I'll date myself by paraphrasing Siskel & Ebert's highest praise for a film:
Two yellow claw hands up...WAY up!
Visually stunning, meticulously constructed and charmingly scripted, it's a film you could mistake for the work of contemporary animation titan Pixar, but sharpened by some of the anarchic edge of Bugs & Wile E., making it a worthy descendant of the Warner Brother's golden age.
Big budget 'event' movies have become America's Kabuki- stilted, formulaic representations of events, drained of immediacy by decades of Syd Field workshops, corporate timidity and a reliance on the global market that imposes a whole extra layer of requirements and restrictions. The form is approaching an Upworthy style tipping point where they become so overtly contrived and formulaic the only rational reaction is ridicule and contempt.
The Lego Movie deals with this conundrum by subversion, managing to mock the requirements of its own DNA (everyman hero! corporate enemy! unattainable love interest! global threat!) while somehow maintaining a core of sincerity. The voice cast is phenomenal across the board, but the actors who make the film are the two Will's, Farrell and Arnett.
Fox News shrieked about the films 'anti-business' message, tipped off by the screenwriters subtly naming the villain of the piece Lord Business. Leveling a charge of anti-capitalism against a film promoting a toy line seems to me the distilled essence of Fox. For my money it was more a broadside against the patriarchy, in the form of The Man Upstairs, with Lord Business being just one facet of his agenda. Ferrell has a grand time as Lord Business, goofing on his many previous uptight busybody roles, but it's his (physical) appearance as The Man Upstairs that seals the role- you can't watch that section of the film without recalling his stellar SNL turns as George W. Bush, and it's easy to imagine the Legoverse existing in the basement of his eternally simmering Dodge Stratus driving father.
Arnett's Batman is equally compelling and accurate, the actor undercutting the essential brittleness of the character with his trademark unctuous charm, taking everything about the character to its logical extreme- ridiculousness.
Neatly summarized by his musical turn-
His defining scene is
stealing a hyperdrive from the Millennium Falcon. It's so terrific because you believe 100% that Arnett's Batman would skip out for a boy-ride with the Falcon dudes, and when he reappears with their hyperdrive you're laughing with relief as well as at the audacity of the joke, and the 'What the hell!' bravery of the writers behind the scene.
For my money Arnett's work represents the pinnacle of big screen Batmen.
And happily the film does its knife work against the power structures of civilization with a light touch- it doesn't make a big deal out of any of its positions, they're just around if you care to notice. It works on every level I can think of- big budget spectacle, kids extravaganza, surrealist masterpiece, social critique, women's picture, screwball comedy, SF epic, etc etc etc.
It's the best film I've seen this young new year, and it's going to take a mighty effort for a challenger to knock it off the hill.