Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie
Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.
Written  by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman
Starring: Chris Pratt (Emmet Brickowoski), Elizabeth Banks (Wyldstyle / Lucy),Will Arnett (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Will Ferrell (Lord Business),Morgan Freeman (Vitruvius), Liam Neeson (Bad Cop / Good Cop / Pa Cop), Alison Brie (Unikitty), Charlie Day (Benny), Nick Offerman (Metal Beard), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Keith Ferguson (Han Solo), Will Forte (Abraham Lincoln), Dave Franco (Wally), Jonah Hill (Green Lantern), Jake Johnson  (Barry), Keegan-Michael Key (Foreman Jim), Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq), Cobie Smulders (Wonder Woman), Channing Tatum (Superman), Billy Dee Williams (Lando).

You can criticize The Lego Movie as being one long commercial for the toy company if you want to – you wouldn’t even really be wrong in doing so. But to me, the movie is so entertaining that I didn’t really care that it was, in part, an advertisement for toys. The same charge could be leveled at any number of Pixar and Disney movies – really any animated film over the years – that companies use to extend their “brand”. What matters to me is what is onscreen, and what is onscreen in The Lego Movie is clever, funny, well-animated and a lot of fun from beginning to end. While The Lego Movie is not quite in the same league as the Toy Story movies – it comes close – and shares with those films a sense of childhood wonder – and examines how children love their toys, and how adults look back at those toys with nostalgia. Yes, the film is in part an advertisement for Lego – but it’s a great one, and it never takes itself too seriously. It’s one of the best animated features to come out of Hollywood in a while.

The story revolves around Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) – a regular Lego man with features so generic he looks like every other Lego man. Chris works in construction, where the most important thing is to follow the instructions. The world is run by President (or Lord) Business (Will Ferrell) who ensures that who wants everyone to follow their instructions at every point in their lives. He is a blissfully happy dolt – enjoying chain restaurants, the sitcom “Where’s My Pants?” and the song “Everything is Awesome” – which I fear will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. Then Emmet does one tiny thing not in the instructions – he doesn’t immediately report a trespasser on the construction site – and this leads to a series of events that ends with Emmet on the run with the pretty, kickass “Masterbuilder” Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) – into different Lego worlds he never knew existed, all in an attempt to stop Lord Business from unleashing a horrible weapon known as the “Kragle” on Taco Tuesday. Along the way, he’ll meet pretty much every Lego character imaginable.

Perhaps the best thing about The Lego Movie is the freewheeling nature of the plot. Not to give much away, but The Lego Movie is one perhaps the only children’s movie I can think of that actually whose plot feels like something a child would make up while playing with their toys. This is a state well-known to most of me, who as a child would think nothing of mixing and matching characters from different toy lines in my elaborately thought through action figure sessions that would go on for hours. In this world, it makes perfect sense that Batman, Superman and Green Lantern would interact with Gandalf, Dumbledore, Shaquille O’Neal and Abraham Lincoln with a rocket chair. It opens up an endless world of possibilities that are not necessarily based on logic, but on imagination – and that is ultimately what the movie is about. It can be great to make the Lego’s as they are “supposed” to be made by following the instructions and building elaborate castles, spaceships, etc. pre-designed by others. It is even better when you ignore the instructions and build your own elaborate contraptions that only exist in the child’s building them head.

The animation is stunning as well. People have been using Lego for animation for years, and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller used what went before them wisely. While the movie is computer generated, it is certainly inspired by those stop-motion Lego movies we have all seen and they find endlessly inventive ways to create things out of Lego that you would think impossible – water for instance.

Yes, The Lego Movie is in a way a feature length commercial for Lego – and has been designed for maximum nostalgia factor for people like me – old enough to play with Lego, and having young children of our own, who will, the movie hopes, rush out and buy Lego for (my daughter is 2 ½ so still a little young for Lego – although she loves her Duplo Princess castle – and yes, Duplo gets references and got from me perhaps the biggest single laugh of the entire movie). But The Lego Movie doesn’t feel like a feature length commercial, because Lord and Miller have done something inventive and original with it. Should we really expect anything more?

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