Film Review: The Lego Movie

The 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' auteurs create another witty, emotionally real animated adventure--this one from some of the most unlikely source material imaginable.

Squarely, even rectangularly, aimed at very young children—heck, the characters' strongest epithet is "Heck"—this animated feature by the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs carries the same anarchic imagination, verbal wit and unexpected social satire as that previous film. Centered on Lego construction-toy Mini-figure characters—though perhaps a film based on the company's inanimate blocks could have been an avant-garde coup—the comic adventure The Lego Movie is an archetypal heroic quest that parodies genres and screen conventions yet never feels like a snarky exercise. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller root this, as is their wont, in heart and earned emotion, and you can well feel their hero's doubt and hesitation through even his most confident bravado. And he doesn't even get to that confident bravado without a ton of doubt and hesitation beforehand.

That speaks to the gradual, carefully considered character development of everyman Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt), a construction worker with almost worrisome love of life. He enthusiastically watches the same TV shows, listens to the same music and partakes of all the same socially sanctioned activities as everyone else in Bricksburg—he's like one of those happy diners in an Applebee's commercial. And while the movie has him reading from an instruction manual for life, how different is that from the shelf of self-help books in every bookstore?

Emmet comes in for a rude awakening when he returns to his construction site after work to retrieve something and there sees a punk-rockish woman rooting around. Smitten, he approaches her only to find himself falling into an underground chamber where, with amusingly meta self-commentary on his actions, he inadvertently melds himself with what he later learns is the Piece of Resistance, an iconic relic that makes him "The Special" who will save the universe. Of course, he can't save it until he extricates himself from a subsequent interrogation chamber that's part Brazil, part Goldfinger.

Emmet finds himself rescued by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), the woman he had seen. Escaping from Bad Cop/Good Coop (Liam Neeson), the dual-personality henchman of Lord Business (Will Ferrell), he ventures with her through a myriad of other Lego realms such as Old West, the Tolkienesque Middle Zealand and the anything-goes Cloud Cuckoo Land. There, aided by the prophecy of the mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and such allies as the cyborg-pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), the unicorn/cat Unikitty (Allison Brie), Benny the ’80s-something Spaceman Guy (Charlie Day) and Batman (Will Arnett)—yes, Batman—Emmet must prevent big Business from freezing the universe into orderly place.

The revelation of Business' tool to do so is too delicious to spoil, as is the reason for the brilliantly childlike logic behind the plot and characters. The filmmakers effortlessly slip big themes into little moments, and despite what reasonable reservations anyone might have about something called The Lego Movie—especially after the various workmanlike direct-to-DVD Lego releases—the film is a tight, utterly logical story about finding what you're good at and, more importantly, not being afraid to be creative.

On a technical level, the animation is seamless and inventive, and the action sequences, many involving creative transformations, are better than in Transformers. Adding another layer of enjoyment are constant character cameos, from Warner Bros. stablemate DC Comics' superheroes to literary wizards Dumbledore and Gandalf bickering over which is which. And while in another great moment that ain't the voice of Harrison Ford, it is the voices of Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams.

Other than helping provide the story basis, Lord and Miller didn't write or direct last year’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, which was less well-received than the original. Here's hoping for The Lego Movie 2—but only, we pray, by our Lord and Miller.