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Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 12:01 am

Lego joy

A scene from The Lego Movie.
PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES

 

With Hasbro having turned G.I. Joe and Transformers into successful franchises, I suppose it was only a matter of time before they built a feature around those little plastic blocks from Denmark that I cuss at every time I step on one with bare feet. What with 560 billion of these interlocking blocks having been produced since 1949, there’s a large built-in audience for The Lego Movie, so it comes as no surprise that Warner Brothers would pony up $60 million to create a motion picture that brings their various licensed characters and their respective worlds to life on the big screen. This could end up being the smartest move made by a major studio in quite some time because, let’s be frank – making this movie is like printing money.

What is surprising is how good the film is, that it isn’t content with simply throwing up a series of manic action sequences but succeeds in delivering a poignant message about how toys fuel our imagination and provide a spark that carries over into other aspects of our lives. That we lose this source of inspiration as we grow older is a casualty of outside pressures and stress – that whole growing up thing – but if directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller achieve anything of note here, it’s reminding us that this doesn’t have to be the case.

The rules, or rather, the premise of the story is set up quickly and plainly as we learn that President Business (voice by Will Ferrell) has run the metropolis of Bricksburg with an iron (plastic, really) fist, having set up stringent “instructions” for its inhabitants to live by. However, it wasn’t always like this. Master Builders – citizens with the ability to take various pieces of their environment and make whatever their imagination could conceive – were once free to create and pass from one Lego universe to the next. However, this kind of chaos infuriated Business, so he had walls built that would separate and keep the various dimensions and their inhabitants apart. However, the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) tells of a prophecy that states that a “Special” will one day appear who will have the ability to stop Business, tear down the walls and let creativity reign. That the kind but rather dimwitted construction worker Emmet (Chris Pratt) appears to be the chosen one fills Vitruvius’ most loyal follower, Goth chick Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) with doubt and concern.

The adventure that Emmet and Wyldstyle embark on, which consists of them taking a relic they’ve found – the Piece of Resistance – to Business’ lair where it will be used to stop a universe-altering weapon, allows Lord and Miller to traverse between different Lego worlds and set up meetings that could only occur with the company’s many licensed characters. So, it comes as no surprise that Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings are mistaken for one another when they’re in the same room or that Batman is able to take a ride on the Millenium Falcon with Han Solo, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. When one beholds the Lego figures of William Shakespeare, Superman and Shaquille O’Neal on screen together, you can’t help but experience a bit of nerd nirvana.

Mash-ups like this make for great fun and the prospect of seeing similarly inspired pairings along the way help the viewer endure the many manic action scenes that pepper the film. There’s nothing special where those are concerned, however the cleverness that Lord and Miller employ – as they poke fun at the toy brand while simultaneously honoring it – more than makes up for the overdone visual effects. Clever quips abound, while bits of inspiration, such as seeing a discarded band-aid, a scuffed golf ball and a worn staple remover as mysterious talismans from another world prove that the directors put a great deal of thought and imagination into the project. And they save their best trick for last. As the action winds down, they pull out a narrative twist that not only employs a sense of logic that makes the film work on multiple levels but powerfully delivers the film’s theme – that only by nurturing our inner child can we hope to live a life of endless possibilities. It’s obvious that Lord and Miller practice what they preach. The Lego Movie is nothing if not a film made by grown-ups who’ve never outgrown their eagerness to play with their toys.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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