‘The LEGO Movie’
Starring: Beloved LEGO characters voiced by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG for mild action and rude humor
Bottomline: Hugely entertaining, moving, and thoughtful
Before I write anything about “The LEGO Movie,” a disclaimer: I love LEGOs. My son loves LEGOs. My wife and I would be embarrassed by how many LEGO bricks currently reside in our house if they hadn’t facilitated so many family memories.
We so thoroughly embody this movie’s demographic it didn’t need to be a genuinely great film for us to enjoy it. Then again, does anyone go into a February movie based on a popular toy with high expectations?
AFOLs, FFOLs, YFOLs, as well as average moviegoers who have no idea what those acronyms mean, would have been perfectly happy if “The LEGO Movie” would have merely provided an active story and a steady stream of laughs.
It does all of that and is an enormously entertaining, thoroughly kid-friendly movie.
But just as they did with “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street,” directing and writing team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller transform a piece of pop cinema into a cultural moment.
The story is built on standard tropes of children’s movies and literature. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an average guy so devoid of original thought and identity he follows instruction manuals just to get through his daily routine. His only concerns are fitting in and having friends.
When he encounters a mysterious, rebellious girl named WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet stumbles into a classic hero narrative in which he seems to be the fulfillment of a prophecy. He is destined to defeat Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and save all of the LEGO realms.
The movie’s explicit message is that everyone is capable of creating something special, even if their ideas don’t initially seem particularly imaginative (another persistent trope). This would ring hollow if LEGOs hadn’t already helped millions of children around the world discover their ability to make something unique out of a box of plastic pieces.
After establishing these themes and premises, though, “The LEGO Movie” proceeds to overturn each one of these bulwarks of family fiction and becomes the most inventive animated film since “WALL-E.”
Lest you think this is merely the fanboy raving of a LEGO geek, be aware that the movie has earned a 95% on RottenTomatoes.com and has already, after less than a week in theatres, sparked several surprisingly thoughtful and intellectual online discussions.
The movie’s visual opposition of mindless conformity versus unruly creativity have drawn comparisons to German Expressionist films of the 1920s that used similar depictions to criticize the Fascism rising at the time.
Writing for Indiewire, Sam Adams argues “The LEGO Movie” is the first animated film about remix culture.
Alyssa Rosenberg, in a piece for ThinkProgress, hails the movie as a critique of American mass culture and insightfully points out the significance of the film’s final moments, which incorporate a daughter character into a movie that up until then is mostly about fathers and sons.
Even before that final story beat, though, the movie establishes WyldStyle as part of a growing trend of representing girls in kids movies as equally strong if not stronger than their boy counterparts.
Rosenberg’s article overlaps with a broader debate about whether a movie, a consumer commodity by nature, can truly criticize consumer culture. That debate isn’t new among culture critics, but it’s as relevant as ever.
By the end, however, it becomes clear that reading Lord Business as the personification of corporate America and the movie as a swipe at capitalism misses the main point.
The third act reveals that Lord Business is not who we initially think he is.
That’s also when my opening disclaimer becomes especially relevant. If you have ever played with a child and found your adult tendency toward logic and order clashing with the child’s impulse toward freedom and anarchic imagination, “The LEGO Movie” will speak to you on a profound level.
Because the movie reminds us that the kids have it right. The world is a better place when we are free to play.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.