“The LEGO Movie”: If You Build It…You’re Awesome!

Batman, The Lego Movie

Arguably the best Batman film since The Dark Knight.

Because sometimes you need a break from Oscar season.

I had sky-high expectations for The Lego Movie as a veteran player of their first several video games — both Lego Star Wars, both Lego Indiana Jones, both of Lego Harry Potter, the first Lego Batman, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, and the most epic of them all, Lego Lord of the Rings. They’re inventive, unpredictable, witty beyond all expectations with a keen self-awareness that frequently lampoons the very intellectual properties they paid good money to license. And those were just the cutscenes.

Short version for the unfamiliar: It’s obviously based on the classic all-ages, all-purpose, ever-adapting, perennially beloved building blocks that you should’ve owned as a kid. The plot itself is, depending on your age group, a straightforward sci-fi Chosen One saga or a satire/homage of all those sagas you’ve seen before.

In a Lego world where the President and various large corporations ensure that everyone likes and does the same things, ordinary average guy Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt, not straying too far from Parks & Rec) sees his life shift into high gear when a series of mishaps leads him to fulfill the prophecy of “The Special” as uttered by a wise old wizard named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman, of course). To save everyone from the destructive plans of Lord Business (Will Ferrell), Emmet accidentally connects with a ragtag team of Lego folks from various Lego dimensions, including strong-modern-female Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Lego Batman (Will Arnett, nailing a Kevin Conroy riff), shiny happy blocky Princess Unikitty (Community‘s Alison Brie), Benny the ’80s Lego astronaut (Pacific Rim‘s Charlie Day), and a giant pirate robot (Parks & Rec‘s Nick Offerman). Hilarity ensues, as do frantic Lego-building, Lego-smashing, color coordination, and concerns about following the instructions.

All of this is set to the EDM heartbeeps of the ridiculously catchy “Everything is Awesome” (by Tegan and Sara, featuring rap/dubstep breaks by the Lonely Island), which probably occupies all forty positions on the Lego Top 40. I’m sure the Lego folks wouldn’t mind if you stocked up on Lego sets immediately after viewing, but they gave the filmmakers free reign to mock this enabling consumer culture anyway. Best of both worlds.

Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: This contraption is loaded with familiar names in minor parts. Not to ruin all of them, but my personal favorites include Jonah Hill as the best big-screen Green Lantern ever (fusty Hal Jordan fans may not be pleased); Liam Neeson as Lord Business’ lead henchman, Bad Cop; Channing Tatum just fine as Superman; Shaquille O’Neal as the only character he could ever really handle; and a couple of surprise Star Wars personalities as themselves, possibly as auditions for the new J.J. Abrams project.

Nitpicking? I’m not much thrilled by super-speed combat — live-action or animated — in which clusters of objects move weightlessly and more quickly than the eye can follow without freeze-framing. I’ll get the gist of the scene, but kaleidoscopic blurs are no fun to watch. My mind drifts off into space until those are over, when either the talking resumes or the camera refocuses on smaller-scale action moments instead.

Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? Aiming above and beyond the low standards set by other toy-based films (Transformers, G.I. Joe), the filmmakers opted for the Pixar approach of implanting separate morality tracks for kids and adults each to follow as they see fit. For the kids: (a) you are too unique, even if you can’t tell how yet; and (b) teamwork is awesome.

The adult messages are tough to explain without spoiling the third-act twist that reveals a whole new layer to the Lego multiverse. Putting it as obliquely as I can, and I’ll warn you this still may not be oblique enough, so feel free to skip the rest of this section if you’d rather:

When future generations come to like the stuff you like, and might want to use or play with that stuff in their own way, it would be awfully selfless of you to release your lifelong death grip on that stuff and step off. You have the choice either of keeping your stuff in stasis and letting it stagnate until it means nothing to anyone except you and you only, or of passing on a grand legacy and letting it flourish and survive in the hearts and minds of others.

Sidebar: telling them exactly how to like the stuff you like, as if you’re the stuff’s personal gatekeeper and King Arbiter of Taste and Continuity, is kind of cruel.

In a way, it’s the best defense of reboots I’ve ever heard.

Unrelated bonus reminder for grown-ups who overuse meme pics on Facebook: not everything Morgan Freeman says out loud is profound or meaningful. You may already know this if you’ve seen Wanted, though.

So did I like it or not? The Lego Movie is the great big bundle of fun I expected and needed, even without any kids tagging along. Seeing it within two days of enduring 12 Years a Slave served in many respects as a wise (if jarring) counterprogramming move. I loved the pretend-stop-motion animation, the voice-actor improv moments they kept in, the crossovers between characters who may never cross over in their “real” forms, and the surprise gut-punch toward the end aimed at some hardcore collectors out there who weren’t paying close attention to Toy Story 2.

How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after The LEGO Movie end credits, but dawdlers like me are treated in the final moments to a sensitive-guy acoustic rendition of “Everything is Awesome”. Because of course such a thing would exist in their world.

Special housekeeping postscript for those who have a Serious Opinion as to whether it should be spelled “Lego” or “LEGO”: I took a cue from another blogger and stuck to “Lego” in the entry itself, but used “LEGO” in the title and tag as a mild concession to the internet kids these days. That way, everyone’s bitter. Hope that helps!

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