The Lego Movie Review
Legos were a big part of my life growing up. As I became older, I thought I had outgrown Legos, but they found a way to enter my life - namely they started franchising. They started making video games such as Lego Rock Band. (How could I resist the urge to play as Lego David Bowie or Lego Queen?) They have dipped their yellow claw-hand into franchises such as Marvel, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. In the last few years, Leo has turned itself into more than a toy brand - it has become a franchise. In fact, this is not the first Lego-themed movie as there have been several direct-to-video movies involving those franchises. But this is the first theatrical film of this scale based on the toy itself.
So how does one tell a story about construction-based toys? Emmett Brickowski is an average construction worker - so average that many of his co-workers do not recognize him off the clock. He lives in a world run by President Business - a world that is controlled by mass production - almost like a G-rated version of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. One day after work, Emmett discovers the Piece of Resistance, the crucial element in stopping President Business's secret weapon - the kragle. The chase is on as Emmett teams with Wyldstyle, a tech-savy Master Builder and Vitruvius, a blind wise sage. But is pursued by Bad Cop, President Business's right hand man. While trying to flee from Bad Cop, Emmett, Wyldstyle and Vitruvius make their way to the Old West, Middle Zealand and team with Batman, an 80's spaceman and a unicorn kitty hybrid in the quest to stop President Business. On its face, this plot sounds like a child playing with Legos. At the end of the day, that is kind of the point. I remember when I played with action figures - plots did not necessarily make sense. I always mixed around with whatever action figures I had. Han Solo mingled with Pete Venkman. Solid Snake teamed up with Spider-man. I can even accept that the movie spoofs tropes of other movies as I remember doing the same thing when I played with my toys. So overall, the story and the way it is told do work. But there are other elements at work in this one.
Obviously, the animation is an important element in the film. Though when judging the quality of animation, I always think it is important to judge what the film was going for. The filmmakers were going for a world that is not only inhabited by Legos but made of Lego - and they succeeded with flying colors. First of all, the characters move like Legos - with their stiff leg movements and arms that only go up and down. The animators really went out of their way to make everything in this world look like it was made of Lego. When a building catches fire, fire blocks are used. The lasers that Bad Cops men shoot are "lightsaber" blocks. Even the smoke from the train and the water in Emmett's shower are Lego pieces. One of the coolest effects in the movie is when the heroes are in the ocean. The waves move like real waves, but it still has a Lego texture.
The film also brilliantly takes advantage of the Lego art form. When Wyldstyle needs to put something on Emmett's head, she removes his hair piece first. Batman is able to thwart Bad Cop on the fly by reconstructing his his vehicle into a baby carriage. In fact, building and reconstruction is a recurring theme throughout the movie as Emmett is believed to be the "Special" who is a great thinker. President Business has a difficult time tracking down Emmett because he literally has the most generic Lego model face. Also, the characters fall victim to every day objects such as staple removers and gum. In fact, President Business's "Kragle" is obviously just Krazy Glue. Fortunately, the film never comes off as 90 minute commercial for Legos. Instead it feels like a movie made by people with great respect for Legos. Admittedly, this film reminded me a little of Wreck-it-Ralph. While I like Wreck-it-Ralph, it is hard to ignore that it was definitely a niche film. While the Lego Movie makes a few jokes that are geared toward Lego fans, this is definitely a film that can be enjoyed by everyone.
This is another film that is more character-driven than story-driven. Emmett is a mixed bag as a hero. The whole running theme is that he's average, but eventually that also becomes the problem as the film draws attention to how generic he is just makes us think about how generic he is. At the same time, he is likable, and it does make sense to have someone who is a blank slate against so many other wacky characters. Vitruvius is a spoof of wise sage characters, but Morgan Freeman still plays him with the seriousness of a real character. He is blind which leads to some good jokes, but he is still also a very competent fighter. Will Arnett is a very funny as Batman - playing him as sort of a spoof of a child's perception of Batman. He is very cocky but still has a brooding side to him. Also perfectly cast is Charlie Day as a hyperactive astronaut (modeled after Lego's actual line from the 1980s) who is obsessed with building a spaceship. Even though President Business is the main villain, the film spends more time with Liam Neeson's Bad Cop... who is also Good Cop as he has a second face on his other side. Until President Business wipes it away with nail polish remover, Bad Cop struggles with his duel identity. Despite being a heavy - an effective one at that - Bad Cop still has his share of funny moments.
Since Lego has been involved in so many franchises over the years - especially recently - the Lego Movie goes into Roger Rabbit territory. The film gives us plenty of characters - Harry Potter characters, Star Wars characters (though their involvement is too good to spoil), Lord of the Rings characters, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even real people like Abraham Lincoln, Shakespeare and Shaquille O'Neil pop up.Because this movie was released by Warner Bros., the DC Comics characters make prominent appearances. Green Lantern, Superman and Wonder Woman all show up. Despite their prominent appearances in ads, these characters do only appear in cameos. And that is kind of a shame because they are entertaining. Jonah Hill plays Green Lantern as an overenthusiastic fan boy. Channing Tatum as Superman is such inspired casting, it is a wonder he was not the real thing. (It reminds me of how Mel Brooks brilliantly cast Cary Elwes to play Robin Hood.) Then again, counting my blessings, I thought Batman was going to end up only being a cameo, and he is one of the funniest characters so the movie has that going for it. Though in the same vein, it still kind of blows my mind that Batman is a supporting character in a movie like this.
So is everything awesome about the Lego Movie? Well, the movie is not perfect. Although it is VERY funny - with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, there are a few jokes here and there that fall flat. Also, the movie occasionally plays some of the serious moments a little melodramatically, but to be fair, these parts are pretty short-lived. Also, this may sound like a nitpick, but the film takes a weird approach to its centerpiece song "Everything is Awesome". The song is an enjoyable enough and certainly catchy pop song that plays over the credits. Yet, in the context of the movie, the characters still treat it as a cheesy, sell-out song. This is not a huge determent, but it still seems rather odd.
This is another family film that carries a PG rating, but I saw no reason the little ones could not see this movie. In fact, this film comes highly recommended for children and adults. Even for anybody who did not grow up with Legos, the film is funny and creative enough that it will spark the imaginations of children and adults. And if this film does get anyone into Legos, good for them! Legos really do spark creativity. In fact, maybe some adults would benefit from stacking a few bricks together.
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