Anyone who has ever played with LEGO bricks knows that if you have enough pieces of the right color, shape and size you can build almost anything your imagination desires. If you don’t, you can still build pretty much anything you want, as your imagination is only bound by the lack of the pieces themselves (and even then, you can always get by without a door here or a wheel there). So when directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were given the reins (and an unlimited stock of bricks thanks to the boundless resources of computer animation) to create The LEGO Movie, a feature film based on the ageless toy, they didn’t hold back one bit, utilizing almost every piece in just the right way.
The movie revolves around Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt), an average, yet enthusiastically happy construction worker who gets unwittingly recruited to help save the LEGO-verse from annihilation (as they know it, anyway) by the evil Lord Business. Emmett is an unlikely hero because he is not a Master Builder, as the fated “Savior” is presumed to be. He does everything by the book (or his go-to instruction manual of how to live a happy life), including his morning exercises, making sure to buy that expensive cup of coffee, watching his favorite TV show (Where Are My Pants?) and listening to one of the most catchy (and mind-numbingly addictive) tunes this side of “Hakuna Matata.” I mean, I could probably listen to that song all day…
<<5 hours later>>
“Everything is awesome when you’re living in a dream. Everything is awesome!”
Phew. That was fun. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Emmett. The man who is so average, he isn’t even noticed by those he calls “friend.” But when Emmett stumbles upon the “piece of resistance,” a small red object that becomes fused to his back, the Master Builders, led by the spunky Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and blind, yet all-seeing Vitruvius (the always welcome Morgan Freeman), team up to stop Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from using the devastating “Kragle” to glue everything together and keep the Builders from changing and altering the world as they see fit.
From that last description, you can tell that the film is very self-referential, to the point that it knows very well that its source is, in fact, a toy, one that can be taken apart and reconstructed with ease. In one early scene, as WyldStyle helps Emmett escape from the diabolical — or is that nice — Bad Cop (a terrific Liam Neeson, who also plays his counterpart, Good Cop, by spinning his own head around), she quickly starts grabbing pieces that form the alley to construct a motorcycle and get away. The Master Builders are so good, they can actually see the product number of each piece in their head!
And that’s just the beginning. You can’t help but marvel at the detail that went into creating this spectacular world. As it should be, everything in the film, from the mountains of the old-west, to the laser bullets and smoke from explosions are made entirely of bricks, all equipped with the little round connectors marked with the LEGO imprint. To have meticulously crafted this world out of LEGO pieces is a master stroke all its own, but then to throw in all of the other little nuances (including having only one seat in every car, making sure that eighties-something astronaut’s helmet was broken, and having the ghost of one character fly by the use of a string) only adds to the delight of watching one of your favorite childhood toys come to life.
The biggest wink to fans, though, I think is when Vitruvius and Wyldstyle enter Emmett’s thoughts to find out what kind of ideas he’s had (and to assess what kind of Master Builder he might one day become), only to find a vast wasteland of nothingness, where the one idea he’s ever head — a double-decker couch — is on one level hilarious in its absurdity, and on the other, a perfect example of something everyone has built at one point or another with their own set of pieces. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be a Master Builder; it simply means that with a little help and encouragement, that little spark of creativity can become so much more.
The movie, though, isn’t entirely perfect. I wasn’t feeling the romance between Emmett and Wyldstyle as much as I believe the filmmakers wanted me to (if it wasn’t for Batman (Will Arnett) rounding out the love triangle as Wyldstyle’s insensitive and delusional boyfriend, I would have found it entirely stale), and the story does seem a little bit one-dimensional for all of its efforts to be a three-dimensional powerhouse. The thing about it is, the sheer joy and passion that the filmmakers convey for the brand helps the film overcome those flaws and prove that the magic of the film is in its sense of wonder.
And I may be proven wrong on subsequent viewings, as the trailer alone invokes the feeling that this isn’t a movie you can see just once. There are going to be some references, inside jokes, or subtle antics (such as when Lord Business’s robot henchmen get themselves stuck in a band-aid in the background of an expositional scene) that you’ll miss the first time around. And from the heightened joy I got when I caught a quick scene the next day while waiting for another movie to start, I can attest that, even if you do catch everything the first time, it will still leave you with an odd need to see it again as soon as possible — because it’s just that fun.
The LEGO Movie holds together quite nicely without any of Lord Business’s Kragle, radiating a sense of delight and a wink of self-referenced parody. And with a brilliant final thirty seconds that left me howling, I have a feeling it is on the road to becoming a classic. We all know LEGO toys are just a bunch of plastic blocks, but when you add your imagination to them, they will forever be anything you want them to be. Everything is awesome, indeed.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include RoboCop, Endless Love and Winter’s Tale. If you would like to see a review of this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.