Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s mostly animated The LEGO Movie amounts to little more than an exercise in overstimulation that exists primarily so children will get their parents to buy them more of the titular toy. It’s less a movie than a loud and insistent catalogue.
The plot centers on Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a relentlessly cheerful LEGO construction worker who always follows the instructions. One day at his work site, he discovers a special piece that evil President Business (Will Ferrell) plans to use in order to destroy the LEGO universe. Emmet soon encounters a tomboy named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who, with the help of her boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), helps him escape from Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson). They deliver him to the wise old Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who believes that Emmet is meant to fulfill a prophecy that will save them all.
This is a movie that does not stop. Shots last barely a couple of seconds, the soundtrack is propulsive, and the colorful images never seem to stand still. It’s an exhausting ride, but one that will absolutely play to kids, the audience this feature-length commercial—a point driven home by the fact that the official ID numbers for various LEGO pieces occasionally appear onscreen next to the corresponding purchasable item— is aimed at.
What’s so disheartening is that the script pretends to aim for some depth. There’s an attempt at social commentary in the movie’s opening, which mocks Emmet and everybody else in his world for watching dumb TV, listening to the same repetitive pop tune, and buying expensive coffee. It seems like it’s building to a lesson about not following the herd, but that idea is abandoned when it turns out that Emmet’s by-the-book mentality is what’s needed to take down the evil Business.
Even this could be forgiven if the film didn’t radically change gears in the final 30 minutes, throwing in a sappy, would-be-poignant storytelling device that’s just there to tug on parents’ heartstrings. It’s a false and manipulative finale that the screenwriters would have introduced at the very beginning of the movie if they had any faith in the lesson it was supposedly offering.
Chris Pratt is a talented comedic actor, and Lord and Miller were responsible for the funny and charming remake of 21 Jump Street. They’ve proven in the past that they are much better than what they’ve come up with here: a very long advertisement that feels like it was directed by a 4-year-old with ADHD.