THE LEGO MOVIE (10 out of 10) Animated feature based on the popular construction-toys line, co-written and co-directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller; starring the voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman; rated PG (mild action and rude humor); in general release, playing in either 2D or 3D; running time: 101 minutes.
By Jeff Michael Vice
It would not only be silly, it also would be unrealistic and irresponsible to say that “The LEGO Movie” is the film that will finally end Pixar’s virtual stranglehold on both the big-screen animation industry and the kids film market.
However, this digitally animated action-comedy does provide further evidence that the divide between Pixar and its competition is getting very narrow – that, in terms of creativity and sheer art, the playing field has been leveled to a large degree. While the most recent Pixar features have been competent and less inspired, other studios and other creators are stepping up their game, and are using the Pixar model to make films that rival some of its best efforts.
Make no mistake about it, in several respects, “The LEGO Movie” is every bit as good as a Pixar movie, either the newer ones or even the older classics. It’s got the right combination of laughs, action and human drama – at least as much as any of those movies had. Seriously, the “Toy Story” films, which many still consider the Pixar high-water mark, have nothing on this one.
And fittingly enough, it comes from a construction-toy line that encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking -- managing to live up to those standards and qualities. As such, it could be a “Toy Story” for a new generation.
In addition to being a feast for the visual and other senses, it’s got a first-rate voice cast. That includes “Parks and Recreation” co-star Chris Pratt, who stars as the voice of Emmet Brickowski, a seemingly ordinary LEGO mini-figure. Part of a construction work force that builds nondescript but functional structures throughout his generic-looking and sounding hometown, Emmet is content to live his somewhat humdrum existence – while trying to make a few, likeminded friends with whom he can share his precious free time.
That is, until he meets Wyldstyle (the voice of Elizabeth Banks). She’s a rabble-rousing, would-be “MasterBuilder” who’s looking for an elusive missing piece – part of a prophesy that was uttered by legendary holy man Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). But when Emmet finds the piece instead, she and the other “MasterBuilders” become convinced that he is the key to their efforts to stop the tyrannical Lord Business (Will Ferrell).
Emmet, though, remains unconvinced and reluctant to help. But he’ll need to make up his mind soon. Within days, Lord Business plans to use the “Kragle,” a secret weapon with which he can stifle unwanted creativity, by gluing this LEGO universe’s people, objects and vehicles together permanently.
Obviously, we’ve seen this deceptively simple-looking type of animation work for various LEGO short films, cartoons and video games. But this film is a much more ambitious effort, using digital construction techniques, live-action modeling and even some strictly live-action elements to create a world unlike almost anything we’ve ever seen on the big screen. (This is one of the very few films that might actually be improved with 3D viewings, if available.)
And the studio and the LEGO company officials who licensed their material made the right choice of filmmakers with co-screenwriters/co-directors Phil Lord and Lord Miller, who managed to improve on the source material with their animated adaptation of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” (2009) and even made the 2012 “21 Jump Street” movie adaptation more fun than it had any right to be. (Fans of TV’s “How I Met Your Mother” might also remember the duo for their efforts as show runners for that long-running sitcom.)
Here, they fill their story with so many sight gags and clever verbal puns that you’ll probably need further viewings just to take it all in. For “Star Wars” fans, there’s a bit that gives and vocal parts for Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels, reprising their roles as Lando Calrissian and C-3PO.
Elsewhere, Shaquille O’Neal (who voices himself), William Shakespeare (Jorma Taccone) Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) and various “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and DC Comics characters -- including Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and Wonder Wonder (Cobie Smulders) – pop up briefly, for silly gags that amuse and progress the story. And a LEGO version of Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, even turns out to be a fairly integral character in the story.
Add to that a memorably wacky score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh and musical contributions from the Lonely Island crew (including a deliberately noxious but catchy song, “Everything is Awesome,” that will stick in your head for days after). The best of these, though, might be a Batman musical number co-written by Arnett, Lord, Miller and Mothersbaugh. Really, you have to hear it to believe it.
So, again, it might seem like overhype to be praising this movie to this degree. But it’s a film that adults, children and both toy and movie lovers can enjoy equally.
Also, it may seem ridiculous to declare a movie that opens in February as an Academy Award frontrunner for next year, especially since the previous year’s Oscars haven’t even been announced yet. But this film does set the bar precariously high for any other big-screen cartoons that will follow it for the next 10 months.
Jeff Michael Vice, aka Jerk-bot, can be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), as well as be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).