Most all of us have played with Lego toys at some point in our lives. The colorful building toy is sold around the world, but who seriously thought that a story about it would be enough to sustain a feature film?
Evidently the production team behind The Lego Movie thought so, and they were right to. Their new film is a deeply entertaining romp that deserves a place next to the Toy Story trilogy as an animated adventure that’s equally fun for kids and adults. Granted, the movie’s last half hour is particularly unsteady, in large part due to an ill-advised change in tone and setting. Taken as whole though, this inventive cinematic convection is still great fun. It’s a riotous party of a film.
Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a Lego everyman living in a state of numb conformity. He’s trapped in a society ruled by a sinister corporation that has brainwashed all of its citizens. Emmett runs afoul of the corporation when he accidentally discovers an artifact that threatens the plans of the company’s evil leader, President Business (Will Ferrell, fresh off his great work in Anchorman 2). The plot is laced with an inspired bit of political commentary that you wouldn’t expect from a movie like this – it’s like a kid-friendly version of George Orwell’s 1984. If you don’t agree with the film’s anti-corporate themes, console yourself with the knowledge that the entire movie is a commercial for one of the world’s biggest toy companies.
Emmett is captured by Lord Business, then rescued by a group of rebellious “master builders” who want to use him to save the Lego universe. Although some of the master builders are characters invented for the film, a number of them are pre-existing pop-culture icons done up in Lego form. Their presence is hilarious both for the strange groupings it produces (what other movie gives you Gandalf, Shakespeare and Shaquille O’Neal all in the same room?) as well as for its amusing caricatures of famous characters and celebrities. Will Arnett’s role as the Lego Batman stands out as an inspired send-up of Christian Bale’s self-serious Dark Knight.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the directing team behind the 21 Jump Street reboot) come at the project with the joy of kids in a playhouse. Their screenplay blends the unbridled creativity of a Pixar film with the irreverent, rapid-fire comedy of The Simpsons. Much of the humor comes from the fact that the animators have stylized the film to look like the stop-motion movies that many Lego fans upload to YouTube. Combined, the writing and the visuals make the movie consistently funny, often satirical and always good-natured.
Ultimately, the Lego movie succeeds because it isn’t really about Legos. The toys provide the setting and a good deal of the sight gags, but the story at the film’s core is much more about Emmett’s search for identity than it is about building things. The writers have generated a solid story that, technically, would function without its Lego trappings. Function, perhaps, but not soar to quite the same heights as The Lego Movie. Even if the film’s bustling creative energy starts to ebb towards the end, moviegoers of all ages should give it a try. They won’t be disappointed.