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Movie review: 'The LEGO® Movie' builds a winner by honoring the toy's past

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The Lego Movie

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We live in a day and age where nothing is sacred. Many think Hollywood has run out of ideas, but the truth is that they have tons of them...it's just that not many of them are good. One such trend has been taking nostalgic toys from our past and making new, hopeful blockbusters out of them. It's been done with Transformers and G.I. Joe, so why not everyone's favorite building-block toy, Legos? Well, beginning today, we now have another nostalgic, sacred cow getting the big-screen treatment. Yes, The Lego Movie (in theaters now) has arrived.

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And holy crap, they've done something truly amazing. Breathe a great big sigh of relief, Lego fans of the world: The Lego Movie has done the popular toys proud, by not just honoring the history of Legos and its attachment (pun intended) to many of our childhoods. It has done the unthinkable: The Lego Movie is a sight and sound experience that has managed to capture the very essence of Legos, the imagination inherently present in their existence and the very reason why these simple pieces of plastic have had such immense world-wide popularity since they were introduced back in 1949.

For the first two-thirds of The Lego Movie, I was convinced that I was watching a somewhat decent, fairly funny Lego fantasy adventure. With its stop-motion charm that somehow perfectly matches its subject matter, the story focuses on one particular Lego mini-figure, the thoroughly normal Emmett (Chris Pratt). In his Lego community, "everything is awesome," which also happens to be the catchy song that is sung by all of Lego Land (and by many of us humans as we exited the theater). Everything is also painfully structured - much like the illustrated construction manuals that accompanies every box of Legos in real life.

This "world order" is no coincidence though, as it is a means for the evil President Business (Will Ferrell) to control his denizens. President Business has constructed a device that will glue the entire Lego Universe together and there is no one in his way to stop him. But then one day, Emmett stumbles off of the beaten path when he is attracted to the mysterious gal Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and his adventure gets up and running.

It's a long and convoluted plot, but one that would exist in the mind of a young boy. And that's the point. For a while it follows the tired "Chosen One" storyline, where Emmett is thought to be "The Special" Master Builder who has been prophesized to be the hero and the savior. But it soon shifts gears and with it, it twists around our expectations before finally hitting us over the head in its third act with an incredibly potent dose of sentimentality. It would ruin the fun and charm of the film to go into more detail than that.

But along the way Emmett encounters a slew of interesting characters, voiced by some big-name talents such as Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Morgan Freeman, Nick Offerman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Charlie Day and Will Forte. Warner Bros. uses its full repertoire of licensed characters, so Emmett meets Han Solo, Gandalf and a bevy of DC Comic super-heroes such as Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. And it figures, the attractive Wyldstyle is already dating another guy...and yes, it's Batman.

For Lego enthusiasts, there are amazing call-outs to Legos of yester-year. Space, Town and Castle (the three Lego groups in existence when I was a kid) all make an appearance, as do several others - Old West, Pirate, etc. - that have been introduced since. There is enough visual stimulation for very small children to become entranced and enough major female characters to entice young women.

It also succeeds in carrying with it many important messages. At first, the construction manuals are viewed as bad and that it was good for Emmett to go against what is expected. But they soon learn that complete chaos is just as bad as extreme order. There are themes of friendship, love, teamwork and imagination. Oh and we also get one of the most important messages of all when an adult tells a child: "Legos are not toys." "Um, they kind of are," the child replies. That exchange perfectly resonates with anyone who has ever played with Legos.

Oh and that third act. The whole film was just constructed with care and love that it actually ends up having something to say. It's incredible how well they were able to take everything great about Legos and create a film that matches the endless possibilities of imagination associated with them. What a refreshing change of pace from other films that are looking to cash in on out-dated toys from the 80s.

Oh, The Lego Movie will cash in too. My nephew bolted from the theater and immediately asked to play with his Legos once he got back home. I started humming "Everything Is Awesome" when I realized that his parents - not me - would be the ones responsible for footing the bill associated with his new-found love for anything that can be stuck together.

But well-played Lego. He wasn't the only one who was stirred up with emotion following this surprisingly effective trip down memory lane.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Action, Family

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG

Starring: Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Nick Offerman, Liam Neeson

Co-Written and Co-Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street)

Opens locally on Friday, Feb 7, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.

Subscribe above for email alerts of all movie reviews and news, and follow me on Twitter, @tomsantilli and at TomSantilli.com.

How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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