By Michael Arbeiter, Hollywood Staff
It's been 65 years, 560 billion bricks, 83 set themes, 90 retail stores, 53 video games, a clothing line, a theme park, and something called BrickCon since the dawn of the LEGO, and only now are we getting our first big screen incarnation of the omnipresent children's toy. And though you'd think among the various extracurricular incarnations of what started out as a simple amendment of the building block that we'd have seen a Lego movie by now, the right Lego movie wouldn't have come along sooner. Spiting expectations, The Lego Movie doesn't shoot for the gimmick. This isn't capitalization on a familiar property for no discernible reason beyond the frugality of name brand entertainment. We're hit with the surprising realization early on in the movie that this is a story about Legos. About the tacit struggle that plagued all young builders - the war between following the instructions and letting your imagination run wild - and just how much value there is in each.
In fact, The Lego Movie steps well beyond the confines of its 32-square-peg green mat to tell a subtextual story about children who play with, and find themselves through, this incredible toy. Centering on the fantastical quest of a plain-faced everyman named Emmet (Chris Pratt, whose Parks and Rec enthusiasm is not bridled by his plastic form) who is whisked out of his cozy lifestyle by prophecies, secret societies, inter-world missions, and nefarious plans to destroy the entire Lego universe, the film hammers in the simple conceit that being yourself is not only okay, but abundantly important. But a profound sensitivity to its message does not mean that The Lego Movie holds back on the fun. On the contrary, this might be the silliest animated movie to hit theaters in ages.
From scene one, The Lego Movie is maniacal in its comic delivery. Sharp gags from writer/director team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (responsible for the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs films and the 21 Jump Street movie alike) get fair treatment from a capable band of voice actors - Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and so many others. Liam Neeson as a menacing policeman is the surprise MVP of the bunch, although supporting players Nick Offerman and Charlie Day contribute some memorable laughs. The comedy is fresh, rarely if ever pandering, and in such rapid supply that any failed joke is immediately overshadowed by a real doozy.
In fact, with such clever material at bay, it's the film's insistence on shoving its action sequences to the forefront that have us a bit frustrated. As an adventure movie, and one set in a land where a child's imagination would be the word of god, the inclination is not surprising. But beyond a chuckle or two at the initial gambit, there's not much favor to be found in the movie's long supply of large shoot-'em-ups and grappling scenes.
But soon enough, we get back to the jokes, the message, the characters. Although second banana Wildstyle (Banks, playing a hyper-competent secret agent whose primary goal is to get Emmet to the finish line) is a disappointing turn for what is otherwise an intelligent, progressive movie, the film's heart is where it really wins. The throughline message of channeling the creative machinations that make you you only builds as the film plucks onward, offering surprising turns that help to really strike a chord with any youngster battling a fear of individuality, or any adult who ever has.
As deeply as Toy Story understands what dolls can do for a lonely young kid, The Lego Movie knows what it means to create whole worlds, the people within them, and the adventures they take. While the movie doesn't discount the merit in learning and deriving inspiration from the instructions (oh yes, it's quite indubitably a metaphor), it knows that the far more valuable path comes from our own minds and hearts, and asks viewers young and old to realize that the best things you can give this world come wholly from you.