In the building block realm otherwise known as Lego Land wise wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) fails to protect a superweapon called the "Kragle" from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). However, Vitruvius prophesies that someday a person called "the Special" will find the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping the Kragle. Eight and a half years later, the self-styled President Business maintains a tyrannical hold over the world ensuring everyone thinks, acts and most importantly builds the same. Until one night ordinary, unremarkable construction worker Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) unearths the Piece of Resistance which grants him visions of the almighty deity called "the Man Upstairs." Soon Emmet is swept into a madcap adventure across multiple worlds aided by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a badass action babe with whom he is swiftly smitten, and pursued by the robot minions of Lord Business led by the schizophrenic Bad Cop (Liam Neeson). Hindered by self-doubt and a distinct lack of faith from his own allies, Emmet struggles to save the Lego universe from the apocalyptic events of Taco Tuesday.
Most people expected The Lego Movie to be little more than one great big feature length toy commercial. Instead it emerged as one of the cinematic highlights of 2014, a huge hit both with the public and, more surprisingly, critics by virtue of its disarmingly heartfelt message, subversive wit, visual ingenuity and boundless imagination. It is also funny as heck with an outstanding roster of vocal talent seemingly competing to land the wittiest one-liner or laugh-out loud moment. In a rare and welcome comedy turn, Liam Neeson would almost steal the show with his hilarious Good Cop-Bad Cop routine were it not for Will Arnett's surprisingly credible turn as Batman who also happens to be Wyldstyle's super-cool boyfriend (much to Emmet's dismay) and Community and Mad Men star Alison Brie lending her adorable vocals to one of the most memorable animated characters in recent times, Princess Unikitty ruler of Cloud Cuckoo Land where creativity runs wild and free.
The film's success was largely due to writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative team that previously delivered quality comedy of both the animated variety with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and in live action with 21 Jump Street (2011), another film that turned out far better than anyone had the right to expect. Clearly these two are among the most talented filmmakers active in the industry at the moment although animation supervisor Chris McKay deserved a fair share of the credit. With the computer crafted imagery styled to resemble stop-motion animation the film exudes a familiar, heartwarming hand-made quality along the lines of the French-made A Town Called Panic (2009). It is a gorgeous looking movie in amazing candy colours and outdoes many a live action blockbuster in delivering spectacular action set-pieces including more cool transforming vehicles than any of Michael Bay's bombastic Transformers movies.
Lord and Miller cleverly craft a fun-filled yarn that mirrors exactly the sorts of make believe adventures sprung from the fertile imaginations of Lego loving children everywhere. So in the midst of a childlike, anything-goes atmosphere it makes perfect sense that the anarchic plot includes encounters with cowboys, aliens, ninjas, Abraham Lincoln, Robin Hood, basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal (as himself) and a hulking cyborg pirate called Metal Beard (Nick Offerman) as well as Batman and the Justice League with 21 Jump Street stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill voicing an amusingly dysfunctional Superman and Green Lantern. Also Lego fans of certain age will appreciate the inclusion of Benny (Charlie Day), a retro-Eighties spaceman character eternally frustrated in his efforts to build a kick-ass spaceship.
However, the real genius of the script stems from the manner in which the filmmakers wholeheartedly embrace the ethos of Lego, arguably the greatest toy ever invented, where the only limits are your imagination. Coupled with a remarkably adroit critique of consumerist-led conformism in society (that drew some small amount of hostility from the right wing press) the film celebrates creativity with a heartwarming message espousing the importance of individuality and thinking for yourself. It basically lifts the core conceit of The Matrix (1999), the concept of "the One" person able to perceive the fault with a universe run by a malignant machine. Even the inclusion of the inscrutable mentor (with Morgan Freeman parodying the stock Morgan Freeman role), kick-ass action babe love interest, and robotic henchman doggedly pursuing the hero (although Bad Cop proves far more faceted than Agent Smith) evoke The Matrix. Only The Lego Movie miraculously musters more depth, heart, invention and, y'know, emotion than the Wachowski siblings managed across an entire trilogy. Unlike Neo, Emmet has a far more compelling story arc, starting out as someone perceived as a complete non-entity by his peers. He can't build anything without diligently following instructions. Yet The Lego Movie uses Emmet's personal journey to counterbalance its anti-conformity message, imparting a lesson that is equally valuable to kids. As illustrated by the scenes set in Cloud Cuckoo Land, where there are no rules and any idea is a good idea, rampant creativity is not enough. You need direction and the ability to cooperate with others to make your way in this world.
Chris Pratt cements his burgeoning star status with an exuberant, instantly likeable performance responding to the surprising wealth of emotion present in the script. Characters die or suffer affecting personal tragedies and heroic sacrifices are made amidst a second act cheekily lifted from Star Wars (1977) complete with crowd-pleasing cameos. In a refreshing turn of events Lord and Miller go against the stock fantasy conceit of "that one special hero" to stress the potential for greatness and creativity that exists inside everyone (which is surely the very ethos of Lego toys) before a wonderful twist expands the story into a dimension that in its own homespun way proves as mind-bending and philosophical as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Honestly.