The Lego Movie (2014)

An inventive, colorful, hilarious, gorgeous and incredibly fun movie that just happens to be based on Lego — and if you need me to explain to you what Lego is you’re not the right person for this movie — The Lego Movie is a great time at the movies. Just about everything that it needed to do it does very well, it throws in a couple of big surprises you won’t see coming, and it manages to avoid coming across as an advertisement for its title product — even though you’ll want to head to the store and pick up new Lego sets. Isn’t that bizarre?

The film’s overarching plot is one that you’ll recognize from dozens of movies. One person — in this case a generic construction worker named Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt) — finds a magical MacGuffin that is part of a prophecy which will allow him and a group of other people to bring down the tyrannical Lord Business (Will Ferrell), whose ultimate plan involves using super glue to ensure that all freedom is oppressed and everything stays exactly as it should. This all takes place in the Lego universe, where everything and everyone is made of Lego blocks.

One of the first things you’ll notice about The Lego Movie is its unique animation style. Given that the film takes place in the Lego universe, it makes sense that the animation is, well, blocky. It comes across as if frames are being skipped, or like the whole production is being done in stop-motion. It’s not — this is a film animated with computers — but it feels like it could be. Being based on Lego becomes integral to its look and charm. The amount of detail on display is staggering.

There are some jokes that are solely based on the Lego brand, but just as many that are not. In fact, there’s a great deal of social commentary packed into what is ostensibly a silly kids’ movie, which helps it stay relevant to adults. The various jokes and gags range from extremely childish to somewhat sophisticated; there isn’t an age group that won’t find dozens of humorous moments. This is as effective a comedy as you’ll see at the cinema.

The Lego Movie is an action-comedy, and its action scenes are spectacular. They come in two varieties: Original idea or send-up of tired, clichéd ones. A scene taking place on a train would feel familiar and dull, but it is livened up in various ways. The term “roller coaster ride” is overused in film criticism, I feel, but it works perfectly to describe this movie. It moves fast, and it’s only at the end, when it’s come to a complete stop, that you realize just how much track you’ve covered during its running time.

I mean, you’re introduced to a plethora of characters — both licensed and unlicensed — and taken to so many different locations over the course of this film that I can’t see anyone getting bored. The filmmakers’ imagination is on display in full. If you’re under the age of 10, this will be your favorite movie of the year. If you’re over that age threshold, you’re still likely to have a great time. It’s colorful, it’s inventive, and it doesn’t have a single moment when you’re going to be bored. This is a real winner.

About the only thing I can see adults having a problem with are the none-too-subtle central themes, which deal with individuality, everyone being special, and deviating from the established order. The lead is a generic construction worker who is called the “Special” after finding the MacGuffin, allowing him to feel important for the first time in his life. This winds up being a discussion topic far more often than it likely needed to be. The other topics are there but not quite as overtly. But children don’t react as well to subtlety, and the film has no issue making its points.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Lego Movie is how well it works as a commercial without (for the most part) feeling like one. You feel the urge to dig out your old Lego blocks for another hurrah, even though it’s only in short segments — comedic, self-aware ones — when the film actually acknowledges that Lego is something that you can buy and play with. Its quality, humor, and all-around fun gives you that feeling without the film having to play out as an advertisement.

Using big-name stars in voice roles can be a crutch upon which bad animated films can rely, but The Lego Movie uses its talent well. You only really notice the actor behind the role if their voice is really distinct. By this I mean that you can tell when someone like Liam Neeson or Morgan Freeman is there, but Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt, and Elizabeth Banks blend into their characters better. The actors are lively and do a great job bringing their respective Lego characters to life.

Thanks to intelligent and creative filmmakers, a hilarious script, fantastic voice work, and unique and gorgeous animation, The Lego Movie is a movie that you should not miss. Everything that it needed to do, it does wonderfully, and it even manages to avoid feeling like a commercial for its title product — even though it will have that exact effect, especially on younger members of the audience. There are many jokes, surprises, and thrills to be had. This is the first great movie of 2014 and one that you should definitely not miss.

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