'Lego'side-splitting with madcap humor

Published on Thursday, 13 February 2014 21:55 - Written by Stewart Smith ssmith@tylerpaper.com

“The LEGO Movie” is better than it has any right being.

By most given logic, this should have been a crassly commercial, cynical bit of big studio filmmaking that featured lazy writing and functioned as little more than a 90-minute toy commercial. And yet, thanks to the amazing talents of co-writers/directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, it becomes something truly amazing and memorable and subversive and hilarious.

Oh man, was it hilarious. Let’s put it this way, I was so uproarious with my laughter that the gentleman one row in front of me turned to me halfway through the film to ask me to quiet down. Your mileage will vary wildly, I’m sure, but for my money no other movie in years has made me laugh so hard I was crying and out of breath.

But beyond the madcap humor and pop culture references that fly at 100 mph from start to finish, this is a film that manages to have genuine emotional heart and heft, all while slyly and brilliantly deconstructing (heh) all manner of standard story and character tropes. Oh, and somehow Lord and Miller also manage to stay true the idea of what has kept LEGO bricks so popular for generations: Building whatever weird thing comes to mind.

Emmet Brickowski (voiced with boundless energy and enthusiasm by Chris Pratt) can’t quite swing that, though. He’s just your average construction worker who loves following the instructions, listening to the same (infectiously catchy) pop song and doing whatever it takes to get people to like him. Which is why it’s baffling, even to Emmet, when he discovers he’s The Special, a hero whom a prophecy states will retrieve the Piece of Resistance and stop Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world.

But where most kids films are content to regurgitate those tired “Hero’s Journey” story trappings, Miller and Lord smartly skewer those (and several other) conventions at every turn, not only fiercely lampooning them but successfully turning said skewering into one of the film’s central messages.

It doesn’t matter who you are, we’ve all got the capacity to be special and creative and significant. You don’t need a prophecy or even someone in a position of power to tell you that, you just have to find it within yourself. This meshes nicely, too, with the added message that rampant, unbridled creativity isn’t always a good thing and that sometimes following the rules and heeding the instructions is actually the best way to augment creativity.

Now, I’ve heard and spoken to some who think the movie is a bit hypocritical or at least consider its message a bit specious given the fact that it’s still a licensed product being put out by a massive film studio based on toys made by a massive company. I suppose some of that is valid to a degree, but Miller and Lord seem to have made precisely the movie they set out to, especially when the movie isn’t really anti-corporate or anti-structure at all.

And having Batman and Ninja Turtles and the 2002 NBA All-Stars get mixed in with Green Ninja, Mermaid, Cowboy and 1980’s-something Space Guy is what LEGO is all about these days. It’s nothing for a kid to have Superman riding a horse or for Gandalf to be flying around in a spaceship built out of parts cannibalized from three different sets.

Besides, if it weren’t officially licensed, we would never have gotten the greatest deconstruction/takedown of Batman ever. The last few decades of the character’s depiction has been largely consumed with making him as dark and brooding as possible (though with notable exceptions like the fabulous and underrated “Brave and the Bold” animated series). Miller and Lord, along with the absolutely perfect vocal performance of Will Arnett, take no small amount of pleasure send up that interpretation in grand fashion by showing the character to be little more than a pompous jerk who basically just sulks and broods like an angsty teenager. It’s a hysterical, brilliant, precise take and I kind of want a whole movie of it.

If nothing else, “The LEGO Movie” cements Miller and Lord as some of the smartest, most assured filmmakers of their generation. They’ve built their career out of films and TV shows that shouldn’t work but do, and it’s all because they have such an iron grip on tone, storytelling and character building. These guys can do anything, I’m convinced and “The LEGO Movie” is by far their best movie yet. I can’t wait to see what they do next.