Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: "The Lego Movie"

"The Lego Movie" is utterly forgettable but also undeniably fun. It's aimed straight at the single-digit age group, and is so fast-paced that older, slower minds may have trouble following all the action. But as disposable entertainment for kids, its hits its mark square-on.

If you're not aware of the franchise of Lego entertainment based on the iconic snap-together toys, then you must have had your head buried or not be a parent to young children. Often used to recreate populist favorites like Star Wars, they are near-ubiquitous in videos and gaming. Those little Lego-people with blocky bodies torsos and hook hands are the stars.

This is the first feature film featuring the yellow gang, and they've brought in a team of animation veterans with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"), who co-wrote and -directed. They keep the movie bright, light and zany.

The set-up is rather cute: all the people live in a multi-faceted universe divided up into realms that match various Lego theme sets -- medieval, pirates, wild West, etc. All are ruled by Lord Business (voice by Will Ferrell), who likes for everything to be put together exactly according to the instructions to match the pictures on the front of the box. Any "weird stuff" is perpetually torn down and rebuilt.

Emmet (a terrific Chris Pratt) is an ordinary construction work -- so ordinary, in fact, that he's virtually indistinguishable from the crowd and doesn't have any friends. But like all the others he's been brainwashed into a life of superficial happiness, where everyone watches the same TV show ("Where Are My Pants?"), eats only at chain restaurants and sing and dance to the same omnipresent song ("Everything Is Awesome!", which actually is catchy in a supremely annoying way.)

But there is a rebellion afoot led by the Master Builders -- figures who can instantly piece together complex objects and vehicles from the various Lego pieces lying about. Emmet stumbles right into their plot and finds himself stuck to the Piece of Resistance, a nondescript block, that marks him as the Chosen One who will lead the overthrow of the tyrannical Business.

Trouble is, Emmet is such an unimaginative, vanilla type of guy that he seems to lack the basic skill set of a savior. A better choice would be Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a super-smart and talented rainbow-haired rebel who hitches on as Emmet's resentful sidekick.

Emmet is soon smitten by her, though she's in a committed relationship with her boyfriend, Batman ... yes, the Batman, deliciously voiced by Will Arnett. In this universe, anybody can appear in Lego form, so Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern also make cameos.

Rounding out the cast are Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius, an old sage and prophet; Nick Offerman as pirate/robot Metalbeard; Liam Neeson as Bad Cop/Good Cop, whose mood is determined by which way his head is turned; Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), a cat/unicorn hybrid; and Benny, a "1980s space guy" voiced by Charlie Day.

The animation looks deceptively simplistic at first, since everything and everyone is made up of Lego parts. But the CG is actually quite detailed, and the pieces fly together so quickly it must have been a chore to animate.

"The Lego Movie" surprises with its carefree attitude and zippy antics. This won't make anyone's best-of list, but as throwaway entertainment during cinema's frigid season, it's a superb fit.

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