Monday, June 23, 2014

The Lego Movie

This year's THE LEGO MOVIE wants/seems to have it all possible ways. To be a celebration of individuality yet stressing the importance of teamwork. To be family friendly yet filled with gags for  grown ups. To sufficiently distract you from the not debatable fact that the movie is an unabashed feature length commercial for its product yet inspire you to go out and purchase the famous blocks to create your own masterpiece (or at least visit Legoland).

On most counts, it succeeds. I had some notions as to what to expect and was generally in the ballpark. THE LEGO MOVIE finds a comfortable place between cutesy children's fare and the slightly more caustic, pop culture savvy PG movie ala SHREK and WRECK-IT RALPH. It does not betray either style, and the lighthearted among you will be pleased as punch to know that the (drawn out) closing scenes embrace warm fuzzies full on, beyond what I would normally tolerate.

The story features yet another misfit hero, though here our misfit, Emmett, fits in all too well. A construction worker (with the last name Brickowski) who happily glides through his ordinary life, saying hello to the same people every day on the way to the site. Bouncing to the same pop song ("Everything is Awesome") as everyone else. As long as there is an instruction manual, which Emmett clutches at every moment, life is swell.

But Emmett will learn that all those nice folks with whom he interacts barely notice him. Rather, they are acutely aware that they barely notice him. He assimilates like wallpaper.  It is with great anxiety that Emmett finds himself among a group of rebels who explain that he is "the Special", the one who will save the world from the evil Lord Business, who plans to freeze everyone with a weapon called "The Kragle".

The plot should remind you of another Warner Brothers franchise. No accident, of course.  THE LEGO MOVIE also wants to be an homage to THE MATRIX, complete with a wise old sage named Vitruvius, a butt-kicking heroine named Lucy, er, Wlydstyle, and frenetic chase scenes. The philosophy, well, maybe not as Eastern religion like, though I'm certain someone out there is already piecing together a dissertation. LEGO MOVIE favors warm messages of Essential Human Goodness and Being Yourself. The finale I spoke of even dives into live action, framing the entire story in what seems both ingenious and derivative (maybe even a cop-out), and will convert some Scrooges in the audience and leave others cold.

But either way, the animation, very stop motion-like but CG, is sensational. The limitations a Lego character would have - stepping, attaching to other interlocking pieces - are intact, creating an endearing engagement for the viewer.  Even when there is an impossible amount of detail to absorb. Each landscape is busting with minute detail, amusing things often happing in the background and periphery. My favorite: how a Lego ocean would look and move.

There are lots of pop culture cameos, some extended (Batman), others fleeting (Han Solo, Chewbacca, and C3P0), that are not gratuitous but actually serve the plot. Kids may not get every joke but don't discount them - I watched this film with my wife's stepmother's grandkids (ages 3 and 6) and they recognized more than I would've expected.

Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who also scripted, land several gentle jabs in THE LEGO MOVIE, especially with that earworm of a song, the one that, in the early scenes, is shown to be a sort of mind control among the populace, and later, an empowerment anthem. Those guys, having it both ways while entertaining the pants off of us (there's a pun there if you've seen this movie) and also ensuring that our wallets will open again in the future....

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