Usually, movies about toys are merely an excuse for mass merchandising. Make no mistake: The Lego Movie (2014) is immersed in marketing, but that is secondary because the filmmakers wisely and creatively keep the film’s heart intact. The Lego Movie may prove to be the best film of the year and, in its second run, can be seen for less than the price of an actual Lego. That is a far better spend than putting a second mortgage down for most of the first-run dreck we are inundated with.
The Lego Movie is a pop culture manifesto, composed of wall-to-wall references and jokes that come at you fast and furious. Yet, the in-jokes are so judiciously worked into the fantasy at large that they leave you smiling instead of spinning. This was no doubt helped by the writing/directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The duo clearly were inspired by the level of imagination found in the long-popular toy. It is remarkable what a mere two artists can do, as opposed to committee-style filmmaking. Lord and Miller began their collaboration with the cult series “Clone High” (2002) and continued to the big screen with Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (2009) and 21 Jump Street (2012). In addition to the writing/directing team, what makes The Lego Movie so winning is the personality to be found in plastic.
As a mystic toy, Morgan Freeman spoofs his pious screen persona, and his sense of joy in doing so is contagious. Equaling Freeman in voice work is Chris Pratt as the protagonist construction worker Emmett; Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle; Will Arnett as Batman; Alison Brie as Unikitty; and as GoodCop/Bad Cop. A smorgasbord of high- and pop-culture characters make appearances, from Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) and Shakespeare (Jorma Taccone) to Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders).
Brick City is a universe in its own right and it absorbs everything that came before it with shrewd wit, including Star Wars (with Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels reprising their respective roles). The Lego Movie even does the impossible: it makes George Lucas’ characters fun again. The animation here is among the most innovative since the golden age of Disney and the Fleischer Brothers. It is also delightfully weird. It sometimes seems as if Busby Berkeley has risen from the dead, been given an orange plastic brick and an unlimited budget and let loose.
Emmett is the much-needed, flawed little guy hero, and probably the best example we have seen of the type since Wall-E or The Iron Giant. We root for him, as opposed to Batman (and after the last Batman movie, why would anyone cheer the caped crusader)? Yet, here in The Lego Movie even Batman is unexpectedly fresh. Even better: amidst all the dazzling effects, the viewer genuinely hopes that two pieces of plastic, Emmett and Wyldstyle, will interlock.
The most surprising thing, in a movie chock full of surprises, is the glorification of the individual over the status quo corporation. One would hardly expect such a “Piece de Resistance” from a giant manufacturer. Even Will Ferrell rises to the occasion, giving an all too rare good performance as the evil President Business of unfettered capitalism.
Reportedly, over four million digitalized lego images were used in the film, which would seem an invitation for disaster. The production not only pulls it off, but does so with shocking precision through all that hyperkinetic color splashing. The last act of The Lego Movie takes an unexpected route, and one may fear the worst, but the filmmakers pull off yet another surprise, giving us that rarity of all rarities in animated films: an ending which should not be given away.
This is an epic film whose narrative commendably refuses to take the well worn dumbed-down path so often prevalent in movies of this type. Its minuscule flaw may be that it is overly ambitious, but proves a welcome retreat from the plethora of excrement that is bankrupt in ambition. The Lego Movie pulls off the impossible: it restores some faith in the imaginative and creative potential of the medium, at least for 101 minutes.