At first, the idea of a film based on a pile of colorful toy bricks as its narrative
launching point seemed patently absurd. Had Hollywood's desperate need to find product tie-ins for every and any toy gone completely bonkers? What's next? A big-screen adaptation of Lincoln Logs? A Slinky action adventure? If Battleship, Transformers and G.I. Joe were any indication, The Lego Movie would prove to be yet another culturally bankrupt attempt to capitalize on corporate synergies.
Then, adding insult, there was the letter instructing members of the press to include the requisite trademark symbol with all mentions of Lego — including the movie's title. Attention Warner Bros. Marketing Division: I am a film critic, not a brand ambassador …
… Or so I thought.
Turns out, I'm going to unwillingly be both. Because integrity be damned, The Lego Movie is not only highly entertaining, it's downright subversive. Writers and directors Chris Miller and Phillip Lord (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) bring a smarty-pants wit to a kid's movie that's both meticulous and ridiculous. The mishmash visual design is an audacious riot of color, punctuated by glitch-prone character animation and fantastically tactile landscapes. The plot is a brazen hijacking of The Matrix films, throwing in sight gags, satirical commentary, frenzied action sequences and hilarious pop culture deflations. The best is Will Arnett's ineptly chauvinistic Batman and a frenemy-like relationship between The Green Lantern (voiced by Jonah Hill) and Superman (Channing Tatum).
But what really makes Miller and Lord's giddy, riotous film stand out is its unrepentant critique of social conformity. The movie's villains include trigger-happy cops, a corporate oligarch as president, rampant government surveillance and an oppressive system of compliance and mindless acceptance. The film's show-stopping pop tune, "Everything Is Awesome," is as catchy as it is frightening, a radio-friendly bubblegum melody extolling the virtues of droning pack-mentality consensus.
Emmett Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), a low-level construction worker, is exactly the kind of lemming this system relies on. Having enthusiastically drunk society's Kool-Aid, Emmett never deviates from Lego World's step-by-step instruction manual. He loves "Everything Is Awesome" (which plays all day long on the radio), happily and unquestioningly pays $37 for a cup of coffee — like a good consumer should do — and idolizes President Business (Will Ferrell), a quasi-religious corporate leader who cannot stand disorder. Emmett's job is to knock down chaotically imaginative buildings and replace them with featureless towers.
Late one night at the construction site, Emmett runs into the black-clad Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who's combing the wreckage for the storied Piece de Resistance, which will stop President Business from using the Kragle to glue down every Lego in its proper place. Unfortunately, Emmett ends up with the artifact stuck to his back, unexpectedly making him "The Special." Before you can say "Neo rip-off," the two are meeting up with the rebellion's leader, the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and fleeing from the Mr. Smith-like Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).
President Business oozes anti-1 percent nastiness, and Miller and Lord's timely allegories are craftily hidden in a busy, gag-heavy tale that doesn't make a lick of sense but moves along so speedily you'll hardly notice. Occasionally, The Lego Movie's relentlessly frenetic pace crosses into ADHD territory, forgetting to give its characters much in the way of nuance (like, say, Toy Story). Lego World is also noticeably lacking in diversity — even though the movie does land a genuinely funny Star Wars joke, a cameo appearance by Lando Calrissian doesn't count.
Much like Legos themselves, Miller and Lord's movie understands the joy of free play and the goofy randomness that kids bring to storytelling. The Lego Movie revels in that anarchy while acknowledging that sometimes the spirit of cooperation has its virtues. When rule-following Emmett finally has his game-changing epiphany — he notices that the rebellious Master Builders seem unable to work together for their common cause — The Lego Movie's desire to inveigh against social conformity turns into a plea for collectivism. It's a message that will inevitably send the blood pressures of Fox News pundits through the roof. o