Building On Franchise’s Creative Spirit, ‘The Lego Movie’ Entertains

Smiley face

There’s a lot to like in The Lego Movie: it’s a funny, good-looking animated film with surprisingly touching scenes. The initial draw of the film is in the concept of making a movie based on the Lego franchise. The popular building blocks have long given the consumer a chance to be a builder and creator, the possibilities limited only by the number of blocks. That spirit of creativity is very much present in the film-a warm, true-to-source sentiment that is notably absent in other toy movies (Real Steel,Transformers, Battleship) and is a major component of its success.

The Lego Movie follows ordinary, rule-following Emmet, voiced by Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation. Emmet’s life, introduced by the catchy opening song “Everything is Awesome,” is one of uniformity-he follows “The Instructions,” a set of rules on how to live life passed down by the totalitarian President Business (Will Ferrell). Emmet’s sheltered life is interrupted by the discovery that he is “The Special,” and that he accordingly must join the Master Builders. He pairs up with Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), and a host of others to save the world from the devious President Business and his super weapon.

The plot sounds like the bright, action-packed fluff that draws younger kids, but the truth is that The Lego Movie has humor, dialogue and subtext that will speak more directly to adults. An example is Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), the chief of President Business’ henchmen, who struggles between his two sides, “Nice Cop” and “Bad Cop.”  To a kid, it’s funny to see his head spinning around and hear the change of voice. To an older crowd, it’s a more resonant struggle, especially at one point when his parents are threatened and his two sides are at war with each other in terms of how to respond.

The cast is impressive and does excellent voice acting. Pratt shows Emmet’s struggle to rise above his ordinary origins and fulfill the expectations set upon him well, and Banks is a great foil to cautious Emmet with her energetic punk-ish style. Freeman is funny as the doddering Vitruvius, and Arnett is a great raspy-voiced Batman. The one person who doesn’t shine, surprisingly, is Ferrell. Forced to closely follow the script in this movie, he stumbles. Ferrell struggled similarly with Megamind, another of his animated films.

The animation of the film deserves an ovation. The super-fast building of the Master Builders is a pleasure to watch as they manipulate the Legos around them to create whatever they can imagine. Another neat trick was the animation of fire, smoke and water, which almost looked like stop-motion, the flow of these moving elements smooth but made up of many little Legos. The film features a rather impressive ocean scene, in which the viewer is treated to a sight of the undulating waves. There is an instance of a water reserve tank breaking-seeing the water break over the Lego objects is pure cinematic eye candy.

Another praiseworthy part of the film is the budding relationship between Emmet and Wyldstyle. Usually in these movies, the girl and guy just fall in love with little explanation or apparent connection. Instead, Emmet gets to know Wyldstyle and understands her insecurities, offering support and kind words. Their relationship, which ends inevitably in love, at least has more substance and caring in it than many others in movies of this genre.

A final note is not related directly but is instead about the trailers for the movie. The movie was excellent for all the reasons outlined above, yet few surprises were left in the film for those who watched it trailers, which were long and gave away the funniest dialogue and details of the movie. So a word of advice to viewers: skip the trailers, and stick around for the show.

February 9, 2014