Friday, February 7, 2014

The Lego Movie - Review

THE LEGO MOVIE hinges itself all on one little ditty that plays throughout the picture, "Everything is Awesome!" Upon listening to it for the first time, the song represents the spirit of joie de vivre that slathers all over the City realm of the Legos, where its residents open up everyday shouting out "Good Morning!" and keep walking and singing along in unison throughout the work day. Once the viewer actually listens to the lyrics, it transforms into a scathing diatribe against oppressive rule; the happy vibes and musical stings of the song mask its satirical jabs at praising frivolous things like string, while also delivering a dark threatening bite to anyone who doesn't follow the mandatory protocol and join the community. This initial impression will certainly cause many to compare it to a certain infamously profane, but incredibly brilliant, song from TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE, since they both share a theme of being bombastic tyrannic anthems. It becomes even more purposefully derisive and totalitarian when it's later revealed that the track was crafted by main antagonist Lord Business, plays non-stop on all of the popular radio stations, and is not only the favorite song of every city dweller, but of every robot drone under his thumb.

However, unlike Trey Parker & Matt Stone, the writing/directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the comedic masterminds behind the first CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS film and 21 JUMP STREET, want to go further with the song. They want to have their cake and eat it too: As the movie goes along, "Everything is Awesome!" slowly morphs back into its original musical state as a maniac social jingle, a cry for enjoying what you have, preferable loose Lego blocks, and what you can make with it or to accomplish your virtuous goal through team-building and friendship. This double-sided strategy of chaos and order doesn't just stop there with one song. Lord and Miller use it for the story, where it becomes serious and heartfelt one minute, anarchic comedy and plot hole stepping the next. Same goes with direction: A foreboding aircraft will ominously be taking off in one closeup shot, followed next by a flat backdrop with sound effects achieved by a guy off screen. They even utilize it for the animation, expanding the boundaries of 3D animation but still retaining the home-made charm and limited flexibility of Brickfilms. Finally, these two geniuses create a rug pull on the audience, guiding you through this luscious imaginative world only to then deliver a stone-cold sucker punch, returning us to the painfully realistic sentiments of rational order and how it effects the progress of human life. This sounds pretty nutty to comprehend, especially considering it's a movie centered around a popular Danish toy, but that's how much this movie affected me, bequeathing an immense richness of humor and heart and establishing itself as one of the best films of the year.

So, what really happens in the plot? As noted, a ruthless individual named Lord Business (Will Ferrell) has complete control over the world of Lego. The only normal person living within the walls of the Lord, able to see and hear beyond all of the marketing charades like he's Roddy Piper in THEY LIVE, is a generic construction worker named Emmett (Chris Pratt). He doesn't have any friends and unfortunately can't even make a lasting impression on anyone, even with the help of instruction booklets. His life quickly turns upside down when he follows after a female intruder and comes in contact with an odd non-Lego plastic piece, which is then stuck to his backside. He's harassed by the strict authorities, led by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), over finding "The Piece of Resistance", but is rescued and spirited off by the former intruder, confusingly named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). She and the rest of the rebel army, all of whom have the expert ability to construct anything on the spot, believe him to be "The Special", the master builder/chosen one who's prophesied to defeat Lord Business and to prevent the use of his deadly MacGuffin, the "Kragle". Or, all of this soothsaying could just be made up by the bumbling, blind prophet Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman).

Since they are dealing with Legos, it's only fitting that Lord and Miller treat the story like a kid receiving a big box of the toy. It starts off as a sci-fi satire, reconfigures into a wild west romp, then smashed completely apart only to be assembled into a brief heist caper and then concluding with the disaster blockbuster setting. Long-time Lego fanatics will notice that I said wild west, meaning that the limited Lego product line of the 90's gets more screen time over classic staples like Castle, Pirates, and Space, with the latter being a sad detriment to one scene-stealer. Though too jumpy for some viewers, this plot redeems with itself with the final reveal. I would like to explain what shocking element the directors implement into the last third but I really need to curtail any spoilers. As a clue, let's just say that like the current animated mega-hit FROZEN, THE LEGO MOVIE banks on the foundations laid bare by a previous Disney hit. But instead of just riding on the nostalgia and stealing wholesale from its influence, the LEGO makers too put an unexpected spin to the proceedings. The narrative of these little Legos and their plastic universe becomes an allegory, telling a tale ultimately thought up to be therapeutic for the human condition.

On the lighter side of the flick, the comic beats are spread like bullets from a machine gun, rapidly throwing out a new joke after another and another, to make sure one or all of them hit you right in the funny bone. It's kinda hard to just pick one set of favorites but it's sure to be unanimous that the best jokes are the ones centered around Batman, voiced to perfection by Will Arnett. The overexposed yet still popular DC super-hero comes into the picture as the third wheel of the potentially blossoming couple of Emmett and Wyld, who both might want to share a long, passionate swivel twist of the hand. He intentionally hammers all of the usual jerky boyfriend tropes but his brash confidence is somewhat justified by his quick Chess-like thinking and mastery of fighting. Arnett walks this fine line between parody and flattery like he's Philippe Petit, delivering huge laughs either way while keeping a straight voice. As for fans of Green Lantern, well, you might be more vexed. The rest of the ensemble are also flawless, from Neeson's surprising versatility to Alison Brie's lampooning of girl-centric toy figures as a kitty unicorn. But it really needs to be stated that this couldn't have really worked to its fullness without the pleasant presence of Pratt. Sure to shine brighter, the actor easily conveys the everyman quality of Emmett and the humble ambition to achieve his own identity in a crowded world.

The animation is so breathtaking that it becomes a bit too hazardous, though. So much is happening in every frame that it gets too kinetic to follow along, particularly some of the laser shootouts, so the very little kids in the family may have to stay home. What I suggest is that whether you are a child or an adult, you buy a ticket to see this at your local cinema, preferably not in 3D. Once it hits video, you then can abuse the tape to spot every little easter egg, every mini-joke with a mini-figure. The absurdity gets funnier, the inventiveness becomes more amazing, and Will Ferrell furthers himself as a heartwarming figure.


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