The Lego Movie, is sharp, smart, and clicks along snappily — at least for the first 80 minutes of the 100-minute running time. It’s also packed with a Lego case full of gags that cut many a wicked laugh. It’s so barbed and adult-oriented in texture and content, the film flirts with the likes of Team America: World Police and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, yet it holds the family friendly line — a pretty impressive feat, no doubt.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative team who helm the film and had a hand in the script, feed off each other with boon yielding results. Their previous collaborations on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the live action comedy 21 Jump Street proved their skilled hand in animation and deft comedic pacing. Here they get to fuse those divergent talents. And not only is the comedy on point, but so is the animation, mastering the block-like Lego texture and having it permeate throughout the film with pops of 3D that raise the art of computer animated to a new, sensory titillating level.

Lego is erected on a flimsy premise. Somewhere in an alternate universe where everything — the people, the buildings, even the ocean — is made from the plastic, snappable brick that has been a childhood staple for generations, a maniacal megalomanic threatens to wipe everything out with a singular, sinister doomsday device. President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) is no South Park‘s Saddam or Team America‘s Kim Jong-il, but he is every bit their equal in the realm of being a controlling douche with zero regard for free expression. He also harbors a constant need for self validation and stages a quick nefarious coup to displace the wise wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) by blinding him and seizing control of the Legolands from the MasterBuilders.

And the MasterBuilders are just Lego-ized version of Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), or some other real-world or fantasy great and can build a spaceship or skyscraper out of plastic in less than 20 seconds. This speed comes in pretty handy when you need a submarine to escape a barrage of stormtroopers. The hero of the film however, isn’t Bruce Wayne’s snap together alter-ego (though he’s a big part of it and pretty trippy too), but generic Emmet (Chris Pratt), a lowly construction worker who, according to Vitruvius’s prophecy, is the “Special,” the über MasterBuilder who can save Legoland because he (accidentally) possesses the “piece of resistance” (say it like the French would), which is something of a pen cap that’s glued to his back.

Needless to say, a lot of pieces are thrown at the audience, but what keeps Lego moving are the daft retoolings of long-cherished icons. Emmet, who’s so plain and by-the-book with the ditzy nice guy schtick of Owen Wilson, has his own personal Obi-wan in Vitruvius (the vacuous mind meld scene is the apogee of the film’s droll wit). There’s also a Trinity-styled bodyguard in the form of a no-nonsense ninja warrior who goes by the moniker Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). Odes to The Matrix, Star Wars, and The Pirates of the Caribbean get plenty of screen time. And with the weapon of mass destruction being called “the Kraygle,” you can rest assured that the utterance of “Release the Kraygle” will factor in at some crucial point. The split personality of Prez Biz’s main enforcer, Bad Cop/Good Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), is handled with spirited perfection — and illustrated with a spin of his head to dial up the opposing id) is handled with spirited perfection.

If there is one place the film doesn’t quite connect, it’s the clunky resolution. They try to go too big in scope and ambition, and while it’s a well-intentioned and nostalgic reach, it’s like trying to top a tower of bright plastic legos with beat-up Lincoln Logs.

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