The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Release: Friday, February 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: the Lord Philip; Christopher, a distinguished member of the Miller clan

Directed by: someone of indeterminate skill (Mike Mitchell)

Cough. It’snotasgoodasthefirst. Cough.

Excuse me. The weather lately, I’m definitely under it — while also being totally over it. It was in the 60s last Friday, mere days after a cold snap introduced single digit temps, and now here we are again dealing with snow’s annoying cousins, hail and sleet. This streak of wild weather might explain the modest crowd that I experienced The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part with on opening night. Or have audiences just moved on? Remember the first one came out five years ago, and while there was more to come it took three years before those obligatory spin-offs came about (The Lego Batman Movie, another hit, and The Lego Ninjago Movie, not so much — both released in 2017). Is Lego Movie fatigue a real thing? Are we spoilt for choice? Whatever the reason, the release of Lego 2 feels much less of an event, the kind of Big Deal I would have anticipated given the success of that first film.

The classic crew return in Mike Mitchell’s space opera adventure, with Chris Pratt earnest and naive as ever as hero Emmet Brickowski, Elizabeth Banks more dark and brooding as Wyldstyle/Lucy, Will Arnett even more baritone-voiced as “The Man of Bats,” Alison Brie reliably Unikitty, Charlie Day as Spaceman Benny and Nick Offerman full-metal-bearded as the . . . pirate . . . guy. Away from them we are introduced to a handful of new personalities, some of them as memorable as any of the preexisting ones. And while the specifics of the plot are entirely different the basic shape of the story is retained, the animated characters and action foregrounded against a live-action environment where those plot developments emulate what is happening in a child’s imagination. No, the set-up isn’t as fresh a second time around but I still find it to be one of the great strengths of this franchise, and even as Lego 2 returns to the surface more often it does it to great effect.

After standing up to the all-powerful Lord Business/The Man Upstairs (Will Ferrell) in the first movie, Emmet feels quite optimistic about the future, despite present-day Bricksburg (now called Apocalypseburg) looking like a Mad Max/Blade Runner wasteland where everything is far from awesome. An inter-racial war between Legos and Duplos have ravaged the land and turned the good Bricksburgians into hardened plastic cynics. Yet amidst this abyss of humanity Emmet has gone ahead and built a little house for him and Lucy to carry out their lives in, and it has everything, including a double-decker porch swing and a Toaster Room.

When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), the leader of the Duplo invaders and hench-woman of the “not evil” Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), pays a visit to the people of Bricksburg, now confined to a fall-out shelter á la Star Wars: The Last Jedi, she abducts Lucy and a few other unfortunates, coercing them to take part in a wedding ceremony in the far-away Systar System. Emmet, with little support from his peers — not even Lucy, who is yearning for a more mature, less naive Emmet given the times in which they live — determines it is his duty to save them. Along the way he meets a badass named Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), who will help Emmett not only become “more badass” but as well prevent the impending plastic nuptials that will bring about “Our-Mom-Ageddon.”

Plot and themes suffice, but that’s really all they do. They fail to wow. We deal with familiar notions of dealing with change and staying true to one’s identity in the face of societal/peer pressure. What is new, however, is the deconstruction of action hero tropes. Is being “The Badass” all that it’s cracked up to be? Emmet, ever the underdog, is challenged both by his past actions and his present conflict. It is suggested he took a disproportionate amount of credit as “The Special,” when Lucy did as much if not more of the ass-kicking. In the present the essence of who he is becomes tested — can he become this more serious, more assertive, less frequently pushed-over Lego piece Lucy wants him to be? What happens when he succeeds at that?

The answers to those questions and a few more may well lie in the egotistic Rex Dangervest, a fun new character who showcases everything that is inherently silly about icons of machismo like Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis. In fact his very existence is a parody of Chris Pratt’s own career, whether taking aim at that stupid thing he did with the raptors in Jurassic World or poking fun of his potential casting as Indiana Jones — all of which being material more geared towards the adult chaperones in attendance.  It seems unlikely kids are going to get many of those references, never mind comprehend the time traveling twist that is rather convoluted to say the least.

