Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: "The Lego Movie"

Directors: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Runtime: 100 minutes

By all accounts, The Lego Movie shouldn't work. On the surface, it seems like the evil twin of Pixar's Toy Story franchise: a calculated attempt at cashing in on a name brand without any legitimate cinematic effort. Yet even though there's no doubt that The Lego Movie will help boost sales of the famous toys, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's film still stands tall as its own achievement. Rather than a cheap cash grab, The Lego Movie is a snappy, funny, and utterly delightful work with the right mix of broad appeal and actual cinematic smarts.

Though the story is full of cliches, including the prophecy-filled opening, Lord and Miller's script knows how to embrace and subvert cliches, rather than become weighed down by them. At its core, The Lego Movie is about an ordinary guy (Emmett, voiced by Chris Pratt), getting swept up in an adventure to save the world. Yet rather than settle for saccharine condescension, The Lego Movie has a little more going on under the surface, albeit not at first glance. 

Even without the final act (which I'll leave unspoiled), this is still a constantly engaging, frequently hilarious joyride. The stellar voice cast, which also includes Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Alison Brie, and Morgan Freeman, are all perfectly on point with their delivery. Even when confined to the limited expressions of the digitally enhanced Lego figures, these characters really pop. Equally impressive is how Lord and Miller manage to make the film equally enjoyable for all ages, without ever stooping into crude or gross-out territory. Rather than pander, The Lego Movie focuses on a charming, and ultimately touching story about creativity and independence, with just the right touch of subversion.

The animation is just as impressive. The figures all look sleek and polished, yet the movement still has the feel of actual Lego bricks. It's a decision that feels both retro and refreshingly new. Above all, what makes The Lego Movie stand out is that it truly feels like a work of love, rather than a glorified advertisement. There are real characters, a real (albeit traditional) story, and even a brief flash of genuine emotional heft. 

That's not to say that The Lego Movie hits the same highs as the best of the Pixar canon, but it's still and beautifully accomplished work of animation on all fronts. Once the story movies past the purposefully bland introduction, the whole project roars to life, and keeps the jokes and exciting set pieces coming with smart efficiency. Above all else, The Lego Movie is proof that, with the right levels of passion and care, commercial properties can function as their own enjoyable films. It's enough to make you forget that the whole project likely started as nothing more than a glorified commercial designed to make a few extra bucks.

Grade: B+

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