Most animated features are marketed at children with a few inside jokes thrown in to keep the adults interested. "The Lego Movie" feels like the reverse of that formula. It is a careening, chaotic mess of plot, non-sequitur, fast gags and pop culture mash-up.
In other words, it is a perfect reflection of the way kids actually play with their toys. In "The Lego Movie," Batman and Han Solo exist in the same universe with robot pirates, Abraham Lincoln and a character named UniKitty, who is a passive-aggressive cross between a cat and a unicorn. It's zany, offbeat and, deep down, it even has a message.
It's a great ride.
Somewhere in the midst of the chaos lies a classic hero's journey. The hero is Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Pratt), a by-the-book construction worker who is as generic a Lego character as one can imagine. He's also a walking parody of the cultural lowest common denominator, masking his inane day-to-day grind behind schlock music like the pop satire, "Everything is Awesome!" and even schlockier entertainment like the inevitable TV classic, "Where Are My Pants?"
One day, Emmet stumbles upon a mysterious red box-shaped item at his work site, and immediately afterward meets the Lego-gal of his dreams, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). Wyldstyle informs him that he has discovered something called The Piece of Resistance, which, according to a suspect prophecy issued by a mystic named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman, of course), will save the world from the evil plans of President Business (Will Ferrell). Business is planning to use a secret weapon called The Kragle to freeze the universe, and only the Piece of Resistance can stop him.
This leads to a zany adventure criss-crossing a variety of different Lego lands that a cynic might flag as nothing more than unabashed product promotion. But product placement is seldom this fun, and there's actually a very interesting theme at work behind all this.
"The Lego Movie" is designed to address the core conflict faced by all Lego users: do you follow the instructions and build what is on the box, or do you go your own way and let your imagination run wild? Emmet is a dogma man, focused exclusively on following the instructions. But Wyldstyle is a Master Builder, a creative type who doesn't think Emmet is worth her time.
The ultimate result may be kind of predictable, but it's still fun.
The humor in "The Lego Movie" comes quickly, often springing from the awkward motions of the toys themselves. The kookiness is completely relatable for anyone who has ever sat down to build something with the famous blocks, and at times one almost feels like he or she can sense invisible hands working the figures on the screen.
Like most animated films these days, "The Lego Movie" is presented in 3-D, but its entertainment value isn't conditional to the higher price level. Anyone who thinks this film must be seen in 3-D to be appreciated is missing the point.
The only real problem with "The Lego Movie" is that it doesn't know when to hold back. It may champion the idea of creativity and individuality, but it doesn't trust its audience's intuition enough to avoid a rather obvious moral exposition toward the end of the film. It's far from a fatal flaw, but it kills the breakneck momentum of the film enough to feel like a letdown.
"The Lego Movie" is rated PG for over-the-top cartoon violence and mayhem, but there is really little if anything that would be offensive for even young audiences.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.