The Lego Movie

3 out of 5

Directed by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Another day, another movie I thought I would like but was ridiculously underwhelmed by.

Kids are smart now, I get that.  Owing, I’d say, to a different type of connection (vs. the kids of five, ten, etc. years ago) with the world around them thanks to ease-of-access to always-on technology, the kids of the mid-20teens are more world / self-aware.  Properly managed (i.e. this awareness filtered through the coaching lens of an understanding adult) this is a powerful, and potentially great, thing.  On a shallow level, its made the multi-layered kid media – the need for something to be enjoyable for both the youngster and the parent required to experience it with said youngster – less rare, and also less ‘invisibly’ layered.  This ranges from the goofball antics of something like Adventure Time to the very self-referential comedy of Lego Movie; we don’t necessarily have to hide it anymore: We can laugh at the same things as our kids.

However, self-awareness still requires a sense of balance to be effective and not just “insert witty joke here” and Lego Movie’s opting toward the latter is pretty well exemplified by the presence of Will Arnett.  Nothing against the guy, of course, who’s been a highlight in non-kid programming like Arrested Development of Bojack Horseman, but there’s a version of the actor – his befuddled, gravelly-voiced shtick – that gets applied to kid flicks like the Turtles movies, and his approach to comedy in those instances – while intelligent in the sense that it’s not a fart joke and might require some actual context – is almost painfully safe.  And this is the entire tone of The Lego Movie: Dip-yer-sunglasses-and-wink-at-the-camera jokes, perfectly paced and executed with a requisite amount of quirk.  It’s like scrolling down a page of cute animal pics with people responding only in age appropriate memes – a grand ol’ time for those invested in commenting but rather like forced glee to others – and it was astounding to me how many funny concepts fell completely flat in the film due to how absolutely predictably they were enacted.  The voice actors – taking that same “safe” tactic a la Arnett, which means, essentially, embellishing the punchline so we know when to laugh – all commit this, which is a shame given the talent there, and the plotting and direction do the same.  The use of different Lego sets as the various settings; the meta changeup that happens in the film’s final quarter – these are inventive ideas, presented way too knowingly to be charming.

And therein lies the three-star rub: That’s it’s not a dumb movie, or a bad one.  The cleverness of positing  the lookalike Lego figures as a representation of false individuality (that we are defined by things, and not necessarily who we are) is undeniable, and twisting that into a quest movie where literal everyman Emmet (Chris Pratt) stumbles across ‘The Piece of Resistance’ lego block, which should allow him to defeat the Lego-world conquering plans of homogeneity-lover Lord Business (Will Farrell) is a smart healthy-moraled way to build on that setup.  It’s very well framed, with action scenes whipping all around the screen but quite understandable, and despite maybe pushing the runtime with that meta bit, the pacing is good, doing light character work and plot movement in equal doses.  And the whole Lego look has a precedent, but ita still a good gag to see everything represented as the familiar blocks and studs, and the movie executes plenty of little visual jabs that take humorous advantage of that.

At the end of the day: I just didn’t like it because I didn’t find it very funny.  I guess I’m not a meme-posting typing.  (Spoiler: I know I’m not.)