**½/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras C+
screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Emmet is the platonic Everyman who becomes embroiled in adventure and intrigue after stumbling on a fabled MacGuffin called the Piece of Resistance. It's Hitchcock with a dash of Star Wars or The Matrix, or maybe vice-versa, as Emmet is designated "the Special" (a.k.a., the Chosen One), the saviour who will lead a band of rebel misfits to victory against the nefarious Lord Business. Oh, and Emmet's a little Lego dude with the voice of Chris Pratt. His predicament takes him on a globe-trotting journey through Legoland (not the theme park but a realm where Lego characters bloom to life à la Toy Story), not quite north by northwest but with a pit stop in the Wild West, where he picks up a wizardly black mentor named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman--one wants to type "natch"). Lacking obvious talent and vision, Emmet is doubted and doubts himself but eventually rallies the troops and, when Lord Business finally unleashes his liquid freeze-ray known as the Kragle, voluntarily sacrifices himself for the greater good. It helps that he's desperate to impress the sultry, resourceful Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who considers Emmet hopelessly uncool--especially compared to her boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett).
Writers-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller may have flown too close to the sun with 22 Jump Street, but here they pull off their usual trick of taking a tacky, unpromising pitch--in this case, a feature-length paean to plastic bricks (call it "The Amazon.com Movie" or "The Starbucks Movie" and its corporate agenda looks considerably more transparent, nay, less benign)--and investing it with a classical storytelling sense, self-aware humour, and enough filmmaking savvy as to rise below the material, to paraphrase Mel Brooks. The masterstroke of the pair's near-brilliant 21 Jump Street is that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill find their poles of popularity reversed upon re-enrolling in high school a few years after graduation: Tatum's jockish machismo no longer has any currency, thanks to the ascension of nerd culture and millennial sensitivity, which has simultaneously made a virtue of Hill's dorky shyness. It's funny because it's true and because that catches you off-guard, to encounter truth in a genre so beholden to dated values as the teen flick. Likewise, The Lego Movie may showcase hands-free play, but its adherence to the absurd physical limitations imposed on Lego figures by their lack of joints and accessories--or rather by the inane specificity of their accessories--is an inspired and constant source of laughs. Indeed, the film is a masterpiece of formal discipline--and its ingenuity is often as breathtaking to behold as it is droll, even if we're looking at a digital simulacrum of Lego engineering.
But the live-action ending is, to resort to an overused word, problematic, and has a retroactive ripple effect on the narrative. Feeling directly lifted from the prologue of Julie Taymor's Titus (or maybe "St. Elsewhere"'s infamous series finale), it essentially reveals the author of the story to be Finn (Jadon Sand), an 8-year-old boy ("He's adorable!" Emmet coos in a disconcertingly evangelical moment) messing around with his anal-retentive father's elaborate basement monument to Lego. Dad (Will Ferrell, who also voices Lord Business) shows up and chastises Finn for rearranging some brickwork, then gets out the Krazy Glue to start fixing every piece in its place. The overriding message is unobjectionable enough--shortening Corinthians: leave toys to the kids (as Finn points out, the box says ages 8-14)--if surprisingly controversial in this age of YA lit's popularity among adults, though as our own Bryant Frazer astutely observed in his review: "The film sets up this weird dichotomy between vision-starved adults, who have apparently forsaken the innocent pleasures of youthful experimentation, and fabulously inventive children... The notion that an adult could take real joy in assembling bricks according to someone else's blueprint--in appreciating the prodigiousness of someone else's creative mind--seems to be beyond the film's [imagination]."
What happens when attempting to reconcile this climax with the rest of the film is that the emperor looks increasingly naked. Emmet flounders in the absence of how-to manuals while everyone around him cobbles contraptions together without a second thought, yet it's his organizational skills that save the day, as he comes up with a step-by-step plan to defeat Lord Business that bears a suspicious resemblance to Lego's pictorial instructions. According to the example of Finn's father, though, blueprints are a form of fascism incompatible with improvisation; embracing Finn's found-art approach to Lego as he eventually does would seem to necessitate abandoning his purist ideals. Dad also objects to a generic construction worker being the hero--I don't know how Finn actually wins that argument (the intercutting between live-action and animation is cagily elliptical), but the kid's protests that anyone can be a hero ought be amended to "any guy," what with Wyldstyle's justifiable bewilderment over Emmet becoming the protagonist of her story, which ultimately amounts to a rhetorical question. Consequently, the clever closing joke--that Dad loosening up means Finn's baby sister should be invited to play, too, at which point Legoland is invaded by visitors from Planet Duplo--leaves a sour aftertaste because it almost seems to mock the very idea of girls using Lego and violating that masculine headspace. Finn's mortified expression says it all.
