The G.I. Joe franchise couldn’t do it. Michael Bay’s Transformers movies never even tried. Leave it to The LEGO Movie to become the first toy-based film to not only understand the various reasons why people play with the diversion in question, but to take the next logical step by figuring out how to “build” its story off that attraction.
The fact that LEGO happens to be hysterical, inventive, emotional, imaginative and eye-poppingly busy counts as an added bonus -- and one we should have expected given the involvement of co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The witty duo lists the 21 Jump Street reboot and the initial Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs adaptation on their collective, creative resume. (In fact, their absence from the Cloudy sequel explains why that movie kind of sucked.) And LEGO proves that their humor, sentiment and impressive comprehension of a franchise’s fibers can transfer to any genre. The sky’s the limit for these two, even though they’ve opted to fill their immediate future with the sequel assignment 22 Jump Street.
Despite what I’ve said, The LEGO Movie begins in an ordinary fashion, though the convention only binds LEGO in place for a short time. Predictable, villainous archetype President Business (Will Ferrell) launches the story by stealing “the piece of resistance” – in reality, a red LEGO block – from God-like Vitruvius (vocalized by the frequent voice of God, Morgan Freeman). Before he’s thwarted, Vitruvius speaks of a prophecy, a legend of a “Special” who’ll reclaim the “piece” and bring balance and order to this magnificent LEGO land.
What a sumptuous land it is. Lord and Miller construct a miraculously detailed and infinitely rewarding universe in The LEGO Movie, one that shapes, shifts and changes by the design of the story as it introduces everyman Emmet (Chris Pratt) and his butt-kicking partner-in-crime, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). These two join forces to retrieve the “piece” from the self-promoted Lord Business. They are assisted along the way by numerous LEGO-ized versions of pop-culture heroes from our nostalgic past and Hollywood’s hopeful future.
(Side note: It’s no surprise that multiple D.C. superheroes factor into the LEGO movie, as producing studio Warner Bros. obviously fights behind the scenes to build a Justice League universe off of a Man of Steel sequel. Hence, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman contribute mightily to Emmet’s quest, but keep your eyes open for several unexpected and wonderfully entertaining cameos as LEGO races along at a sprinter’s clip.)
By plunging their fists into a bottomless vat of computer-generated LEGO bricks, Lord and Miller hand themselves (and their creative team) a story – and potential franchise – that’s only limited by the animating squad’s vast imaginations. Need a scene where Superman, William Shakespeare and Shaquille O’Neal combat a schizophrenic good-cop/bad-cop voiced by Liam Neeson? Done.
But that ability to break boundaries and change the game on the fly factors into LEGO as the movie unfolds because Lord and Miller bake the notion of necessary creativity into their subplot about Master Builders – of which Emmett is rumored to be – and their innate ability to construct whatever tool they need to complete a mission. When Wyldstyle can’t escape Bad Cop’s forces on her motorcycle, she uses the same pieces to morph her vehicle into a jet. Problem solved. Movie saved.
You might eventually tire of the relentless noise of the LEGO movie’s first half. There’s a subliminal commentary about Emmet’s white-washed existence in LEGOland that can be analyzed as a reflection of our own society in the age of homogenized chain stores and force-fed generic pop entertainment. Lord Business’ ideal brainwashed community looks too much like our own, suggesting our Big Brother world needs a few more Master Builders like Emmet to set us free.
Even with this subtext to chew over, though, I still feared that The LEGO Movie was too busy and blustery to ever embrace. Pratt voices Emmet like the usual dolt hiding behind the shroud of cluelessness. (Which basically means he screams most of his lines, at first.) And the volume is cranked to 11 as LEGO goes after the kiddies. Stick with it, though. Please. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you there’s a Sixth Sense-ian twist, a glorious reveal in the film’s third act, that changes how you’ll view everything that happened before the shift. And changes it for the better.
But that’s for you to discover. The LEGO Movie satisfies younger audiences craving quick-moving physical comedy performed by recognizable characters plucked off their TV screens. It engages older audience members by tapping into heartfelt messages about the purpose of toys. In this regard, it actually mirrors Pixar’s original Toy Story by preaching a similar message. I fear it could be a one-off success, as Lord and Miller haven’t yet signed on to the already announced LEGO sequel, and we saw how the Cloudy sequel fizzled without them. But even if this is a standalone hit, The LEGO Movie is an absolute home run.
Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.