Whatever stigma exists about movies based on toys both in general and in your mind, “The LEGO Movie” will dismantle it — brick by glorious brick. The writer/director combo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “21 Jump Street”) prove themselves yet again as masterful comic storytellers with an endless stream of wit and imagination, turning a movie adults were quick to dismiss into one they will be overjoyed to watch with or without children.
The world of “The LEGO Movie” is made entirely of LEGO pieces and though it was created using digital animation, contains the photorealism of stop-motion films, which is the first of many spot-on artistic choices Lord and Miller make. Even water, smoke and explosions are all made of bricks. So the way the film looks and operates remains unpredictable throughout the film, keeping the visuals engaging from start to finish.
In terms of the story, Lord and Miller (along with Dan and Kevin Hageman) follow the instructions as far as family films go, but there are plenty of twists and the film’s message is both unique and true to the experience of those who love LEGO. Emmet (Chris Pratt), a LEGO construction worker living in Bricksburg, where everything is awesome (as the city’s number one hit song goes) because everyone follows the instructions, conforms, works together and is happy all the time. Turns out that’s because Lord/President Business (Will Ferrell) wants it that way. Many years before, he stole a weapon called the Kragle from the master builder Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and now he plans to use it as a doomsday device, as it will stick pieces together and keep everything as it should be. When Emmet comes upon the Piece of Resistance, the one thing that can stop the Kragle, he starts to fulfill a prophecy, and with a team of LEGO friends, tries to stop Lord Business.
All eras and styles of LEGO get some spotlight as the adventure grows in scope and imagination. There’s the highly skilled action heroine, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), her boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett), Benny the ’80s spaceman (Charlie Day), Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and a host of other cameos from the DC Comics universe, “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and more. References to Octan, the brand featured on many LEGO products of old, proves just how aware Lord and Miller are of their audience.
But it’s the brilliance and hilarity of Emmet that makes “The LEGO Movie” work so well in terms of the story. The childlike wonder that launched Pratt’s career on “Parks and Recreation” plays perfectly into the movie’s humor. He’s a constant laugh reel and a strong main character; his ineptitude is the butt of the other characters’ jokes, making him the unlikely hero who has to prove everyone wrong.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Ferrell is also perfect casting as the dastardly President Business. Both he and Pratt have that man-child silliness in their comedy, and let’s face it — LEGO fans are quite often man-children. This is something the film never loses sight of, as an unusual reveal late into the film puts LEGO within a context that its fans will truly appreciate.
The reason the Danish building blocks have been around so long is their ability to capture imagination, and that’s the primary thing “The LEGO Movie” does so well. The characters are constantly building new eye-popping creations to problem-solve their way through the conflict. Although the film is hilarious, so much of the humor comes from its creativity. There are even clever uses of non-LEGO items that play major roles throughout the film.
Audiences who fell in love with Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” which takes place in the world of video games, will find “The LEGO Movie” to be a kindred spirit. So many different styles and genres converge in a diverse cinematic landscape fueled by the endless creative minds of animators and filmmakers. Both also take time to build emotion connections, not just creative worlds. “The LEGO Movie” will really speak to people who have spent countless hours building with LEGO, but its message will resonate with all ages and LEGO “experience” levels. In other words, Lord, Miller, the Hagemans and the entire creative team have dug down to find what makes LEGO a universally beloved brand and brought out the best of it in a wildly funny, creative and meaningful story.
The LEGO Movie
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Dan and Kevin Hageman
Starring: (voices) Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell