Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Lego Movie

When I saw ads for The Lego Movie, I really wasn't too impressed.  It seemed like a pop culture-laden commercial for Legos with a generic story, and in some ways, it is.  The only difference between the film itself and the way I envisioned it is that it's really funny, full of social commentary, and contains a twist that not only makes the movie better; it actually requires you to watch the movie a second time with the twist in mind.  It's sort of like The Sixth Sense of animated kids' movies.

The story follows Emmet, a Lego man living in a world where everything is made of Lego blocks.  He's your everyday, blue collar worker, following instructions that tell him to do not just the things at his construction job, but things in his daily life.  One day, his life is turned upside when he finds out he is "The Special," the one who is destined to save the Lego world from the evil Lord Business and his powerful new weapon known as the Kragle.  He is guided, and often ridiculed, by his new friends Wyldstyle (a badass spy-type girl who wishes she were "The Special") and Vitivirus (a wizard who is an amalgamation of every fantasy wizard with a long white beard ever put to page or screen).

If the plot doesn't interest you, you may have missed the entire joke.  The Lego Movie is a surprisingly sharp parody of the standard hero's journey, and a clear reversal of just about everything that the hero's journey stands for.  Often times, the hero of an epic quest is a pretty bland, every-day sort of guy with no remarkable character traits.  That's exactly what Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is; unremarkable and completely ordinary.  Thinking creatively is something he's never done, and that's where the social commentary part of The Lego Movie comes in.

What the film is saying is that people often won't make creative decisions; they usually do things according to the norm and like things that are popular.  The song "Everything is Awesome" beautifully embodies the modern pop song in every way, from its oppressively generic faux-dubstep beat to its subtextual theme about conformity, it's just hilarious.  And come on, admit you do some of the things Emmet does during his morning routine (buying overpriced coffee, routing for the local sports team even if you don't like sports, etc).  It's pretty much a perfectly tongue-in-cheek time capsule for what life is like in the 2010s.

Social commentary is nice, but dammit this is a comedy first and foremost.  It's a comedy made for families, but it's so witty and fast-paced and never talks down to its audience. The voice work from Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson is across the board spot-on, without any one voice seeming like it's only there for film to boast, "Hey look! We got celebrities! PRODUCTION VALUE!"  The voices combined with the animation style, a unique CGI technique that resembles stop-motion (and likely fooled a lot of people into thinking that's what it was) adds to the comedy due to the "limitations" of bringing a world made of nothing but Lego blocks to life.

No review would be complete without talking about the third act, the one that takes this good movie and makes it a great one, so for now, this review will remain incomplete.   I'd hate to ruin the interesting and unexpected route the film's story takes, and how it changes everything that happened before it for the better.  It only reinforces the themes the movie establishes, like thinking creatively in a world that is obsessed with normalcy and fitting in, and just plain having fun rather than taking things so damn seriously all the time.  It's definitely one of those rare American animated movies that seems to be made for a general audience, rather than just kids (or worse, stupid kids).  What appears to be just another extended toy commercial reveals itself to be a thoughtful, funny, memorable and awesome movie.