Phil Lord and Chris Miller have a very special skill set.
Anyone can take a great premise for a movie and make a great movie out of it. But Miller and Lord seem to be able to take ridiculous premises and still somehow fashion emotionally resonant, thematically-consistent, intelligent and satisfying films. “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs” is a very slight but charming book with no real narrative, and they turned it into something remarkably silly and also quite sweet. “21 Jump Street” was a show I couldn’t have cared any less about, and yet the film ended up being both a witty deconstruction of TV-shows-turned-movies and a genuinely satisfying buddy cop comedy.
Now they’ve taken a toy, something that has no narrative attached, and they’ve turned it into a film that works as a celebration of the art of creation, a movie that encourages kids to embrace the unlimited creativity of imagination while also reminding a specific generation of parents to share their damn toys. It is a canny piece of pop art, and “The Lego Movie” should end up delighting old and young viewers in equal measure.
The film, written by Lord and Miller with Dan and Kevin Hageman, uses a canny combination of real Lego elements, stop-motion, and CG to create a truly mind-boggling world of Lego people, Lego buildings, Lego vehicles, and even Lego elements. At one point, I found myself looking at a churning, rolling Lego ocean underneath a Lego sky, and I had to wonder how many people are now relaxing in mental hospitals after having to create these images. There is a tactile beauty to the world they’ve created, and there is something magical about knowing that everything you’re looking at was built by someone, even if it was inside a machine.
The story deals with an ancient prophecy, a special red “Piece Of Resistance,” and the evil plan of the evil President Business (Will Ferrell), but don’t sweat it. This is as much a poke in the ribs of the Campbell Hero model as it is a genuine example of it. The script never takes itself too seriously, but that’s not to say the entire film is a joke. There is a very serious point that the filmmakers are trying to get across, and when it becomes clear what the actual point of the film is, I was sort of taken aback by it. After all, I’m part of this generation who has held onto childhood in a way that no other previous generation ever did. When my dad was 40, he wouldn’t have gotten upset about me touching his John Wayne action figure or putting on his Davy Crockett coonskin hat because, at 40, he wouldn’t have owned any toys from his youth. But our generation has created parents who actually have special shelves where they keep their toys stored, displayed, unable to every actually be used in play, and Lord and Miller have a message for these people, one they may not completely enjoy hearing.
The film has a fast, loose sense of humor, and there are pop culture references everywhere, although not in an on-the-nose “Scary Movie” sense. Instead, you get the sense that this entire movie is being told to you by a hyperactive, hypersmart kid who has mainlined everything Lego has ever released, and it is unafraid to throw more and more at you. Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is the most average Lego guy imaginable, totally anonymous, until he runs into Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a Trinity-esque badass who informs him that he is the chosen one, a foretold Master Builder who is destined to save the Lego world. He ends up having this big crazy adventure with Wyldstyle, Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders), and more, and along the way, the filmmakers throw a barrage of characters at us. I especially liked the relationship between Superman (Channing Tatum) and Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), but it’s exciting to see a film that is always changing, always throwing new ideas at you.
Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is charming, and the way he weaves his uber-annoying song “Everything Is Awesome” into the entire film, including a sad riff on it and the heroic riff on it, had me cackling in places. If this was just a comedy, just one joke after another, Miller and Lord make it so funny that would be enough. But when they shift gears and actually makes some emotional points, I was surprised by just how powerful it was. They pay this off in a way that is incredibly smart, and on the way home from the theater, my own kids had a spirited conversation with me about all the ideas that it raised. I never would have expected to have conversations about God, fatherhood, art, creativity, and love after seeing a movie inspired by a line of construction brick toys, but it happened, and it was a natural result of what we saw in the film.
Beautifully shot, impeccably paced, and with a voice cast that nails it in every role, large or small, “The Lego Movie” is a genuine delight, and it makes me suspect that there’s nothing Lord and Miller are incapable of as directors. At this point, they have earned the benefit of the doubt from me. They could announce that their next film was a snuff movie and I was the star, and I’d still be excited to see it. If you’re a parent, you can genuinely look forward to taking your kids to this and to the conversations you’ll have afterwards, and if you’re just a comedy fan, prepare for 100 minutes of consistent joy.
If only every studio and every filmmaker took every film this seriously. “The Lego Movie” is proof that there’s no such thing as a bad idea for a film, only poor executions, and I suspect it will be a massive hit, one that is absolutely deserved.
“The Lego Movie” opens in theaters everywhere on Friday.