Movie review

4 1/2 (out of five stars)

Director: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman

Rated: PG for mild action and rude humor

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Young and old fans alike know the joy of dumping a set of Legos on the floor and chucking that instruction manual. After all, throwing a portion of a helicopter on an incomplete race car could produce the ultimate hybrid.

In "The Lego Movie," the toy brand's first theatrical feature (there have been previous straight-to-DVD movies and also video games), audiences are encouraged to wave off routine.

Lego doesn't need a 3-D animated flick with a $60 million budget to drive sales, but it should expect a spike after this uproarious yet touching tale hits theaters.

When average construction worker Emmet (voiced by an endearing Chris Pratt) accidentally falls into a pit at his work site, he is met by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a sassy, Goth chick channeling Trinity in this "Matrix" for kids. Wyldstyle believes Emmet is a "Special" master builder who can save Bricksburg from the evil President Business (played with charming bite by Will Farrell), who wants to douse the town with a Krazy Glue-like substance called kragle.

Unfortunately, Emmet is a reluctant hero, but not because he's shy. He's just never really had an original thought. He's been more than happy to adhere to every rule, become overly excited about taco Tuesday and adore any song on the radio. (The addictive "Everything Is Awesome" pops up throughout.)

Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"), "The Lego Movie" ranks high among other animated favorites about courageous toys, such as "Pinocchio" and "Toy Story." Lord and Miller nail the fuzzy "believe in yourself" message and score with a spoof-heavy, yet engaging plot.

Film editors David Burrows ("Happy Feet") and Chris McKay ("Robot Chicken") create stop-motion animation that's perfectly paced so the story never lulls. The facial expressions of the mini-figures move as any other animated characters would, but the Lego bodies remain robotic and true to real-life form.

However, it is fun to see how the animators conceive a wavy sea. (The film was made using an astounding 3,863,484 unique bricks.) The effects stretch the imagination just enough, but not so much as to deter from an all-too-familiar Legoland setting.

The filmmakers could have easily made one long, monotonous ad for the beloved brand that's been around for more than 55 years. Instead, they've created a delightful tale championing self-reliance and distinctiveness. And though it detours from a strict brick world in the final act, the cheery humor always clicks.