"Do you think zeppelins are a bad investment?"
In a given year, there are so many hastily put together animated films, it becomes hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Parents in particular get dragged to so many films, they all just sort of blend together. The success of Shrek taught animators that while kids are the primary target for such films, double entendres could be snuck into screenplays for these films to give the adults something to laugh at while their children are enjoying the story and characters.
While a large number of films, including all of the Shrek sequels, have overdone this trend with an ever-greater series of diminishing returns, it's always nice to see a film that executes it well. Writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did a nice job of this balancing act with their 2009 film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, when it was announced they would be doing a film centered around LEGOs, there was a lot of skepticism as to whether or not they could make it work. Were they successful? Read on to find out...
Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) lives in the town of Bricksburg, where everyone follows their instructions and never diverts from them. He uses guidebooks to learn how to dress, fit in, do his job, and mindlessly consume without ever asking questions. One night he encounters a strange woman named Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) at the construction site where he works, and while attempting to pursue her, he falls into a pit where he discovers a large red block he's never seen before. He touches the block and sees strange visions, and when he wakes up, he finds he's been apprehended by the police, and the red block is affixed to his back.
Wildstyle breaks him out of prison, informing him that he is "The Special," who was prophesied to bring an end to the reign of Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Many years ago, Lord Business built walls between the different LEGO worlds, to prevent them from interacting with one another, but a segment of people known as Master Builders, who can assemble anything they wish without the aid of instructions, have been trying to stop his plans. They inform Emmet that he can use the "Piece of Resistance" that is attached to his back to stop Lord Business' newest invention, "The Kragle," from permanently gluing everyone in place for all time.
The LEGO Movie is one of the most inventive and original animated films ever made, somehow managing to create a world that seems as though it was dreamed up by a child, but smart enough to work within a defined set of rules that will easily make sense to children and adults alike. The entire conceit of the film is ingenious, and is simultaneously complex and convoluted, seeming to make up rules as it goes along, yet adhering to a very fundamental set of basic storytelling conventions. It is nothing short of wondrous in all of its sublime strangeness.
The filmmakers have let their imaginations run wild, and it all pays off for the most part. One of the tightropes they walk is how to make the film make sense in a way that seems childlike yet also sophisticated, and the film gets bogged down at times with lengthy explanations and abrupt stops in the story to drive home the message. It's a great message, and one that would have shone through without being hammered to death, and although I appreciate what they were attempting to achieve, it felt a bit overwrought and explained two or three times too many.
But none of that really matters in the grand scheme of things since the film is so funny and original. The voice acting is fantastic across the board, and compliments the fantastic animation sublimely. Chris Pratt is on the verge of becoming a huge star, and it's not hard to see why, even when he's simply doing voice work. Will Arnett gives us a perfectly realized Batman, Liam Neeson is hilariously funny as a Good Cop/Bad Cop hybrid, and Morgan Freeman does his Morgan Freeman thing once again as a wise mystic. My favorite character by far was Charlie Day's astronaut Benny, who tries in vain several times to build a spaceship, and the sheer delight in his voice when he's finally allowed to run wild was the highlight of film.
While the animation is computer generated, it has a handmade, stop motion feel that works incredibly well, and is never short on cleverness. Water, fire, explosions, and even construction sites are ingeniously done, working beautifully within an established set of parameters that makes sense. When a character returns as a ghost, they're dangled into the shot on a string, a simple, yet ingenious visual gag that's well worth the extra time and effort to animate, which is a blanket statement that can be made about the film as a whole.
The LEGO Movie works better than it has any right to, and while I do feel that it was overhyped to some extent, it's well above average when compared to the typical animated feature film. It's smart, funny, and appealing to both kids and adults equally. While the kids are likely to be more forgiving of its shortcomings, they are present, and they prevent it from being a perfect film. It's incredibly fun, and will likely spark the imaginations of everyone that sees it, young or old. It never feels like the product that it most assuredly is, and at the end of the day, that's what makes it so good.
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]