The Lego Movie is such a marvel of doublespeak that the nasty bit of earworm meant to indict Emmet's middlebrow tastes, "Everything is Awesome," was the fifteenth most-downloaded song on iTunes the weekend of the film's theatrical release. Yeah, it's fun and an impressive feat of corporate synergy to watch the intermingling of characters from different franchises (in this respect, The Lego Movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a new era); Lord and Miller deftly lampoon the brooding essence of Batman and skewer the unfashionableness of Green Lantern, who to Lego Superman's chagrin won't leave him alone. Still, I'm not sure how this hash of pop-culture icons promotes original or transformative thinking, or really does anything except perpetuate the epidemic of fan art. And I found myself doubting the existence of a Lego collection so comprehensive that it brings Harry Potter into orbit with pirates and Star Wars: In my day, Lego obsessives were loyal to sub-genres, not the brand itself. Further proof that The Lego Movie is a 100-minute advertisement you've paid to watch--now that's ingenuity.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Warner's Blu-ray release of The Lego Movie is technically unassailable. (Note that there are separate 2-D and Blu-ray 3D editions--we received the former for review.) The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is an explosion of colour that would be eye-searing were it not for a cinematic wash that's beautifully replicated by this disc. A dewy telephoto glaze that nudges the image towards overexposure is consistent across the transition to live-action, while stopping on a frame typically demonstrates the microscopic attention paid to simulating scuff marks and other signs of play. On the small screen, at least, The Lego Movie's CG tableaux look photoreal more often than not. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track reproduces a remarkably immersive and alert mix with clarity, transparency, and big-time depth; the scattering of the pieces in every direction when stuff explodes hits some primal pleasure centre that elicits pure joy.
Lord, Miller, and actors Alison Brie (Unikitty), Pratt, Arnett, Charlie Day (Benny the 1980s Space Guy), and, arriving late, Elizabeth Banks, join forces for a full-length commentary. The participants calm down after a frantic, unfocused start but the conversation never gets all that interesting. I liked Lord and Miller pointing out which shots contain actual photography and laughed at Arnett comparing guns to lasers ("Lasers are gonna be way worse--a steady stream of death"), but this is a pretty tedious yakker. Speaking of tedious, "Behind the Scenes: Bringing Lego to Life" (13 mins., HD) is saddled with the device of pretending that Emmet is real, detracting from its documentary purpose. It's the first of many peculiarly hollow video-based supplements, including:
- "Batman's a True Artist" (1 min., HD), a YouTube-ish video for Batman's hilarious death-metal song.
- "Michelangelo and Lincoln: History Cops" (1 min., HD), a faux-trailer featuring two characters who barely factor into The Lego Movie, otherwise this might be funnier.
- "Enter the Ninjago" (2 mins., HD), in which a producer tries to buy the rights to Emmet's story and recast it as an even-more-action-packed yarn starring "Lloyd Garmadon." I'm beginning to suspect that Lord and Miller had little to no involvement in these extras.
- An "Everything is Awesome" sing-along that goes on long enough to get to a terrible rap part. Not presented in 5.1, for what it's worth.
- "Intro with Senior Designer Michael Feller" (1 min., HD), a Lego employee who served as the movie's lead designer and art director. He provides instructions in separate segments for building Emmet's car and double-decker couch.
- "Intro with Modeling Artist Adam Ryan" (1 min., HD), who also tells viewers how to put together Emmet's car and couch, but using the Lego Digital Designer desktop app.
- "Behind the Scenes Stories from the Story Team" (4 mins., HD) compiles storyboard fragments complete with explanatory voiceover from artists Theresa Cullen, Craig Berry, and others, who seem to have been far less concerned with Lego physics in conceiving the movie on paper.
- Introduced by Pratt, "Fan-Made Films: Top-Secret Submissions" (4 mins., HD) excerpts--too spastically, initially--from the most successful entries in a web contest. The winners had their stop-motion vignettes featured in The Lego Movie proper.
- "Outtakes" (3 mins.) is a mixture of those fake bloopers that had blessedly gone the way of the Dodo and obviously authentic improvs (most notably from Brie) honoured with rendered animation.
- "Additional Promotional Content" (4 mins., HD) gathers together a slate of meta-heavy teasers likely produced for the Internet.
- "Alleyway Test" (1 min., HD) is proof-of-concept animation of Wyldstyle assembling her motorcycle. Though less multifaceted than the final rendition, it's easy to see why the suits were sold on it.
- "Deleted Scenes" (3 mins., HD) offers two elisions in thumbnail-sketch form. The first makes a much bigger deal about Vitruvius's blindness, inviting a lot of tasteless and hackneyed jokes at his expense; the second forces Lucy to confess her love for Emmet via lie detector. Good riddance.
Corporate ephemera cues up on startup of the BD, which comes with DVD and Digital copies of the film.