The Lego Movie is surprisingly good to an almost unreasonable degree. What could have been nothing more than thinly premised cash grab instead overflows with imagination and creativity. It walks the fine line that the best animated features do by appealing to both adults and kids, but it panders to neither. Despite visuals that sometimes overload the senses, the movie stays grounded and conveys a simple but extremely important message that echoes some of the themes of such recent classics as The Incredibles and Shrek.
In the town of Bricksburg lives a humble Lego construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt) who lives his life by following the rules and never having an original or creative thought. One night he stumbles across a strange Lego block and attracts the attention of Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a rogue Lego who tells him that he has found the fabled Piece of Resistance. According to a prophesy foretold by the wise wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman, of course) whoever finds the Piece of Resistance is the "Special," a hero destined to free all of Legoland from the clutches of the tyrannical Lord Business (Will Ferrell) before he can enslave the world with a doomsday weapon known as the Kragle. Wyldstyle takes Emmet to meet the council of Master Builders, Lego people who can build anything they need out of Lego blocks without instructions, something Emmet has never considered before.
There is more to the plot, including a twist so ingenious that I sincerely hope anyone seeing the movie can go into it spoiler free. The story is deliberately simple, with Emmet following the classic hero's journey. What makes the movie special is the almost limitless creativity and joy that pours out of the screen. At points the movie is too kinetic and hyperactive for its own good, but throughout it follows the rules for the world it inhabits. The animation is a marvel; it is completely computer generated, but has the feel of stop motion animation and the detail of all the varied Lego blocks are meticulous and accurate. That attention to detail is such that the viewer feels as if it would be possible to reach out and pick the blocks right off the screen.
The voice cast is a veritable smorgasbord of comedy talent. Chris Pratt is wonderful as the hapless hero, but like a Dickens novel, the real joy of the movie is in the supporting characters. The film makes full use of Lego's licensed characters, particularly those from the DC Comics universe. Will Arnett makes a convincing case that no one else should ever play Batman, animated or otherwise. (Apologies to Mr. Affleck.) Liam Neeson displays his comedy chops as Lord Business' henchman Good Cop/Bad Cop (his head spins and changes depending on the situation), but the scene stealer is Charlie Day as Benny, a tattered and worn 1980's Spaceman Lego. (His helmet has a crack in it that shows an attention to detail that anyone who grew up with the Space Lego sets will remember well.) Cameos abound, including several surprising and hilarious ones that I dare not spoil here.
Without getting into specifics, the film takes an unexpected and poignant turn in the third act that transforms the movie from simple entertainment into something truly special. The best films are able to entertain and at the same time say something profound, and The Lego Movie certainly does that. It tells its target audience that we all the have the potential to be special, and that creativity and imagination are our most important tools. In a world that sometimes seems to stifle individual expression and the drive to excel, it's a message that children need to hear.