As the cultural discussion continues about building toys for girls and gender specific toy aisles, let me start by saying that my girls have been talking non-stop about The Lego Movie since they first saw a preview for it months ago. They are fans of everything Lego from the classic sets to the movie themed sets to Lego Friends, which means that sitting in the theater watching an early screening of the movie, they thought they died and went to block heaven.
Now this movie could have been terrible. Really. In less adept hands it might be a pat, cheaply produced, plot-light franchise to sell more toys. And while yeah, it will make your kids want to run out and start looking for collectible Green Lantern Minifigs, it’s so much more: Wry, irreverent, a little subversive, with plenty of humor that works on both adult and kid levels. Sometimes even more on adult levels.
Let’s just say The Lego Movie isn’t one you sit through for the kids. You do it with the kids.
The plot centers around Emmet (a terrific Chris Pratt), an ordinary construction worker Minifig who just wants to be happy, follow instructions, and fit in with the team, until a series of circumstances lead the blind oracle Vitruvius–brilliantly voiced by Morgan Freeman in a movie-stealing performance–to dub him “The Special,” the one character capable of saving the world from the evil Lord Business. That’s Will Ferrell, or “hey, it’s that guy from Elf!” as my kids think of him.
The film really is an impressive feat of animation mastery, and one of the few films I think is even better in 3-D. Interestingly, every single brick, every character, every structure you see in the movie represents actual existing blocks and parts. Even the cresting waves complete with whitecaps beneath a pirate ship are made entirely of bricks. The idea is that conceivably, you could recreate the entire movie, scene by scene, yourself.
And yeah, I’m waiting for some crazy people to set up a Tumblr blog to do that very thing.
The sight gags are spot on for kids–like characters flipping their Lego faces around to reveal a second personality, or a crudely tethered string dangling a “floating” ghost the way a child might do with their own playthings. But personally, I loved all the pop culture references that my kids didn’t quite get, like the confusion between Dumbledore and Gandalf, and people happily waiting in line to pay $37 for a latte. (A price which goes up by the end of the movie, if you pay close attention.)
Mark Mothersbaugh’s music is inspired as always. And the psychedelic animation sequences are mindblowingly cool–or “kinda weird” as one mom said to me leaving the theater. But then, I like psychedelic and I like weird and I like special effects like you’ve never seen before.
Still, I think the well-crafted script really is the star, thanks to a clever, unexpected ending, and dialogue all voiced to perfection by an A-list roster roster of comedic talent, including Will Arnett, Jonah Hill, Will Forte, Charlie Day, Channing Tatum (as Superman, no less) and even Liam Neeson who needs to do more comedy. Seriously.
Now, notice anything missing from that list? Yeah, and so did my girls.
There are really only a few female characters of note: Elizabeth Banks as punky action heroine and love interest Wyldstyle, and Alison Brie as a quirky princess-unicorn-kitty hybrid with a split personality. Considering how much girls love LEGOs too (and how interested the company is in marketing to them) I’m surprised that any other female representation were minor roles like Wonder Woman, a grandmother, and a token female construction worker. Still, I appreciate seeing the classic boxy Minifig female shapes; no extra “made for the movies” curves here.
Not surprisingly, the messages of the plot align perfectly with the brand: Kids can be creative with blocks. You don’t have to follow the manuals. Teamwork can help you build better things. You can mix characters and parts from different sets together. Nothing earth-shattering here. Not that these are bad messages. And not that they aren’t delivered in clever ways; in fact, one of the funniest sequences involve Arnett’s Batman hitching a joyride with the Millenium Falcon in the Wild West, complete with a voice cameo from Billy Dee Williams.
A blend of Lego sets indeed.
If you’re wondering whether to take your three-year-old, I’d say you might save your money for the video release. The pace moves extremely quickly and it’s not nearly as linear as a Pixar movie. But hey, take her just so you can get a chance to see it yourself. It really is that enjoyable for adults.
I found my 8.5 year-old was exactly the right age to appreciate the fim, while her six-year-old sister loved it, but needed my help to understand the nuances. Still, that doesn’t stop both of them from wanting to go immediately home and create their own towering structures and good guy/bad guy plots afterward. And frankly, I want to join them. Which of course is the best part of all.
Just one warning: You will leave there singing Everything is Awesome for a good long time. Which probably explains why it spent 248 weeks at #1 on the charts in Emmet’s awesome Lego world.
See The LEGO Movie starting tonight, February 7, at theaters all over the country.