Child's play that is perfect for adults too
THE LEGO MOVIE
Animation/97 minutes/Opens today
Like the rest of the Lego mini-figurines living in Bricksburg, construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) lives by the rulebook and leads a happy but unremarkably routine life. Evil tyrant Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his army ensure that everyone lives in perfect conformity.
One day, Emmet is mistaken for The Special, said to be the most powerful mini-figurine who can save the Lego universe from Lord Business' evil clutches. Along with a team of master builders, which includes Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett) and wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Emmet sets out to take Lord Business down.
HOW fun can it be to watch what appears at first glance to be a movie-length commercial for the titular Lego toy bricks?
Turns out that in the hands of writer-director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller - the same pair behind winsome animation Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009) and satisfying comedy 21 Jump Street (2012) - it can be both uproariously funny and surprisingly heartfelt.
The central story here is actually shockingly simple, one that had been explored in numerous films: An endearing regular Joe sets off on a journey to save the world - call this The Block Matrix.
The film-makers could have just left it at that - the Lego brand, after all, has a strong enough following worldwide to pack cinema halls.
But they have taken it to a whole new level, deftly working in sweet messages of teamwork and the endless possibilities of wild, carefree imagination - which, not coincidentally, is the ethos espoused by the Danish toymaker.
Older audiences will have a blast simply marvelling at all the different "dimensions" that the characters travel through - essentially beloved Lego kits ranging from the Wild West to pirate kingdom.
A great inside joke is how the film openly pokes fun at the toy brand's less popular range of products, including the now-defunct Fabuland, which had featured larger bricks and various animal characters.
Filled with boundless energy and witty one-liners, the movie also cleverly incorporates actual items from the human world into the Lego world, such as a used bandage and a highlighter pen.
But it succeeds for adult audiences not just because it feeds their nostalgia or flatters their intelligence. It is also a loving and sincere tribute to the toy bricks.
The toy's physical properties are scrupulously observed (the pieces can swivel but not bend sideways or perform jumping jacks), even as its pieces are used to build infinite, amazing landscapes, including wavy ocean water or moving flames.
As film-makers who reportedly grew up playing with buckets of the plastic toy bricks themselves, Lord and Miller knew full well that there are two types of Lego players: One who follows all the instructions to reproduce the immaculate look of the set displayed on the box, and the other who freely mixes pieces from different sets to fashion whatever he or she fancies.
In their film, the underdog hero Emmet (Parks And Recreation's lovable Chris Pratt, who is perfectly cast here) represents the first type of player - a guy who insists on following the rules and is at a loss whenever there is no instruction manual for him to consult.
The so-called master builders that Emmet encounters later on - which include his feisty crush Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and even Batman himself (a hilariously pompous Will Arnett) - represent the other, more inventive, players, who adapt in the face of changing circumstances.
The master builders remind viewers that as wonderful as it is to have things forever neat and perfect, there are also simple joys to be had with going crazy every now and then and just acting like a kid again