In a 1998 episode of “The Simpsons,” forever-12-year-old Bart was spellbound by a television show seemingly created by the Gods of Product Placement: “The Mattel and Mars Bar Quick Energy Chocobot Hour.” It was a gloriously astute parody of the kind of boardroom-crafted “entertainment” that all too often bludgeons children into submission.
You would be forgiven for thinking an animated film called “The LEGO Movie” would be just as cynical a corporate creation, but you would be incorrect. For “LEGO” is an unadulterated pleasure, a colorful, fast-moving treat for all ages. This bold, original film has a wildly clever script with a message of creativity that should resonate with even the most hardened viewers.
Helmed and written by “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, “The LEGO Movie,” opening Friday, takes place in an alternative world that is visually familiar to anyone who ever attempted construction with the ubiquitous interlocking blocks.
It can reasonably be claimed that LEGOs foster creativity, but the universe of this film is the opposite – one gripped by cheerful conformity. No one adheres to the formula of endless instruction and orderly work/play more than Emmet, a big-hearted, adorable LEGO figure.
Emmet is voiced by one of the most likable young actors in filmdom, Chris Pratt. The “Parks and Recreation” regular gave fine performances in films including “Moneyball” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” but “LEGO” is the first movie to fully make use of his essential sweetness. His Emmet, a construction worker, is happy, friendly and utterly ordinary.
The masses, Emmet included, are enraptured by the secretly tyrannical Lord Business, voiced by a perfectly cast Will Ferrell, and cannot get enough of the one song played endlessly for their enjoyment, “Everything is Awesome.” (Canadian duo Tegan and Sara collaborated with Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island gang on this deliriously catchy tune; it’s like an audio Pixie Stick.)
But Emmet’s life is suddenly turned upside down when he meets the mysterious Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a cool customer who believes Emmet could be the Special, a Neo-like “Master Builder” who just might lead a rebellion against Lord Business.
Soon, she is introducing the Special to the Gandalf-y wizard Vitruvius (a game Morgan Freeman) and the other Master Builders, as well as her boyfriend Batman — yes, Batman, voiced with devilish pomposity by Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”). Other “famous” characters include Superman, Abraham Lincoln, and, of course, Shaquille O’Neal.
All are quickly suspicious of Emmet’s Special-status … with good reason. To keep Lord Business from gluing the world together (just go with it), Emmet and his new friends will have to discover what they are each capable of.
If the plot sounds a little bit overdone, it is, and that’s OK. In the context of the whirling dervish that is “The LEGO Movie,” it feels just right. So does “Everything is Awesome,” a song you will be singing for days, like it or not.
“LEGO Movie” is not flawless. The film’s pace lags a bit in the midsection, and the ending is drawn-out to an exhausting degree. At 100 minutes, it’s a good 10 to 15 minutes too long. However, the many pleasures of “LEGO” more than make up for these issues.
The cast is a major part of the fun. Liam Neeson stands out as Bad Cop/Good Cop, Lord Business’s chief enforcer. The “Taken” star sounds as if it’s the most fun he’s had on screen in years.
What really makes “The LEGO Movie” stand out, though, is the script from Lord and Miller. As the film speeds along, it becomes more than just bright kids’ fare. It’s also an insightful embrace of the joys of play.
The world of “LEGO” is, in fact, just the kind of wild, wooly, winkingly silly place a child might dream up on a daily basis.
the LEGO movie
3½ stars (Out of four)
With the voices of: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Running time: 100 minutes
Rating: PG for mild action and rude humor.
The Lowdown: An ordinary LEGO figure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary Master Builder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil tyrant.