Style is so often substituted for substance in film that seeing something as synergistic as The Lego Movie is truly marvelous, and even more of a joy to look back on. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have built a multifaceted, visually stunning film. The Lego Movie is at once a brilliantly subversive satire, a heartfelt ode to creativity, and a fabulously freewheeling adventure.
The film opens with everyman Emmet Brickowski, the poster child for contented mediocrity; his face is the original Lego minifigure smiley. Emmet (Chris Pratt) lives in a brick-laden world of order, ludicrously overpriced designer coffee, and corporate domination in the form of President Business, who is voiced by none other than Will Ferrell. As strongly visual as it is, the film also excels on an aural level, specifically through a stacked vocal cast that also includes Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman. Matching these famous voices to their plastic minifigure faces is as fun as the admittedly non-sequitur appearances that many of the supporting characters make.
The filmmakers get away with the runaway storyline for the most part, though. Lego’s expansive library of licensed themes allows for some great storytelling liberties. Seeing Lego versions of Green Lantern and Superman (you should recognize the voices behind those two), Gandalf, Dumbledore – and even C-3PO voiced by Anthony Daniels himself – is just an utter joy.
But as aforementioned, the film’s true selling point is its pure visual splendor. The world that millions of people have imagined brick by plastic brick is fully realized. Dare to watch The Lego Movie and not find yourself captured, entirely transfixed in this constructed universe.
Animal Logic, the company responsible for the animation in this film, spares not even the slightest expense. Every single detail is rendered in CGI equivalents of those famous studs and pieces, and even the limited movement of minifigure bodies is translated over with integrity. The film is somewhat prone to sudden action and madcap chaos, but when things explode, they burst into flickering Lego flames, and when lightning strikes or electricity crackles, Lego energy bolts appear as well. The film masterfully accomplishes this unique style, passing off CGI as stop-motion animation and making the scene-by-scene action all the more believable.
Another of the film’s great charms is its fearlessness in using stock characters while spryly lampooning them. Pratt is great at conveying Emmet’s foolish mannerisms, and the film spends a terrific amount of screen time underlining precisely how far the character falls from the “Chosen One” archetype. Through President Business, the film also shines light on the extremes of consumer culture. Ferrell’s character strives to control every aspect of this Lego universe by forcing everyone to follow his instructions. The mix of focus on unforgiving order enforcement in a saccharine society gives the film an intriguingly dystopian feel. The blend of that darkness with the bright colors of childhood playthings is only augmented by the film’s smartly self-aware satire.
Especially great moments work with simple humor. For example, when the mysterious Wyldstyle (Banks) tries to tell Emmet his prophetic purpose, her words disappear into a haze of romantic nonsense as the light blurs around her. The image is familiar (Wyldstyle’s dialogue literally breaks down into a sultry delivery of “blah, blah, blah”) and much like the rest of the movie, it works because it’s something that’s been done, but never quite like this.
The Lego Movie is a film that does astounding work with its specific presentation of the medium. It uses the meticulous animation not only as a means to engross the audience but also as a powerful comedic catalyst. Yes, the pacing and plot are a bit loose and sometimes too non-stop, and yes, the third act is heavy-handed, but the film succeeds, quirks and all. The Lego Movie is different, it’s original, and it’s awesome.
Movie Verdict: Win
RT Score: 90%
This article was published in its original form in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on February 12, 2014.