As fewer and fewer entertainment entities own more and more properties (looking at you, Disney/Lucasfilm/Marvel Comics), the possibilities of mixing and matching and crossing over become endless. (Just ask comedian Patton Oswalt, whose filibuster on “Parks and Recreation” about crossing “Star Wars” with “The Avengers” became a viral sensation.)
At its best, “The Lego Movie” highlights the possibilities of such unfettered combinations of pop culture staples, celebrating the childhood ethos of dumping all your toys on the floor and letting Barbie take Pikachu to G.I. Joe’s fort so they can fight off the dread Raggedy Andy.
In the same way that “Toy Story 2” supported using and loving your toys rather than imprisoning them as collectibles in mint packaging, “The Lego Movie” endorses throwing out the instruction guides and letting your Justice League, Simpsons and Lord of the Rings playsets commingle.
Said endorsement is made clear enough that even the youngest audience members will get the message, but where “The Lego Movie” goes astray is in grinding the movie to a halt to make sure that message is understood by every single ticket buyer. It’s the kind of spoon-feeding that’s insulting to both children and their minders, and it sucks the fun out of what is otherwise a fast-moving lark of an animated comedy-adventure.
In the grooved-plastic world dominated by the evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), everyone’s a conformist dullard, following instructions about every facet of the day, numbing their brains with overpriced coffee, irritatingly catchy pop songs (get ready for Jo-Li and the Lonely Island’s “Everything is Awesome” to invade your cerebral cortex) and inane sitcoms like “Where Are My Pants?” (As happy, dopey dystopias go, it’s not too far removed from the one in “Idiocracy.”)
A cheery cog in the machine is Emmet (Chris Pratt), someone so lacking in identity that even in this blank world he’s considered a nobody. That all changes when he stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance, the only artifact that can destroy Lord Business’ power by nullifying his super-weapon, the Kragl. Rescued by mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and rebel Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet is assumed to be “the chosen,” a master builder who will save this reality from Lord Business’ crushing conformity.
The plot, such as it is, exists mostly as a framework to spotlight the many characters featured in the Lego universe, and you don’t have to be a Comic-Con pass-holder to enjoy watching Batman (Will Arnett) rub shoulders with Han Solo (Keith Ferguson) and Shaquille O'Neal (as himself).
The quartet of writers (directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” and Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman of “Hotel Transylvania”) seem to be having the most fun when they get to toss out non sequiturs like an encounter between Michelangelo, the artist and architect, and Michelangelo, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
But while the film’s underlying message about creative independence and playfulness is a strong one, the movie takes a third-act turn (which won’t be spoiled here) that’s bold but ultimately wrong-headed, restating what we’ve already figured out and ruining the delicate balance of this movie’s goofy, click-and-snap universe.
Bright, colorful, fast and noisy, “The Lego Movie” will doubtless tickle young fans of the toys. It’s just too bad that a movie that encourages you to think for yourself doesn’t follow its own advice.