It could have been a crash grab. It could have been a shameless piece of marketing designed to sell kids toys. And while The LEGO Movie is sure to drive kids to ask Mom and Dad for LEGO sets, it is not just a very expensive commercial. The LEGO Movie is, in fact, a highly entertaining, very fun and unexpectedly touching movie that kids and adults can enjoy equally. It might even skew more towards the adults, actually, as they’re better equipped to pick up on the nostalgic and pop culture references littered throughout the movie. Basically The LEGO Movie is Pixar at its best, except Pixar didn’t make it.
There’s a lot of adult clever in The LEGO Movie. The Macguffin is a mysterious block called the “piece of resistance”; it is also the piece de resistance of the plot. Charlie Day voices Benny, the “1980-something space guy” minifigure, and he seems wasted for the first two-thirds of the movie. Why did they bother getting Charlie Day to voice this inconsequential background character, I kept thinking. But then that running gag paid off in the third act, and I laughed so hard I cried. It became clear that it HAD to be Charlie Day voicing that character. Only Day could deliver the punchline for maximum effect, and while the kidlets laughed, too, the adults in the audience laughed way, way harder. Because we know Day, particularly his manic “Charlie” character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, we understand why it had to be him.
There are other adult pleasures—the callbacks to LEGO from our childhoods, parodies of every movie cliché from the Old West saloon to The Matrix to the training montage. Batman as a narcissistic buffoon, a BRILLIANT Star Wars cameo—if I’m a Disney exec, I’m considering calling directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord about those new Star Wars movies. Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman spoofing their cinematic personas as action movie badass and Voice of God, respectively. The eye-popping animation, a combination of real stop-motion and CG-approximated stop-motion, with the single coolest realization of CG water to date, the song “Everything is Awesome”, performed by Tegan & Sarah featuring The Lonely Island. It’s a total earworm, bright and poppy enough for kids to bop along to it, but it again, it has that sly adult edge—we understand exactly the kind of crap music being lampooned.
But it is a kids’ movie, and the message is simple and sweet and delivered in a genuine, straightforward way. A surprise turn into live action in act three makes for a solid bridge between real LEGO and the fantastical worlds they can inspire, while simultaneously reminding parents not to stifle their children just because their play seems messy and disorganized. As a non-breeder and no particular fan of children, I rolled my eyes a little, but I saw more than one parent nodding and seeming to absorb the lesson, so it gets a pass I guess.
The LEGO Movie is fast paced, funny, referential but not too “in”, ambitious in its artistry and execution, simple in its intentions and sweet in its delivery. I haven’t enjoyed a kids’ movie this much since WALL-E, and like WALL-E, The LEGO Movie is destined to be both a kids’ classic and a film nerd favorite (seriously, that water!). It’s also a great indicator for just how big a star Chris Pratt can be. Even just his voice is enough to create a compelling protagonist—if Guardians of the Galaxy comes out half as good as expected, he could end this year as a bankable movie star. If you’re on the fence, get it off it—The LEGO Movie is every bit as great as the hype suggests.