Movie Review: ‘Lego Movie’ thinks outside the blocks

“The Lego Movie” is an irreverent blast through the imagination with a Marxist bent, subverting the sanctimony of its easygoing animated competition – I’m looking at you, Disney – for a haphazard free-for-all with big ideas. It’s also a kids movie, hilarious and poignant, and as good a time you’re likely to have at the theater this time of year.

Through primarily the product of CGI, “The Lego Movie” buzzes along with the weight and tactility of stop-motion animation, perfectly replicating the aesthetic of the building blocks themselves, which, in their limited mobility, make for great slapstick humor and colorful, anarchic spectacle. In one scene, a character attempts to do jumping jacks, but can’t quite get the motion right, given the physical constraints of his Lego legs. In another scene, he takes a shower, blue-tinted studs falling from the shower head, soapy blocks enshrouding his flat, yellow body.

He is Emmet Brickowski, our protagonist, and voiced by the very funny Chris Pratt, of “Parks and Recreation,” whose genial naivete and insouciance lend credibility to Emmet’s characterization. Bland and general, Emmet is a working-class average Joe, so unaware of his lowly socioeconomic status that he’s delighted to pay $32 for a cup of coffee. His complete lack of individuality allows the totalitarian, corporate overlord President Business (Will Ferrell) to take advantage of him and others like him. Mere blocks in a giant plastic machine, the Lego proletariat, as represented by Emmet, go about their humdrum everyday lives without a care in the world. A life instruction manual provided to them gives order and structure, dictating their daily routine.

All is efficiently dystopian – often resembling the real world in eerie ways – until Emmet inadvertently stumbles onto the Piece of Resistance, a legendary object that threatens the oppressive rule of President Business. Not knowing what he’s found, Emmet is sufficiently terrified when a police pawn of President Business interrogates him. The officer in question is Bad Cop, voiced by Liam Neeson with a heightened Irish gravel that makes him one of the most memorable characters in the film. Bad Cop is also Good Cop, the soft-spoken other half of the character. His head spins to reveal his alter ego – a gag that celebrates the ingenuity of Lego mechanics.

Eventually Emmet is rescued by a team of superheroes and extraordinary individuals: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, pretty much the entire Justice League. Also, there is Gandalf, Dumbledore, Michelangelo (the Italian as well as the ninja turtle). But Emmet’s heart is set on Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), the leader of the group, a super cool fighter chick with streaked hair. Her romantic relationship to Batman is the source of much humor and central to Emmet’s growth and inevitable class consciousness.

As pop-culture references, the rag-tag team provide familiarity and knowing wit to the audience, but in contrast to ordinary, unexceptional Emmet, they reveal just what “The Lego Movie” is up to: indicting the Hollywood blockbuster. In a film culture that’s bloated with, and wholly dependent on, superhero sequels, franchise reboots and brand recognition, “The Lego Movie” relies on its blank-slate protagonist and the accessibility of Lego blocks to democratize creativity. In this sense, Emmet is like an independent filmmaker whose unorthodox ideas aren’t fit for standardized, mainstream cinema. And President Business is a Hollywood exec who fears any disruption to a lucrative formula.

Allegorical plasticity aside, the film’s most remarkable piece is its flesh-and-blood, borderline communist conclusion that brings all the players involved down to the same level, instead of promoting Emmet to a cliched hero status. From creators Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (“21 Jump Street,” “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”), “The Lego Movie,” in its final moments, says more about childhood and its frustrations than any animated or live-action film in recent memory.

If “The Lego Movie” missteps at all, it does so in its flashy, gratuitous action scenes that cause an imbalance in the film’s dramatic construction. But in a movie about replacing formulaic structures in favor of revolutionary, creative risks, such missteps snap right into place.

4 stars out of 4.

Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.