When watching Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s charmingly bonkers The Lego Movie, I was taken back to a quote from Michael K. Williams’ character in Community. “What happened with Legos? They used to be simple. [Now it’s] Harry Potter Legos, Star Wars Legos, complicated kits, tiny little blocks.” Assuredly, the Lego brand has exponentially grown over the last decade with its diversity of licenses, making something like The Lego Movie possible. Yet, Lord and Miller’s ability to both play with those licenses and honor the toy’s childhood euphoria creates a cinematic magic trick that has its spaceship and flies it too; it’s shrewd commercialism and the sincerest emotionality that will cause parents and kids alike to dream about the endless possibilities found in but a handful of blocks.
Set in a magical land of Legos and awesomeness, the film follows one lowly, unimaginative, stiff, boring, and all around unassuming everyday schmuck named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt). Like every other worker-bee in his two-block town, Emmet follows the rules set in place for him by President Business/Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) and builds within the lines. That is until he meets Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a master-builder who hasn’t seen a structure she didn’t want to tear down or reshape into something nifty. After Emmet becomes the surprising bearer of wise old Vitruvius’ (Morgan Freeman) prophecy that a super special savoir, known only as “The Special,” will rise up to defeat Lord Business, he must buckle up for a quest that will take him to unbelievable realms of Lego creation, including the Old West, a Pirate ship captained by a pseudo-Transformer, and of course Cloud Cuckoo Land, a sky city of rainbows, sparkles, and a talking unicorn-kitty hybrid (Alison Brie) named Uni-Kitty. Of course.
High adventure allows Emmet and audiences to team with fan favorites like Batman, Superman, a terrific Green Lantern, and the crew of the Millennium Falcon, while also discovering something remarkably special underneath all the plastic wrapping.
It is fitting that The Lego Movie is a Warner Bros. release. Through its slyly subversive tone, the project follows its distributor’s animated legacy by making a mockery out of all the tropes occurring within the competition while also packaging a sense of nostalgia that’s aware without being trite. Starting as a rather generic story of good versus evil and a “chosen one,” you could almost be unsure whether Emmet jamming out to “Everything is Awesome”—President Business’s favorite song, which he has all the shee-ple listening to 24/7—is satirical or oblivious. But as it continues, every sort of form of mass consumer alienation is taken through the ringer with a joke that becomes more and more apparent, especially when Batman shows up to woo Wildstyle and share barbs with Lando Calrissian. In fact, the movie finds its most creative spark when the Dark Knight and Shaquille O’Neal take turns in dropping some wisdom.
In promotion of the film, Lord and Miller said they wanted to recreate the feeling of building Lego towers on their bedroom floors. And it is with a genuine child’s imagination that they unlock the feeling of uncontrollable, joyous freedom throughout the picture. Why can’t Uni-Kitty live on the same cloud as Abraham Lincoln? Truly, wouldn’t everyone get confused if Gandalf and Dumbledore really were in the same room at the same time? While the directors also made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, this feels closer to their devilish smirks from 21 Jump Street. The joke is so clever that it even succeeds in a twist that I doubt many viewers will see coming, and is all the bolder for its acidic view of the adults whose hobby makes something like LEGOLAND possible.
Nonetheless, this extremely snarky spin on a toy’s life story is all the more profound when by the end, it feels cathartically genuine. This achievement is aided by a voice casting pool dripping with talent. As the center of it, Pratt walks the perfect balance between playing likably stupid and stupidly likeable. Emmet’s total enthusiasm for being the quintessential tool makes his journey both touching for the kids and truly priceless for the parents. Meanwhile, it is always a pleasure to at least hear Ms. Banks in any role, as the vastly underused comedic talent is allowed to play the “tough chick” with just the right hint of irony.
The most popular character though will undoubtedly be the Batman. Voiced as an alpha male, reverse-iconoclastic hipster in a cape, Will Arnett is the first onscreen Batman to have fun since George Clooney donned a pair of nipples. Just like WB has realized for their upcoming Man of Steel sequel, it’s always obvious here that Batman is everyone’s favorite. That is not to say that the other superheroes and licensed characters don’t also have some fun, especially a brilliant little cameo from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.
However, it would all be for naught if wasn’t for the unexpected pathos earned by a couple of plastic figurines and the decidedly brilliant use of Ferrell’s comedic talent. The Lego Movie walks a fine line between nostalgia and satire, commercial necessity and soaring sentimentality. But most of all, it is fun for all ages. If you have children, you’re probably going to end up unpacking this kit again and again, as surely the studio has its own great foundation to build upon.