The Lego Movie: Everything is Awesome
Full disclosure: I love Lego. I ran across a few images of the amazing Monster Fighters Haunted House set early last year, decided that it must be mine, and plunged headlong down the rabbit hole. I convert my dollars into plastic bricks whenever possible, and assembling them has proven to be the perfect companion hobby to my non-stop movie watching. Gotta have something to do during those director’s commentaries. That being said, while I unabashedly love the brand I’d have also been the first in line to register my disappointment had the movie failed to deliver. Luckily, my sky-high level of excitement for this one was repaid in kind.
This is normally the part where I’d do a quick little rundown of the plot, but aside from watching the trailers I did everything I possibly could to avoid story details before walking into The Lego Movie, and you should as well. And to be perfectly honest, it’s fairly standard stuff. Unlikely hero, the power of individuality vs. the hazards of conformity, and good old fashioned teamwork. The real strengths of the film lie in its stunning combination of stop-motion and computer animation, a deep and abiding love for the history and concept of Lego, and just about the best ensemble cast of characters that you could possibly ask for.
I’ve played most of the Lego games, and I’ve seen a few of the short films they’ve put out, and I’m always impressed by the effort put forth to adhere to the brick-built aesthetic. There are always corners cut, however; from generic CGI background elements to overly fluid animation, there’s always some visual noise that reminds you you’re not really looking at Lego bricks. The Lego Movie blows previous efforts out of the water, featuring (among other wonders) fully brick-rendered explosions, smoke clouds, and even ocean waves. Character animations are purposely stiff, adhering more or less to the limitations of the real-life minifigures, and all of the vehicles and buildings seen on screen could be built at home given the bricks. The illusion is nearly seamless, and I look forward to getting lost in the blu-ray for hours checking out all the little details frame by frame. I was pretty sure I even saw the occasional thumbprint on a brick or a character’s torso, and had to consult with a friend afterward to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I wasn’t; there are indeed thumbprints.
As a side-note, I’d like to point out that as a child of the 80’s with a penchant for nostalgia, my entertainment dollars are among the most coveted in Hollywood–and often in the most cynical fashion possible. Mediocre GI Joe updates, terrifying cinematic abominations masquerading as Transformers, and remakes of everything I hold dear are in constant competition for the money and attention of people just like me. By this point I know when I’m being misled, I know when I’m being pandered to, and I also know when the people behind a film share an unwavering love for the source material and a desire above all else to do it justice. It’s that last bit there that allows me to sit through what is ostensibly a 100-minute toy commercial and still be utterly convinced that I’ve just seen what will likely be one of the best movies of the year. Like with the overall design aesthetic, the attention to detail with the characters and settings is overwhelming. Background characters–everything from a yeti to a crash test dummy–are actual minifigures which were available at one point or another. The hulking pirate/cyborg/mech Metalbeard isn’t made more elaborate for the sake of the camera, he’s 1:1 with the version I’ve got sitting on a table in my living room. And of course there’s the cracked helmet strap on 1980’s Space Guy Benny, the bane of young Lego fans everywhere back before they invented those handy brick separators. Pretty much everything in the movie is something you could go out and buy from Lego at one point or another, but the high level of fidelity keeps it from ever feeling like a cynical cash-grab. It’s the difference between seeing Optimus Prime filtered through Michael Bay’s misguided imagination, and seeing him pop up on Robot Chicken. It’s easy to spot which one was put there by a fan.
Finally, let’s talk about those characters–the trailers made me wonder if the cameo overload would end up feeling a bit scattershot, but the supporting cast is as endearing as it is varied. The aforementioned Space Guy Benny, voiced by Charlie Day, is absolutely a standout. If I were to pick any of the supporting cast to headline their own sequel, it’d be him. Will Arnett’s Batman is, surprisingly, my new favorite cinematic interpretation of the character, and there’s a pretty great Superman in here as well. Throw in Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, and it’s easy to start wondering if a Lego Justice League movie wouldn’t be a better idea than any live-action effort Warner Bros. is going to be able to muster. Morgan Freeman does his thing as the wisdom-dispensing Vetruvius, and the carefree–if a bit clueless–construction worker Emmet, voiced by Chris Pratt, is one of the most inherently likeable protagonists in recent memory. And if you’re of the mind that a hero’s only as good as his villains, rest assured that Liam Neeson’s work as the bipolar Bad Cop is absolutely brilliant. Will Ferrell’s President Business is great too, but Bad Cop unexpectedly stole the show.
I could go on and on about everything I loved about The Lego Movie (that soundtrack!), but suffice it to say that only the most cynical and hard-hearted moviegoers are likely to walk away disappointed. It’s a rare case of a nostalgia-driven adaptation doing everything right. Its heart is in absolutely the right place, and the message at its core rings true without feeling pandering or preachy. The jokes are so rapid-fire and the visuals so rich and densely layered that I expect it to stand up to repeat viewings up there with Pixar’s best. Even if you don’t have kids, this one is worth checking out. And if you DO have kids, absolutely take them to the theater as soon as possible–there’s no way they won’t love you for it.
Posted on February 9, 2014, in Movies, Reviews, Toys and tagged Batman, Charlie Day, Chris Pratt, Emmet, Lego, Lord Business, President Business, Space Guy, The Lego Movie, Unikitty, Vetruvius, Will Arnett, Wyldstyle. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.