'The Lego Movie'
On paper, ‘The Lego Movie’ should be a heartless blockbuster toy advertisement, much like ‘Transformers’ or ‘Battleship’. Thankfully, the project fell into the hands of co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who specialize in creating magical comedies out of terrible ideas (‘Clone High’, ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’, ’21 Jump Street’). This is the best Hollywood animated film since Pixar started phoning in sequels.
‘The Lego Movie’ is filled with the barrage of pop culture in-jokes that one would expect from a Lord/Miller joint and the Lego brand, but also laced with a heartwarming adoration for the free-form imagination and creativity that Lego has inspired in generations of children. In other words, it’s hard to imagine that there will be a better animated film spit out of the studio system this year.
The plot falls somewhere between ‘Toy Story’ and ‘The Matrix’, and takes place in an all-Lego world ruled with a plastic/iron fist by the evil President Business (Will Ferrell), who wants Legoland to be segregated by genre and defined by the rigid conformity of instruction books. Enter Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a humble construction worker whose life is defined by routine, yet somehow ends up being dubbed “The Special,” a Neo-like chosen one who will break down the walls between the Legolands and encourage the world to be defined by creative building once more. It may sound oddly complicated, but in the hands of Lord and Miller, the tale is a lightening-paced, joyous, childish adventure. It’s the type of movie where Batman and Morgan Freeman might pop up for self-mocking cameos at any moment, yet at the same time, the filmmakers have a final twist in store that will transform the entire pop culture melting pot into a touching ode to the playful sense of imagination that these little plastic blocks have pulled out of children for decades.
Lord and Miller clearly love this subject matter, and that adoration spills out into every frame of ‘The Lego Movie’. The CGI animation is done in the herky-jerky style of homemade stop-motion, to stunning effect. The voice cast is stacked with celebrities like Pratt, Ferrell, Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Charlie Day, with every actor given at least one major laugh to launch at the audience. Watching the movie is a pure joy, and the filmmakers never lose track of the emotional heart of the project hidden beneath all the jokes and set-pieces. It’s the type of big, bright, hilarious adventure that defines children’s cinematic dreams and pulls adults who should know better into the theater for a candy-colored blast of nostalgic entertainment that won’t crap on their sentimental attachment to the subject.
‘The Lego Movie’ perfectly captures the appeal of Lego and of family blockbusters. It’s a film that really shouldn’t have worked, but already feels like a classic after a single viewing. That’s a bit of a filmmaking miracle, a quality that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have turned into a specialty. Hopefully, the movie will be a large enough hit to pull the team out of their sequel treadmill. (‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2′ hit screens last fall, they just finished ’22 Jump Street’, and the Lego sequel has already gotten a greenlight.) It would be fascinating to see what type of movie this duo could come up with when left to their own devices.