February 7, 2014



THE LEGO MOVIE:  Buy A Ticket – The Pieces All Fit Together

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s THE LEGO MOVIE wants to have its family movie cake and eat it too, and it’s a remarkably tasty dish.  Lego takes the kind of endlessly clever, fully-realized fantasy universe we associate with the best of Pixar and gives it the frenetic, smart-aleck Looney Tunes treatment of its home studio Warner Bros, barely taking a breath along the way, and like those two models, it’s that rare example of the family genre that can fully satisfy moviegoers of all ages.

Lego takes the “chosen one” archetype that’s fed every pop culture phenomenon from Star Wars to The Matrix to True Blood (not to mention just about every world religion, but that’s another story) and tosses it into a blender.  Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) is as ordinary a Lego piece as there is, a construction worker in a huge mechanized city that’s led by President Business (Will Ferrell), a megalomaniacal dictator worshiped by all (he steps into massive shoe-lifts and calls himself Lord Business when dealing with underlings).  Emmet’s motto is the earwig song “Everything Is Awesome” that’s all the rage in town (just try getting Tegan and Sara’s refrain out of your head), and like everyone around him, he lives to faithfully follow the instructions that tell him how to perform every detail of his day.  But then Emmet meets Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a revolutionary–think of her as a Lego-ista–and Emmet accidentally plunges down a hole and discovers the Piece of Resistance, the fabled tool that is the only hope of stopping the President’s Kragle, a super-weapon Business plans to use–on Taco Tuesday–to permanently ruin their world.  It would be unfair to disclose just what the Kragle and Piece turn out really to be, but the answers are ingenious and completely logical.

The prophecy laid down by Vitrivius (Morgan Freeman), the blind seer of the resistance, says that the one who finds the Piece of Resistance is The Special, and that sends Emmet into his hero’s journey, an epic adventure that merrily spins the cliches of a thousand Comic-Cons, with a spectacular array of new worlds and a variety of companions limited only by Lego’s licensing deals.  Wyldstyle’s current boyfriend, for example, is Batman, played with spectacular self-serious Dark Knightedness by Will Arnett, and Superman, Wonder Woman and Dumbledore are among those making appearances.  (There’s one huge cameo by a non-Warners property, but that should be kept under wraps.)   The non-licensed characters are highlighted by a hilarious Liam Neeson as the town’s schizophrenic Good Cop/Bad Cop law enforcement authority.  Through it all, Emmet remains his dopey self, his only innovative idea a bunk sofa (wouldn’t the people on the bottom have to watch TV through the legs of those above? someone asks), no more convinced of his Specialness than anyone else is.

Before it all ends, Emmet naturally does find his inner hero–a mainstream family movie can only be so subversive–but Lord and Miller, who previously wrote and directed the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the 21 Jump Street satire/reboot (that movie’s stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill turn up briefly here as DC superheroes), work it out in a very satisfying fashion, with undercurrents about conformity and imagination and an endless number of gags tweaking the characters, the genre and the toys themselves.  Then they daringly introduce a third-act twist that expands the world of the movie even farther, adding a level that both grounds the action in real life and introduces what can be called with a straight face a quasi-spiritual element to the tale.  It’s a tremendous piece of work.

Lego Movie has been visualized with the same care that it’s been written.  Although the bulk of it is computer-animated, it’s been done in a way that simulates the slightly clumsy, stop-motion style of hand-operated animation, and there are marvelous effects like roiling seas of tiles and a city in the clouds.  The vehicles and weapons, of course, are constantly morphing as the builders reprioritize their needs and react to the challenges Business throws at them, and this is the rare 3D movie that may justify the extra cost, since the whole concept involves pieces flying all over the place.

The voice cast is choice:  apart from those mentioned, Alison Brie is a Hello Kitty-ish girly figure who loves unicorns and rainbows–until she doesn’t, Nick Offerman is the pirate Metalbeard, now a head contained in a giant robot body, and Charlie Day is a 1980s astronaut who only wants to build a vintage spaceship.

The early months of the movie year tend to be bleak, and The Lego Movie is a welcome reminder that commercial entertainment doesn’t have to be dull or dumb or routine.  It’s a smart, non-stop hoot, and the only sad thing to say about it is that it will almost certainly kick off a franchise that will have an awfully tough time being nearly as good.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."