Grade: A-
Entire family: Yes
2017, 104 min., Color
Animated action-comedy
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.41:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos True HD
Bonus features: B- (four shorts, 6 short features, 4 deleted scenes)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

I’m curious: Is there a kid in America who hasn’t played with Legos? Since 1949 the Danish company has cranked out those distinctive, colorful plastic building blocks that really took off as a kid craze when the company began producing theme sets tied to history (knights, pirates, robots, Vikings, cowboys, dinosaurs, etc.) and movies (Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.). Lego stores are everywhere. At Downtown Disney in Orlando a giant Lego dragon rises up out of a manmade lake, while in a downtown Chicago Lego store an elaborate model of a downtown city block is on display. And some airports and trains have dedicated Lego sections where children can play. With Legos so culturally huge, the stage was set for The Lego Movie (2014) to do for Lego lovers what Wreck-It Ralph did for video-game lovers—and it didn’t disappoint.

In that first film, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) was surrounded by a bevy of characters from other theme sets, though another figure was the unlikely hero. In The Lego Batman Movie the focus is totally on the Batman-Superman DC world, with guest villains popping up from other pockets of pop culture (say that three times fast). The result is dazzling, and the second film is easily as good as the first—possibly better.

The most striking thing about The Lego Batman Movie, which was computer animated in 3D, is its wide appeal.

—Young children who are just learning to stack the blocks will respond to the colors, the action, and yes, the talking characters who say things like “shoot shoot shoot” when they’re firing their toy guns, mimicking the kind of pretend play that children engage in.

—Older children who watch superhero movies and still have a box of Legos stored somewhere in their closets will love the stellar set design, the driving musical score, and the special effects that somehow manage to keep up with the breakneck pacing. It’s a pretty impressive assault on the senses.

—Teens and adults who are familiar enough with superhero movies to know all the tropes will love the wry and often egotistical and cynical running commentary by Batman (Arnett again) and the postmodernist self-consciousness that The Lego Batman Movie displays in simultaneously delivering the formula and making fun of it. There are, for example, dozens of “bat” vehicles, including a Batkayak. Chris McKay, who directed Robot Chicken (2005) and Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III (2010) knows how to have it both ways and absolutely crams this film full of pop cultural references and gags. The more you know, the more you’ll laugh—even as your wee ones are getting caught up in the action.

—Parents will love that different ages will see and appreciate different things. Like Toy Story the core message is one of family—and friends becoming a family. The Lego Batman Movie is rated PG, but the pacing is so brisk that anything close to objectionable will fly right over the heads of little ones, like this hilarious exchange:

Robin (Michael Cera): “My name’s Richard Grayson, but all the kids at the orphanage call me Dick.”

Batman: “Well, children can be cruel.”

Then again, you knew from the opening dark screen and voiceover that this was going to be a clever parody, as Batman says, “Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous.” Batman is a fast-talker, as they’d say in the Seinfeld world, and you’ve got to keep up or you’ll miss half the jokes. The plot? That’s easy:

Even as Batman hurts the Joker’s feelings by telling him he’s not as important as he thinks he is, Commissioner Gordon retires and his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), tells Batman essentially the same thing. And when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his fellow villains turn themselves in, Batman decides to raid Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and grab the Phantom Zone Projector to send the Joker to another dimension. Briefly Batman and Robin are jailed for their mischief, but when the Joker returns from the Phantom Zone with every single exiled villain Barbara realizes the city needs Batman after all. That’s pretty much the message, even as bad guys reconcile with good guys: that people need each other, even if it’s only being the yang to another’s yin. And as Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) tells Batman, if you lose a family, don’t brood . . . find another.

The Lego Batman Movie is funny, clever, action-packed, and rocking with music and kaleidoscopic graphics, but it’s those underlying messages that make it a great family film—especially on sparkling Blu-ray and with Dolby Atmos True-HD sound. And that’s not even counting the free kid’s ticket to Legoland that’s included with purchase.

Language: Just mild terms like “butt” or “sucks”
Sex: n/a, unless you count Robin tearing off his pants like a stripper in order to get down to the uniform we see
Violence: Lots of fighting, but it’s hard to take any of it too seriously when these are plastic figures with claw hands and clunky, Lego movements
Adult situations: Nothing here either, unless you count that running commentary
Takeaway: Pay attention, people. Warner Bros. Animation has arrived

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