The Lego Movie -- but probably not the actual Lego company -- is having an argument with itself. In one corner of its philosophical boxing ring are the "free jazz" Legos of olden times, the kind that arrived blueprint-less in the hands of children, no finished version pictured on the box pointing the way to their correct usage, the kind even a dummy could play with properly provided s/he didn't try to swallow them first; this mindset is represented here by the character of simple-brained Emmet (the voice and doofus energy and Parks and Recreation aura of Chris Pratt). More about him in a moment.
In the other corner are the countless specialized puzzle sets of officially licensed tie-in product, like the pirate ship set or the gender-constructed, pink-bricked Disney princess sets or, guessing, eventually, the The Lego Movie set or, on a more adult level, the hot-hot-hot $400 Star Wars Death Star set, meant to be enjoyed by anyone with the patience, instruction-reading ability and disposable income to burn. In The Lego Movie, this is the world in which Emmet exists, an atmospheric Goliath no tiny, chill-bro David with a Free to Be You and Me attitude can knock down. On a corporate level, that's still a pretty comfortable perch from which to allow the film to obsess all it wants over the war on childhood creativity.
Emmet is a type currently trending, the Idiot Hero devoid of specialness until forced by circumstances to step up his game. A construction worker whose personality-free life allows his own co-workers to forget him entirely, Emmet is still happily clueless and sings along daily to the ironically titled, group-think anthem "Everything Is Awesome" (and he does this for hours at a time). Emmet is also The Special, the one prophesied to battle the evil, conformity-driven Lord Business (Will Farrell) inside an all-Lego world populated by Lego Batman (Will Arnett), Lego Shaquille O'Neal (Shaquille O'Neal), Lego C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and a rebellious Lego warrior named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). And Gandalf and Abraham Lincoln and pirates and Shakespeare. With Morgan Freeman. And Liam Neeson.
In other words, the pre-planned play sets have invaded each other's territory because, the film asserts, no amount of boxed separation can, in the end, limit a child's imagination. So with Emmet as that adult-child leading the way, the colored plastic bricks cross every boundary. You can thank on-fire directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) for continuing the practice they've begun, one of throwing everything into the air at once to see where it lands and letting the stuff that floats just float on. They've arrived at the precisely perfect moment in animation's march of normalizing the weird, one that encourages Pixar-quality visual extravagance and allows for the sort of somewhat irreverent, laid back comic storytelling employed by entities like Robot Chicken and The Cartoon Network. It's a world where it feels like stoners are inventing stories for children and/or adults not immune to the charms of talking slices of pizza.
The Lego Movie is funny, fast and witty, full of sophisticated jokes and callbacks and delightful visual gags. It operates simultaneously on kid and adult levels without stooping to cheap innuendo. It's more than any thoughtful person could have hoped for from a movie based on and designed to sell a toy.
Bummer: this Speed Racer-colorful bouncy house threatens to deflate entirely at two leaky ruptures. One involves a third-act reveal whose details I'll leave to the viewer to discover, but it grinds the frenetic action to a warmhearted, over-explanatory halt. But more troubling is Emmet himself, a tired dumbhead-as-savior device. He's one in a long line of movie dudes -- and it's always dudes -- who represent pop culture's lazy, misguided attempt to democratize heroism. And these dudes' centrality privileges empty belief in the empty self, a trick that should have worn out its welcome a long time ago. Double bummer: the moviegoing public has embraced the type happily, like some sort of smiley avatar wearing a proud badge of braindeadism achievement. Emmet couldn't crack a bright green plastic Lego-book and learn… anything? Before going off to save the universe? Why is that? No, seriously, WHY?
In spite of itself, The Lego Movie is curiously self-correcting and still gets to be all things to almost all people. It's a crowded construction site of hilariously mixed-up everywhatever -- the legitimate use of instruction manuals to thwart totalitarianism while still indulging in chaos as intellectual emptiness is celebrated concurrently with the suddenly smart application of experience alongside the knocking down a few pegs of that dang Dark Knight and Abe Lincoln blasting off into the void in a Space Chair. Its pleasures outweigh its pain.