“The LEGO Movie” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Cinema Cafe. PG, 1:41, three and a half stars out of four.
Unfortunately, “The LEGO Movie” does not have a cameo by that sad little footbridge that seemed to be the only thing I could build out of LEGOs without an instruction book. Aside from that, the animated film lovingly and cleverly captures the appeal those little plastic bricks have on kids, whether you played with them yesterday or during the Carter Administration.
I know that the animation in the movie is computer-generated, and not built out of millions and millions of tiny bricks. (I know this because we would have surely heard about the mass suicides of stop-motion animators if it had.) But darned if it doesn’t look like it was; one of the many things directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“21 Jump Street”) get right is the decision to mimic the stuttery stop-motion world of LEGOs. Characters move around like fat little fingers were directing them across a table top, buildings and vehicles explode into pieces that can be quickly reassembled into something new. Even water, smoke, flames — all made out of LEGO bits.
But its the spirit, sweet and more than a little subversive, that makes “The LEGO Movie” a classic. The film’s LEGOland is a cheerful dystopia where all the LEGO people follow their instruction manuals, listen to the same pop song, watch the same dumb TV show, and happily tear down “weird” old buildings to make way for monolithic new ones. This is all under the guidance of their leader, Captain Business (Will Ferrell), who slips in veiled threats between happy advertisements for Taco Tuesday.
Usually, the hero of this kind of film is a misfit outsider, but the problem Emmet (Chris Pratt) has is he fits in too well into this world, and nobody notices him. Nobody except a mysterious pilgrim named WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), who thinks Emmet may be “the Special,” prophesized by wise seer Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) as being the one who can find the magic “Piece of Resistance” that can blah blah blah. (I’m not being flip; at one point Emmet tunes out the exposition too.)
Vitruvius and WyldStyle take Emmet to meet the Master Builders, whose council chambers look exactly like the bottom of my daughters’ toy bin, where Batman (Will Arnett) sits side by side with an astronaut (Charlie Day), a pink kitty (Alison Brie) and both the artist Michelangelo and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo. Together, with Business’ minion Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) on their tail, the Builders plan to infiltrate Business’ office, find his secret weapon and blah blah blah. Sorry, where was I?
If the plot sounds awfully “Matrix”-y, rest assured that “The LEGO Movie” has a lot of fun subverting its own formula, and every scene is just packed with jokes aimed at every size audience member. The action is fun and frantic, and the voicework is great — Pratt’s cheerfully dim air is perfect for Emmet, and Freeman delivers one of his best, most sly performances in a while, seemingly having a ball sending up his usual Voice of Wisdom role.
There was a point about midway through “The LEGO Movie,” amid all the chase scenes and fights, celebrity voice cameos and sight gags, where it was starting to wear me down a little, starting to adhere too much to the formula it wanted to subvert.
But then came a brilliant and poignant third-act twist that really makes the movie something special, both adding a larger context to the adventure and making it more intimate somehow. “The LEGO Movie” will almost certainly inspire kids and their parents to break out the LEGO kits together; I hope it also inspires filmmakers to make better animated movies.