With the voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson. Written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor. 101 minutes.
THE LEGO MOVIE is a novelty film that will score with some people and will play like a YouTube short bloated to 101 minutes for others. This reviewer is in the latter category. However let’s be fair and talk about its virtues first.
With the exception of a live action sequence late in the film, this is an animated movie done entirely with Lego blocks. There may be some computer animation involved. Certainly the movement on the character faces is separate from moving the physical pieces. In that sense it is very impressive, whether it’s watching a Lego city come to life or a Lego boat move across a Lego ocean, the effort and detail involved is mind-blowing. This was obviously a labor of love to the people who made it.
If you are a Lego devotee, and are familiar with their many sets and variations and products, this is a film for you. As the characters move from space to space, or as characters from DC Comics and “Star Wars” make their appearances, there are continuous shout-outs to the Lego fan base. If you’re one of their number, then there the numerous in-jokes and references will make perfect sense.
And then there’s the rest of us. The story involves Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt), who is just another worker doing his job and following the rules. President Business (Will Ferrell) does not feel there’s enough conformity and perfection and has a plan to make everyone in the Lego universe permanently posed in the ideal manner. Emmet inadvertently discovers something that can foil his plan, and so President Business sends out Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) to prevent that from happening.
The not-very-clever names already reveal a big part of the problem. The jokes are lame and rarely rise above the predictable. A “Star Wars” gag–not be to be spoiled here–is more impressive for the animation than for the actual joke. Meanwhile, Emmet is rescued by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and brought to Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) who has foreseen a savior to defeat the evil Business. Emmet isn’t sure he’s The One, but he is attracted to Wyldstyle who, alas, already has a boyfriend: Batman (Will Arnett).
The story continues to run along the various Lego play sets as Emmet and the rebels try to foil President Business’s nefarious plans. The problem is that the plot is simplistic, the jokes aren’t very funny, and if you’re not a Lego aficionado you may be wondering what the fuss is all about. Clearly inspired by a number of short films made with Legos (this is one of the best), it failed to pick up the most important lesson from them–you need to have a funny script first.
If you can tell the Lego Wild West town from its pirate ship from its spaceman set and are intimately familiar with them, then no doubt you will have a great time at “The Lego Movie.” If all you know about Legos is that they’re plastic pieces that snap together and that you or your kids played with a long time ago, it will feel like a very long 101 minutes.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.