I’m not going to write my most in-depth review here. I actually saw the film over a week ago, and am only just now reviewing it, so it’s not perfectly fresh in my mind. But no matter.
The response to this film has been insane. It’s not only been a huge hit (at $143.8 million to date, it’s more than doubled its budget), but it was a critical smash as well; with a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s more highly rated than some Oscar contenders. This level of acclaim can be a problem for me, because the twin demons of anticipation and contrarianism sit on my shoulders and drive me to find fault, to say “it wasn’t as good as it could have been” or “it isn’t as good as everyone is saying”. And, to be completely honest, it isn’t. It’s a ***½ film, not a **** film (though it’s close). And why is that?
The story of the film is archetypal to the extreme: Emmet, a hyper-conformist Everyman living in a conformity-driven world, literally stumbles onto an artifact which marks him as the “Special”, the hero who will save the world from the evil Lord Business. There’s a prophecy, after all. He is recruited to his task by the cool, highly-skilled Wildstyle (with whom he falls in love), and is coached by the wise, elderly Vitruvius. There are the low points of disillusionment, the ingenious maneuvers that save the day, the believe-in-yourself dictums that everyone can learn from…it’s all so archetypal it’s clearly meant as a parody. But, parody or not, a predictable, archetypal story is still a predictable, archetypal story, and the film’s considerable wit and energy can’t totally compensate for that.
That said, the film takes a turn in the third act which sets it somewhat apart from its archetypal brethren; the Lego world of the film is revealed to be a massive complex of Lego kits, exactingly built by an obsessive man, played with by his imaginative, free-spirited son. The father rebukes the son for playing with the toys, but the son ultimately convinces the father to see things his way, and they come together to help Emmet complete his “quest”. Pleasingly, this plot thread is told sparely, almost eliptically, wasting little time in changing the father’s mind and bringing him and his son together in an allegorical celebration of imagination, before setting up a sequel with a very funny final joke.
What makes the film shine, more than its story, is its humor; the jokes come thick and fast, and the batting average is very high indeed. From non-sequiturs like “Is a zeppelin a good investment?” to character-based bits like “That’s literally the dumbest thing I ever heard.” “Let me handle this. That idea is just…the worst”, the dialogue is consistently hilarious. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are on a very hot streak right now (coming off Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street), and for good reason; they’re incredibly imaginative and witty, both as writers and as directors (who else would make a reference to Aristophanes’ The Birds by naming a locale Cloud Cuckoo Land?). The film clocks along beautifully, and the animation (CGI painstakingly designed to mimic Legos in motion) is simply marvelous. (Don’t bother with the 3D version if you have a choice, though. It really doesn’t add anything.)
And the voice acting is quite delightful as well. I’m really glad Chris Pratt is developing a legitimate film career, and as the blithe Emmet, he’s spot-on. Elizabeth Banks is a fine Wildstyle, and Morgan Freeman gently lampoons himself as Vitruvius. Will Ferrell doubles as the villainous Lord Business (who wants to freeze the Lego world with the “Kragle”–a tube of Krazy Glue) and as the priggish IRL father; as Business, he’s just fine, but he seems vaguely off as the father, maybe because he has no real character to play. (Jadon Sand plays the son.) Liam Neeson is quite funny as Bad Cop/Good Cop, whose conflicting personalities pay sizable comic dividends. Will Arnett is hilarious as a smugly pompous Batman (“I only work in black. And sometimes, very, very dark gray.”); Alison Brie is wonderful as Unikitty, who attempts to be cheerful and upbeat regardless of circumstances, to an almost psychotic degree; and Charlie Day is endearingly pathetic as the endearingly pathetic Benny, whose only, deeply cherished goal is to build a spaceship.
For sheer breezy fun, replete with a super-catchy theme song (“Everything is Awesome”), you can hardly do better than check out The Lego Movie. (But if you want something similar, that packs more of an emotional punch, check out Wreck-It Ralph.)