Beyond that, Lego 2 makes a conscientious effort to balance the perspective, making the female characters just as integral to the emotional core of the narrative, whether that be on the macro — the real-world drama depicted as a sibling squabble, with Finn (Jadon Sand) not wanting to play nice with his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), who’s gotten into Legos herself and wants to do her own thing with them — or the micro level, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi presenting a shape-shifting femme fatale who turns out to be more than what meets the eye — her “Not Evil” song suggesting she may well be an aspiring Masked Singer contestant. And let us not forget who it is that has inspired Emmet to change.

The release of The Lego Movie back in 2014 was a hugely nostalgic ride for this former Lego enthusiast. I was reminded not just of my obsession with the building blocks but as well the genius of Pixar’s Toy Story. It may not be the most accurate comparison given that the characters technically have less autonomy in the Lego universe. Unlike in Toy Story where the movie happens in the absence of the humans, here the characters are wholly reliant upon human interaction and manipulation — which, incidentally, is what makes Lego 2‘s grand finale so incongruous; I won’t say anything more, but suffice to say it really doesn’t make sense. Still, the very concept of a child’s play things coming to life and given such personality struck me as kind of profound.

Lego 2 clearly aspires to be a Toy Story 2 but unfortunately it is not that movie. In fairness, what sequel is? It takes a similar tact in expanding the canvas, taking the action into outer space, but ultimately it’s unable to escape the shadow of its more successful older brother. That’s most obvious in its attempt to create another ear bug in the form of “The Catchy Song,” a tune that ironically turns out to be nowhere near as catchy as “Everything is Awesome.” It’s a poppy jingle more than an actual song, and its fleetingness tends to sum up the experience as a whole.

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss.”

Recommendation: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part delivers more of what fans should have expected but it cannot overcome a sense of been-there-done-that. That the law of diminishing returns applies even to the brilliantly quick witted Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (and the guys at Animal Logic who provide the animation) just goes to show how difficult it is to improve upon an already strong foundation. Even if Lego 2 is a step down, it once again will reward older viewers while keeping the little ones busy with the hectic action and bright colors. Despite the flaws it is still worthy of being seen in a theater. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “I ain’t Selina Kyle. I ain’t no Vicki Vale. I was never into you even when you were Christian Bale.”

“I’m more of a Keaton guy myself.”

“Oh, I loved him in Beetlejuice!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Toy Story (1995)

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Given that today is a holiday I don’t really celebrate being British and all, I figured now would be as good a time as any to go back and visit an absolute classic from the mid-90s. Upon reading up on the film I realized it is also the 20th anniversary of the release, which by all accounts made feel quite old. It’s also surprising to me that it has taken me until now to feature 

Today’s food for thought: Toy Story.

Buzz Lightyear

Toying with our emotions since: November 22, 1995

[VHS]

One of the great tragedies of life is that it always changes. Nothing stays the same. The notion of a child’s toy collection having lives of their own, getting into trouble and having adventures in clandestinity (i.e. when no human is around or paying much attention) is the epitome of creative filmmaking, but it wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without its poignant commentary on the nature of change and how people — in this case, toys — adapt to and more often than not benefit from it.

Tom Hanks’ Woody finds his little cowboy boots turned inside out when a new toy arrives in Andy’s room in the form of Tim Allen’s sophisticated, tech-savvy, Star Command-loyalist Buzz Lightyear. Worried that Andy’s attention is, at the very least, going to be henceforth split between his old buddy and a new shiny ‘play thing,’ Woody goes on the defense, making sure Andy’s room and all that it contains doesn’t make him very welcome. It’s a fruitless effort, because in a matter of minutes Buzz manages to win everyone over with his flying abilities and his voice-activated thing-a-ma-jigs.

