If Wreck-It Ralph signified the movie industry finally settling up with its biggest competitor, the more lucrative world of video games, then this is an even more ironic reconciling of debts: a film that attempts to steal money back from the toy industry. Since the 1960s, films have merchandised themselves with plastic objects. The idea was that kids could carry the movie world into their own imaginative play, be it through mini James Bond Aston Martins or little Chewbacca figurines. What’s hilarious and subversive about this film, though, is that it yanks the imaginative world of a popular (and expensive) toy around with the power of cinema, turning private child’s play into a shared dream in a dark theater. It’s satiric, sure, but everybody’s making money off of it at the same time.
It stands to be mentioned that The Lego Movie works hard to stay as subversively funny as critics claim. There’s tons of fun in gently ribbing pop-culture figures like Batman, Superman, and in the movie’s best animated moment, a visit from the Millennium Falcon. The plot, which pits Emmet, an everyman construction Lego, against a super-villain named Lord Business (oh, the ironies are endless) expands into another kind of gently self-deprecating satire. In complicated ways, the movie takes apart the cliché about heroes being both normal and special, and all of it dissolves into a funny musical number called “Everything Is Awesome.” But it’s best not to know too much plot. Trust me. The nature of Lego is the creation of lands, environments, and worlds, and the true strength of this wacky movie is the way it keeps breaking walls and entering new dimensions. Suffice it to say, this is one of those rare films in which every aspect of the medium — computer 3-D animation that seems to be made of plastic bits — seems perfectly suited to the messages being delivered. Maybe it’s not quite as moving as Wreck-It Ralph, but almost everything else about it is awesome.