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Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: The Lego Movie

2014 has its first truly awesome film

A movie featuring Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Michelangelo, the Ninja Turtle, Pirates, Space Guys, and more? It sounds like the most overstuffed, bonkers movie ever. But with Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame) writing and behind the camera, The Lego Movie  takes it all and really works. This stew of a film simmers into something amazing. 

I often have very low expectations for the family film genre, as the disposable nature of the material lends an almost inessential quality at time to the proceedings. With The Lego Movie, all that thinking goes out the window, as the pure unbridled joy that makes up the bulk of the film absolutely crackles. It's probably the most fun I've had in a movie theater in months.

The danger of The Lego Movie was executing a film that celebrates all things Lego without sounding or looking like a 90-minute commercial. But Lord and Miller meld the pieces they're given into a propulsive and laugh-a-minute hilarious plot that holds everything together. As a matter of fact, The Lego Movie might be the funniest movie I've seen since The World's End, and possibly the funniest and inventive family film I've seen since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The Lego Movie centers around Emmett (Chris Pratt), your standard Lego construction worker, who lives a a workaday, homogenous existence. Listening to the same song over and over again, living by an instruction manual (modeled after the same manuals that come with different Lego kits), and having no real definable characteristics, even to the people he works with, who comprise his only friends. That all changes though, when he happens upon the plucky rebel WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), and through an accident, learns that he may be "The Special", the prophesied savior of the Lego Universe. Emmett is then plugged into the resistance by WyldStyle and the wise wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), to combat the machinations of President Business (Will Ferrell), who wants all of Lego's citizens to be "perfect and unchanging" by gluing them in place under the guise of the celebratory "Taco Tuesday." All the Emmett and his team is being pursued by Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).

The story is very busy, with fiery chases and hectic brawls, but its also peppered, perhaps more like stuffed, with enough pop culture in-jokes that adults will find much to enjoy here. I don't think five minutes went by that I didn't find myself chuckling at some point. There's a ton of brand extension as well, as seen above, that would seem a little eye-rolling, but actually provides enough scenery change that you never feel exhausted by the waves and waves of color and GGI Lego environs. Throughout you'll see: a Wild West homage, an Underwater escape, a medieval landscape called "Middle Zealand", a My Little Pony-esque playset, and of course urban Lego sprawl, with it's own amazingly narcissistic Batman (Will Arnett), who may just completely steal the show if you're willing to accept a satirical take on our favorite caped crusader.  There are even some surprise cameos incorporated as well, including one that had me in stitches and is best kept a surprise.

The film's structure is your standard adventure tale, with a fun take on the "Hero's Journey", that is a pretty tried and true formula to follow in this kind of outing, and is helped by Pratt being a pretty funny yet relate-able everyman. Lord and Miller do throw in a number of twists to the proceedings, beyond even the lighter satire around homogeneity and corporate culture that informs the earlier acts. There's a point where the film takes a turn into the meta-textual, with a narrative shift that's almost worthy of The Sixth Sense and other films that surprise you with just how ambitious they're willing to take genre-fare. I heard a few audible "Whats?" throughout my screening at this point in the film. There's a good deal of sap there as well, but it works given the audience that's being aimed for and never feels as though the script is talking down to a viewer. Lord and Miller have crafted an impressively fun theme-park ride and everyone is welcome aboard.

While we've come to expect some level of greatness from each Pixar outing and select Dreamwork's entertainment, I never thought we'd see something this good come out of such a product-specific piece of entertainment. The team behind the Lego Movie have finally succeeded where your Battleships and G.I. Joes stumbled miserably. The Lego Movie is an incredible deconstruction of the summer blockbuster and is far better than the month in which it was released. I cannot recommend it more; I also can easily recommend a second viewing. It's not like anything else worthwhile is coming out till March.

I give it an A.

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