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'The LEGO Movie' review: Family-friendly adventure romp is a big block of fun

Batman is just one of the many unique LEGO characters construction worker Emmett meets in "The Lego Movie."
Batman is just one of the many unique LEGO characters construction worker Emmett meets in "The Lego Movie."Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The Lego Movie

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Parents, start cashing in those tax refund checks: the best family film of 2014 has already arrived. And “The LEGO Movie” certainly is a family film; the only problem with it could be the possibility that the grown-ups might enjoy it more than the kids do. “The LEGO Movie” is a visual beaut, complete with action and a self-discovery story that is packed with wit and humor.

Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller do an excellent job of capturing the essence of playing with LEGOs. Construction worker Emmett(Chris Pratt) believes in following directions. He loves the idea so much that he even employs it in his personal life. He believes if he follows the directions exactly, people will like him, he will have a lot of friends, and his life will be a happy and successful one. He even carries the directions around with him, and here’s the best part: the directions are literally just like the ones that come with the ‘themed’ LEGO sets(in other words, the ones that have the pieces to build something in particular, and not just a bunch of different blocks). It is little elements like this that will make the adult reminisce, and the child connect with the film.

Obviously, Emmett’s going to have to learn that sticking to a pre-written destiny isn’t always the best way to live, and he learns it rather quickly when he stumbles upon a magical LEGO piece. It is the ‘piece’ de résistance(and yes, much of the film is that clever), the only thing that can stop Lord Business(Will Ferrell) from taking over the world. Fortunately, Emmett finds many allies to help him protect the piece, voiced by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, and Charlie Day.

The directors' painstaking attention to detail pays off in the film’s visual quality. According to production notes, over 15 million LEGO pieces were used over the course of filming. Lord and Miller employ a hybrid of computer animation that resembles stop motion animation and hand-built sets, props and characters. The computer animation certainly had to speed up production, but using hand-built models as a foundation certainly does help fool the eye. In layman's terms: "The LEGO Movie" almost looks like it was shot using stop-motion entirely, except for those moments when they bend in ways that wouldn't be possible with the actual plastic figures.

It’s been a while since an animated film aimed towards a younger audience was this chuckle-worthy. Lord and Miller make breathing life into these classic toys look effortless, and the impressive action sequences keep the story going. “The LEGO Movie” takes a little bit of a detour in its final act that literally takes the viewer out of the assembled world. It seems to mess with the pacing slightly, but it does manage to answer a lot of questions(especially one early on when the film jumps forward an odd number of years), so it certainly doesn’t spoil the film. Five years after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller popped up on the radar with “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, they deliver an animated adventure that tops their debut in every way. If any movie should steal the animated box office crown from “Frozen”, it should be this one; it’s a lot more fun, and a lot less morose.