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Dustin Putman

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The LEGO Movie  (2014)
3 Stars
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
Voice Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Cobie Smulders, Will Forte, Charlie Day, Dave Franco, Jake Johnson, Todd Hansen, Jorma Taccone, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Keith Ferguson, Shaquille O'Neal, Melissa Sturm, Graham Miller, Keegan Michael-Key, Kelly Laferty, Christopher Miller, Craig Berry, Jadon Sand.
2014 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for rude humor).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 3, 2014.
The concept of an official, theatrically released LEGO® feature sounds lucrative enough that it is surprising it took so long to make. More surprising still is that it is not a flat, empty-headed, kiddie-pandering trifle, but something much more substantial and sublime. Incorporating a gaggle of prominent characters in cinema—many of them science-fiction, fantasy and comic book icons—within a bold world made entirely out of LEGO products, writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (2012's "21 Jump Street") surpass expectations while constantly thinking invigoratingly outside the box. Combining satire with slapstick while, most emphatically, building a reverberatingly emotional core, "The LEGO Movie" features no shortage of energy even as the 100-minute running time does finally overextend itself. Kids will be in paradise, while adults will appreciate it on multiple other levels sure to go over the little ones' heads. It's a four-quadrant entertainment that never feels as if it is aiming to please. It just does.

Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Pratt) lives his life on the straight and narrow, without taking risks. He dutifully wakes up each morning, grabs his coffee, heads to his job as a construction worker, listens to the same popular song on repeat all day (a catchy-verging-on-annoying ditty called "Everything Is Awesome"), and then makes his way back to his lonesome home to watch a brain cell-deadening show called "Where Are My Pants?" He believes he is content, but is devastated to discover that he has made such little impact on all of his daily acquaintances and colleagues that virtually no one knows who he is. When he topples into an underground shaft and finds the long-missing, centuries-old "Piece of Resistance," he is informed by the mysterious, darkly attractive Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) that he is the "Master Builder" the world has been searching for all along, prophesied to save the land from the fascist government run by Lord Business (Will Ferrell). With help coming from a wise mage named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the eternally cheerful Unikitty (Alison Brie), and Wyldstyle's beau, Batman himself (Will Arnett), Emmet must evade the wrath of Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and infiltrate Lord Business' high-rise lair to defeat his peculiar doomsday device called the KraGle if they hope to finally bring peace and freewill back to the world.

From the opening frame, the candy-coated "The LEGO Movie" emulates the feeling of being hopped up on sugar, its onslaught of humor—physical gags, side jokes, one-liners, background yuks, double-entendres—coming briskly and without cease. Unless one is already keyed into its unique tone and rhythm, it may take some viewers a few minutes to acclimate to Lord and Miller's delirious pacing. By the 15-minute mark, it is smooth sailing ahead, the story and characters growing in involvement and thematic depth the longer it plays out. A swirling action extravaganza on top beginning most prominently with a dizzying nighttime highway chase set-piece, the film continues to renew any sense of flagging momentum every time Emmet & Co. fly off to a different area of LEGO Land (e.g., The Old West, Middle Zealand, Cloud Cuckoo Land). Each setting is new, different and, dismayingly, cut off from the rest by walls which Lord Business has built to separate one from the other.

The innovative computer animation is extraordinary in that it rarely looks like computer animation at all. Adopting the appearance of stop-motion by way of live-action LEGO pieces, the visuals—and their sonic accompaniment—provide a staggering sensory overload, each individual element painstakingly conceived and integrated into one previously unglimpsed imaginary universe. From the NYC-like Metropolis Emmet lives in to cities inspired by westerns, medieval adventures and hallucinatory fantasies, there is always something on the screen worth drinking in with one's eyes. A sequence set above and below the ocean is particularly stunning, the currents and waves an intricate, swaying LEGO design come to life.

Chris Pratt (2013's "Her") endearingly voices the affable, sympathetic Emmet, a good-natured soul whose happy-go-lucky disposition is challenged when he learns his imprint on others has been minimal. Going through his life thinking he is a somebody, he is shaken by doubt after hearing a news report that he may instead mean nothing at all to everyone else. What Emmet gradually comes to realize is that he has been a victim of his society and Lord Business' dictatorial stronghold, rendered a virtual drone who has never been empowered to think for himself. Elizabeth Banks (2013's "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire") is a lively, fetching Wyldstyle (really Lucy), a young woman with a rebellious streak whose alter-ego name is the source of repeatedly incorrect judgments. "Are you a deejay?" she is asked on more than one occasion when they hear what she calls herself. "Is 'Wyldstyle' on your birth certificate?"

Alison Brie (2012's "The Five-Year Engagement") earns many of the heartiest laughs as the conflicted Unikitty, a cute part-unicorn/part-feline from Cloud Cuckoo Land who desperately tries to see the bright side even when the place she calls home is crashing down around her. Describing Cloud Cuckoo Land as a place with "no negativity, no government, and no consistency," Unikitty clings to the imposed euphoria of her environment, but is always one rude or unjust run-in away from snapping. And, as Lord Business, Will Ferrell (2013's "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues") plays up his sniveling, grandstanding villainy until crucial story reveals allow him to expand beyond a one-note baddie. By the end—a conclusion that dare not be given away—Ferrell's performance has become beautifully, gently complicated.

Walking into "The LEGO Movie," it was unthinkable to expect the film would be anything more than a silly, hopefully good time. It is those things, yes, but the reality goes above and beyond what was called for, playing impeccably upon a number of pertinent, expansive themes involving the importance for individuality, the drive to make a mark on the planet, the danger in abusing power, and the value of positive parent-child relationships. By the time the finale is playing out, "The LEGO Movie" has long surpassed "just getting by" and has turned into a moving little picture transcendent of the name brand connected to its title. "This is so cool!" a young child behind me at the screening couldn't help but exclaim late in the film. It is difficult to argue with this reaction.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman