The Lego Movie has absolutely no business being as good as it is. It was released in February, generally a graveyard for films. It has its product placement built right into the title. It’s also in 3D which, Gravity notwithstanding, is rarely a beacon of quality.
And yet, The Lego Movie is one of the most hip, hilarious, and nimble movies you’re likely to see all year. (Moral of the story: You can’t judge a film by its title, month of release, or number of visual dimensions.)
It helps that the film looks great. While there’s clearly lots of CGI, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller also reportedly used more than 3 million actual Lego bricks to construct the film’s world (I’ve been assured that no Legos were harmed during production). The result is remarkable—the Legos have dimension and movement and depth. You feel like you can reach out and stack them.
And then there’s the script—packed with enough one-liners, pop culture references, and winking commentary to fill up several movies. (Despite its title, the film is actually anti-commodification).
Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt) is just a regular construction guy in Lego land. He sings along to the one ear-wormy government-issued song “Everything is Awesome!” and laughs along with the one insipid government-issued sitcom Who Stole My Pants? He follows the rules. He wants to fit in. He wants to be a square peg in a square hole, if you will.
Then Emmet accidentally stumbles across the “Piece of Resistance” that, as legend has it, can be used to bring down the nefarious President Business (Will Ferrell), who’s secretly scheming to destroy the denizens of Lego world. Now believed to be “The Special” (a la Neo in The Matrix), Emmet joins forces with the Master Builders, who include most Marvel superheroes (Superman and The Green Lantern just can’t seem to get along), both Michelangoes (artist and Mutant Turtle), Gandalf and Dumbledore (whom Emmet, understandably, confuses), and the adorably spunky UniKitty (unicorn + kitty), who manages to be both an incredibly cute thing and a jab at the scourge of incredibly cute things in kids’ movies.
Emmet has fallen hard for Master Builder Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) but she’s in a serious relationship with a brooding cool guy. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He’s Batman (voiced hilariously by Will Arnett) and the idea of Batman as the romantic rival from hell is just one example of the film’s ingenuity. (Another? There’s a good cop/bad cop team—voiced by Liam Neeson—that are actually the same guy; he merely needs to rotate his head to go from intimidating scowl to reassuring grin.)
The final act of the film has a heartwarming twist that almost elevates it to Pixar territory. While The Lego Movie can’t quite compete with Toy Story for its blend of humor and poignancy, it turns out that beneath all that winking cleverness beats a surprisingly tender heart.