Despite the overwhelming critical support and the huge wad of money it made over the weekend, I can’t shake the feeling that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie does little more than scale the heights of being perfectly satisfactory. It’s one of those animated, kiddie-adventure movies that is really made for adults. (By “adults,” I mean twenty-somethings with a deep, heavy sense of childhood nostalgia.) And while I can’t fault anyone for liking the movie — it’s cute, but it’s a lot sappier than it needs to be — it’s the kind of film that is so reliant on pop culture references that it becomes incredibly specialized.
To be honest, I enjoy pop culture references when it’s the pop culture I enjoy. But still, a bunch of Star Wars jokes in the year 2014 is close to a comedic nadir. In this sense, the movie’s entire comedic sensibility too often feels played out and even a little lazy. Thankfully, Lord and Miller throw enough against the wall for things to occasionally work, and its kind-hearted nature makes up for a lot. On top of this—despite a pretty derivative plot—there’s a sense of general ambition and actually caring about making something fun, even if it all doesn’t click.
As far as plot goes, The Lego Movie is basically The Matrix with Legos. Chris Pratt (TV’s Parks and Recreation) is the voice of Emmet, a pretty uninspiring, dull and friendless Lego figure who works in construction in a nondescript city made of Lego blocks. That is until he fulfills a prophecy and finds a strange plastic piece that will end the reign of President Business (Will Ferrell), the domineering leader of this Lego world who wants to quell disorder and creativity. What follows is general action/adventure stuff (which, given the animated style, can often be too busy and difficult to follow), with Emmet trying to save the world, and Lego’s long history of corporate tie-ins supplying the pop culture cache. Eventually, this dovetails into the metaphysical realm and a heap of sentimentality and daddy issues that isn’t quite as as emotionally affecting as it’d like to be. I feel this is where a lot of people’s love of this movie is drawn from, since—in this instance—The Lego Movie is making a run at schmaltzy ambition. For me, it’s asking for an emotional response it doesn’t deserve (a good bit of this probably has to do with relying on Will Ferrell to create poignancy, an approach that never works).
Thankfully, the sum total is pleasant and enjoyable, but wholly disposable. I’m not sure anyone’s expecting some grand piece of filmmaking, something that enters the grand canon of great cinema from something called The Lego Movie. While the critical reception may be a bit overblown, the movie fulfills its modest aims as entertainment, which, sometimes, is all you can ask for. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.Playing at United Artists Beaucatcher.