Instead of capitalizing on a beloved toy, The Lego Movie uses the popular children’s building blocks and miniature figures for something far more ambitious: A manic and surprising comedy that has more imagination and creativity than all the Transformers pictures combined. In their third collaboration, writers-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) continue to hone the frantic pace and endearing silliness of their previous films. These guys not only know how to come up with an endless assortment of gags: They also have the timing of a stand-up comic, using precise editing and unexpected pop culture references to heighten what is already a deliriously fun movie.
The ingenious plot is a huge in-joke for the worldwide cult of Lego fanatics, although the movie takes a while to reveal its grand design. The premise is simple: An evil mastermind, President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), has seized control of the universe and fooled everyone into thinking their lives are great. They all watch the hit TV sitcom Where Are My Pants?, which consists of the same joke told over and over; sing the same pop song Everything is Awesome (a ditty as catchy as a piece of gum on your shoe); buy insanely overpriced coffee; and go about their jobs merrily. But then a construction worker named Emmett (Chris Pratt) is shown a potential new universe where all the pieces don’t have to fit together the way the instructions say by a fiery heroine, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who happens to be dating Batman (Will Arnett).
A huge part of the fun in The Lego Movie is watching all the different properties that have been licensed to the toy makers cross paths in the same movie: Gandalf, Superman, Abraham Lincoln, Wonder Woman, Han Solo and a slew of others figure in the plot (one running gag involves The Green Lantern, voiced by Jonah Hill, and how nobody ever wants to be around him, perhaps a stab at how poorly the character’s live-action movie fared a few summers ago).
But the movie’s secret weapon is the vividly detailed world Lord and Miller have created for their characters, stuffing the screen with so many visual puns and easter eggs, you often want to hit the pause button to take it all in. And just like they did in their previous two films, Lord and Miller insert sentiment and heart into their knockabout comedy, knowing movies are funniest when you care about their protagonists — even if they’re tiny pieces of plastic.
Voices: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Nick Offerman, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum.
Writers-directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller.
Producers: Ron Lee, Dan Lin,
A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 110 minutes. Mild Lego violence. Opens Friday Feb. 7 at area theaters.