I was not prepared for The LEGO Movie.
No really, I was not prepared at all. After months of playing the wondrous trailers over and over again, I was so excited about catching an early showing of the film this past weekend in Atlanta that I could barely even dress myself. It's a miracle they let me into the theater. I even forgot to grab 3D glasses and had to bug the security guy at the back of the theater for a pair.
I was also completely unprepared for movie itself. What I was expecting — what I was prepared to watch — was an extended ad for the popular building toys, backed by some celebrity voice work. I was ready for the professional version of a stop-motion LEGO fan film. I was prepared to laugh.
I was not prepared to cry, or question my place in society, or my role as a father.
The LEGO Movie revolves around Emmet (Chris Pratt), the most average Joe imaginable, a tiny cog in the massive machine of the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Lord Business' regime exercises complete control of every aspect of LEGO world life, issuing step-by-step instructions for even the simplest of tasks.
Emmet believes in Lord Business' plan. He watches the television shows he is supposed to watch, purchases the overpriced coffee he is supposed to drink, enjoys the music he is supposed to enjoy and performs his job to specifications.
He's blissfully unaware that he's the least special guy in the world, until a chance encounter bonds him with a mystical artifact prophesied (more or less) to bring an end to Lord Business' evil schemes. Under interrogation by Business henchman Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), Emmet is offered a glimpse at what the people in his life really think about him — if they think about him at all. It's a heartbreaking moment.
So when the irrascible rebel Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) frees him from captivity and tells him he is The Special — the most interesting and important person in the universe — it's no wonder the hapless hero clings to the idea desperately. It's a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak and depressing life.
What, you wanted a whirlwind adventure filled with character cameos from the beloved brick toys' 64-year history? Well good, because that's what comes next.
Emmet is introduced to the Master Builders, a secret society led by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman, obviously having a ton of fun). They are champions of creativity, eschewing following instructions in favor of tapping into the power of imagination to make their world a truly magical place.
In a way, The LEGO Movie is pitting two aspects of LEGO fandom against each other — those who build from pre-packaged sets, and those who craft amazing custom creations. Or perhaps it's urging fans like myself, sticking to the safety of step-by-step instructions, to throw caution to the wind and make something that's truly their own.
Emmet and his rag-tag band of freedom fighters — Wyldstyle, Vitruvius, Batman (an amazing turn by Will Arnett), Benny the Space Guy (Charlie Day), Metal Beard the pirate (Nick Offerman) and the ridiculously cute Unikitty (Alison Brie) — take their battle to Lord Business. It's their freedom versus his strict instructions.
It's actually much more than that, but I don't want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say there is much more at stake here than some imaginary world, and the resolution will have any and every toy-collecting parent soaked in teary feels. Dammit.
In between the poignant messages that feel like they were aimed directly at my stupid, blocky heart, there's plenty of good-natured humor, LEGO sight gags, and jokes and references only the hardcore LEGO collector will understand. And the cameos — my god. Almost every major LEGO property makes an appearance, even if they make completely no sense given the parent companies of the characters involved.
I should probably hush about that before I ruin everything. Yes. Hushing.
In retrospect, I suppose The LEGO Movie could never have been simply a two-hour toy commercial, because LEGO bricks are much more than simply toys. They are the building blocks of imagination given form, childhood memories waiting to be passed down from one generation to the next. The LEGO Movie embodies that timeless wonder, and like the toys themselves, it begs to be shared.
Disclaimer: After seeing the movie, this reviewer and about half the theater immediately went to the Toys'R'Us down the street and spent all the money. All the money.
Check out Charlie Jane Anders' review of the movie over at our sister site, IO9.