Beaming with child-like (not childish) imagination and energy, every piece of The Lego Movie fits together perfectly.
Batman. Shaquille O’Neal. Morgan Freeman’s voice. It might sound like the most far-fetched fanfiction you’ve heard yet, but against all odds, the combination of these characters plus a host of other memorable and lovable roles create the most enjoyable cinematic experience of 2014 thus far.
In fact, it is not enough for me to say that The LEGO Movie is the best film of the year as of now. It is the finest animated creation to hit theaters since Toy Story 3, and the two movies are closer to each other than you might expect. When it comes to evaluating children’s films like this one, there are several criteria which I seek. Only fulfillment of every element leads me to call an animated film truly a great piece of cinema, and The LEGO Movie succeeds on every count.
1. The audience MUST be captivated throughout. There is not a single dull moment in the duration of The LEGO Movie. From the moment Lord Business violently seizes the Kragle (the universe’s most deadly weapon), the almost mile-a-minute pacing sweeps the audience off its feet. The editing is almost as sharp as the screenplay, moving us through the different realms of the LEGO universe at breakneck speeds. As we watch ordinary construction worker Emmett, charismatic Master Builder Wyldstyle, and their group of friends fight to disable the Kragle and save their world from being glued stuck forever, we are thrust into a world of vibrant hyperactivity. In this sense, the film brilliantly captures the imagination and the creative potential of a youthful mind.
2. There needs to be an effective balance of humor and tender moments. In all honesty, The LEGO Movie is the funniest animated movie I’ve seen in years, and the funniest comedy in general since at least The World’s End. Through a combination of truly awesome sight gags, effortlessly quotable one-liners, and a flurry of pop culture references for kids and adults alike, scarcely a minute went by without a theater-wide laugh. This alone would have been enough for me to declare the movie a great success, but the emotional third act pushed my feelings over the top. Whilst never losing its peppy sense of humor, notions of family, loyalty, and even love snuck their way into the story to melt even the stubbornest heart.
3. The story must be thought-provoking enough for the adult mind. For those of you thinking that The LEGO Movie exists merely to serve as a 100-minute advertisement for how fun the namesake toys can be, nothing could be further from the truth. As the film went on, I began to realize the unbelievable depth of the story playing out on the screen. It manages to make very interesting social commentary on the homogeneity of our pop culture and the dangers of conformity without ever really seeming preachy. In addition, the heart of the film rests in the age-old question I’m sure anyone who has ever played with LEGOs has asked themselves: what are we supposed to do with them? Are they a means of using the in-depth instructions to create amazingly complex structures? Or are they a tool of invention, a way for us to put our creativity on full display? The debate of “instructions vs. intuition” pervades every element of the story, and by the end of the film, I had difficulty determining which side I was on. It was certainly an unexpected treat to go into the theater expecting a mindless good time, and leaving with a swirling thought dilemma raging in my head.
4. The voice cast should be having as much fun as possible. Undoubtedly boasting the strongest voice cast in years, every single person involved with The LEGO Movie has an utter blast. Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks are dynamic, hilarious, and emotional as the two protagonists who grow closer and closer together. Will Ferrell plays a perfectly diabolical villain with multiple character dimensions. Will Arnett does the funniest Batman impression I’ve probably ever heard. Liam Neeson is arguably the funniest part of the movie, as the duplicitous Good Cop/Bad Cop (his running gag of kicking chairs in frustration is hands-down hysterical). And if that’s not enough, we also get Morgan Freeman as the wizened (but still in the know pop-culturally) Vitruvius, Charlie Day as a hyperactive 1980s spaceman (SPACESHIP!!!), Shaquille O’Neal in a phenomenal cameo, and many, many more that I don’t want to spoil. Oh by the way, The LEGO Movie also boasts the best Star Wars joke since they tried to market Attack of the Clones as a real film.
5. We need visual inventiveness and a sense of wonder. The visual style of The LEGO Movie is beautiful, unique, and utterly immersive. Every single element of the production design was created out of LEGOs at some point, and the CGI needed to allow seamless camera movements and action is extraordinarily unobtrusive. The illusion of pure stop-motion animation is pulled off expertly, allowing me to almost instantly suspend my disbelief and enter into the interactive world presented. Also, the 3D is thankfully not a gimmick, creating a spatial dimension which makes the hundreds of LEGO structures appear that much more real. This strict adherence to the use of LEGOs is a key contributor to the humor as well, from the comical portrayal of fire to translucent plastic rods serving as laser beams.
6. The audience must leave the theater instantly wishing to watch it again. I have already seen this movie twice. In addition to the screening I went to last weekend, I eagerly spent my money to see it again last night at a 10:30 showing. It’s that good. Enough said.
In short, The LEGO Movie brought my inner child out in a way that I previously thought only Pixar could. I refrained the best I could from quoting punchlines for the simple reason that I can’t bring myself to spoil them. Singling out the best ones is a near impossible feat, due to the sheer frequency of laugh-out-loud moments the film provides. This mixture of ageless humor and a thought-provoking, emotionally connective story makes for a remarkable experience. The LEGO Movie is a pure delight; imaginative, beautiful, hilarious, and an easy pick as the best film of 2014 so far. I have a sneaking feeling that it could show up on my year-end Top 10 list as well. Warner Bros. has created a bar-raising animated movie, and it will serve as the standard by which I judge children’s movies for the foreseeable future. Your move, Pixar.
RYAN’s RATING: 4 Stars out of 4