Toy-based movies tend to be, on the whole, mind-numbingly stupid. While I take a certain guilty pleasure in Transformers and its second sequel Dark of the Moon, I harbor a passionate and undying hatred for films like Revenge of the Fallen, Battleship, G.I. Joe and the like. You know, movies that take things we all loved as a child (this includes Bratz dolls, Barbie dolls and Strawberry whatever dolls for the girls in the crowd) and piss all over them.
But, once in a blue moon, there appears something like Small Soldiers, or, for the ladies, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. Some film that comes out of nowhere that translates something we loved as children to the screen... and doesn't totally suck! And I am incredibly happy to say that 2014's The Lego Movie can be entered into that exalted group.
In this animated adventure, Emmet, an ordinary Lego minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop the evil Lego tyrant President Business from gluing the universe together.
The basic plot is your typical hero archetype, as seen in the worlds of J.R.R Tolkien, J.K. Rowling or George Lucas. But that's part of the brilliance of this movie. Using all the elements at its disposal, The Lego Movie creates an experience that is both a kid-friendly farce and an expert genre deconstruction, taking everything you know about the modern blockbuster and flipping it on its head, while crafting an immensely enjoyable adventure for the kids. The result: a terrifically funny, exciting film that is also surprisingly touching.
It all starts with the perfect cast. As central hero Emmet Brickowoski, Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt brings the perfect amount of earnestness and energy to the character, delivering his many hilarious lines to a tee. Elizabeth Banks lends her appealing voice to the part of the hip, tough female love interest WyldStyle, who is asked several times if she's a DJ; brilliant! And you can't go wrong with Will Ferrell, who, love him or hate him, proves his ability to deliver a line as evil overlord President Business.
But the real joy comes from the snappy one-liners and pithy dialogue provided by the secondary cast. As MasterBuilder Vitruvius, Morgan Freeman uses his epic voice in a sarcastic tone that we have seldom heard from him. Liam Neeson's legendary voice is pitch perfect as President Business' right-hand man, Bad Cop (but occasionally Good Cop). Other stars, such as Chaning Tatum (Superman), Cobie Smulders (Wonder Woman), Jonah Hill (Green Lantern), Shaquille O' Neal (Lego Shaquille O' Neal), Will Forte (Abraham Lincoln), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), and Anthony Daniels (C3PO) get their moment in the sun with a well-timed joke or sarcastic comment. But the true standout in the crowd is Will Arnett as Batman. With a gravelly voice and a side-splitting megalomaniac demeanor, Arnett's Batman projects massive amounts of self-confidence and delivers some of the best lines in the entire film ("If you see any black blocks, give them to me. I only work in black... and sometimes very very dark grey!").
Of course without any lines to deliver, a great cast is essentially useless. Luckily, Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs veterans Phil Lord and Christopher Miller provide a script that is smart, witty, and self-aware, with unrelenting gags and quips that are bound to elicit a chuckle from even the most hardened adult moviegoer (a running joke about Bad Cop's affinity for knocking chairs over never gets old). Kids can enjoy the quippy banter and pratfalls, while adults are sure to enjoy the deeper criticisms of our pop culture's blandness and uniformity. They may also laugh at the other stuff, but I found that funny.
Take all this, throw in some gorgeous animation and attractive action sequences, and my guess is you'll be blind-sided by the parts of this film that are legitimately moving. Never since the Toy Story trilogy have tiny plastic characters elicited such real emotion. At the heart of all the action and jokes, there are messages of creativity, being true to yourself, the importance of good friends and realizing that everyone is special in their own way. Also, an unexpected live-action interlude near the end is surprisingly moving. I think, at the end of the day, that's what separates this from your average dumbhead kids' movie.
If you appreciate wit, sly humor, or witty back-and-forth, or if you ever played with Legos as a kid, you are sure to appreciate this wildly funny, smart animated trip into childhood nostalgia. Go see The Lego Movie. You'll thank me when you do.