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The LEGO Movie

February 7, 2014
The Lego Movie

There’s a very good reason that The LEGO Movie could not have been made — excuse me, “assembled” — before now. Besides the fact that movies based on toys and games are only recently getting made with any regularity, and the recent advances in computer animation, and the rise in LEGO-themed games and crossovers with all manner of pop culture phenomena, the story itself hangs on an important shift in how we play with them. As kids my age grew up playing with LEGO bricks, some of us started using them more and more as a modeling system. Like model trains before them, LEGO sets have a thriving market to adults who build whole worlds with exacting precision; The LEGO Movie lives in the tension between that style and the freewheeling imagination of child’s play.

Lord Business (Will Ferrell) is one of those who likes things just the way they’re “supposed to be”. He runs both Octan Corporation and the city where everything goes by the instructions. All the LEGO people work together as a team, enjoying the music and television and overpriced coffee they’re told to, and if they don’t, Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson) is there to set them straight. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) desperately wants to fit in, but by going along with everything in the instructions he blends in to the point that nobody notices him.

That is, until he meets Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), one of the Master Builders who can see the brick structure of everything around them, and can recombine it into whatever she needs. Lord Business has possession of a superweapon, the “kragle”, that can destroy the world, and only the “piece of resistance” can stop it. Wyldstyle wants to find that piece, to be the Special, foretold in a prophecy by Master Builder Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), but it’s Emmet who stumbles on it first.

This sets off an epic quest through all sorts of LEGO worlds to stop Lord Business’ plans. It all looks gorgeous, and Animal Logic, the Australian studio charged with the animation, has outdone themselves in rendering everything from buildings to explosions in chunks that look like actual LEGO bricks, identifiable down to the serial numbers. Backing up the visuals, Tegan and Sara’s hyperactive theme “Everything Is Awesome!!!” echoes down through the whole of Mark Mothersbaugh’s score.

Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the original Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the film is packed with frenetic action and gags and references coming faster than most in the audience can follow on a first viewing — all the more reason to go back and see it again — and likely over the heads of many of the younger ones. More than once I was laughing in surprise and delight while the line of kids two rows behind me seemed mute.

Like Rango, The LEGO Movie pushes at the boundaries of what an animated movie can be. Yes, anime fans over there, we see you and your beautiful, nuanced films that top out at about twenty million at the American box office; fair or not, you’re basically irrelevant to Hollywood. But movies like this one manage to sneak in as kids’ entertainment and deliver powerful human stories in ways that other styles just can’t pull off.

It’s taken over a month, but with The LEGO Movie we have the first legitimately great film of 2014, and I have a feeling it’s going to end up on more than a few year-end lists.

Worth It: absolutely.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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