Saturday, February 8, 2014

The LEGO Movie

With a mix of stop-motion and CGI effects (some purposely cheesy enough to show you the string holding figures in frame) The LEGO Movie delivers an energetic and enjoyable story with a nice message for kids. A cynical person would note that the film is basically a 100-minute commercial to sell the various (mostly over-priced) specialized sets and figures that make up the LEGO franchise. However, the movie (for the most part) puts the story and characters first while also promoting the basic message of the building blocks that allow you to build anything you can imagine.

Beginning with an awkward opening scene involving a wizard (Morgan Freeman), the film's villain Lord Business (Will Ferrell), and a prophecy about "The Special," the movie gets off to a bit of a shaky start (although it does eventually backtrack to put the events into context). Jumping years in the future we're introduced to our hero, unremarkable construction worker Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), who finds the mythical Piece of Resistance which can prevent Business' plans of destruction.

Although lacking any imagination or anything which separates him from any number of Business' other drones (which is shown off perfectly during Emmet's introudution and the show's big musical number "Everything is Awesome"), Emmet tries to unite the remaining Master Builders and lead the resistance to prevent the villain from unleashing the Kragle (a tube of crazy glue which would permanently force all the blocks and figures into a fixed state).

Along the way Emmet meets a variety of characters including the wizard, the freedom fighter Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and her boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), an 80's astronaut (Charlie Day), and the ridiculously cute Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie). We also get a pirate with a robot's body (Nick Offerman), the literally two-faced Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), and a number of cameos from all different types of LEGO sets including knights, the Old West, LEGO City (making up Emmet's home), the long-forgotten NBA LEGOs, DC Super-Heroes, Lord of the Rings, and even Star Wars.

When the film stays with the main characters it's at its best, but when offering various cameos (some of which are quite funny such as Superman's reaction to Green Lantern) or explicitly stating the numbers of sets each LEGO piece comes from (which it does at various points in the movie when the characters use what is around them to build something new) it comes dangerously close to sacrificing story to promote LEGO's various sets. Thankfully co-directors and screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller know when to pull back and not overuse these moments.

Energetic and entertaining, The LEGO Movie is stuck with that the awkward opening and one or two other bumps in the road in terms of storytelling and fighting an urge to over-market the brand which stop it from rising from the ranks of a very good film to a great one. However, its heart is definitely in the right place as it offers an engaging hero's journey for Emmet while providing consistently strong effects (even the cheesy ones) with its share of twists and turns. Those who grew up with LEGOs, like me, are likely to get far more out of the film than those who didn't, but either way The LEGO Movie expertly builds an unexpectedly strong PG movie the whole family can enjoy.

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