This film, the simplest of the three, rarely leaves the confines of Andy’s room, much less the house, and when it does, the world feels massive: massively unexplored and massively intimidating. When Woody accidentally knocks Buzz out of the window and inadvertently turns the rest of the toys against him, he is chosen reluctantly by Andy as the single toy he gets to take to a family outing at Pizza Planet. Buzz soon confronts Woody about the situation, and just when their future looks as uncertain as it could possibly become, they fall into the clutches of the evil Sid when Buzz mistakes a rocket-shaped arcade game for the genuine article. Potentially damned to a life of destruction, the odd couple must resolve their differences and find a way back into the loving arms of Andy.

Yet there are issues further complicating the end game. Buzz still thinks he’s a legitimate space ranger and Woody is still hated by the rest of the toys, who believe he intentionally eliminated Buzz out of jealousy. The pair may be imprisoned, but ultimately they’re within reach of all that was once familiar — they can even communicate with the other toys through open windows — but at this point in the story the two groups may as well be on opposite sides of the planet. And not even Slinky believes Woody is a good guy anymore.

Changed environments and slowly changing perspectives force a contrived, but nonetheless effective, reconciliation between a psychologically weakened Buzz who, after a bit of plastic brainwashing, is convinced he is now Mrs. Nesbitt, and a cowboy who recognizes phrases like “Somebody’s poisoned the water hole!” indeed have a shelf life. (Of course, Woody is more concerned with the literal sense of that term, not wanting to end up on a dusty shelf for the rest of his life.)

Toy Story, the first in a long line of incredibly successful Pixar campaigns, became so influential it spawned a trilogy of adventures featuring the jealous pull-string cowboy and his former intergalactic rival. And for once, the universe within which these adventures were first created seemed spacious enough to warrant further exploration. Toy Story is one of few sagas that actually builds naturally upon what came before, satiating audiences who fell in love with the original with grander aspirations and more complex schemes that would take the toys right out of the toy chest and confront them with the harsh realities of “real world” environments. In some senses, these movies are almost too good for children. It’s like handing them a piece of German chocolate and expecting them to know the difference between that and a Hershey bar.

As a child I don’t think I ever ‘got’ what was going on in the lives of these once-fictitious toys in a larger sense; it certainly never occurred to me that there would come a day when Bo Peep, Slinky, Rex, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, the Etch-a-Sketch, the barrel of monkeys, Mr. Spell and an infantry of green plastic soldiers would be faced with an existential crisis: the proposition of being sold off to someone not named Andy. Similarly, as a child, I didn’t quite understand that life would perpetually get more difficult with each passing year and eventual decade. I always thought the bubble would never pop. In fact I couldn’t even tell I was floating in a bubble.

This animated classic set the bar for a studio that would go on to create an unprecedented run of high-quality cinematic releases but for some reason I care much less about what came after as I do about this mid-90s release. Make no mistake, though: I loved Inside Out and in all likelihood I’m going to greatly enjoy The Good Dinosaur. I skipped out on Cars, Planes, Monsters Inc., Up and Brave. In essence, Toy Story is virtually all I know about the world’s most successful animation studio. I’m scared of and don’t welcome all that easily the concept of things changing. But maybe it’s time to start embracing it.

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Recommendation: One of this blogger’s very favorite movies, Toy Story just gets things right on every level: characters, visual presentation, story, music, the comedy, and profound themes like accepting and embracing change and making new friends. As one of the very first movies I saw in theaters, I have to say I had no idea then how good this movie really was and still is. This is such a memorable experience that I love revisiting time and again.

Rated: G

Running Time: 81 mins.

