Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lego Movie (2014) Review

The Lego Movie

On most accounts, “The Lego Movie” should not be good. It is a movie-length commercial for Legos that appears to be created purely out of advertising and branding purposes. But “The Lego Movie” is much more than what it might cynically appear to be. Leave it to filmmakers Phil Lord of Chris Miller, they of cult TV fame with “Clone High” and other projects, to bring wit and brains to pieces of plastic.

Looking at the surface, “The Lego Movie” is about an average construction worker, Emmett, who stumbles onto a resistance movement of Master Builders who rebel against the stifling instructions that President Business places over his city. Everything goes according to plan, no piece is ever out of line, and people are expected to perform their work duties to the T.

Emmett is eventually told that his destiny holds the key to the Master Builder’s victory, and here is where the movie goes off into wholly unexpected territory. Throughout their two previous movies, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street” (two other greats that upended low expectations), Lord and Miller displayed an aptitude for poking fun at cliché and convention, and here that blossoms into full-on deconstruction.

“The Lego Movie” is essentially a big middle finger to stories that lean on predictable hero’s journey beats and destinies as a crutch in place of genuine storytelling. It’s in these turns where the movie reveals itself to be less a commercial for Lego (although it certainly is on some level) than one for the inspiration of creativity. Look at it this way: if children leave this movie and feel compelled to build a Star Wars figure out of the instructions rather than blend those pieces into a spontaneous model composed from 20 other Lego sets, they got the wrong message.

The movie is in and of itself that spontaneous model, where Superman can freely mingle with space men, Shakespeare, Lincoln, pirates, Gandalf, etc. (the cameos are bountiful.) While most of these are small parts beholden to the movie’s breakneck pace, others like Batman get the spotlight, and Will Arnett’s hilariously tongue-in-cheek voice work creates one of the most endearing onscreen versions of the character yet, believe it or not.

While others like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman and Will Ferrall bring laughs too, the success of this movie’s sense of humor lies in Lord and Miller’s ability to incorporate multiple background jokes for every big gag. Much of this resides in the striking animation, a mix of computer animation and stop motion, with an impressive level of detail that must have been a nightmare to plan out.

Comparisons to “Toy Story” may seem over-zealous but are entirely appropriate. As said earlier, the amount of thought and heart packed into a film about plastic playthings is surprising. Although given how Phil Lord and Chris Miller have created a career out of this approach, it shouldn’t be. It is too late to early to reboot “Battleship” yet?


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