Lego Movie, The (United States, 2014)

February 09, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Lego Movie, The Poster

Legos. They seem to have been around forever (actually, since 1949). As a kid, some 40 years ago, I can remember playing with them: colored plastic bricks that snapped together. Since then, the Lego empire has expanded, venturing into arenas previously dominated by model kits and action figures. Now, there's no need to combine Legos with other products to develop a bedroom floor adventure milieu - Lego produces everything. But toys were just the tip of the iceberg. Video games, cartoons, amusement parks, and now a potential blockbuster movie have joined the fold.

Over the past few years, animated films have reached a nadir with promotional and box office considerations trumping all else. It has worked for the bean counters - high profile animated films are as close to "gold" as anything out there. Unfortunately, the care and effort lavished on the genre during the '90s and '00s, as Pixar rose like cream to the top, has been missing in recent years. In particular, the "dual layer" approach, in which an animated film works on different levels for adults and kids, has largely evaporated. Pixar hasn't made one of those since 2010's Toy Story 3 and, in the interim, we've seen only a few similar efforts from the other animation studios: Despicable Me and Wreck-It Ralph, in particular. Despite a generic, marketing-friendly title, The Lego Movie fills the breach nicely. It's not as complete and satisfying a film as the best of Pixar but it's at least on par (and perhaps a little better) than some of the lesser post-Toy Story 3 efforts. This is truly a movie that children and their parents can both enjoy for different reasons.

The Lego Movie boasts an over-the-top and childish base story, but that's by intent. This is essentially the kind of imagination-fueled romp one might expect if a creative child was placed in a room with an unlimited quantity of Legos. The result would be spaceships, explosions, an overflow of pop culture icons, and general mayhem. The movie attempts to replicate this but, as is revealed in a third act twist, there's more to things than initially meets the eye. The narrative thrust in the final 30 (or so) minutes gives The Lego Movie thematic heft. Older viewers will ponder father/son relationships and how the weight of "adult concerns" conspires to kill the child in all of us. Younger viewers may be perplexed by some of this but they'll still have a satisfying final confrontation to enjoy.

The Lego Movie tells of the adventures of an average construction guy named Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt) who is mistaken for "The Special," a master builder prophesied to save the world. At the moment, the world does in fact need saving because Lord Business (Will Ferrell) is putting into action a plan to destroy it. Accompanied by faithful companions Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), and Vituvius (Morgan Freeman), Emmet seeks to fulfill his destiny while avoiding capture by Lord Business' henchman, Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).

The film's look should match the expectations of Lego fans. A certain "clunkiness" to the (pseudo) stop-motion aspects of the animation is intentional - the result of ensuring that every aspect of the landscape looks like it was assembled using Legos. When water floods a compartment, it's "Lego water." When fire erupts, it's "Lego fire." There are some exceptions late in the film but these come with explanations. Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs) have taken a page out of the Legoland book and used virtual Legos to fill every nook and cranny of the film.

Many of the high profile characters Lego has licensed over the years make appearances. The only one with a significant role is Batman, who is played like a parody of Christian Bale's interpretation (right down to the growling voice, provided by Will Arnett). Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Shaq, and at least one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have cameos. Like Batman, they are comedic versions of their more serious non-Lego alter egos. A quartet of Star Wars characters also makes appearances: C3PO, Chewbacca, Han, and Lando. While voice actor Keith Ferguson is Han, original actors Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams lend their talents.

Having seen the movie in 2-D, I can't comment on the quality of the 3-D version, but the 2-D prints are bright, colorful, and altogether pleasing to the eye. The only place where I noticed an obvious nod to 3-D viewing was during the opening credits. My guess is that this looks fine in 3-D and the format choice is a matter of personal preference (and a willingness to pay the extra money).

The Lego Movie is a solid cinematic translation of the toys from which it gains its name. Although initially designed for children, Legos have morphed into a means by which people of all ages can express their creativity. There are probably as many (or more) adults "playing" with Legos than children. This is acknowledged explicitly and implicitly in Lord and Miller's screenplay and the experience of watching the movie will offer a satisfying 90 minutes regardless of the age of the viewer - right down to the hilarious final line.

Lego Movie, The (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2014-02-07
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1