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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

10 Things to Know About the Eye-Popping Animated Movie

This weekend sees the release of "The Lego Movie," which, depending on your degree of cynicism, is either a truly exciting cinematic event or a 100-minute long toy commercial. Either way, it's probably the biggest, most anticipated movie of the year thus far (not that that is saying much -- we barely survived January's rubbish line-up).
Whatever your outlook on "The Lego Movie," it's pretty clear that a whole lot of people are excited about it.

Based on the beloved "construction toys" (is it too reductive to call them building blocks?), "The Lego Movie" takes place in a fantastical Lego Universe where an everyday joe named Emmet (Chris Pratt) unwittingly discovers a mythical piece of the Lego puzzle: the key to defeating the evil Lord/President Business (Will Ferrell) and saving the entire universe from certain destruction. Cue ominous music! Emmet must team up with a ragtag band of Lego "Master Builders" (including Batman and a wise old wizard, voiced by Morgan Freeman) to stop Lord Business's evil plot and bring happiness and creativity back to the Lego-verse.

Does "The Lego Movie" tower strong and tall, or does it crumble under its own plastic-y weight? Read on to find out.

1. Chris Pratt Makes a Great Hero
A little later this year, Chris Pratt is going to be a full-on movie star thanks to his performance in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy." Everything I've seen from that movie pretty much ensures that he's going to be an A-level Hollywood figure, with good looks, charisma, and a sense of comic timing that more traditionally handsome leading men would probably kill for. And just know that the first time he really exemplified his holding-down-an-entire-movie-on-his-own stature, was in "The Lego Movie." Pratt is so likable as Emmet, a Lego mini-figure who tries really hard but can't quite get there, that it's easy to see how future performances will fill entire, $100 million+ extravaganzas. Pratt is a wonderful hero, both in "The Lego Movie" and undoubtedly in what will be coming down the pike.

2. 'Everything Is Awesome' Will Be Stuck in Your Head From Now Until the End of Time
In Emmet's urban Lego city, the No. 1 song is "Everything Is Awesome," performed on the soundtrack by the goofballs from Lonely Island and the always-amazing Tegan and Sara. It's meant to make the citizens of his town domesticated and happy, a kind of blandly optimistic battle cry. But it really is catchy and fun and chances are it'll be stuck in your head for about a week after you see the movie. It's that catchy.

3. The Supporting Cast Is Amazing
One of the biggest thrills of watching "The Lego Movie" is hearing who pops up throughout the course of the movie (if you don't want to know, turn back now!) Morgan Freeman plays a wizard named Vitruvius, the very best of the Master Builders (yes, Freeman is surprisingly funny); Charlie Day is Benny, a "1980-something space guy;" Elizabeth Banks lends her voice to Wyldstyle, our tough lead female character; Will Arnett is Batman (obviously); Nick Offerman plays Metalbeard, a giant Lego pirate; and Alison Brie is Unikitty, a unicorn kitty who lives in a puffy magical landscape full of glittery and fairy dust. Oh, and Liam Neeson plays Good Cop/Bad Cop, a law enforcer with multiple personalities (again: he's really funny!) The universe in "The Lego Movie" seems totally endless and this amazing group of personalities help to reinforce that idea. You never know who or what is going to show up and that sense of unpredictability gives much of the movie its juice.

4. It's Unlike Anything You've Seen Before
For the first 15 minutes or so of "The Lego Movie," my jaw was just hanging open, because I had never seen anything quite like this movie (and as an animation fanatic, that's really saying something). I wish that the projectionist could have paused and re-run the first act just so that I could soak in all of the details of a world that is, at once, endlessly complex and fairly rudimentary and clunky and crude (just like the Lego toys themselves). This is a beautiful, bustling, brilliant movie and it will probably be three or four viewings in that I feel like I've sufficiently taken in the scope of its visuals and design work.

5. The 3D Is Worth It
Unlike most movies (animated or otherwise), the 3D version of "The Lego Movie" is definitely worth the ticket upcharge/pain in the butt of wearing the dorky Buddy Holly glasses. The animation in "The Lego Movie" was achieved using an ingenious combination of computer animation and stop motion, and the entire film has a tactile quality that already makes you want to reach out and play with it. In 3D this sensation is amplified and intensified, bringing you into the Lego Universe more deeply and authentically. When they handed me the 3D glasses at my screening, I let out a little groan since I had forgotten (or perhaps never knew) that the movie was being presented in 3D. Afterwards, I couldn't imagine seeing it any other way.

6. There's a 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'/'Wreck-It Ralph' Vibe Going On
The way that the different properties within the Lego canon (there's even a passing reference to "Speed Racer" of all things) intermingle in "The Lego Movie," where Batman will be in a room with a Ninja Turtle, a character from "The Simpsons," and William Shakespeare, is one of the biggest joys in the entire film. It also lends the entire movie the same kind of wild, who's-going-to-show-up-next? vibe that made "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" or, more recently, "Wreck-It Ralph" so much fun to watch. Using those pre-existing properties acts as a kind of emotional short cut, and it works really well. If the movie is designed to make you feel like you're playing with the toys, well, mission accomplished.

7. It's Surprisingly Heartfelt
You're probably expecting to laugh in "The Lego Movie," which you will do -- a whole lot. But what's more unexpected is how heartfelt the movie is, particularly towards the end. The movie, like a lot of children's films, is about the power of imagination. But unlike most of those films, it's not some kind of platitude; within the context of the Lego Universe you can literally recreate your world using the limitless quality of creativity. It's kind of profound and gripping stuff, and a familial dynamic introduced late in the movie will make that message come home in some truly emotional ways. Sure it's a movie about mini-figures and blocks and crazy car chases, but it's also about what you can do when you actualize your dreams. Which is pretty awesome.

8. There's a Twist That Won't Work For Everyone
There's a late-in-the-game twist to the movie that is pretty meta-textual but in the end makes perfect sense. It would be unfair to talk about that twist now, but just know that some people are going to find that it didn't work at all for them while others (like myself) thought that it deepened the movie and made it more resonant overall. And honestly how boring would it be if everyone loved it? Exactly: very boring.

9. Chris Miller and Phil Lord Are Officially Geniuses
"The Lego Movie" was directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, who previously helmed the first "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and the pee-your-pants hilarious "21 Jump Street." With "The Lego Movie," they have officially become geniuses whose every move should be followed and celebrated. They pack so much wit, so much heart and so much action into "The Lego Movie" that it's kind of staggering. The fact that they're following up this kid-friendly blockbuster (get it?) with this summer's R-rated sequel "22 Jump Street" is yet another testament to their talents and tonal range. Quite frankly, it's hard to imagine that, at the end of 2014, "The Lego Movie" won't still be one of our favorites of the year.

10. You'll Be Craving a Sequel
... Thankfully, they're already working on one.
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