I don’t always love corporate sell outs loosely disguised as films, but when I do, it’s because they’re awesome. And The Lego Movie is awesome. It’s not just a byproduct of lowered expectations. The directing pair of Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the best comedic directors and writers currently working in Hollywood. Their Jump Street series has offered 2 of the best comedies of the decade, and in toning down their vulgar style to a family-friendly PG, the jokes are sharper and funnier than ever before.
The hero’s journey is a story as old as storytelling, and MilLord make a fantastic decision by resisting their parody background and telling the story earnestly. There’s a normal hero, his girlfriend, his mentor, and people who tell him that he will never be special, or in this world, specifically The Special, a prophesied figure who will save the city of Bricksburgh from the tyrannical Lord Business. Lord Business’ schemes are hilarious. He supresses people through pop culture phenomenons, such as fast food sales, low brow TV shows, and catchy, empty pop songs. I do love the song, Everything is Awesome. It might be purposefully empty within the world of the film, but on its own it becomes a communist anthem. “Everything is cool when we’re part of a team”, so don’t be an individual or bad things will happen to you. His villainous aid, a police officer, is also very funny. It seems obvious, but having his face switch between Lego pieces to literally make him both a good cop and a bad cop is amusing enough to work, and Liam Neeson is so comitted to this split personality role that he might want to consider becoming a full time voice actor when he retires from action movies.
The voice cast is great all around. Morgan Freeman has a voice made for playing the mentor in an animated film. I do not know why it took him this long to realize that, but the casting is perfect. I’m not usually a fan of Will Ferrell, especially because his acting style makes him the least intimidating villain possible, but he changes his inflection enough to be passable. The real winners are in the supporting roles. Jump Street partners Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum get great cameos as Superman and Green Lanturn, but the best portrayal of a DC superhero is Will Arnett as a hysterical Lego Batman. He creates his own Batman voice, deeper than Michael Keaton’s and more understandable than Christian Bale’s, a perfect balance, and turns Batman into a caricature of a complex and depressed teenager. I also loved Alison Brie’s eternally cheery and immature voice as Unikitty, a twisted combination of every young girls’ toy ever made.
The animation looks fine for what it is. Everything being animated is plastic, making textures far simpler, and there are no large set pieces that have to be created. The degree of difficulty is quite low, but that matches the low budget ($60M dollars, which sounds like a lot until you compare it to the $135M or more consistently used by Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks). The Legos look convincingly enough like Legos. The live-action part of the film seems to be what causes the problem for most people watching, but it only made me enjoy the film more. Without spoiling anything, in the third act a live-action segment comes up to give context to the movie. There are things that happen that effect the plot, but the impact that I got from it was explaining the moral of the story. Lego doesn’t try to get crazy with its claims, but it makes an accurate judgement that these children toys have the ability to become adult toys, and that these groups can enjoy Legos in different ways. True, nothing especially funny happens during this part, and the plot connections are a mess, but no matter how sloppy it looks, it gets the job done. It gives the story a reason to exist. The animated world was silly and irreverent, and while MilLord could have worked a moral into the animation, intentionally separating the serious parts from the jokes worked out well enough for my taste.
The only part of the film that I was not enjoying were the main characters. I did not actively dislike them, but by design, Emit and Wild Style are not interesting at all. None of the characters have arcs or development, which is forgivable for minor roles, but making essentially multiple blank slates came off as lazy. Emit gets his fair share of funny moments, but most of his best jokes are just him being dumb and/or naive, and the actually funny part is how a more interesting character like Batman, Morgan Freeman, or Unikitty reacts to him. The parody of an undeveloped love interest was on the surface level, and in the end Wild Style and Emit have a relationship without any development.
In the end, what stands out about The Lego Movie is how much fun it is to watch. This is the kind of film that film was made for. It is endlessly enjoyable and very memorable, filled with solid characters, a tight script, and wonderful execution of brilliant ideas. By being one of the few modern animated comedies to not rely on modern references for jokes, The Lego Movie ensures its own timelessness. Future generations will grow up on this masterpiece.