Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Lego Movie

I'm not a huge Lego fan. I mean, conceptually, I'm okay with the interlocking blocks idea. I pretty much made tall, uniform towers of the same color (except where I ran out of bricks of the right size and shape), but I never really had a sense of how to do the cool stuff.

These days, of course, there are kits, which some in my generation scorn, but The Boy had a pretty serious one as a kid of the Enterprise (I don't think he even knew what it was) and it was still 1,500-2,000 pieces. A pretty good project, despite the by-the-numbers aspect of it.

I soured on the Lego video games because, as cute as they were, they had some DRM that made them impossible for me to actually play. That pissed me off.

Is any of this relevant to The Lego Movie? Well, sorta. The movie has a similar look to the games (a little more roughly animated, by design I believe) and the plot is all about the struggle between order and chaos—in particular the struggle between predefined kits of related themes and the anarchy of a child's imagination.

It's one of the best reviewed movies of the year, actually, so The Boy and I caught it at the discount theater.

It's kind of a hot mess.

At its best it recalls the insanity of the golden age of Warner Bros (who made this movie) cartoons. At its worst, well, it moves along too fast to think about much.

The story is basically a riff on The Matrix, with regular joe Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt, some guy) fitting into his happy little world of Lego conformity by liking what everyone else likes and doing what everyone else does. (In fact, at one point, it becomes obvious that nobody thinks much of him because he conforms so completely to what everyone else likes, he's completely forgettable.)

But things change when he meets Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks, 'cause why the eff not?) and actually finds himself on the receiving end of a prophecy about "The Special" who will find the "Piece of Resistance" and stop the evil President Business (Will Ferrell, duh) from employing his ultimately weapon of conformity, the Kragle.

Now, a point of amusement to me is that some view "President Business" as a typical left-wing anti-business attack, and some view it as a more libertarian anti-cronyism angle, but it seems pretty clear to me that it's "Well, here's something an eight-year-old would think convey importance and a fun-killer." President. Business. That's the sound of authority crushing your good times.

As I said, it's a hot mess, but it's a hot mess because it's very much like the inside of a child's head when playing with Legos and action figures. (The child in this case being Jadon Sand, who's mostly known for doing voices at this point, which may make him the only real voice actor on the project.)

The anarchic approach means that the movie can chuck in a bunch of "guest stars", particularly from other WB properties, and they're not necessarily just cameos. Many "famous characters" appear prominently and play a significant role in the plot.

This is kind of cool, and again, a lot like being inside an 8-year-old's head.

I liked it, as did The Boy, a lot even. That said, it's probably over-rated. It's funny and fast, sure, but I didn't get the sense it's something that's going to persist well. A lot depends on surprise, on chaos, a few gags, the sort of things that don't necessarily hold up on a second viewing.

If you were to compare it to The Matrix movies that it's riffing on, for example, it's pretty much the entire trilogy in an hour-and-a-half, and it's probably not quite as good as the first Matrix movie, but light years better—and ultimately more meaningful in its shallow, silly way—than the other two Matrix movies.

A lot of animation choices were designed to emphasize the Lego-ness of things, and some of them I liked—for example, water flooding in was shown as a bunch of discrete, cylindrical one-hole legos—and some of them, like the fire and other explosive effects actually kind of put distance between me and the movie.

Actually, I'd ultimately put any serious weakness down to that: Certain animation choices and certain story choices were distancing. In fact, while the meta story was touching (and way better than the Matrix meta story, as noted) it also was a massive deus ex machina that undermined the entirety of the rest of the movie, dramatically speaking.

On the other hand, we are talking about a bunch of plastic bricks, so I guess I should just chill.

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