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Review: The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie (2014)

Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Premise: An animated film taking place in a world made of the plastic building-block toys. A construction worker (voice of Chris Pratt) gets caught up in a quest to stop an evil tyrant.

What Works: The past year saw the release of a lot of animated features but with the exception of Frozen, none of them were very good. The Lego Movie gets 2014’s crop of animation off to a great start and it is a very entertaining and surprisingly thoughtful picture. One of the most surprising aspects of The Lego Movie is how accessible it is for a wide range of audiences. There is a distinction between children’s movies and family movies. Children’s pictures are designed to appeal solely to the younger demographic and they frequently work better on home video platforms than in the theater, with their only attraction for grownups being that they occupy and distract children. Family movies, on the other hand, appeal to both children and their parents and the better of these films make for quality family viewing. The Lego Movie is a family movie and that in itself is unique. Hollywood has largely given up on producing quality family fare, opting instead for PG-13 movies that frequently tread on the boundaries of the R-rating, and animated pictures like The Smurfs, The Lorax and Despicable Me 2 have underestimated and underwhelmed their younger viewers, not to mention their parents. The filmmakers of The Lego Movie have made a very successful family picture because they recognized how to entertain both audiences. The story is simple enough for the younger crowd but sophisticated enough for older viewers. The movie has plenty of energy and adventure and a consistent stream of jokes. In many respects, The Lego Movie recalls the original Shrek in the way it hits the right pitch in both its action and its humor. The other surprising aspect of The Lego Movie is its intelligence. The story has a hip self-awareness. The moviemakers realized the cynicism with which a lot of viewers would (and should) approach a film titled The Lego Movie. They set about winning over the audience by acknowledging the inherent silliness of what they are doing while also telling their story as earnestly as they can. The result is a lot of fun.

What Doesn’t: There is an inherent contradiction in The Lego Movie. The story has a subversive, anti-corporate theme, not that different from The Matrix or even the original Robocop, in which an unlikely hero must free himself and his people from a totalitarian system. But at the same time, The Lego Movie is a one-hundred minute long commercial for the toy manufacturer, its products, and its licenses. The way the story plays out suggests that the essence of the Lego brand is one of innovation and freedom, which would appear to resolve this tension, but the movie never completely shakes its corporate ties. As a result, whatever the filmmakers might be trying to say about resisting the establishment is inherently compromised. As a motion picture, The Lego Movie runs a little long. The constant action and the film’s sometimes zany sense of humor begin to grate in the last half hour. Throughout the picture but especially in its finale, The Lego Movie borrows heavily from the Toy Story films. The ending of The Lego Movie is especially a problem. The climax incorporates an M. Night Shyamalan-like twist and like a lot of last minute reversals it cheapens the investment that the audience has made in the story. But, the twist is clever enough to make it a pleasant surprise and it is sufficiently compelling.

Bottom Line: Because The Lego Movie is a feature adapted from a toy line the expectations for this film are not very high and so it easily exceeds them. But the filmmakers of this picture have produced one of the better family-friendly features in a while, a film that is solidly entertaining and a lot of fun. 

Episode: #479 (February 23, 2014)