Chris Pratt voices an everyperson (center) who fights to save a toy world in "The Lego Movie." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
‘The Lego Movie’ Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller Voices of: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks Rating: PG 3 (out of 5) Globes
There’s no funnier joke in “The Lego Movie” than the one about how much genuine work and invention has been put into a movie called “The Lego Movie.” And there are a lot of jokes — and colors, and creative plot turns, and “camera movements,” and comically overqualified actors voicing stiff toy figurines whose hands are but immobile claws. There’s so much busy-ness that it’s easy to just give in, kick back and let your funny bone be tickled and your retinas seared. And that would be a cinch — if the film’s very message wasn't about not giving in, about being an individual who resists the control of mass entertainment.
Or is that even the message? Is there any message? “The Lego Movie” teems so with plot and characters and throwaway gags that it’s only appropriate that its token homily is dense and incoherent. Chris Pratt voices Emmet, our everyperson hero who finds himself at the center of the battle for the Lego universe. Told all his life he’s not special, he’s suddenly ID’d as “The Special,” a prophesized leader who will topple the tyrannical President Business (Will Ferrell). The leader of the free world hates freedom: He wants to Krazy Glue the many realms made of interlocking plastic bricks, including a Western world with a Lego Monument Valley, a whimsical/passive-aggressive “Cuckoo Land” and “Middle Zealand.”
The plotting is fleet, the tone is zany and sarcastic. Morgan Freeman is on hand as a white-bearded shaman who offers mock-proclamations. (After offering inspiring words, he booms with his signature Morgan Freeman voice, “I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.”) Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller previously worked similar wonders on another questionable property, namely “21 Jump Street.” Their set-up offers the nastiest parody of modern conformity since “Idiocracy.” But it doesn’t follow through. It doesn’t have the attention span. “Everything is awesome,” goes the chorus to the joke pop hit currently nullifying the masses of Legoland. But the same thing goes for the movie, which always keeps moving, never slows down, and never stops to realize that, conceptually, little of it makes sense.
It mostly makes ADD work in its favor. The flip side to a film so busy that viewers can’t stop and think is, well, that it’s so busy that viewers don't get the chance to stop and think. And it is riotously funny, with an actual killer “Star Wars” gag and a genuinely novel spin on the phrase “Y’all ready for this?” Thanks to corporate synergy, random famous characters keep popping up in Lego form: a chauvinistic/cowardly Batman (Will Arnett), plus Shakespeare, Shaq, Milhouse Van Houten, etc. But then, “South Park” did that, to even sillier/gorier ends, in their superior “Imaginationland” trilogy.
It’s also a beaut. All the colors of the rainbow fly in our faces through 3-D goggles. The literal blockiness creates an interesting texture in the movement; oceans become choppy, as do clouds. Only at the end does “The Lego Movie” slow down, finally hammering home its requisite lesson — and indeed it hammers and hammers hard, harder than any of the family films it previously did such a fine job skewering. It wants to be a post-modern send-up of mainstream entertainment but won’t — or can’t, thanks to the real life President Businesses of the movie world — go far enough into the wild.