Any film bearing a trademark in its title, and populated by brand-name toys, is bound to fall under suspicion as nothing more than a vehicle for boosting sales of the eponymous product line.
Consider, then, the surprising accomplishment of directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"). With their lively 3-D animated adventure "The Lego Movie" (Warner Bros.), they not only deliver a diverting eye-catcher for both young and old, they also manage to incorporate a surprisingly pointed satire of conformist consumerism into the proceedings.
A willing victim of that modern trend, ordinary construction worker Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt) blindly follows the herd in his dull hometown of Bricksburg. He buys overpriced coffee, laughs on cue at a mindless, one-joke sitcom called "Where Are My Pants?" and loves the same upbeat pop tune du jour—"Everything Is Awesome"—as everybody else.
Emmet also trusts implicitly in the local maestro of mediocrity, creativity-loathing CEO President Business (voice of Will Ferrell).
Two closely related events are destined to rock Emmet's contentedly brain-dead world, however. One is his accidental acquisition of a fabled building block called the Piece of Resistance. The other is his encounter with tough but fetching underground activist Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks), a nonconformist par excellence for whom he instantly falls.
Based on his possession of the Piece of Resistance, for which she herself has been searching, Wyldstyle is convinced that Emmet is a prophesied hero called The Special. His destiny, accordingly, is to lead a crusade against President Business. Unbeknownst to the public, behind the scenes this evil would-be tyrant prefers the title Lord Business, and he has a scheme on foot to control the world, and purge it of all originality, using a secret weapon.
Though convinced that a mistake has been made—his total lack of the necessary qualifications soon has Wyldstyle herself expressing doubts about him—Emmet somewhat reluctantly agrees to do his best.
Joining Emmet and Wyldstyle in their struggle to topple the aspiring dictator is a ragtag team of fighters that includes Wyldstyle's self-centered boyfriend, Batman (voice of Will Arnett), and Vitruvius (voice of Morgan Freeman), the pixilated mystic who predicted the arrival of The Special in the first place.
Opposing them is Lord Business' principal minion, Bad Cop-Good Cop (voice of Liam Neeson). As his name might suggest, this police officer is both comically schizophrenic and genuinely torn between the positive and negative poles of his own personality.
Colorful and fast-paced, "The Lego Movie" sails along toward a format-shifting conclusion that adds another asset to the rich mix: a touching sequence promoting family bonds over selfishness.
Along the way, ambiguous use is made of the phrase, "the man upstairs." Some may interpret this repeated reference as suggesting that God himself—or perhaps religion—is yet another source of imposed order against which the characters ought to rebel. But those disposed to resist such a reading are given an out when the words receive a quite literal fulfillment close to the movie's wrap-up.
The film contains cartoon mayhem, some peril and a bit of mild scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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