Subversion comes in many shapes. Even interlocking plastic blocks.
“The Lego Movie” snaps together into one of the most radical films we’ve seen in months. Really.
The computer-animated epic is cleverer than the latest Disney or Pixar flicks, functioning as both a straight-up adventure and a parody. It delivers riveting chase scenes while making fun of chase scenes. It directs a critical eye toward brain-dead American culture. And it unites beloved characters that otherwise would never occupy the same universe.
Where else can you see Superman, Gandalf, a Ninja Turtle, Robin Hood, Milhouse Van Houten, Abraham Lincoln and the 2002 NBA All-Stars join forces to defeat an evil empire?
Chris Pratt voices Emmet, an agreeable construction worker whom friends describe as “a little bit of a blank slate.” With his yellow face and brown helmet hair (like a young Ted Koppel), he’s another cog in the machine. He loves his local sports team, the hit TV show “Where Are My Pants?” and the No. 1 song, “Everything Is Awesome.” Come to think of it, so does everybody else who lives under the ordered rule of President Business (Will Ferrell channeling “Megamind”).
Then Emmet happens upon an artifact called the Piece of Resistance. According to a prophecy by the wise Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the item means Emmet is “the greatest, most interesting person of all time” and the key to stopping an apocalypse orchestrated by President Business.
The villain quickly dispatches forces to recover the piece and eradicate Emmet, who would much rather be buying expensive coffee and eating at any chain restaurant. But then he is rescued by a goth ninja named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who introduces herself with the immortal line, “Come with me if you want to not die.”
As the pair is pursued by Business’ forces led by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) through various Lego universes — the old West, medieval cities, a pirate-filled ocean — Emmet begins to fall for the stripe-haired Wyldstyle. Too bad she’s already dating Batman (Will Arnett).
The term Lego comes from the Danish phrase “leg godt,” which means “play well.” That certainly describes the creative relationship between writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who previously flirted with subversive animated humor in the first “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” For a film based on a product tie-in, the filmmakers admirably concoct a movie that never sells out.
Lego fans have created stop-motion home movies for decades. This big-screen version meticulously simulates that approach with startling effect, even though most of the images come courtesy of digital animation. (The studio claims it would take 15 million bricks to manually create what is imitated on the screen.)
Just when the colorful visual assault starts to overwhelm the senses, the movie detours toward simplicity. A “Life of Pi”-style revelation casts the events that preceded it in a new light, with the story gaining significant emotional depth.
The underlying theme of “The Lego Movie” is comparable to that of the toys themselves — and certainly reflects the approach of Lord and Miller. Like the best playthings, Lego is limited only by the creativity of the user. If you want to put together a Lego knight to fight other Lego knights, that’s fine. But wouldn’t it be cooler if the knight had pirate hooks for hands, a robot body, Wonder Woman’s face and rode a T-Rex?
That’s sure what the filmmakers think.
Like the song says, everythingis awesome.