TBTrivia: Jeffrey Katzenberg often gave notes that he wanted more edge. Pixar presented an early draft of the film to Disney on November 19, 1993. The result was disastrous. The film was deemed unwatchable and John Lasseter recalls simply hanging his head in shame. It presented Woody as a “sarcastic jerk” who was constantly insulting the other toys. Katzenberg took Walt Disney Feature Animation president Peter Schneider in[to] the hall after the screening and asked him why it was bad; Schneider responded that it “wasn’t theirs anymore.” Disney immediately shut down production pending a new script. The story team spent a week on a new script to make Woody a more likable character, instead of the “sarcastic jerk” he had been.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.blogs.disney.com 

The Lego Movie

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Release: Friday, February 7, 2014

[Theater]

The 7-year-old in me nearly wet his bedsheets in anticipation of the first ever full-length feature film involving his favorite toys from childhood. The essential. . . . . . . . . .e-hem. . .building blocks of my youth have come to life on the big screen in 2014 in ways I never could have imagined.

In light of this special occasion, let’s make things a little more fun in this review. I am going to style this piece in an interview format, with my 7-year-old self asking my future self what a film would be like if it were ever made, and me in the present now being able to answer all (or at least most) of his questions. In the process, I’ll let him know that the many hours he spent on the carpets building up and destroying Lego villages and whatnot were not spent in vain. (Not that they were without this film, but the arrival of The Lego Movie proves that grown-ups can have just as much fun with the stuff as kids have had for years.)

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Do you think they will ever make a movie with my Legos? I really like them, and I hope that they do that. I think it would be so cool!

 

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Hey buddy, you know what? That is a really great question. And I am here to tell you that yes, yes they will. You are going to someday be watching a movie with all of your toys and characters — and a bunch of new ones you never even thought about — brought to life.

 

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Really? Do they have any of my favorite characters in it?

 

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Well, who were your favorite characters? I seriously can’t remember who those were! Haha. If you mean things like Spaceman Benny, the little put-together shark and maybe an alligator piece, then yes. You’ll recognize a few guys. But the rest is a bunch of insanely imaginative characters that you are just going to have to wait to grow up a little more to fully appreciate. That’s a good thing, though pal.

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What happens in the movie?

 

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Welp. It mostly focuses on this regular, average-Joe Lego man named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt. . .I don’t know why I just told you that, you don’t know him). He’s an obedient little construction worker who stumbles into a most unusual situation. After a typical day at work, Emmet discovers a secret power that has been lost through the ages. He comes across this thing called the Kragle, which is a huge, enormous super-weapon that, if in the wrong hands, could destroy the entire world. When he finds it, he becomes the target of the evil Lord/President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell — don’t worry, you’ll know him later), who sends his good cop/bad cop henchman out to get him and inadvertently sets the guy on a date with destiny.

 

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. . .I’m confused.

 

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Tee-hee. It is pretty complex. But just wait until you see this thing, and learn how many different people this ordinary guy meets! He may seem like a boring old fart (like your older self is going to inevitably become) but he’s really pretty exciting to watch. Don’t be put off by the complicated situation. Little Tom, it’s actually even better because I enjoyed the film as much as you would. . .maybe even more. And I often can’t get out of my mind sometimes and think in terms of innocent things like Legoland anymore. Although, that place is pretty awesome. . .Granddad is going to take you there sometime.

 

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Is there a really bad guy in the movie? Am I going to be scared of him?

 

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There is a pretty nasty villain in the movie, yes. Scared? Hmm. . .I don’t think so. He has some funny parts and yes, he’s a real mean guy but he’s not that scary. That’s what’s so good about this movie, bud. It’s really, really clever. You’ll know who’s evil and who’s nice but there’s never a point where you get really scared. It’s just good old-fashioned fun. I swear, I didn’t think they’d be making kids films like this ever since Toy Story, but I was wrong.

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Toy Story, I don’t know what that is. . .

 

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Damn it! Nevermind. . .I had a really awesome follow-up reference there but. . .apparently YOU’RE TOO YOUNG!!!

 

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I guess. So, would mommy and daddy like this movie? To me, if they make a movie on my Legos, I don’t know how they would be interested. . .

