What's so special about The LEGO Movie? It's just another movie based on a toy designed to move units at Wal-Mart or something, right? What makes it any different or better than G.I. Joe? Or Transformers? True enough that there may be a few more LEGO Bat-Wings flying off the shelves in the coming weeks, but it's only because The LEGO Movie taps into the childlike imagination and awe that LEGO was always meant to inspire. By embracing the potential in literally building untold worlds where characters from other universes can interact in one epic adventure, the film captures the magic of diving into the toy box and letting your imagination run wild with possibility.
Hilarious and insanely packed with vivid, ever-moving parts done in the classic LEGO style, the film benefits from the presence of co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs boasted similar visual wonders. But it's the intelligence and humor in their script that forms the firmest of building blocks, appealing to kids and nostalgic adults alike. We're introduced to Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a normal everyday LEGO builder who is willfully, wholeheartedly part of the generic machine. As part of a massive team he keeps this LEGO city awash in new, unimpressive buildings; bops to the bland but maddeningly infectious pop song "Everything is Awesome" (you'll never get it out of your head!), and wants nothing more than to be a part of the crowd. But Emmett is nobody, a total "blank slate" with so little personality that few even know he exists.
That changes when he stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance, an all-powerful object that could prevent the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying everything with his super weapon, the Kragl (one of many plays on words better seen than explained). Discovered by the rebellious and sexy Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmett is transported beyond his home realm and into a number of colorful universes that will make great toy sets in the future...if they aren't already. The god-like Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman, naturally) believes Emmet is a Master Builder; a chosen one who can put an end to Lord Business' reign of terror. But first Emmet, who has never had an original thought in his head, must learn to put his fears aside and prove he can be the hero the universe demands him to be. Joining him on the journey are literally dozens of pop culture icons, and it's safe to say this is the one place where you can see Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum) and the Ninja Turtles fighting side-by-side with Shaquille O'Neal, Gandalf, and Dumbledore. Even if the threadbare plot is merely an excuse to put all of these characters together, it's so cool that it doesn't really matter.
The introductory scenes zip along at a rapid pace but it picks up into a full-on sprint once the adventure begins, to the point where it's tough to keep track of what is going on. Animated with digital/stop-motion brilliance by Animal Logic, each frame is constantly buzzing with hundreds of characters at once, and they all seem to be doing something you want to pay attention to. It gets a little overwhelming, but it's nothing a second viewing won't cure. And you will definitely want to see The LEGO movie at least one more time in order to take in the massively detailed world and catch every single sight gag. It's refreshing to see a film like this that seems like it can go absolutely anywhere and have literally anything happen, depending solely on the creativity and imagination of the filmmakers. And through it all, the film manages to be a surprisingly effective, even emotional story about embracing one's uniqueness.
Problems only arise when the film gets away from the LEGO universe to impart some labored wisdom in a Meta context that just feels jarring. If the point is that toys are meant to be played with rather than locked away (or heaven forbid, kept in their original packaging), then the rest of the film makes that point abundantly clear just as the Toy Story movies do. The final act reveal doesn't quite work, even though it makes perfect sense, because it sacrifices fun for a message we don't need hammered home.
The LEGO Movie has clicked into place the building blocks for a new, wholly imaginative franchise that can appeal to audiences of any age, and has no limits on where it can go next.