Silver Screen: The Lego Movie ***
Conformity in the name of commerce is the central conceit of The Lego Movie, which finds generic Lego man Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt) living the unexamined life in a world built entirely of the multicolored blocks once named the greatest toy of all time. Everyone in the Lego universe follows the same routines, listens to the same song (“Everything Is Awesome”), and adheres to the rules laid out by President Business (Will Ferrell). Nobody is happier about that than the blandly enthusiastic Emmett, at least until he inadvertently stumbles upon a red block called the Piece of Resistance, which, according to the prophecy by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), makes him the chosen one who can protect the Lego society from the superweapon known as the Kragle.
Dopey Emmett isn’t particularly good at being a chosen one— he’s a neophyte Neo— so Vitruvius enlists the aid of Lego master builder Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and her boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett) to help guide him on his journey. Somehow, Emmett must use the Piece of Resistance to prevent the Kragle from gluing together all of the pieces and freezing the universe in place.
The plot is a batch of hokum, jargon, and fantasy tropes, but nobody’s more aware of this than codirectors and cowriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Twenty-one Jump Street), who apply a self-conscious smirk to the whole enterprise.
The most inspired move Lord and Miller make is to incorporate the unwritten rules of playing with Legos into the fabric of the movie, making the little blocks essential to the action as opposed to a nominal tie-in. President Business wants to glue the world into place because he’s nearly crafted it into his version of perfection. All the blocks are matched with their corresponding pieces, and the various Lego worlds— spaceships, pirates, the Old West— have been segregated into their own areas. The resistance group of master builders want to let their creativity run free and make new contraptions out of mismatched parts and pieces, while President Business insists everyone follow directions. It’s a scenario familiar to any kid who played Legos with a bossy friend, and it also makes a canny connection between ideological conservatism and a domineering child throwing a tantrum when the world doesn’t conform to his own sense of order.
Lord and Miller have taken a potentially crass cash-in of a premise and imbued it with real creativity. The action scenes, computer animated but mimicking the herky-jerky style of stop-motion animation, move along with incredible kineticism. Little laser beams represented by tiny glowing sticks fly through the air, vehicles assemble and roll and then explode in volleys of multicolored bricks. Along the way the writers sneak in plenty of inside jokes, pop-culture gags, and self-aware references, all leading up to the big meta-gag that plays like a kiddie version of a Charlie Kaufman twist.
But to what end? Lord and Miller may come up with some crazy color schemes, but they’re always coloring inside the lines. For all their inventiveness and lip service to individuality and creativity, they’ve done little more than invest significant cleverness into a corporate property cross-promoted to tie into other corporate properties. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern— all properties of Time Warner— show up, along with familiar mega-franchise faces like Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Han Solo. It’s a series of tiny commercials built into a one-hundred-minute-long commercial for very expensive toy sets. Lord and Miller may spend a fair amount of time lauding the visionaries who build new and unexpected things, but all the pieces they’re playing with are not just familiar, but trademarked.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.