PG for mild action and rude humor.
Running time: 100 minutes.
Four stars out of four.
“The Lego Movie”: Merely a great film, or the greatest film ever in the history of cinema?
I asked this question — jokingly, rhetorically — during our What the Flick?! review, but the more I think about it, the more in awe I am of the way “The Lego Movie” works on every level for every possible viewer. “Everything Is Awesome” isn’t just an insanely catchy theme song, one that will be stuck in your head for days if not weeks afterward (and may even drive out “Let It Go” from “Frozen,” if you’re lucky). It’s a statement of fact. It may even be an understatement.
That’s not a typo at the top — I really am giving this movie four stars. You know that old cliched response after walking out of a movie or a play: “I laughed, I cried”? This time, it’s really true. I laughed my ass off — and then I cried. A 3-D, animated movie about a bunch of tiny pieces of plastic made me cry. And you guys who have read me for a while know that I’m cold and soulless and not usually susceptible to the power of tearjerkery. But that’s one of the many reasons I loved “The Lego Movie” so much: It kept surprising me.
Actually, my husband, Chris, and I ended up liking the movie even better than Nicolas did — and he’s the one who was super-pumped to go see it, inspired by the ubiquity of marketing all around town. (Warner Bros.: You guys sure know how to reach your target audience of 4-year-olds.)
It moves so beautifully, it has such irresistible humor and irrepressible energy, but always feels effortless. It’s jammed with affectionate, cheeky pop-culture references but never seems hacky or strains for the laugh; so many of the jokes fly by at such a giddily frenzied clip, you’ll probably have to go see the movie a second time just to catch them all. And you probably won’t mind doing that; “The Lego Movie” is the rare film based on a toy or a game that truly feels like its own unique universe rather than a shameless, extended infomercial.
Did we mention the voice cast? We haven’t even gotten to the exceptional voice cast yet. So often with animated movies, the A-list stunt casting serves as a distraction and takes you out of the narrative. Here, it provides one of the many opportunities for directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to take established genre conventions and turn them on their heads, similar to their inspired version of “21 Jump Street.” Morgan Freeman, for example, plays a blind mystic whose prophecy sends an ordinary guy on an extraordinary hero’s journey. But in doing so, he knowingly pokes fun at his propensity for playing God-like figures, his rich voice providing both gravitas and goofy laughs.
The increasingly endearing Chris Pratt provides the voice of Emmet, a regular construction-worker drone who always follows the rules and does what’s expected of him in his incessantly perky, if regimented, Lego town. Much of the humor comes from the way in which the characters’ world mirrors ours, with its overpriced coffee, crowded commutes, idiotic sitcoms and overplayed radio tunes. Everything is awesome, as the song goes, but every day is exactly the same.
But one day, Emmet stumbles upon a random piece of red plastic that’s unlike the rest of the interlocking bricks that surround him. It is the Piece of Resistance, a crucial component of the prophecy that Freeman’s character, Vitruvius, told of at the beginning. And in finding it, Emmet becomes known as The Special — the one who will save the Lego universe from ultimate destruction. He gets help from a ragtag band of strangers including a bad-ass Goth chick who goes by the name Wyldstyle (an adorable Elizabeth Banks); Batman (Will Arnett, doing a Batman version of his pompous “Arrested Development” character, Gob); a makeshift pirate captain called Metal Beard (Nick Offerman); and the unflappably happy Unikitty (Alison Brie) which is — you guessed it — half unicorn and half kitty.
They must outsmart and outrun the evil President Business, better known as Lord Business, who wants the piece for himself to maintain order and separation between all the Lego realms. So yeah, he’s kind of a fascist tyrant. But in the hands of Will Ferrell, he’s also hilariously self-serious. President Business’ right-hand man is the two-faced Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), who dons whichever persona he must to get the job done and keep everyone in line.
“The Lego Movie” message of thinking for yourself and trying new things may sound a lot like theme of “The Croods” last year, but it presents this notion in a much more lively and clever manner. A great deal of that has to do with the look of the animation, which is beautiful in its crudeness. While the images are computer-generated, they have the intentionally jumpy, rough-hewn look of stop-motion animation — as if the effects team had moved brick by brick painstakingly by hand to create the sensation of motion. Everything is made of Legos, from the people and vehicles to water and bullets. It is an endless joy to watch, and the fact that some of the pieces and characters’ faces have a chip or a smudge here or there adds to the charm.
Just when you may start feeling like this zippy thrill ride of a movie is exhausting you, it takes a third-act turn that you probably never would have seen coming. I wouldn’t dream of giving anything away about it. But I will say that it’s daring, profound and emotionally powerful in a way that caught me completely off guard — especially sitting in the theater with my 4-year-old son curled up in my lap.