Call it the February surprise.
No one predicted a movie based on little plastic blocks – known to parents as the most deadly middle of the night threat to bare feet in existence – would outshine not only its current competitors, but all the family films of the last few years.
You have to go back to Pixar in all its Toy Story glory to match the charm, wit, and subversive depth of the simply named LEGO Movie.
It works on many levels, indeed all levels: as a fun, funny movie to enjoy with family, as a commentary on the conformity of society and its lack of creativity, as an ode to human connections, and even, if you squint just right, an exploration of the nature of God.
But most of all, it’s a revelation that movies, including kids’ movies, can rise above tired jokes and overused tropes to something fresh and wonderful.
The story opens in a LEGO castle as the dastardly Lord Business (voice of Will Ferrell) confronts the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) over a powerful device to rule the realm. But Vitruvius has a prophesy, something about a special piece that will stop Lord Business.
That piece is seemingly found in the person – LEGO personhood – of Emmet (Chris Pratt), a nondescript construction worker in an endless team of construction workers who continually tear down and rebuild the city.
He’s a happy LEGO. He loves his job. He loves his city. He loves the leader, President Business, loves paying $37 for coffee at the overpriced coffee store, loves eating those silly LEGO turkey legs or LEGO sausages for every meal. Most of all, he loves the song that is played on continual repeat each and every day: “Everything is Awesome.”
But then he meets Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), whose purple-tinged LEGO helmet hair is formed in a most attractive way. She takes him for the prophesied special and off they go into the underbelly of the LEGO rebellion.
The plot goes much, much further than that, but I’ll let you discover it on your own.
The animation itself is pretty awesome. The world is rendered with painstaking – and often hilarious – attention to detail. Water in the shower and waves in the ocean are a flow of little blue LEGOs, with white ones thrown in for foam. Explosions are flying red LEGOs with those little plastic flames that pop up in LEGO sets. It packs a lot of wow factor.But the real joy in this movie rests in the power of the script by writing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller. (Brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman also helped with the story.)
And the script is darn funny.
Adults, this is the kind of rare kids’ movie that you will enjoy, even if you don’t have kids.
Take my experience. Imagine the poor film critic, stuffed into a room with about ten thousand little children, about to endure yet another witless flick designed for parents to sate their children for 90 minutes. About thirty seconds into the first scene, I found myself chuckling begrudgingly at a sly gag. “Nice, stupid movie, you got me on that one,” was about the attitude. By two minutes in, Vitruvius ends his prophesy with “You know it’s true because it rhymes,” I laughed out loud. By the time the characters rocked out to “Everything is Awesome,” was completely won over. And that was probably five minutes in. By then, I didn’t care if anyone saw me laughing at a LEGO movie, of all things – I was having too much fun. So were the ten thousand children around me.
And the fun doesn’t stop. New characters keep showing up, brooding bro-LEGO Batman (Will Arnett), perky uni-kitty (Allison Brie), and lots of cameos from beloved LEGO sets: Star Wars Han Solo, 80’s Space Guy, Abraham Lincoln, the list keeps going. It’s a wide, wide LEGO world and you never know who might show up.
That’s just the brand name characters. The heart of this film is the creativity when you go off-brand. Maybe you start with instructions, but then you swap a wheel for a jet pack, a hand for a flame-thrower, a hat for a wheel, and build your own vision. These designs matter too.
They matter because this creation has a creator, a “man upstairs,” and his nature is expressed in his work. Is LEGO world meant to be perfect, conforming to specifications, square and rigid, or is it meant be a wild ride of pirate-headed-transformer-robots-with-shark-arms?
To its credit, the film holds this question in tension and then transcends it with relationship.
Which makes it a very interesting film indeed.
Watch it once to laugh. Watch it again to think and wonder. But, by all means, please watch it.
The LEGO Movie is rated PG for mild suspense and mild rude humor (although I can’t think what they mean). It’s appropriate for all ages, although the suspense might be too much for the most sensitive young viewers.