Review of The Lego Movie

Richard Morgan, ’14

The Lego Movie has no right to be as good as it is. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have once again taken a disappointing prospect and turned it into something remarkable (see their previous work on 21 Jump Street). The Lego Movie is not just the best animated film of the last three years, but it is arguably the best comedy, too, scintillating with pitch-perfect timing, a colorful cast of characters, and a surprisingly sharp satirical edge.

On paper, The Lego Movie should have been a colossal disappointment. Our everyman protagonist, Emmet (played by Chris Pratt), lives a perfectly ordinary life in a perfectly ordinary world, stumbles across an ancient prophecy, waltzes off on a whirlwind adventure to save the world, and, naturally, comes to realize his true potential despite his ostensibly unremarkable appearance (and there’s an obligatory romance sub-plot, too) – yet another retread of the hero’s journey. On paper, it’s even more generic than Frozen, a film I ended up rather enjoying despite its conventional trappings.

Notice how I say “on paper,” though, because in practice The Lego Movie is fantastic: it is keenly self-aware of its traditional template, and a delightfully ironic undercurrent permeates the entire work. It frequently jabs at the silliness of its premise, even going so far as to utterly obliterate the fourth wall at one point. The film comes loaded with all the pop-culture references you would expect (and more), but rather than alluding for the sake of remaining topical, The Lego Movie uses these references as a launching point for its satire – a satire that is surprisingly sophisticated, at that. Whether lampooning the heavy-handed darkness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, mocking the maddening repetitiveness of pop music, or illustrating the soul-sucking qualities of contemporary consumer capitalism, The Lego Movie at once feels fresh, intelligent and gleefully anarchistic. It even feels balanced – especially in its critique of conformity, on the one hand denouncing its ability to deaden the imagination while on the other hand upholding the marvels that can be achieved by working as a cohesive unit. Add to that a surprisingly effective message on the topic of family and The Lego Movie fully overcomes its conventions.

What’s more, though, is the film’s incredible cast of characters. In my review of Frozen, I applauded the treatment of the lead female characters, Anna and Elsa, while trashing the snowman Olaf and his irritating, downright stupid sense of comedic relief. Thankfully, there are no Olafs in The Lego Movie – only gems: Morgan Freeman as the blind prophet Vitruvius, Elizabeth Banks as the nonconformist WyldStyle, Charlie Day as an old-school spaceman, Allison Brie as a unicorn cat, Will Arnett as Batman, Liam Neeson as Good Cop, Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, Will Ferrell as Lord Business, Shaquille O’Neal as Shaquille O’Neal – it really does not get any better than this. Every single character steals the scene at least once, and every single character comes crammed with so many jokes that it’s remarkable that all of these jokes are so effective – and that the film never loses focus.

That isn’t to say that The Lego Movie is some sort of highbrow comedy, mind you. It is a family film, after all, and there is plenty of content meant to appeal to children. Again, though, there is no Olaf; there are no jokes that irritate those older sensibilities, and there are plenty of jokes that delight them. This is a real family film – a film that can appeal to the whole family, not just its younger members.

I can understand why one might be skeptical, but the hype is real. The Lego Movie is a stunning example of inexhaustible creativity, breathless energy, and surprising intelligence, stomping on its conventional set-up with the relentless vigor of a 10-year-old on a sugar binge. It cranks the volume to 11 right as the show begins, and rather than petering out as one might expect, it hits 15 by the time the show ends. I can’t remember the last time a movie made me laugh this much, and I don’t care how embarrassing that might sound. It’s excellent.

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