Sunday, February 9, 2014


Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the guys behind "21 Jump Street" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," prove a perfect fit for taking the Lego toy property to the big screen. Instead of just a cash grab and launching point for another lucrative franchise (there's no doubt it's also that, but keep reading), its big heart and sense of creativity and imagination make "The Lego Movie" way more than just that. By completely embracing the spirit of the Lego toy brand itself -- something irreverent, goofy and colorful which both children and adults can enjoy -- it becomes an exhilarating piece of work both timeless and ageless. High praise for a movie about a bunch of building blocks, right? Let me keep going. "The Lego Movie" recalls the awe-inspiring originality that became the Pixar standard, and is the freshest, funniest, most audaciously weird and wacky, surprisingly emotional animated film to come along in years.

To quote the song that all the citizens of Bricksburg joyously sing in unison: "Everything Is Awesome." Indeed it is, vibrantly animated by Animal Logic, a visual effects team who has created such lush and tactile animation to the point of almost appearing to be stop-motion. It's both retro and cutting-edge. All the textures of each piece and all the blocks, the way they move and shatter and explode and build and interlock and interact within this world, it's all eye-popping.

The story follows ordinary construction worker Emmett (Chris Pratt, heading the exuberant cast of voice actors) who stumbles across a relic of extraordinary power, which labels him the one to save the universe against the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). It's all bombastic and heroic-sounding, but the writing satirically skewers such a hero story premise. The old, grey-bearded wizard named Vitruvius (spot-on casting of Morgan Freeman) spews the prophecy with pointed self-mockery, deeming what he says must be true because it rhymes.

Emmett is used to his hometown of Bricksburg where everything follows an instruction manual, there are no original creations, everyone watches the mindless sitcom "Where's My Pants?" and drinks $37 coffee drinks because that's the way Lord Business has deemed it to be. No alternatives. So, once Emmett gets thrust into his hero tale and meets the rebellious Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the world of Master Builders, he gets thrown for a loop. There are realms outside his own -- humorously referencing other Lego themed construction sets -- including The Old West, Middle Zealand and Cloud Cuckooland which is just one big free-for-all, much like "The Lego Movie" itself.

In their freewheeling and highly energetic style, Lord and Miller have made the movie way smarter and more clever than it has any right to be -- and it's all the better for it. The jokes come flying freaky and fast, zany and whip-smart, eliciting the need for a repeat viewing to catch everything. You'll also be too busy laughing to probably hear it all. I'm not kidding: it's that funny. Sly references and fun character cameos abound, the storyline incorporates all of the Lego properties like "Star Wars," "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings." Batman (Will Arnett) is a hilarious parody of the low-growling superhero while Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) is basically a parody of Neeson's now full-blown status of go-to action hero.

"The Lego Movie" is very obviously Lord and Miller's brainchild, and it's no wonder it's so good. They even tackle issues of corporate branding and the threat of conglomerate (a la "WALL-E") erasing voice and individuality, which is a hefty message to deliver, but hey, they do it with panache and no preachy undertones. And how fitting, too, for a franchise whose entire premise is based on limitless possibility and a world where anything goes and everything is, in a word, awesome.

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