The Lego Movie was inevitable. For years now, the toy company has compounded the nostalgia people feel for its brightly colored bricks with an increasing library of sets based on famous film franchises. At the time of this writing, 20th Century Fox even promoted the home-video release of The Grand Budapest Hotel with a model of the eponymous resort made out of Legos. Having turned so many film settings and characters into plastic bricks, Lego had to get its own film at some point.
Thankfully, the task of making it fell to Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have a penchant for complex visual gags and a sense of humor that appropriates and prods at pop culture. The film’s protagonist, Emmet (Chris Pratt), may be spectacularly ordinary, a construction drone who happily consumes the monoculture fed to him, but he exists in a realm filled with big-screen icons that allow the filmmakers to make numerous jokes at the expense of, say, Batman (Will Arnett), whose post-Frank Miller severity is parodied to render him as a petulant, miserable bore who pens industrial odes to being an orphan. Likewise, Morgan Freeman voices his trademark character of a near-omnipotent font of wisdom, speaking with his usual gravitas despite the increasing ridiculousness of his instructions. Certainly, no other film has Freeman evaluating the hero’s idea and responding, “That is just the worst.”
The presence of these broad cultural symbols makes Emmet’s plainness all the more glaring when he emerges as a prophesied warrior against the authoritarian management of President Business (Will Ferrell) over any known hero, or his far more resourceful and intelligent companion, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). Yet his gradual evolution from an unimaginative peon who requires kit instructions for even the simplest tasks to a creative, intuitive builder makes a subtle point about Lego’s brand saturation, that selling kits to reproduce existing objects like a Millennium Falcon or Batmobile ultimately runs contrary to Lego’s legacy as a means of unlocking a child’s creative potential.
Lest that make the movie sound like a jab at the company licensing itself to the filmmakers, Lord and Miller devote most of their energy to a nonstop barrage of referential and visual gags that play off the intricate animation. Though computer-animated, the film mimics the texture of Lego bricks to create a sense of movement that could pass for stop-motion were the frame not too complicated to possibly be the result of frame-by-frame physical manipulation. The verisimilitude given to the Lego people and objects make basic actions like jumping and running funny by capturing the restrictive movement of Lego feet and arms, whereas a giant set piece like the destruction of the aggressively cheerful setting Cloud Cuckooland showcases the complexity of the design, the fluid coherence of the action, and the general absurdity that imbues even the weightier moments.
The Lego Movie may not be a lasting work of art, but it acts as an antidote to the pervasive seriousness that’s settled over all the franchises and properties depicted in the film. (“Batman’s a true artist,” Wyldstyle enthuses. “Dark, brooding.”) Pixar monopolizes discussions of great contemporary animation, as much for the company’s intricate computer animation as its reputation for mature themes. The Lego Movie, like the rest of Lord and Miller’s work, is a reminder that a movie can be fussily crafted in the name of simply being fun, a lesson that more filmmakers should heed in this age of didactic tent poles.
The Lego Movie looks spectacular on Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray. The frequent location changes introduce wildly different color patterns that the transfer handles without incident, yet its greatest attribution is how consistently it captures the animation’s tactile, dulled textures of real, plastic Lego bricks. The film’s dense visual information offers many small quirks of fussy design, and the clear image promotes repeated viewings just to admire the details. The 5.1 lossless track is similarly excellent: Explosions and Mark Mothersbaugh’s genre-hopping score will give your surround system a workout, while the meat of the film, its rapid-fire and overlapping jokes, are rendered crisp enough to make sure not even the most throwaway bit gets buried.
Warner Home Video’s disc comes besotted with extras, starting with a commentary track featuring Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Will Arnett, Charlie Day, and, for a brief interlude, Elizabeth Banks. Less informative than funny, the commentary mostly consists of the cast and crew riffing, with a few pertinent tidbits about the production sprinkled across the 100 minutes. It may not give a thorough impression of how the animators pulled off the film’s look, but it’s damn entertaining to hear a bunch of funny people horse around for an hour and a half. Other extras include three brief shorts variously styled as a music video (a hilarious Mark Romanek-esque visualization of Batman’s orphan-themed tune), a grindhouse trailer featuring Michelangeo and Lincoln as "History Cops," and a tongue-in-cheek bit that adds a ninja Lego to existing scenes to maximize demographic interest. There are also a few behind-the-scenes featurettes, a glimpse at fan-made stop-motion Lego films submitted in a contest, an animation test, some miscellaneous animated promos, and some deleted scenes and outtakes. An "Everything Is Awesome" sing-along is the only extra really geared for children, but it’s nice to get an animated film with so many amusing features.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s manic, loving parody of toy bricks and the pop culture associated with them receives a fittingly overstuffed disc from Warner Home Video.