The Lego Movie

It’s not tough to imagine the pitch meeting where The Lego Movie was conceived. The toys have been a familiar fixture of toy chests since the ’40s, and given that every other remotely recognizable playroom property is getting adapted for the big screen these days, it was only a matter of time before someone grabbed a fistful of plastic bricks. Lucky for us, those people turned out to be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

From the outset, it’s clear that the duo really and truly understand Legos — how we play with them, why we love them, what makes them special. The Lego Movie feels, for all the world, like a Lego play session on a bigger scale. The entire universe, from trains to horses to ocean waves, is painstakingly constructed with bricks, and there’s a gleeful “anything goes” energy to the proceedings. A Bat-plane might soar through a medieval universe, or Abraham Lincoln might fly off in a rocket-powered chair. You just never know, because the whole point of Legos is that you can make them do anything.

That last point turns out to be news to the film’s protagonist, a cheerfully dim, thoroughly ordinary construction worker minifig named Emmet (Chris Pratt). It would never occur to him in a million years to stray from the instruction manuals. Indeed, he starts out each day following precise directions on “how to fit in, make everybody like you, and always be happy.” He’s such a consummate conformist that even the other Lego sheeple seem weirded out by how blank he is.

His rule-bound life is upended when he stumbles across the “Piece of Resistance,” the only item that can stop evil President Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world with his mighty Kragle. Tough, punky Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) immediately identifies plain old Emmet as the Special, prophecied to be the most extraordinary person in the entire universe, and drafts him to join the Master Builders in a rebellion. 

The Master Builders turn out to be quite a colorful cast of characters, including loopy mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), cocky superhero Batman (Will Arnett), and the tightly wound Unikitty (Alison Brie). None of them have faith in Emmet, and for good reason. As he himself readily admits, he’s “the least qualified person here.” Even President Business’s right-hand man Good Cop/Bad Cop (a wonderfully game Liam Neeson) assumes that Emmet’s bubble-headed personality must be a fake, since no one so unspectacular could possibly lead the brilliant Master Builders.

Emmet’s arc follows many familiar beats of the traditional hero’s journey, but Lord and Miller find a way to make them fresh. They poke fun at cliches, add their own weird flourishes, and pepper the whole thing with a ridiculous number of jokes – some for kids, some for adults, most for both. (Christopher Nolan fans with a sense of humor will adore Arnett’s arrogant take on the brooding hero.) Not that you’ll spend much time dwelling on Lord and Miller’s sly subversiveness. Aside from one unfortunately heavy-handed bit in the third act, the whole thing moves along at the speed of Tegan & Sara‘s relentlessly upbeat theme “Everything Is Awesome.” 

Looked at from a certain angle, The Lego Movie is basically a two-hour commercial for Legos, and an incredibly effective one at that. But watching it, The Lego Movie feels less like an ad than a love letter. Lord and Miller demonstrate such sincere affection for the whole Lego experience that the film never once feels cynical. The film is ostensibly aimed at kids, and the bright colors and loud music may suggest to some adults that this movie isn’t for them. Ignore those signals. The Lego Movie will click with anyone who’s ever loved Legos — which is to say, just about everyone.

/Film rating: 9.0 out of 10.0

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