will consider the implications as deeply as those who give the so-called “twist” a chance.
While we have gotten quite a few Lego tales on DVD and in video games, The Lego Movie separates itself from those products in an interesting way. Lord and Miller take a stylistic approach to the animation that lacks the smoothness of the home entertainment incarnations. While the movie is computer animated, it looks like it could have been painstakingly hand-crafted through stop-motion animation, which gives the picture a unique feel that separates it from other Lego products. The duo also go out of their way to approach this as a pure “Lego” world – everything is Lego-created – right down to flames and water. Again, it’s an approach that makes the movie stand out from previous stories. Animation fans that are looking for something with a unique feel will appreciate the detail and approach Lord and Miller bring to the product.
It’s far too early in the year to declare something like The Lego Movie to be the “best animated movie of the year!” but it is a unique achievement that should hold a place in memories throughout the year. It may not always have the strongest story, but it milks every opportunity for laughs, utilizes a phenomenal vocal cast for great effect, and brings a style and substance we shouldn’t soon forget.