Full disclosure for everyone reading this review: I love LEGOs.
As a child, I grew up playing with the interlocking plastic bricks, alongside my older brother and older sister, he five years my senior and she, two years. Despite our differences in age, LEGOs were arguably the most popular toy in our household; all they ever required in order to provide us almost endless entertainment was a free-wheeling imagination, and kids, whether five, seven, or ten years old, have nothing if not highly original tinkering abilities.
One of the best things about those colorful bricks was that, though they often came with a set of instruction manuals, the pieces were, at the end of the day, nothing more than building blocks with which we could create vibrant, colorful worlds. The plastic bricks helped lay the foundation for a child’s inventiveness, problem solving skills, and patience — try making a LEGO house from scratch and tell me you won’t be moved to smash the thing to bits when you run into your first issue — and while my brother’s creations were always far superior and more detailed than mine or my sister’s, they were each unequivocally our own.
And so of course, when The LEGO Movie began making its way into theaters just last week, there was never any doubt about with whom I’d see the film. My brother is twenty-seven now, and my sister almost twenty-four (I’m twenty-two), but you’d have hardly guessed that given our excitement on our way to the theater. There is a certain nostalgia to be enjoyed whenever a classic childhood memory is revived on the screen, but that isn’t to say that film directors haven’t before messed with ostensibly built-in goodwill (and yes I’m looking at you, Michael Bay).
But all this time later, far removed from those almost daily building sessions — and, again, despite our differences in age — my siblings and I were each able to find a great amount of enjoyment from a set of toys we all once revered, this time in the form of a film featuring the plastic playthings rather than actually playing with the toy pieces themselves. With innovative stop-motion-style CG animation and an equally imaginative story, watching The LEGO Movie puts you in a spot where you feel like you are the one dictating what happens on-screen.
The film centers on Emmett Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Pratt), a typical by-the-book figure who grabs his instruction manual every morning and follows it to a tee. He eats the same breakfast it tells him to eat, exercises in the morning just as he is instructed, buys the same overpriced coffee everyone else is buying, and goes to work at where else but a construction site, where he again follows orders and plans all day long. Emmett prefers the structured regimen of his days, and when pressed to do something that isn’t detailed in the plans, he grows uneasy, weary of the consequences.
But at the end of a long day on the job, a stranger on the construction site catches Emmett’s eye. Her name is Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), and Emmett doesn’t know it yet, but his world is about to be rocked. Wyldstyle runs off, and Emmett chases her, but in the process he stumbles and falls down a rabbit-hole of sorts and finds a strange object known as “The Piece of Resistance,” referred to in a prophecy by a soothsayer — voiced by who else but Morgan Freeman — as the one thing that will stop an evil tyrant, President Business (Will Ferrell) from unleashing on the world’s citizens a weapon called the KRA
ZY GL UE that will freeze them and all their buildings in place forever.
Emmett, paired with the Piece of Resistance, is mistakenly thought to be “The Special”, a MasterBuilder who can foil Business’s evil plot and save the universe. As we come to find out through Emmett’s adventure, though, each and every one of the characters — and thus, all of us — can be “The Special.” Whether you are Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), a beat-to-heck astronaut (Charlie Day), a bodiless pirate (Nick Offerman), or an imaginary hybrid animal (Alison Brie), all that is required to unlock your potential is use your imagination.
And that, right there, is really what drives writer-director pair Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s animated LEGO flick. The two, who most recently teamed up to direct 21 Jump Street, get the chance to show just how creative and fun they can be. Much like the bricks upon which it is based, all that The LEGO Movie requires to provide entertainment is an imagination — or at least fond memories of one — and adults, whether twenty-two or ninety-two, have nothing if not the ability to remember what it was like to be kid. Or at least my siblings and I have such an attribute, which comes in handy quite often.
As they did with 21 Jump Street, writers-directors Lord and Miller take an established and well-known product and infuse it with their now-signature self-referential humor and subversive storytelling. The pair aren’t afraid to try new things and be unabashedly themselves, and in a film like The LEGO Movie that thrives on energy and creativity, those tendencies absolutely pay off for Lord, Miller, and all of us in the audience.
Some will see (or already have seen) The LEGO Movie and stake the claim that it pushes an anti-business agenda, particularly considering its villain is named President Business. But to make such an assessment is to have misread the film and severely dropped the ball on all the themes the film actually does tackle, anti-conformism (and thus pro-business) chief among them. A fantastic third-act twist, which shall go unspoiled here, serves as a late-game framing device for the film’s go-your-own-way stance on how to live life.
On top of that anti-conformist agenda are themes about creativity and innovation, about embracing one’s individuality, and about working as a team. In fact, these themes aren’t just shown through characters’ actions but are even stated, both overtly by characters and discreetly through things such as the lyrics of a catchy song (by Tegan and Sara featuring The Lonely Island), which permeates the entire film and its world in various forms and makes statements that “everything is better when we stick together” and “everything you see, or think, or say, is awesome.”
Big, colorful, imaginative, and unbelievably funny, The LEGO Movie caters not just to children but to the kid in all of us. It’s a reminder that, while rules and guidelines are good things, sometimes they ought to be disregarded, thrown aside in favor of innovation and change. Phil Lord and Chris Miller use the physics of their LEGO universe to imbue the film with a sense of playful flair, which helps make The LEGO Movie a rollicking joyride from start to finish, a blockbuster in every sense of the word that has been painstakingly and lovingly crafted, brick by interlocking brick.
The LEGO Movie
Grade: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★
MPAA Rating: PG for mild action and rude humor
Runtime: 100 minutes