Everything is awesome. Not only is that the refrain to the delightfully subversive and sarcastic Marxist ditty that permeates Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s latest outing The Lego Movie, but the perfect sentence just to describe how delightful of an experience it is to behold for kids and adults alike. One of the funniest, sharpest, and most poignant and thoughtful animated comedies ever assembled, Lord and Miller’s work here outdoes not only everything they did on TV’s Clone High or on the big screen with the still really great Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street. This is a film so good that it belongs in the same rarefied air as Monsters Inc. and Fantastic Mr. Fox as one the best animated comedies of the new millennium (and of all time). There isn’t a single moment in the film that doesn’t work almost perfectly, and I still think I missed a bunch of stuff because I was either laughing so hard or because it’s so detailed that catching all the gags on a preliminary watch is nearly impossible. Everything is awesome, indeed.
Based on the world’s most popular brand of building and construction toys, the story follows Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), an unremarkable, kinda bland doofus minifig in an orange construction worker outfit. Despite his chronically sunny disposition and his ability to follow directions to a perfect T, no one seems to notice he exists and he probably hasn’t had an original thought in his life. One day when spotting a trespasser on his job site, Emmet falls into a pit and discovers the mythical Piece of Resistance, a giant red brick that fuses to his back. He’s immediately taken in by creative master builders Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the wise, old Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) to help him unlock his true potential for creativity and to help them stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from unleashing The Kragle, a superweapon that will leave the many various Lego worlds immobilized in complete harmony and constructed perfection forever. Our heroes race to find and stop The Kragle while being pursued by Business’ right hand man (or men, as it were), a literally two faced Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).
Lord and Miller, much like how they made pitch perfect comedies out of picture books and a not all that hilarious to begin with TV series, have once again done the impossible. They have created a film out of corporate branding that not only holds one of the most anti-corporate stances possible, but one that also speaks to the very kind of creativity and expression that the sponsoring product hopes to convey. It’s the best case scenario all around. The Lego world that Emmet lives in thrives on conformity and forced happiness that belies a real disconnect between the haves and have-nots of the community. It’s a world where people are given instruction booklets that tell them how to live their lives: what to do, what to say, how to eat, how to live a healthy life. Emmet has duped himself into thinking he needs to listen to the hottest new pop song or to spend exorbitant amounts of money on a coffee because he thinks it will make him happy and make people like him. He’s still miserable and friendless, but he remains happy because he has bought into the corporate ideal completely.
The film’s villain wants nothing more than to keep things perfectly static. He can feel the status quo slipping from him and his only reaction to keep himself in power is the equally pie in the sky notion that simply freezing everything in place will mean his eternal rule and the piece of mind that the world exists for him alone. This kind of mentality is exactly what breeds sheep-like thinkers like Emmet, and leads to heroes who have enormous identity complexes. Wyldstyle has changed her name and stylish look more times than she can remember just with the hopes of standing out. Vitruvius wears jeans and a robe like he’s still stuck in the 60s or 70s. Heck, even Batman (Will Arnet) is a deeply troubled soul who morphs the scars of his traumatic childhood into a pithy defense mechanism that reeks of entitlement and thoughts that he’s the smartest person in the world.
This is sharp, perceptive comedy; the kinds of things that adults laugh at because quite often they contain the most universal truth. It’s also silly and lighthearted enough for kids to understand it without anyone having to explain it to them. They won’t pick up on the satire of modern society that’s in play, but do they really need to? They only need to know that Emmet is a loveable goofball that everyone will want to succeed.
Plus, for kids and adults the actual message of how to rise above stagnation and boredom is what matters most. The whole point to Lord and Miller’s endeavour isn’t to show how awesome Legos are, but to show how creativity and individual thought are the two things that can make the world into a better place. Take for example, the bizarro Lego world known as Cloud Cuckoo Land, a place with bipolar unicorn kitties (Alison Brie), highly excitable spacemen (Charlie Day), and hulking pirate-robot-shark for a hand hybrids (Nick Offerman) can exist in perfect harmony away from anyone who might want to do harm to their senses of individuality. It’s the exact opposite of the spectrum: a world where creativity has run hilariously and impractically amok, but at least everyone there has a sense of genuine happiness rather than a false sense of personal security.
And honestly, what’s better than a happiness that you can create for yourself that’s not influenced by outside factors and forces? There’s a real sense of purity, love, and hope that Miller and Lord create amongst all of the inspired silliness and spot on jokes. It’s a film about teamwork that values the individuality of the members of the team. It’s a world where people have been led to believe that there are only certain things they can and can’t do to better their lives without ever once realizing that their possibilities are endless. It’s the rare film that makes one believe that the impossible is completely plausible, and even better than that, welcomed and celebrated.
It’s that same sense of anarchic behaviour that also makes the movie so darn funny. In a world where anything is possible, all matter of characters can exist in the same time and place without anyone ever batting an eyelash. We know it’s not normal to see cartoon characters, superheroes, and sports stars from different worlds in the same place at the same time, but when you’re a kid using your imagination, it makes perfect sense. Take that childlike spirit of just taking all the toys you have, throwing them all into a pile, and just having at it, and then infusing it with genuinely funny jokes that anyone from 4-400 would easily understand and the results are positively intoxicating.
The spectacular animation helps, too, with everything down to the smoke billowing from trains and water coming out of the taps being made from Legos. There’s an incredible amount of detail to every frame of the film, with the scratches and nicks and scrapes on every figure showing up as clear as day even in 3D. There’s a remarkable amount of depth and range as Lord, Miller, and animation supervisor Chris McKay (Robot Chicken, Moral Orel) do their best to make sure the film is as visually creative and vibrant as the story demands it to be.
And, of course, the voice cast is more than pulling their weight. Pratt couldn’t be a better choice for the wide eyed, eager to please innocent. Banks gets to play a strong female bit of plastic as a hyper articulate and brainy creative type who has been given an image problem by the very world she’s trying to make better. Ferrell gets to go back to playing Mugatu from Zoolander with expectedly hilarious results. Freeman and Neeson sound like they might be having the most fun, though, with both manically ripping apart the kinds of roles they have been given for years that they can finally infuse some humor into.
Even when one thinks that Lord and Miller can’t possibly make their film more enjoyable, there’s the incredibly strong third act that really brings everything home, taking a somewhat unforeseen twist that both raises the stakes, adds even more childlike wonder, and becomes not just an enjoyable, subversive romp, but something that’s the definition of a classic, well rounded film. It’s a rug pull, but one that adds a human element that was only subtextually hinted at before while raising the emotional and narrative stakes considerably. And in those moments, Lord and Miller solidify their reputations as masterfully storytellers and not just comedic talents who have mastered the fast quip, the sight gag, and the art of the dramatic reveal. This isn’t a movie just for kids. This is top notch filmmaking all around. It’s an exponential leap that makes one wonder what Lord and Miller will do next. The answer is that they have 22 Jump Street coming out later this year, and while it won’t be the same kind of movie, I still don’t envy them. The Lego Movie is honestly a hard act for anyone to follow.
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