 

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Oh man. How they would be! The Lego Movie is going to be just as much fun for them as it’s going to be for you. In fact, I’d even argue that there’s more material here for them to think on and laugh about than little kids. There’s a lot of stuff here that could go right over you youngsters’ heads. Themes like corporate greed and monopolization (big word, right?) are just as clear as the themes of believing in yourself, and not giving up on dreams and living your life as you want to. This is a classic film for all ages, in my snobby opinion. Tee-hee.

 

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Who’s the best character in the movie?

 

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Wow buddy, you’re just firing out all sorts of good questions, aren’t you? That’s a tough one to answer since there are so many people to like here. But. If I just had to make a choice, it would be the Batman character, who is voiced by Will Arn. . .you know what, it’s just someone you don’t know yet. And maybe won’t ever know. But he’s awesome because he makes fun of the Batman legend so much. It’s great!

 

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Does anyone die? I hope not.

 

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Now that is one I can’t answer man. There’s a little thing in the movie reviewing  business that we call ‘spoilers,’ information that can possibly reveal too much information about a movie so as to ruin the fun of the whole thing. So I won’t answer that one. Sorry buddy.

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What was your favorite part about the movie, and do you think I would think the same thing? Do you still like Legos twenty years later?

 

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Wow. Gosh. You know, my favorite thing about The Lego Movie was something so very simple. And so I guess I’ll answer the third part of that first: I loved, loved, loved Legos then, and I still love them to this day. The creators of that product are simply geniuses. I don’t think I have any laying around anymore, which is kind of a bummer, but I tell you, this film made me want to break out any boxes that I might still have stored at the ‘rents house. My favorite part of this movie was the way the simple shapes were realized. Those awkward, cup-shaped hands; the basic facial expressions. . .actually, some of those become more complicated in the movie, which is even better. And the fact that everything, and I do mean everything in this film is either made out of pieces of Legos or is edited using stop-motion to make the non-Lego elements move realistically (or like Lego pieces would). I’m pretty sure this is the biggest appeal for kids your age, is the Lego men. Their faces, their movements and their actions. The dialogue and story is almost more appropriate for us grown-ups.

 

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Was there anything about it you didn’t like?

 

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In all honesty, this was a pretty perfect little diddy. Actually, I shouldn’t call it ‘little.’ It is very much large-scale. It’s epic, and the marketing for it is a little unclear. Is it for kids of the now generation, or for the 80s? My guess is, given the amount of stuff covered here it’s meant for both. But sometimes it gets overwhelming. That’s not really a bad thing, but it’s definitely at times too much for a little kid like you to handle! Sorry buddy! Wait until that brain of yours develops a little bit more and maybe when you grow up you’ll understand it more. Oh wait. Too late.

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.14.21 PMIf I were with you right now, if I was your kid, would you take me to see this Tom?

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.14.20 PM What a precocious little dude you are! Aw, and that really kind of breaks my heart, because I know this isn’t possible. But yes, I absolutely would take “you” with “me” to this movie. I guess, in a way I have. Watching this movie was one of the most nostalgic film experiences I have ever had. It was remarkable what these guys have accomplished. I so badly want to be back where you are. You may not like where you are now because you have to go to bed early, but trust me. Things get a little harder later on. This movie is a nice reminder that things don’t always have to be so serious.

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4-5Recommendation: The Lego Movie is a jolt of energetic vibrance the film industry has needed for awhile. On several levels. First of all, it’s only February, so to have a movie released that is of this kind of quality seems like a rarity; secondly, it’s probably the best animated film I have seen since Toy Story, almost without question. And third, there were so many red flags I saw before this movie was coming out. My main concerns were: how could they possibly animate such limited figurines in a full-length movie? How could they maintain interest for that length of time? And even if they did that, would they just submit to being a silly, childish story that doesn’t really appeal to general audiences (which, of the three concerns I had, was the least problematic. . .sometimes dumb kid fun is what you need from a film). But Warner Brothers struck gold with this. Good for them. This is a must-see.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “A house divided against itself. . .would be better than this.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com