Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: The LEGO Movie

For nearly the past 24 hours I've had the song "Everything is awesome" stuck in my head.

I'm just prefacing with that because it somehow seems relevant to everything I'm about to say.

I've been a pretty big fan of the LEGO video games that come out every couple of years.  From Star Wars to Indiana Jones to superheroes from various companies, they're all purely enjoyable games that don't require too much thought, too much effort, or too much stress to be able to enjoy.

Save one, but that's for later.

So when the LEGO movie came out and I saw the ads, I had the same thought.  "Oh, it'll be a cute campy commercial for toy sets, like Transformers only more obvious and without as many scenes that made me wonder if the projector fell on its side but kept playing."

I was right.  The whole movie is essentially one big toy commercial.  But there's a key difference.

For something like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or even (god help it) Battleship, the commercial is always the same.  "These things are awesome.  Therefore, the toys are awesome.  If you play with them, you will be awesome."

Speaking as someone who had a lot of the early TMNT action figures way back in the day, I can state that this is both true and completely false.  For a few bright shining moments I was awesome to my classmates for having a complete set of martial arts reptiles.  Then ten seconds went by, and I was that kid playing with toys during recess.

LEGO doesn't do a lot of that.  Well, okay, they do, but it isn't rubbed in your face.  Sure, they advertise multiple existing and (at time of "filming") "yet to be out" LEGO sets, but that's not where the message lies.  The message is this:

"You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary pers-"

Wait, hold on, that's not right.

The message for the commercial part of the movie is "your imagination can design and build whatever it wants to, LEGOs are just a great tool to use to express it."  By leading with the "you are awesome" and then going to "and that can make our toy awesome," LEGO's movie (aka "The LEGO Movie") manages to keep an optimism and lightness missing from a lot of the movies I've seen in theaters lately.

An intelligently made movie that children can enjoy (or even adults) is a rare pleasure these days.  In an age where everything is dumbed down to the lowest possible level, I like finding things that not only present an idea, but then almost dare the viewer to think even further on it and explore it for themselves.

Seriously, one reason I don't like CSI (and, in guilt by association, almost any other crime show whose name is an acronym) is because I caught an episode where they had to explain why a dog would be drawn to someone who had the scent of bacon on their hands.  I immediately changed channels.

The Lego Movie presents us with Emmett, a LEGO figurine so generic that when facial recognition software is used to try to figure out who he is, the results are everybody else in existence.  He winds up being caught up in a prophecy that says he'll save the world from Lord Business (which is a great name) using his powers as a Masterbuilder.  Unfortunately, Emmett has all of the building talents of a pile of wet seaweed, and it's quickly figured out that he has all the potential to save the world as the same.

But here's where things get interesting.  If any of you have ever read "TV Tropes" (and if you haven't, I beg you to only go look after you've notified your loved ones what you're doing so they know where to find you a week from now), you know about all of the hackneyed, overdone things that happen in movies.  The bad guy monologues instead of killing the good guy.  The martial artists always attack the hero one at a time.  If a gun gets mentioned at the start of a movie, it will be used by the end of the movie.

This movie is full of those.  You have a prophecy, a reluctant hero, a wise sage (voiced by Morgan Freeman), a badass woman, a villainous threat, a powerful superweapon....we've seen them all before.  A child knows all of these things.

And that is where the genius comes into play. I won't spoil too much, but when you look at the rest of the movie after seeing the ending, suddenly everything going on makes a lot more sense.  Everything from LEGO product sets only mentioned in passing, character names, to even how LEGO Batman (yes, Batman shows up) manages to vanish and reappear somewhere else.  Every little detail in the film, based on the facts presented at the end of the film, takes on a whole new life and make a lot more sense.
Except for Unicat.  Unicat is her own logic and nobody else can define it.
Speaking of presentation, the graphics are simply amazing.  I don't know if they built every scene out of individual bricks in CG, but there are such precise little details in every corner of the screen.  Characters are somehow smoothly illustrated but still look like they're done in stop-motion style filming, the building of items is done quickly but in such a way that you can really see the parts coming together.  Visually, it might be one of the most fascinating movies to watch the backgrounds of without paying attention that I've seen in some time.

I will say that the movie does reach its fingers into my own childhood.  I remember having models and wanting to glue everything together so it could never break.  I didn't think I'd ever be able to put them back together again if anything happened.  And yet, I loved putting things together randomly and making up my own stories.  That same argument that takes place in the movie was also in me.  I connected a lot with this movie, and I suspect a lot of other people, adults and children, did as well.

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