The biggest conundrum for the makers of “The LEGO Movie”: how to make a movie that promotes the product without playing like a 100-minute informercial. To that point, we have heard from friends who refuse to see the movie because, in their opinion, it is blatantly designed to sell more LEGOs. Well, sure, the LEGO Corporation would certainly like people to buy more of their product, but that in and of itself is not the point of the movie. If anything, the movie is quite subversive in tone, in that it encourages kids to take their uber-precise themed kits and build whatever the hell they want to with the pieces. It preaches against conformity and encourages imagination, both noble goals, and it has Morgan Freeman saying Milhouse Van Houten’s name out loud. Yes, yes, yes.
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker who does everything he’s supposed to do. He follows the instructions set forth by President Business (Will Ferrell), which in a nutshell ask everyone to bend to his will in the friendliest manner possible. One day, Emmet sees the lovely Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) poking around his construction site, and as he goes to catch up to her, he discovers an underground group of rebels, led by the blind prophet Vitruvius (Freeman), who refuse to live by President Business’ law. Emmet has discovered a piece that Vitruvius believes will stop President Business’ insidious plan to glue all LEGO pieces together, and because of that, Vitruvius declares that Emmet is the one that an ancient legend predicted will lead them to victory. This group of rebels includes every superhero imaginable (in the DC universe, anyway), along with several other “master builders.” Emmet, on the other hand, doesn’t have an original thought in his head. The rebels have their doubts about him, to say the least.
There is a ‘B’ story to this movie, but to talk about it would be like talking about Fight Club, and would spoil the fun. This is a pity, because it’s a great example of the lengths that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who directed the dissimilar but great duo “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street”) went to give the movie some heart and the LEGO characters a soul. The story line involving Emmet, Wyldstyle and Vitruvius owes a large debt to “The Matrix,” but this adds to the charm, since it essentially allows parents to show their wee ones “The Matrix” without actually showing them “The Matrix.” And much like that film, “The LEGO Movie” boasts stunning design and effects. As CGI films go, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
With regard to the outstanding voice performances, there are almost too many to mention. Pratt nails the tone of the dull but enthusiastic Emmet, while Banks, who hasn’t gotten to show off her comedic chops for a while, out-Trinity’s Trinity in terms of badassdom (her best scene takes place in total silence; you’ll know it when you see it) and choice dialogue. Freeman is the straight man here, but still gets a boatload of great bits (his description of Emmet’s mind is the winner), and Liam Neeson was born to play the part of Good Cop/Bad Cop, but Charlie Day’s Benny, the ‘80s astronaut (our theory is that his name is an Elton John joke, since he wrote “Benny and the Jets” and “Rocket Man”) is going to be the most quoted character from the film. But again, sorry, we can’t tell you why.
“The LEGO Movie” is funny in ways you will never expect, and heartfelt in ways you will expect even less. It’s a LEGO movie for people who despise the very idea of a LEGO movie, which is pretty punk rock for a CGI movie made by one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.