Lately I’ve been railing against the quality of movies in the theater this time of year; it feels like the offerings for 2014 have been particularly abysmal. For someone who loves to go to the cinema as much as I do, I have only been a few times since the calendar changed over for the New Year. I’m not alone in my assessment of February films – a study in Slate found that movies released in the second month are critically the worst of the year. I personally blame Valentine’s Day for some of this as studios feel the need to crank out appropriate “date movies” for this time of year, which may be adored by a certain demographic but generally are terrible.
Of course, there always has to be an exception to prove the rule. In the vast wasteland of crappy films released in February, there has to be one film that is actually pretty good. Given the lowered standards of this time of year, the film doesn’t even have to be great; just release something entertaining that is well thought out and not complete garbage and people will be happy. This was my first thought when I saw the original 99% fresh rating for The LEGO Movie on Rotten Tomatoes. I was suspicious of this very high approval and wondered if it was just critic fatigue; they have had to watch some really terrible films this year and perhaps they were overly enthusiastic when they saw something that was mildly amusing. The fact that the film was enjoying such a high rating was a point of conversation among my friends when I said that I wanted to see what was basically a kids’ movie – anyone else who expressed interest often cited the Rotten Tomatoes ranking and those who were skeptical seemed swayed by this information. This time of year, a Rotten Tomatoes ranking of 99% is like the Holy Grail.
Sunday morning my pal Mike and I decided to see if The LEGO Movie hype was for real; we both like LEGOS and I was just happy to have another adult with me so I would look less creepy than going to a movie for children on my own. We even sprang for the 3-D screening, as animated films tend to be worth the additional cost (unlike live action films where usually the 3-D technology feels tacked on). I know – we’re regular Rockefellers.
I’m pleased to say that The LEGO Movie was tremendously enjoyable. It was a visually stunning movie that was very funny – both for adults and children. I actually forgot that this was a movie that was supposed to be aimed at the younger set; unlike a lot of kids’ movies that are enjoyable to adults “for a kids’ movie,” The LEGO Movie was enjoyable simply as a movie. No qualifiers needed. While the film basically boils down to a 100 minute advertisement for LEGOs, it somehow doesn’t feel like an overt cash grab. They put enough thought into the film that while it is clearly a commercial endeavor, whatever salesmanship that is going on is more subliminal (though it is still there – I had a sudden and intense desire to go buy a LEGO set after the film).
Visually, The LEGO Movie is tremendously impressive. The film is created wholly out of LEGO pieces and while I had seen this sort of technology in action playing the LEGO Star Wars game on Wii with some of my friends’ kids (hi Connor and Caden!), I was still very impressed with what they were able to do on a big screen. They are so creative and it looks so fantastic that it is hard to believe that it is all done with little blocks of plastic. It all seems so real and dynamic considering it is an entire world comprised of LEGOs. I was particularly impressed with a scene that takes place at sea – the ocean was made out of LEGOs as well, but it just looked really cool. Perhaps the younger set will be less impressed with this, as they have been more exposed to the LEGO video games but I just couldn’t get over how cool the whole thing looked.
I laughed through a lot of The LEGO Movie and a lot of the credit for that belongs to the actors who lend their voices to these characters. As Emmett, the enthusiastic but somewhat vapid construction worker, they really couldn’t have picked a better person to voice him than Chris Pratt. In a lot of ways, Pratt is like a big lovable puppy dog and the character of Emmett isn’t too far off from his portrayal of Andy on Parks and Recreation, but it is different enough to not be a complete retread. He really is perfect and as the lead character, his delivery had the greatest impact on the success of the film.
Will Ferrell is never not funny when he is in over-the-top villain mode and his depiction of bad guy Lord Business is no exception; he reminded me a bit of his work in Zoolander as Mugatu. Elizabeth Banks is also very good as Wyldstyle, one of the leaders of the rebellion against Lord Business and possible love interest for Emmett. You really can’t get much more perfect than Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) as a pirate or Alison Brie (Community/Mad Men) as an overly optimistic kitty and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is great as the generic 80s spaceman. Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman poke a little fun at themselves and how people perceive them with their roles as a cop and a prophet, respectively. They hit that sweet spot of self-parody that hits all the right notes.
However, Will Arnett almost steals the whole show with his voice work as Batman. Arnett is at his most gravelly voiced and would make Christian Bale proud. In his capable hands, Batman is a self-involved dude he makes everything about himself, which probably isn’t too far off from what Batman would really be like if you think about it. Arnett is just fantastic and I probably laughed the hardest at some of his one-liners.
The story is generally well-written and is fairly creative; the film takes a turn in the third act which I in no way saw coming (I won’t ruin the surprise, but you’ll know it when you see it). I thought that there was a little inconsistency in the message that they were sending, but that wasn’t enough to take away from my overall enjoyment of the film. There is enough humor in the film to appeal to both children and adults and there were several points where all ages were laughing at the same jokes. The film is mostly fast paced, so that I think even children with shorter attention spans will remain engaged throughout the film. We didn’t see the film with a lot of other people, but the children who were in the theater seemed to really be invested in what they were watching. Even the little boy sitting in our row who talked a lot during the film (as did his adult guardian), managed to generally keep quiet during most of the movie. I was engaged enough that even when he did chatter, I could basically ignore him. Plus I was on his turf, so I kind of had to lower my expectations for behavior.
Some other thoughts:
- They only have bit parts, but I got a kick out of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s interactions as Superman and Green Lantern.
- That was indeed Shaquille O’Neal lending his voice to the Shaq minifig.
- I’m no Star Wars geek, but I appreciated that Billy Dee Williams reprised his role as Lando.
- Fair warning – one of the messages that children could ultimately take away from this film is that you shouldn’t follow instructions or rules. So that may be a challenge in some households after seeing The LEGO Movie.
- A sequel to The LEGO Movie was in the works before the first film even opened.
- I have had the “Everything is Awesome” song stuck in my head for over 24 hours now. Expect to have the same experience when you go see the film. As earworms go, it could be worse.
- As someone who works at an actual think tank, I had to laugh that they were cast as part of the evil empire.
- Chris Pratt is positioned to have a very big couple of years with his starring roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Glad he’s finally getting some attention.
- I had no idea that there were so many “brickfilm” shorts that also feature LEGOs. I have some viewing to do.
- The folks over at FOX Business were not fans of The LEGO Movie (some general plot spoilers in the video):
All in all, I thought that The LEGO movie was a cute and enjoyable film. It was nice to go to the theater and have a movie that mostly lived up to the hype, especially this time of year. If you are a parent that was dreading having to take your offspring to this film, you needn’t be; this is a movie that is made for people of all ages. It is blatant commercialism, but it is amusing blatant commercialism. I don’t know how parts of the third act will play for children, but I think they will resonate with a lot of parents. The LEGO Movie may not be the greatest children’s movie ever made, but it a lot of fun. The song doesn’t lie -Everything IS pretty awesome.