Mark Reviews Movies

The LEGO Movie


4 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Cast: Will Ferrell, Jadon Sand, the voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, 

MPAA Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 2/7/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 22, 2014

The cynic within would love to dismiss this film as a 100-minute commercial for the popular construction toys. You know the ones: The colorful blocks of various sizes with pegs on the top and openings on the bottom. They come in sets with instructions to build various vehicles and buildings of the generic (like pirate or medieval stuff) or popular-culture (characters and things from comic books, movies, video games, etc.) variety, and there are even some that allow one to reconstruct famous works of architecture of the likes of the ones designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. They're not just toys anymore but a brand that has infested popular culture, with TV shows, movies, and video games that either create new worlds or ape ones created by other people.

The cynic within, of course, would call this the culmination of a marketing plan. Here's the thing, though: The LEGO Movie is a work of so much invention, which contains so much absurdist humor and presents it all with so much technical proficiency, that the film easily puts the cynic within to bed for 100 minutes.

This film takes the hodgepodge of the toy brand's various incarnations and blends them together without any regard for whether the mixture makes sense. It's easy to say that a comedy—especially one that embraces the absurd as much as this one does—possesses an attitude of anything goes. Here, though, one gets that sense that screenwriters/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have adopted "Anything goes" as a guiding mantra.

For here we have a pointed satire about consumerist culture wrapped—quite ironically—around a feature-length film that likely began in a board room at corporate headquarters during a meeting about "increasing brand awareness." Here we have the relatively simple story of an ordinary character who reluctantly becomes a hero in order to fulfill a world-saving destiny that embraces the character's ordinariness as the very thing that sets him apart from a bunch of much more capable heroes. Here we have a cast of miniature figurines representing an unlikely collection of familiar figures from history and popular culture. At one point, our hero's mentor has to distinguish two ways of pronouncing the name "Michelangelo" in order to differentiate between the Renaissance artist and a mutant turtle with ninjutsu skills.

By the way, in the same room as the two Michelangelos, we also get to see Superman, Shakespeare, a pair of wizards from two different fantasy book/movie series, Cleopatra, Wonder Woman, and Abraham Lincoln, whose marble throne is equipped with a jet-propulsion system. It's ridiculous beyond all account, and we can almost hear Lord and Miller off-screen during this scene calling for more: more characters who shouldn't have a place here, more silly things for them to say, even more out-of-place characters to introduce, and, moreover, a pirate with a normal head and a body made up of assorted pieces—a hook for a hand, a metal beard, and a shark for an arm. Anything goes.

This is a Goofy Grin Movie, called as such not only for the look on your face while watching it but also for the way you feel when you realize that the grin on your face simply will not abate. It's playtime for the filmmakers, whose transparent love of these toys is only outdone by the love of what they clearly believe these toys represent: the possibility to imagine just about anything and see it come to life.

The story centers on Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt), a very ordinary construction worker who lives an anonymous life in the city of Bricksburg, a bustling metropolis where everyone watches the same TV show, listens to the same song, and has their every move monitored by a city-wide surveillance system. It's a brightly colored Orwellian nightmare overseen by President Business (voice of Will Ferrell), the president of the monopoly that runs and makes everything who also happens to be the President of the World.

Business has a nefarious plan to further exert his control on the world. While at work, Emmett finds a mystical relic that could stop Business' plan, and he's recruited by two "Master Builders" named Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks) and Vitruvius (voice of Morgan Freeman), who believe Emmet is the prophesized "Special," to do just that. Along for the ride is an eclectic gathering of supporting players, each with a loveable quirk: a brooding, electronic music-composing Batman (voice of Will Arnett), a one-horned cat named Princess Unikitty (voice of Alison Brie), a cop (voice of Liam Neeson) with good and bad sides, and a spaceship-obsessed spaceman from the 1980s (voice of Charlie Day) who always seems to miss out on building the object of his fixation.

The plot doesn't matter too much; it's just a reason for the exploration—and, in the film's ebullient action sequences, destruction—of the assortment of realms in this world, which include one themed around the Old West, Business' intimidating skyscraper, and a very silly place called Cloud Cuckoo Land that appears to have been built by people on a very potent sugar rush. Everything in the film—from the buildings to the vehicles to the terrain and, most impressively, to particle effects like fire, smoke, and water—has been assembled from the blocky toys.

Of course, that's not entirely accurate. The entire film is computer animated, with models scanned and subsequently manipulated on a computer, although one would be forgiven for believing that we're looking at tangible things captured on camera.

There's an intricate level of detail to these worlds, but what makes the film's animation process really special is not the spectacle of the backdrops (Lord and Miller give us sweeping camera moves through these locales, just to ensure that we know no one on the design team was cheating). It's the attention to imperfection. Our first view of Emmet is a close-up of his yellow face. We can see scratches and warping in the plastic, and the paint that makes his facial features is worn. The spotless simulation of a hands-on approach full of wear and tear extends to the character movements, too, which apes the technique of stop-motion animation. The characters are jittery and appear to skip frames in their motions, as if an animator accidentally moved an arm or a leg just a bit too much or took a shortcut because of the toys' limited mobility.

The central theme here is the battle between order and chaos (That the film is able to step back in its third act to reveal an affecting emotional core that redefines what we've encountered in a human context is particularly notable), and the film ultimately finds it to be a false conflict. There is an inherent order in chaos if one looks for it, and as further evidence, there is The LEGO Movie. There are so many disparate ingredients jammed together here, and yet, the film discovers a unifying element to them all: personality. There's plenty of it here, and it's an exhilarating, absolute joy to watch it all come together.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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