Sunday, February 16, 2014

"The Lego Movie" Review: Surprisingly Charming And Cleverly Builds On Our Nostaglia For The Popular Toyline

The Lego construction toyline has spent the better part of its near 7 decade run taking on popular film franchises such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel and DC Comics and lampooning them in their videogames or providing construction sets featuring well known sequences, vehicles and characters from those films. They have never turned the spotlight on themselves and their own history, until now.

While many skeptics (this reviewer included) had thought the film version of the popular toyline would likely be nothing more than a glorified commercial for Legos, which is true to some extent, the truth of the matter is that it is much more insightful and charming than it has any right to be. The Lego Movie is not only a fun and entertaining movie for all ages, but it is also one of the most downright clever animated films to come along since the original Toy Story. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC Orange 30 
Time: 8:00 pm, February 8, 2014       
Projector Type: Digital 2D        
Film Rating: PG          
Film Runtime: 1 hr 41 min    
Studio: Warner Bros.

Loves: Legos
Likes: When filmmakers take the high road
Neutral: Making a movie out of a license to advertise to children
Hates: That despite being 37 years old, I still have a soft spot for legos
Why weren't their any Marvel superheroes?: Because Warner Bros. doesn't own the rights to them, only DC Comics.

After the evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) steals the mystical "Fragle" artifact from the Wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) to use its mysterious power to destroy the world, a prophecy is told of a special individual who will rise to the occasion to stop Lord Business and save everyone. This "special" person is foretold to be the most important, most talented, most interesting and most extraordinary person in the world, but unfortunately for the population of Legoland, that special person turns out to be a lowly construction worker named Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), who is sadly none of those things, at least that is how it first appears.

There were two directions The Lego Movie could have gone during its creation. The first being to simply pander to all the children who love the toys and take the easy route by shoveling out something that riffs on pop culture and used its product as nothing more than a glorified advertisement for the brand. The second being to produce a film that not only provides the colorful visuals and trademark Lego brand for the kids, but to also take advantage of the toyline's legacy by tapping into the imagination of the adults who grew up building their own plastic empires and juxtaposing their point of view towards the toys with how they view them now. 

So after wisely choosing the second option, and taking a cue from the Pixar animation classic Toy Story, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have produced that rare animated film that will be appealing to both children and adults alike. It's true that most animated features are successful even when targeting children alone with their hyper-kinetic energy, but woefully hollow stories. But to be something more than just the new animated movie released that week (hello Nut Job), the filmmakers have to go that extra mile by giving all demographics something to derive from their film and that is exactly what they did.

This rare creative genius that went into The Lego Movie is usually something we associate with Disney or even to a lesser degree Dreamworks. It is easy to write the film off as nothing more than a large scale ad for the toys, but that is only scratching the surface of a film that is has so much more going on under its plastic hood. Some of the themes explored in the film are a little ham-fisted for sure, but for a film based on Legos to even have a theme that resonates with adults is somewhat unprecedented. Where the film truly shines though is in how it hides all of this from the audience and leaves it to our subconscious to make the connections (except for the finale which leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination).

What is one of the film's greatest assets however is also its potential downfall. Right out the gate the film begins in almost a whirlwind of action, music and more action. During its initial first act it seemed that everything we had feared about a movie based on Legos was actually proving to be true. There was no sign of depth, the characters were a bit to hammy and its highly generic story of a bad guy trying to destroy the world all felt so underwhelming. But as the film continued, sparks of hope began to arise as the many layers to its surprisingly deep story began to reveal itself.

Without a doubt though, what is arguably the film's greatest strength (at least for adults) is how expertly it taps into our nostalgia for the Lego brand. From the charming and deceivingly simple animation to this story of good versus evil, it will remind any former child of the days they would open a new box of Legos and experience a new set of creative possibilities. Sure, each set came with instructions (which the film perfectly lampoons), but as a kid all we could see is how these pieces that were meant to be a car could be combined with another set to make a car that flies! Even the catchy song "Everything is Awesome!" holds a deeper meaning than just getting in your brain and staying there forever.

It may sound a little silly and a tad bit immature to think of such things as an adult, but that is what The Lego Movie taps into, our former childhood and how back then the only thing that limited us was the extent of our own imagination (and how many Lego pieces we had). Where the film begins to transcend being just another animated movie for kids is how amazingly it uses that nostalgia to create a larger story that isn't revealed until the finale which will undoubtedly surprise the skeptics who thought up until that point that they knew everything there was to know about its deceptively simple storyline. That's to say nothing of the film's wry and witty self reflective sense of humor that strongly capitalizes on the Lego brand and other familiar licensed properties.

As mentioned earlier, The Lego Movie works for kids as well and likely even more than it does for the adults. While the adults are busy reminiscing about their childhood, their kids will busy taking in all the impossibly colorful landscapes and large cast of surprisingly richly drawn characters who first appear as nothing more than simple stereotypes but, just like the film as a whole, soon reveal themselves to be that way for a very specific reason. Most kids will be easily distracted by the diverse cast of well known characters that pop up such as Superman (voiced by Channing Tatum), Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) and Green Lantern (voiced by Jonah Hill) and the expansive adventure they embark on that has them jumping into different Legolands that range from the old west to a Lego utopia in the clouds above where they find the adorably cute, and vicious, Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie).

Special mention must go to the animation though. While it is funny to see the stilted and almost stop-motion-like quality of the animation, its clever use of the format when it comes to the elements, such as water, dirt and smoke was a real show stopper at times. If it wasn't the cloud of smoke made up of Lego pegs coming out of a trains smoke stack, it was a sudden tidal wave of water made up of different blue colored pegs that washed all throughout a town. The brilliance of how these elements was integrated using the Lego format is likely to be the best and most overlooked visual achievement in the entire film and serves as only a small glimmer of the amount of imagination that went into creating this Lego world.

As crazy as this may sound, there really are no negative points to the film that need mentioning. Sure, there was a brief moment of adjustment needed during the film's hyper opening moments, but other than that this Lego production is every bit as impressive as anything released by the previous king of animation, Pixar. As for anyone who thinks that all of this is just a huge masking for a film that was built from the ground up to sell more Legos really needs to re-evaluate the situation because if all pieces of entertainment that were used to sell us stuff had even half the amount of effort put into them as The Lego Movie, well...let's just say that everything would be much more awesome.


For a film no one really expected much of beyond a giant commercial for the Lego brand, The Lego Movie ended up proving that there is a real heart and soul underneath its plastic exterior. The film moves at a breakneck pace, the jokes are funny and non-stop, the voice cast is beyond exceptional and just about everything else in this extremely fun movie is truly awesome.

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