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February 11, 2014

Creators of 21 Jump Street build the perfect animated movie


Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

 Legos are inherently contradictory. They provide the consumer with a manifestation of pure creativity, while also providing a comprehensive instruction manual, resulting in the possibility of a construction completely devoid of mental stimulation. It is this paradoxical nature that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the pair behind 21 Jump Street) explore in their joint directorial endeavor, The Lego Movie.

The story tracks construction worker Emmet, voiced by Chris Pratt, as he discovers The Resistance, an object that can save the universe, and his journey to become The Special, the person to carry out this task. This adventure is one of growth for Emmet, who, in accordance with cinematic tropes, is possibly the least qualified individual to fulfill this destiny. In choosing such a character, Lord and Miller are able to introduce another theme central to the film: the idea that every person is special and anybody can do great things. Emmet fights to protect the world and people he loves from President Business (Will Ferrell), who has created a society in which everything is created according to instructions whose graphic design is similar to that found in Lego boxes. Throughout the movie, Emmet grows to believe in himself with the help of Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and some of the other master builders—a select group of Lego people who are not afraid to stray from the instructions. It is his transformation that resonates through the population as a symbol that anyone can accomplish anything  he or she imagines, ultimately providing the societal push required for the rebellion’s success.

Perhaps the message is a bit ham-fisted, but the screenwriters—Lord, Miller, and Dan and Kevin Hageman—compensate with a fantastic script. The sheer hilarity is overwhelming, producing multiple laughs per minute. But none of this would have been possible without the great voice acting of Pratt, Banks, Freeman, and Will Arnett. With brilliant inflection, Pratt conveys a character that is fearful but courageous, nervous but excited, and wonderfully insecure. Thanks to Elizabeth Banks’ nuanced voice, the audience can immediately recognize her efforts to hide her disappointment at not being The Special, while at the same time understanding how the other characters were not able to see through her guise. Morgan Freeman provides the fatherly tone viewers have come to expect of him, and it is a perfect fit for his role as the wisest of the Lego creatures. In addition to Uni-Kitty and Spaceman Benny, Batman rounds out the main cast, and Arnett voices him beautifully. Arnett provides just the right amount of condescension to make a way-too-full-of-himself Batman.

In addition to being packed full of brilliant characters fleshed out through a wonderful script, The Lego Movie is also home to a very intriguing art style. In the vein of the source material, even the water is made out of Lego blocks, while lasers are translucent red rods and  fire is the familiar orange plastic piece. Despite having the appearance of a stop-motion film, The Lego Movie is actually CGI. These peculiarities in artistic stylization provide a wonderful blend of intrigue and nostalgia. For instance, members of the community follows the instructions given to them by President Business. These instructions are presented in the same style as those found when tearing open a Lego box in order to create the toy of your dreams. The directors are also unafraid to explore the entirety of the Lego universe, from the Bionicles to the DC superheroes to Star Wars characters.

Unfortunately, Lord and Miller make one fatal misstep with the conclusion of their film. Having beautifully anthropomorphized Emmet, Wyldstyle, Vitruvius, and Batman, the screenwriters inexplicably tear away their humanity. Not only does the conclusion strip the characters of their magic, but it also makes the narrative’s moral an uncertainty rather than a truth.

Despite the poor conclusion, The Lego Movie will certainly not disappoint. It’s packed to the brim with nostalgia, magnificent voice acting, and a script that supplies both feelings and laughs. The Lego Movie will certainly find its resting place among the likes of Up and Toy Story 3 in the canon of classic animated films.

The Lego Movie, directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, plays at Harper Theater.

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