The LEGO Movie Dir. Phil Lord and Chris Miller

[Warner Bros.; 2014]

Styles: animated, comedy, adventure
Others: Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Toy Story, The Transformers: The Movie

If you didn’t greet the news of a feature-length animated film called The LEGO Movie with a roll of the eyes and expectations for a train wreck, you’re made of much more optimistic stuff than I. The wedding of a well-known toy brand with the massive might of the Hollywood machine seemed like the output of a boardroom brainstorming session on synergy. But while my concerns about this being merely a 90-minute advertisement haven’t been completely allayed (especially after already seeing the toy tie-ins on the shelves at Target), writers and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller do embrace the successful model of their previous animated adventure, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. The pair took something deeply embedded in our culture and used it to build a fast-paced, heartfelt, and, best of all, hilarious ode to the creative spirit. That they did it as a loving parody of the journey of a prophesied hero trope (à la Harry Potter and The Matrix) only sweetens the deal.

The anointed hero here is a chipper young Lego man named Emmett. Voiced by Chris Pratt with the same dimwitted enthusiasm that he brings to his work as Andy on Parks & Recreation, this denizen of the candy-coated utopia known as Bricksburg quite literally stumbles into the film’s adventure: agog at a young woman who is digging around the construction site where he works, Emmett falls down a hole and ends up with a small rectangle of plastic affixed to his back. This turns out to be the missing piece of The Kragle, a powerful force that in the hands of President Business (Will Ferrell) could destroy the world. It is up to Emmett and a typically ragtag group of adventurers — Wyldstyle, a Goth girl who led Emmett to his fate (Elizabeth Banks); the blind shaman Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman); the unicorn/cat hybrid Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie); and, naturally, Batman (Will Arnett) — to reunite the piece on his back with The Kragle and save Lego-kind.

As with any kids’ film, the concept is a ridiculous one, especially typed out like this in review form. But The Lego Movie elevates itself beyond its somewhat cornball premise thanks to everyone on board. Lord and Miller wrench some genuine laughs out of the limited physical movement of these Lego people and the outlandish circumstances these characters are in, while also providing some healthy digs at corporate culture. The cast is pitch-perfect, too, with some great work thrown in the mix by Liam Neeson as a split-personality policeman and Charlie Day as a hyperactive 80s-era spaceman.

The real gem of this production, though, is the animation staff. Working within the confines of Lego shapes and using models from throughout the toy brand’s history, they create vast landscapes that should send collectors into convulsions of joy and envy. Absolutely everything — from explosions to a vast ocean to a strange nebula that lies just outside President Business’s office building — is rendered as if built from actual Lego pieces.

Throughout it all, the deeper message of thinking outside the instructions handed to you by life (or by the makers of Lego toys) still manages to resonate. Lord and Miller don’t decry the simple joy of building something according to the specs, but they do champion those folks, young and old, who when handed a pile of colored plastic that locks together can create something spectacular.

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