We’ve all been shredding Hollywood a lot lately for being creatively bankrupt and having to adapt comic books to death, rebooting every single blockbuster franchise from the 20th century and even force-feeding us unnecessary movie adaptations of toys and games.
Generally when the industry cynically uses a beloved toy or game as source material, there is going to be derision critically (“Transformers”), financially (“Clue”) or both (“Battleship”).
But this weekend, we get the rare movie adaptation of a toy that unequivocally should satisfy both masters of art and commerce, the first full-length theatrical movie based on Legos.
Having conquered the industries of toys, books, video games, streaming content, apparel, amusement parks, quasi-nutritious snacks, hotels, housewares and farm equipment (OK, the last one is not true — yet), the Lego Group, a family-owned multi-national concern out of Denmark, now seeks to conquer the world of feature films.
And boy, is this a stunning first strike beachhead. “The Lego Movie” is a clever, exciting and enjoyable animated adventure from the fertile minds of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”).
Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a very ordinary, boring construction worker minifigure, living a life of convention and complacency in Lego City. He follows the rules, does his work with diligence and never rocks the boat under any circumstance. He is the mean, median and mode of Lego minifigures.
Through strange, wondrous circumstances, Emmet is anointed as the Special, a mythical being prophesized as the savior of all Legokind. Emmet and his friends must go on a long and arduous quest to stop the evil machinations of Lord Business (the voice of Will Ferrell), who intends to wreak havoc on the known Lego universe.
The plot unabashedly lifts from the unlikely-hero-as-chosen-one story trove. “The Matrix,” definitely serves as its main template. Imagine if Keanu Reeves were made of distinct plastic parts. And could act.
Along the way, Emmet encounters a variety of weird and wonderful minifigure characters from the Lego pantheon — old (Benny, a 1980s-era astronaut), old school (2002 U.S.A. Basketball Dream Team), modern (Gandalf the wizard) and brand new (Wyldstyle, a supporting character and Emmet’s love interest voiced by Elizabeth Banks). Keep your ears and eyes peeled for the variety of characters in the film and the interesting voices behind them.
The sets and scenery are awe-inspiring. As you might guess, cars, buildings, food, furniture, etc. are all made of Legos. But even more jaw dropping is that literally everything, even the items you wouldn’t think could be made of Legos — water, smoke, fire, clouds — get the brick treatment.
And everything moves in a unique merging of low and high tech. While the animators utilize top-notch technologies, the physical limitations of Lego minifigures add a unique dimension to it.
For the five of you who have never seen or held one, minifigures can only move in certain directions — the limbs rotate only on one axis and heads turn only on the equator. But with limited mobility, in the movie they still flip, bounce, jump and twirl with delight, manipulating their surroundings like normal animated creatures.
It’s a fascinating mix of limited movement (low-fi) married to unlimited animation techniques (hi-fi).
Additionally, the on-the-fly building and rebuilding and yet-again-rebuilding of vehicles and machines from individual bricks is stunning to watch. A chase scene becomes so much more when vehicles can evolve brick by brick several times during the sequence.
Beyond the amazing visual universe (all supported aurally by music from ex-Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh), the humor is deliciously subversive. There are jokes at multiple levels going on — kid style, grown-up style, and weird, bizarre, possibly drug-influenced style. One particular scene in a place called Cloud Cuckoo Land is an eye-popping, brain-bursting amalgamation of all three.
And just when you think this movie is merely great within the confines of its genre, it follows up with a touch of drama that creates a lump the size of the Lego Death Star in the throat.
If there were such a bet available, I’d mortgage the house on the prediction that “The Lego Movie” will be a resounding financial success. For one thing, every child enamored with the toys will insist on viewing the film. But the parents and the grown-up hobbyists of Lego (and probably their parents whose houses they still live in) will also be a definite audience.
Add to that the required multiple viewings to catch all the subtle jokes and nuances occurring outside of the main action, and you have the potential of this being one of the highest grossing movies of the year. It is laudable that this film has the critical chops to match. And it is no surprise that the brickwork has already commenced on the sequel.