Friday, February 7, 2014

The Lego Movie

I've wanted to be a filmmaker for just about as long as I can remember. And the first incarnation of that dream was a series of stop-motion movies I made around 10 years old with the family's Sony camcorder and my Legos. I still have those tapes, and I like to break them out every once in awhile to remind myself of the countless carpet stains caused by the spilled blood of fallen troops...or what you might call "ketchup."

When I saw the first trailer for The Lego Movie, I was ecstatic. It felt like a personal win for me even though I obviously had nothing to do with it - but the combination of nostalgia and optimism for this movie immediately overwhelmed me. And not only did the film promise a friggin' LEGO movie, it looked like the story was set to parody the beats of your run-of-the-mill action movie with wit to spare.

Emmet (voiced by the lovable Chris Pratt) is your average guy living in the city, following the instructions President Business (Will Ferrell) has handed down for everyone to be happy. Every day, he watches the same show ("Where Are My Pants?") as everyone else, listens to the same song ("Everything is Awesome!!" by Tegan and Sara - admittedly, a song worth getting stuck in your head), pays exorbitant amounts of money for coffee and generally goes about his life in a thinly-veiled critique of modern life - more concerned with fitting in than actually being himself. Until one day... *record scratch*

After accidentally falling into a hole in the ground and getting attached to a fabled "piece of resistance," Emmet is believed to be "The Special" - a long-prophesied hero destined to rescue the world from the clutches of President Business's diabolical schemes....


I love satire, and I really love a really good satire. The Lego Movie scores above-and-beyond in this department, lampooning just about every action movie trope you can think of. When WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks) first explains Emmet's supposed calling to him, she dramatically intones "...the prophecy states that you are the most important, most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary the universe." And that's barely even the tip of the iceberg. Once Emmet's adventure gets underway, this movie pulls out all the stops combining and crossing over franchises and pop culture references (Batman in a Millenium Falcon? FINALLY) with an ensemble cast to rival any other. Just to name a few...

Will Arnett's take on Batman keeps all the darkness and brooding alongside a relentless narcissism that makes damn near every single line of his dialogue laugh-out-loud...Nick Offerman voices Metalbeard, a giant mechanical salty-dog bent on revenge and always ready with a quip...Jonah Hill's Green Lantern keeps trying to ingratiate himself with the much cooler Superman (Channing Tatum) to the latter's continued annoyance...Alison Brie's "Uni-kitty" (Unicorn-Kitty) is all bubbles and sparkles and rainbows on the surface but clearly hides a hilariously homicidal dark side...Charlie Day's "1980-something space guy" is exactly what you'd imagine a high-strung Charlie Day Lego character might be...and the list goes on and on. Like Morgan Freeman as a wise old mystic, Jorma Taccone as a nay-saying William Shakespeare and...well, you get the picture.

I initially thought this film was exclusively a stop motion venture, but after seeing it and doing a little extra research I discovered this was not the case. That in no way diminishes the spectacle The Lego Movie brings to the table - in fact it makes it even better. The animation employed, however, is intentionally made to look like live stop-motion and succeeds on a level I never expected. It's even used to break the fourth wall a bit - like when a ghost appears on screen dangling from a plainly visible string suspended just off camera. The Lego Movie plays to all the strengths of its animation style, exploiting advantages of joint-movements and facial expressions while maintaining the more humorous limiting aspects of Lego design (their little claw-hands twitching back and forth to make air-quotations being such a moment) and the result is as visually impressive as it is clever.


This is another one of my reviews where I don't have much to put in this section because The Lego Movie delivered exactly what I was hoping for. The only gripe I have is that in a few of the action scenes, all the flying bricks and lightning-quick movement make it hard to puzzle out just exactly what's happening - but I imagine another viewing or two will clear that up.

Towards the end, the movie's pacing suffers a little bit for the sake of a subplot, but it's hardly enough to warrant more than a single sentence's mention.


In the words of the movie's theme song, "EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!"

No, seriously.

The Lego Movie was that rare movie-going experience where I went in with sky-high expectations and came out completely satisfied. The film is laugh-out-loud funny, the characters are well-defined and well-developed, the spectacle of the film is undeniably stunning and inventive, and the whole thing is just a whole lot of fun from start to finish.

And before I neglect the heart of the story, The Lego Movie carries a very important message about being true to yourself - and I know that sound kitschy. But it's not pandering or patronizing in its homily because it spends its entire run-time practicing what it preaches. The movie exhorts viewers to cultivate and invest in their own strengths and what makes them unique for everyone's the middle of a feature-length Lego movie wherein Abraham Lincoln rides around on a spaceship platform, just to name one thing about this movie you won't find anywhere else. The Lego Movie takes itself just seriously enough to be a well-constructed and engaging film, let's the rest just be flat-out fun - and the end result is a movie as infectiously enjoyable as it is singularly unique.

I can't wait to see it again.