Several months ago, I left the screening of the 3D animated comedy “Free Birds” feeling more than a little dazed by the experience. I was certain that, in spite of its PG rating, a story about time-traveling turkeys was simply too odd to appeal to children or any other mild-mannered audience. Now I’m faced with another 3D animated comedy, “The Lego Movie,” which has also been rated PG and again shows no indication that the filmmakers had children in mind. I didn’t recommend “Free Birds,” although I admitted that its strangeness made it watchable, and I truly had never seen a movie quite like it before. This time around, I don’t feel anywhere near as forgiving. “The Lego Movie” is painfully juvenile, as if the intention was to capture on film the goofy antics of a hyperactive eight-year-old.
The story is inspired, of course, by the plastic Lego building blocks that, since their introduction in the late 1940s, have become equally as popular with adults as they are with children, if not more so. This may account for something I noticed during the screening I attended, which was held in a multiplex theater on a Saturday morning; despite the fact that around 60% of the audience was comprised of children that looked to be between the ages of four and eleven, the only audible laughter came from the adults. More to the point, it seemed to come from the adults that looked too young to have children of their own, and indeed didn’t bring any with them. Is this the real target audience? Single adults in the eighteen-to-twenty-five age bracket, preferably if they live in a college town? This would make sense were it not for the final act, during which the unremitting silliness gives way to awkward sentimentality.
We all know what the Lego figurines look like – the yellow cylindrical heads with cartoon smiley faces, the box-shaped torsos, the gigantic C-shaped hands, the legs that pivot only at the hips. They populate the movie, and yet they’re not given anything to do, apart from visualize the childish whims of the filmmakers. If you can imagine the worst elements of nonsensical “Airplane!”-like parodies crossed with the most obvious preadolescent physical and verbal gags (save, thank God, for fart jokes), you’re well on your way to understanding how this movie works. You’re clearly not trying very hard when you have to condescend to make someone laugh. Consider this line of dialogue, spoken by a cross between a pirate and a Transformer robot: “First rule of being at sea: Never let anyone place his rear end on your face.”
The plot, if I can even use that word, involves a Lego figurine named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), whose regimented life in an equally regimented Lego metropolis is quite suddenly turned upside down when he somehow gets a strange-looking orange rectangle attached to his back. Upon being rescued by a tech-savvy biker chick named Wildchild (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), he’s taken beyond the limits of his city by literally breaking through a wall of black Legos, enters an old west town, and meets a wizard-like sage named Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman). He explains to Emmet that a prophecy foretold of a special person who would find the rectangle now on his back and use it to stop a dangerous weapon known as the Kragle.
The weapon is in the hands of the evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who adds to the ferocity of his appearance by dressing in a Darth Vader-esque helmet and standing on stilts that make him at least a story taller than he actually is. As he paces around the penthouse of his impossibly tall skyscraper, occasionally playing with his personal collection of discarded human items like used Band-Aids, he schemes to use the Kragle to make sure everything in this Lego world stays exactly as it is. I could elaborate, except I’d be giving away a major plot point. It’s up to Emmet, who never believed he was anything special, to stop Business before it’s too late. Along for the ride, apart from Vitruvius and Wildchild, is Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), who, like Christian Bale, delivers every line in a low, monotone growl.
What exactly is the message of this movie? On the basis of the ending, which seems to have been tacked on at the last minute for want of an infinitely better idea, the filmmakers are telling us that we should give ourselves permission to put Legos together however we want to, without any regard for following instructions. My God, how compelling! Of course, in order to live this philosophy, you will still have to buy Legos – or, if you’re a kid, to get your parents to buy Legos for you. Indeed, “The Lego Movie” is nothing if not an hour-and-forty-minute-long Lego advertisement, the shamelessness of which reaches an infuriating climax with the sudden appearance of the Millennium Falcon and crewmembers Han Solo, Chewbacca, and C-3PO. I’m not one of those overzealous critics of consumerism, but I do have my limits.