Review: The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie

Rating

Director
Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Screenplay
Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman
Length
100 min.
Starring
Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Berry, Alison Brie, David Burrows, Anthony Daniels, Charlie Day, Will Ferrell, Will (Orville) Forte, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman, Todd Hansen, Jonah Hill, Jake Johnson, Keegan-Michael Key, Liam Neeson, Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Channing Tatum, Billy Dee Williams
MPAA Rating
PG for mild action and rude humor

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Review
What ostensibly is a commercial ploy to sell toys, The Lego Movie also attempts to sell a story that is antithetical to its mere existence, at least superficially. The film is a study in contrasts that straddles the line between crass commercialism and creative independence.

Just like all of us, the film’s protagonist is a simple cog in a massive industrial machine. Fed pop culture references and pre-configured product placement, Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a byproduct of a very well-oiled business machine, one that encourages continuous expenditure without addressing the ramifications of being force-fed your own existence. When the plain, unmemorable brick stumbles into an ancient prophecy about protecting the world from the vicious monster Kragle, Emmet is forced to explore a world of imagination and originality that exists beyond his borders created by those who have the mental creativity to turn their wildest thoughts into reality.

Selling the film as an anti-business screed is a convenient ploy. Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) is more than just a business figure. In the world of Emmet’s imagination, he’s the exmplification of an unconcerned business monopoly only interested in preserving the status quo so that his business venture can soar to new heights of profit. It’s the simplistic backbone of a story that gains depth at the turn leading into the final act. Outside of Emmet’s world, the film is more about the parity of creativity versus control. This is where the film hangs its strongest convictions.

The Lego Movie, like the building blocks it sells, is about finding a path through a regimented world. A world where taste is pre-configured for the highest possible financial gain, where manufacturing of thoughts and concepts becomes commonplace, and the public slowly loses its will to expand and broaden its minds with an endless supply of carefully crafted entertainment constructs.

Pratt sells the lovable schlub superbly, a carefully realized portrayal of a simple man with simple tastes who doesn’t realize how bland and unexceptional he really is. His voice work effectively brings the script by directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord to life by showcasing Emmet’s utter inability to see beyond what he’s been told. He hasn’t thought outside the box because he hasn’t been asked to and as he discovers what exists outside of his tiny world, we follow along happily, relieved that he has finally found the imagination he, as all of us, possesses.

Much of the rest of the voice cast has little to do, except present their uniquely stylized voices in the most efficient way possible. Morgan Freeman, who plays the prophet Vitruvius (a reference to the Roman architect that most of the film’s audience won’t get) gives the same vocal performance he always gives. With that unmistakable voice, you really can’t and shouldn’t expect more. Elizabeth Banks adds little depth to her portrayal of Lucy, Emmet’s intended love interest. The rest are largely fun, but frivolous with Liam Neeson’s Good Cop/Bad Cop, a delightful departure for an actor who has gone on auto-pilot for the last several years.

In this day of perpetual computer animation, it’s not unusual to find a film as polished as The Lego Movie. The difference here is that while many of those films have their fantastical elements that convince they audience they aren’t watching reality, much of this film looks exactly as if someone stop-motion animated the entire film using only Lego bricks. That is the intention, but it’s gloriously realized, which enables the audience to better submerge themselves in a world that even they might have created. Ocean waves and train enging smoke among other elements are comprised of thousands of Lego pieces moving and undulating in brilliant patterns. This shows a level of detail of which even Pixar must be jealous.

There is just one major conundrum remaining once you leave the theater and contemplate the film’s strengths and weaknesses. For many years, Lego bricks were all about finding new ways to build universes and worlds that only our imaginations could fathom. Over time, the company has focused on pre-fabricated sets that carefully restrict the inventive energies of their purchasers while providing minimal customizable content to go beyond that. Their own business model is the one the film rails against. Perhaps they intend to shift beyond this type of scheme and The Lego Movie could help them accomplish that. Whether it succeeds depends on how much the company takes its own message in the film to heart. I hope they do.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: Animated Feature
Probables: Original Song
Potentials: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Unlikelies: Original Score
Review Written
March 13, 2014

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