Thursday, February 13, 2014

"The LEGO Movie" Kinda A Dream Come True

The LEGO Movie is, at a one billion times scale, a bit like the movies I used to try to make as a kid with a stop-motion camera and a bunch of Legos.  From the first moment when a camera soars through a lava-filled chasm, the dreaming adults feel a tugging awe, and the film never lets go.

With a mix of real stop-motion animations and CG, every environment and character brings us into a layered world.  Even with a brief, trippy journey to the human world, the LEGO movie needs no introduction.  The characters live in their own universe.  The shiny cities, castled landscapes, and vast deserts live on their own, evocative and beautiful.

Still, signs of humanity still exist--a villain threatens a minion with the "Cloak of Band-A'yd", a relic we recognize immediately.  In a delicate touch, when the light hits the characters right one sees fingerprint marks on them, as if the game is being played for us to watch, in the detail children wish could happen.

The story follows Emmett (Chris Pratt), a totally normal, enthusiastic LEGO man.  His morning routine says everything about him.  Emmett follows all the instructions given by President Business (a well-coiffed Big Brother figure voiced by Will Ferrell) which tell him how to dress, how to act, and how to work.

The lifestyle of the LEGOS in Bricksburg, while exhilarating and fun to watch with its pop music, coffee, and colorful characters, is clearly degrading to Emmett.  But the prologue with the wizard Vetruvius and the Evil Lord Business has already told us what was gonna happen.

Emmett finds a mysterious relic designed to save the world from destruction at the hands of Lord Business, who wants to freeze everything in an aesthetically pleasing position forever, so that the world can conform to his way of seeing things.  (You seeing a theme here?)

So Emmett has to be rescued by the Master Builders, who have escaped Lord Business' fascism and live in the cracks of the Lego universe.  Even though he is a totally uncreative goof, they join in an epic quest to take down Lord Business and allow everyone in the world to do what they want: build cool stuff without following directions.

Great performances abound.  Chris Pratt can do little wrong with the silly, improvising Emmett.  Elizabeth Banks gives sass and emotion to a pretty underwritten love interest.  Will Arnett makes fun of everything he can as Batman.  Liam Neeson kicks butt as Bad Cop.

Still, no set piece or amazing lego set or fight scene can hold a candle to Morgan Freeman as Vetruvius.  As a pastiched Gandalf figure, the white-haired wizard consistently delivers the films most unexpected, hilarious quips.  Morgan Freeman can jump from delivering deep thematic wisdom in his chocolatey voice to making silly ghost noises or saying something like "I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it's true" without a sense of embarrasment or missing a beat.  It seriously, no joke, I mean I really mean it (but for reals), is my favorite performance he has ever given.

The film has already been praised for its non-conformist, anti-business message.  When WildStyle, one of Emmett's rescuers, learns that he listens to popular music, she is plunged into deep disappointment.  How could he be such a conformist?  The next message, surely, is how to show Emmett what good music and culture are.  But she never does, and when Batman shows Emmett some of his "real music," it turns out to be just as stupid as Lord Business' heavily-produced stuff.

And the non-conformist characters are often portrayed as being just as silly as Emmett.  A Uni-Kitty from Cloud Cuckooland shows Emmett her kingdom of rainbows and candy, warning that there is no sadness, no negativity, no bad in her land.  WildStyle points out astutely that Uni-Kitty's mantra is full of the word "no".  And when Emmett suggests his one original idea, Vetruvius states firmly that "that just the worst." According to the LEGO movie, bad ideas are bad ideas.  Period.  Praising non-conformity for its own sake has no value.

Of course, in the end, the film praises originality: do the best that you can do, and it will be good enough.  Nowhere is this more awesome than with Benny, the 1980's space guy, who after trying to make a spaceship the whole movie, finally makes one and flies around ecstatic, shouting "spaceship" for like two minutes.

And this is basically the right message for the Lego movie.  We all know the conflicts that come up playing with Legos.  Someone wants to make a spaceship.  Someone wants to just follow the directions.  Someone wants to work only in black (and very very dark grey).  Someone wants to make a rainbow kingdom, and someone just makes dumb stuff.  The point is that it's better to do things together, play together.  The great victory of the characters of the LEGO movie is not when they fight Lord Business, but when they all work together and make somethings--by common consent.

Let's admit it.  This is a commercial, but it's trying to point out the best things about LEGOS.  Not that they're retro, or cool, or non-conformist, but that they're fun, and even cooler when you're part of a team.

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