I feel a little bit sorry for kids that go to see THE LEGO MOVIE, only because they aren't going to get nearly as much out of it as their parents. I'll give credit where it's fully due: co-writers and -directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who proved with 21 JUMP STREET (and also the first CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS) that just because the expectations for a movie are low doesn't mean the finished product can't be great. With JUMP STREET, Lord and Miller understood that a film based on a cheesy, dated TV series would likely stink to high heaven, and they played with that notion right there in front of all of us (the sequel seems to do the same, with many jokes in the trailer about unnecessarily going back the well for a follow-up).
With THE LEGO MOVIE, the prejudice is that films based on toys or games are often junk, so rather than simply craft a story featuring many familiar LEGO-ized characters, Lord and Mill has crafted a wonderfully inventive and heartfelt testament to the binding power of creativity and thinking outside the box (or in the case of this film, building without following the directions). Our hero is a lowly construction worker named Emmet (energetically voiced by Chris Pratt), a guy who lives in a LEGO city where everyone plays their part, follows the rules, listens to the same music (if this film had come out last year, the annoying catchy song "Everything is Awesome" would have been the clear Oscar frontrunner), and follows a routine that leaves little room for standing out in a crowd, which is looked down upon by the city's leader, President Business (Will Farrell), whom we know is actually the evil Lord Business, intent on ruling the world with a secret weapon.
When Emmet accidentally becomes attached to something known as the Piece of Resistance, he becomes the front runner to lead a group of Master Builders—characters who desire to build without following instructions—to defeat Lord Business. The idea that Emmet is "The One" comes from a prophecy from the blind wiseman Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who first made all aware that a savior was coming when he was made blind by Lord Business years earlier. Vitruvius' right-hand is the kick-ass Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who seems more suited for the job as savior, but she finds Emmet and brings him to the meet the Master Builders, who are unimpressed.
As you may have figured out from the trailers and commercials for THE LEGO MOVIE, there are quite a few fun cameos throughout the film, both in terms of characters and voice actors. Will Arnett plays Wyldstyle's brooding boyfriend Batman; Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill pop in as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively, and not surprisingly, Superman can't take the Lantern seriously. Cobie Smulders rounds out the superhero lineup as Wonder Woman. My favorite characters is Good Cop/Bad Cop (his head rotates from smiley face to mean face), voiced by Liam Neeson, and a tricked-out pirate named Metal Beard (Nick Offerman). Some of the cameos are too good to spoil, and so I won't.
But the surprises in THE LEGO MOVIE aren't the gimmicks; the real heart of the film rests in its message about thinking for yourself rather than following the lead. There are hints dropped that there is a bigger world outside of the LEGO one; there's a reference to someone known only as The Man Upstairs, and a drawing of him made me think it was simply a clever moment. But the final act of the movie is exquisite and gets to ideas about imagination and preserving childhood that go so far beyond the rest of the already strong film. The film did something that very few movies do these days: it surprised me more than once at how advanced and reaching its thought process was.
THE LEGO MOVIE is also truly funny and a wonderful example of pure entertainment, and I haven't even mentioned the look of the film. The result of a combination of stop-motion and CG animation, the characters move and have the physical restrictions of actual Lego characters (no elbow or knee joints, cup-holder hands, etc.), not to mention the actual shine and look of the plastic characters, buildings and vehicles. My point is, it all looks very real, which only adds to the wow factor of the whole experience.
In addition to the greatness of the main song, if THE LEGO MOVIE had been released in 2013, it could easily have bounced any one of the Best Animated Film nominees out of the category and been a front runner, without doubt. Let's consider this an early contender for this year's award season, and possibly the best mainstream film I've seen in 2014 so far. It's a wonderful film that all ages will appreciate on difference planes. This is more than just a movie surpassing expectations for a toy-based experience; it's a genuinely, unconditionally tremendous movie that will likely have you rummaging through your attics and basements for those old toys, but not in the same way the Toy Story movies did. Those were about nostalgia; THE LEGO MOVIE is about building something right now.