Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Film Review: "The LEGO Movie"

The LEGO Movie is one of the most chaotic, surreal, hilarious, and unexpectedly heartfelt animated films I have ever seen.  Thoroughly making the most of nearly every facet of the history of the Danish building blocks on which it is based, The LEGO Movie stuffs every frame of its fast-paced plot full of in-jokes, gags, and blink-and-you'll-miss-it references for LEGO aficionados of all ages.  But there's much more to it than that, as it also manages to tell a surprisingly sweet and intelligent story in the midst of its anarchic antics.

The first thing you'll notice about The LEGO Movie is how visually stunning it is.  Though almost entirely animated in CG, the film deliberately tries to evoke the look of a stop-motion animated film created with actual LEGOs. All of the characters are restricted to movements that real LEGO minifigures are capable of performing.  Arms and legs never bend.  Facial expressions and other assorted details are all designed to look like decals that have been swapped out between frames.  Imperfections of the plastic pieces glint in the light.  Characters and objects show fingerprints on them to suggest that they have been posed by animators.  And everything (and I do mean everything) is built out of LEGO bricks.  Characters, roads, clouds, smoke, water.  Everything.

In that sense, The LEGO Movie is one of the most photo-realistic animated films ever created because everything you see in the film is brilliantly rendered to look as if it really was constructed out of real LEGOs and animated frame by frame.  By using CG, however, the filmmakers were able to create a visual spectacle far more complex and elaborate than stop-motion would have ever allowed.  Fanatical in its attention to detail, The LEGO Movie is so visually dense it's almost overwhelming.

But, of course, all the creative visuals in the world can't save a film with a lousy story.  Fortunately, The LEGO Movie has that covered, too.  Make no mistake; this film is not merely a glorified advertisement for the obligatory construction sets and video games that accompany it.  Rather, it is a celebration of childhood, creativity, individuality, and fun.  The plot is, for the most part, a relatively basic and straight-forward story, but also one that's packed with far more heart and cleverness than the film's over-the-top antics would suggest.  I dare not spoil any details in this review, for fear of robbing anyone the chance to discover all of The LEGO Movie's wonderful surprises for themselves.

What I can say is that this is a film that everyone should see.  The filmmakers wisely took the cross-generation appeal of LEGOs to heart when crafting the film and the result is a movie that is on par with the Toy Story series in its ability to speak on more than one level.  Rather than feeling like an advertisement for LEGO, it uses said source material as the foundation for a witty and inventive narrative.  Every second of this film is packed to brim with humor.  Slapstick comedy will have the kids in stitches, but there's also plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and dozens of clever pop-culture references that LEGO history buffs will go crazy for. 

But, at its core, The LEGO Movie delivers an honest and heartfelt story about creativity and the child in all of us that anyone can appreciate.  It's crazy, surreal, frantic, intelligent, emotional, and...yeah, I'll say it...awesome.  If you only see one movie based on a popular toy this year, make sure it's The LEGO Movie.  It's really something special.

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