Friday, February 7, 2014

The Lego Movie [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. McFarland) review

The Lego Movie [2014] (screenplay and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) is probably one of the most surprising and original (largely) children's oriented animated movies made by Hollywood in a long, long time, this even as one could be tempted to dismiss it out of hand as a gigantic full-length feature advertisement for Lego-products.

Yet, if the film is to be understood/dismissed as an "ad," it'd be a strange one because the film's epic battle is precisely about what one would imagine has been the central (and never really resolved) "dilemma" faced by Lego's marketing gurus: Are Legos to be understood as fundamentally "block sets for kids" out of which said kids would be free to build just about _anything_ (even often "stupid things" that would only make sense to them) OR precisely because Legos could be used to BUILD ANYTHING should Lego design and market "building sets" for (older) enthusiasts out of which they could build truly marvelously complicated projects ranging from temples to skyscrapers to starships to tropical islands with volcanoes to bats, dragons and dolphins to formula one race cars, to WHATEVER Lego's designers would be asked (by their marketing people) to design?   In other words, who actually gets to be creative?  Kids (little people) or "Lego Corp" itself?                   

The story's central protagonist is Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) who's a "regular yellow skinned" Lego figure (a construction worker) living in a city built entirely out of Legos called "Bricksburg."  And he's basically happy.  He has a home, he has a job, he's learned to fit in.  He watches "Bricksburg's favorite television program" called "Where are my pants?" (about a similarly yellow skinned lego figure, who, for some reason had been designed without pants... and who spends the show asking repeatedly, but with apparently sufficiently varied tonal variations to "keep things interesting" the obvious: "Where're my pants?" to viewers' everlasting amusement).  Emmet even enjoys going to "an over-priced" Lego Starbuck-style coffee shop and smiles as he pays $37 for a cup of Lego coffee).   Indeed, he HAPPILY sings Bricksville's cotton-candy-like national anthem: "Everything is AWESOME" (Honestly folks, when you hear this jingle, you won't be able to get it out of your heads ... it's like "lyrical heroin" ;-).

But Emmet's not bad, evil or stupid.  He's basically like a kid, joyfully embracing the happy (if perhaps limited by his experience) wonders around him.

Yet all's _not_ AWESOME in "Bricksburg" ... Even as Emmett lives in a happy seemingly limitless wonderland (if built out of some very basic and hence very limited "building blocks") there's "a force" afoot that would like to FREEZE things in place so that they would forever remain the way they are.

The prophet Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) rails against this tide of conformity spreading across the land personified by President, er Lord Business (voied by Will Farrell) prophesying that out of the "yellow complected" residents of Bricksburg rise "a Special" who will find the "Piece of Resistance" that will bring an end to this scurge that freezes things in its tracks.

Well, completely by accident Emmet runs into this potent "Piece of Resistance" that oddly "sticks to him" henceforth.

Now all kinds of far more interesting, original and potent denizens of "Bricksburg" -- from the hip Wildstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) whose yellow-skinned lego-character wears a plastic multicolored wig, to Legoland superheroes like Lego-Batman (Wildstyle's cool if somewhat arrogant "boyfriend" voiced by Will Arnett), Lego-Wonderwoman (voiced by Cobie Smulders), Lego-Han Solo (voiced by Keith Furguson) and Lego-Superman (voiced by Channing Tatum) to even Lego-Shaq (voiced by former NBA star Shaquille O'Neill) to even a super-cute Lego-unikitty (a kitten with a unicorn horn voiced Alison Brie) -- scratch their heads, wondering what's so "special" about Emmett Brickowski who seems SO AVERAGE and his IDEAS SO BORING.

Yet, Emmett does prove to be "special" by being so UTTERLY "UNDER THE RADAR" that Lord Business, his chief of security Lego-Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson) and their army of Lego-Drones COMPLETELY IGNORE HIM and his only (and arguably REALLY STUPID) "invention": a LEGO-"double decker couch" ("Really?  What's the point?  And who gets to sit on top and who on the bottom?" asks the far cooler but kind of an a-hole Lego-Batman).  BUT SAID DOUBLE DECKER COUCH "SAVES" THEM ALL because while these characters sit on that "stupid double decker couch," ALL THE LEGO-FIENDS SEEM TO IGNORE THEM. 

And thus, after many "out of the box" adventures, the "really average / quite boring" yet "special" precisely because he's so seemingly "average" Emmett is able to _save_ his world.  And that "piece of resistance" that he just randomly ran into, and since simply "stuck to him," proves key.

The final third of the film morphs arguably into an interesting metaphysical conflict: After all, Emmett (and the rest of his Lego-companions) ARE ALL MADE OF OUT LEGOS.  So who's actually animating all those Legos? ;-).  Well we find out.  And we come to understand a little more about the "central conflict" of the story, and why some of the Lego-characters in the story seemed really "kinda limited/boring" (and yet surprisingly creative in their own way) while there seems to be ONE character who seemed to want to FREEZE EVERYTHING (PERFECTLY) IN PLACE. 

 It's all surprisingly BRILLIANT, THOUGHT-PROVOKING and IMHO, REALLY, REALLY FUNNY :-). Over the years, there haven't been many films that I'd want to see (MANY TIMES?) OVER AGAIN.  This is honestly one of them.  It's SURPRISINGLY ... "AWESOME" ;-) ;-)

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  1. One of the most enjoyable movies I've seen in a long time. Great review. Agree completely with you.

  2. Nice review! Felt like I was reliving the (awesome) experience all over again :)