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World building

Film Review: "The Lego Movie" 

World building

Just hearing the word "Lego" probably conjures up distinct childhood memories, ones that will no doubt vary slightly from person to person. Some might remember digging into a big bucket of those primary-colored plastic bricks and building elaborate worlds out of whatever pieces you happened to pull out, while others may think of the more modern branded Lego sets from the worlds of "Star Wars," DC Comics, or "Lord of the Rings" (among many others).

Such variety makes basing a film on a toy like Lego somewhat difficult. With no set characters or rules, or even a basic objective to playing with the toys (aside from, you know, "build stuff"), where do you even begin? That wide-open freedom gave writer-directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord ("Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs" and "21 Jump Street") license to do whatever they wanted, and somehow they convinced Lego executives to sign off on it. From what could easily have been a simple cash-grab designed to sell toys, Miller and Lord have built -- quite literally -- a world of wit, humor, and imagination that, despite it being only February, is likely to remain one of my favorite films of the year.

The film's hero is Emmet (Chris Pratt, TV's "Parks and Recreation"), an ordinary, mild-mannered construction-worker Lego who is content to abide the rules, follow instructions, and fit into the cheerfully oppressive, homogenous culture that President Business (Will Ferrell), the leader of the Lego universe, has created. But then Emmet meets a mysterious woman by the name of Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who believes him to be "The Special," the one person prophesied to save their world from total annihilation at the hands of the evil Lord Business. Wyldstyle recruits Emmet to join her fellow "Master Builders," including Batman (a hilariously deadpan Will Arnett) and a wise old sage named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman, gamely poking fun at the wise leader role he's played dozens of times before) in defeating the nefarious plot of Lord Business.

click to enlarge Lego Movie
  • COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • The cast of "The Lego Movie."

The story is exactly as nonsensical as it sounds, acting as parody of the standard "ordinary man plucked from obscurity to save the world" adventure plot. Lord and Miller load the film with rapid-fire jokes and clever details -- this is a film that will definitely reward repeat viewings -- but also manage to work in some surprisingly profound beliefs about the nature of creativity and play. The film finds an ingenious way to make the idea that there's no right way to play with Lego into a crucial component of the story. This plot point leads the film to make some rather risky choices in its third act, which may divide viewers, though there are plenty of signs throughout that hint where the film might be headed.

The film is computer animated. But under the guidance of animation director Chris McKay, of "Robot Chicken" fame, the animators attempted to duplicate the jerky movement of stop motion, so the film appears as though it were made using actual Lego pieces. Everything in the film's universe is made of Lego, from the buildings (naturally) all the way to explosions and ocean waves, and the directors encouraged the animators to digitally build these elements brick by brick, so technically it's entirely possible to build everything you see in the movie (though apparently it would take more than 15 million individual Lego pieces, so it may take you awhile). The effect is only enhanced with the use of 3D, which makes it seem that we're watching the toys come to life.

"The Lego Movie" mixes a fun, clever screenplay, amazing animation, and a hilarious voice cast, making for a wacky and delightfully weird film. Like some of the best moments from the "Toy Story" films, it captures the feeling of dumping all your toys on the living-room carpet and seeing where your imagination takes you.

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