“Everything is awesome” is the goofy, satiric musical refrain that plays over the opening sequences of The LEGO Movie. It’s purposely grating, on-the-nose in the most comedically intentional way, and yet there is no more appropriate descriptor for this film. Everything is truly awesome in The LEGO Movie, which is the cinematic realization of our wildest, most fantastical playtime adventures as children. Moment after moment, character after character, sequence after sequence, this is the epitome of a capital-M Movie – bringing to life one of the most iconic toys in modern history, mounting a gleeful madcap adventure informed by limitless imagination, and calling on a palooza of seemingly mismatched characters to carry out the mayhem. It’s not unlike the wacky scenarios many of us concocted as kids, back when we weren’t restrained by silly notions of reality – except accented with a self-referential zing that results from growing up.
The inevitable question that arises upon any animated film’s release is, “does it play for both kids and adults?” The LEGO Movie is the definitive solution to that conundrum. Everyone, regardless of age or circumstance, can identify with LEGOs. For adults, they trigger instant nostalgia. Whether you collected complex set after complex set or built your own unique creations or just tinkered at a friend’s house, those colorful, interlocking blocks are emblazoned on your memory – they were like the early 3-D pixels of our analog world. And in spite of the takeover of digital toys and entertainment, today’s kids are still immersed in the LEGO world, as the company has seamlessly integrated itself into countless movie tie-ins and video games. With that said, there is one undeniable point to be made: LEGOs are also popular due to the savvy corporate megalith that dominates the airwaves and toy stores. With saturation like that, it’s kind of impossible not to be familiar with them.
Such a corporate influence automatically puts the notion of a LEGO-centric film on tenuous ground. The content could very swiftly become incestuous. Self-promotion could weigh down the narrative far past the point of palatability. I don’t know how they were able to pull it off, but writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) not only navigate all these pitfalls but also poke fun at the ubiquity of the LEGO brand while telling a story that taps directly into the brazen inventiveness of our childhood fantasies and reminds us how fun it could be to build a world that didn’t follow the directions.
Speaking of directions, Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) lives by them. He’s a common construction worker (get it?) who is content to live as directed, smiling and singing along to the aforementioned anthem of “awesomeness,” which essentially illustrates a world drowning in facile sameness. Emmet is none the wiser, so naïve in his high spirits, that he’s unable to realize how insignificant the world considers him. He has no true friends and no one can identify a single unique thing about him — although, the same could be said for anyone, since all of “Bricksburg” is under the control of President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who has a monopoly on all commerce and entertainment in the bright LEGO community, and has soothed the residents into a sort of candy-coated numbness. On the surface, President Business aims to micromanage everyday life to the last detail. But (not-so) secretly, his aim is world domination, attempting to freeze the entire LEGO universe in isolated moments of perfection using a dastardly device dubbed “The KraGle” (which, if you can envision it, is a crumpled tube of Krazy Glue — so you understand the dire, permanent consequences of this weapon). By seemingly random coincidence, Emmet is spotted by sassy heroine Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) and tapped as “The Special,” the greatest “Master Builder” in the world, who will lead a LEGO uprising prophesied by the wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman). He reluctantly joins forces with the wizard’s rebellion, consisting of a motley grouping of famous LEGO caricatures, from a self-important Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) and his cadre of DC heroes, to the Lord of the Rings crew, to the mid-’90s NBA All-Stars, to an outdated ’80s spaceman (voiced by Charlie Day).
The LEGO-tastic message is clear: finding one’s true uniqueness, no matter how different or offbeat, is a key to finding happiness in this world that can reduce us to numbers, or demographics, or dollar signs. Simple enough, but Lord and Miller encase the emotional soul of their film in a dazzling and hysterical array of cheeky humor and adventurous set pieces, each playing on the ingrained kitsch of LEGOs (and not shying away from taking a few calculated shots) while staying completely true to these unique character creations. The film’s visuals are equally inventive, blending traditional stop-motion with CG animation to craft a world that is bright, beautiful, and surprisingly true to the limitations of LEGO movement.
Coming off a year that was relatively light on great animated films, The LEGO Movie blasts off the screen to set a very high standard for studio animation in 2014. It’s hilarious, it’s exciting, it’s dazzling… it’s truly and uniquely awesome.