There’s been a quiet revolution happening in family entertainment for the last few years, where movies with broad popular appeal strive to be more than a way to distract your kid for 90 minutes. Whether children internalize it or not, animated films have been dissecting such weighty themes as willful ignorance and authority worship (Littlefoot), and identity in the digital age (Wreck-It Ralph), not to mention the wide-ranging, ever-increasing sophistication of Pixar’s output.
The first Lego Movie, already 5 years old, showed that not only could a product tie-in be more than advertisement, it could pack an emotional punch while delivering a poignant statement on escapism and alienation, all within a hilarious and visually innovative package. Its sequel, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, wisely avoids trying to reinvent the monorail, instead focusing on bridging the unnecessary gap between ridiculous fun and emotional maturity.
Five years have passed in the film’s world as well, and the Duplo invasion has left a trail of destruction. Emmet (Chris Pratt) has not adjusted to the new Mad Max-esque existence of Apocalypseburg, remaining upbeat as ever among the wasteland scavengers. Suddenly, a mysterious visitor comes in an impenetrable spaceship, seeking to bring the five strongest warriors—Emmet, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Benny (Charlie Day), and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie)—to Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System. (Systar, get it?) Queen Wa-Nabi appears to be the antagonist at first—she suspiciously sings a song about how not evil she is, despite what looked like an attack on Apocalypseburg, and Emmet’s visions of the coming Our-mom-ageddon do little to sway that impression.
What follows is a terrific commentary on many things at once. To say exactly how these are relevant would be giving away too much, but to name a few themes: gatekeeping in fandom, clinging too firmly to the things we enjoyed as children and thereby stifling creative possibilities, and the overly gendered divisions in children’s entertainment and the perceived threat that “girly” things represent.
The Lego Batman Movie reconciled the character’s silly origins with its absurdly dour modern incarnation, and much of that spirit carries over into The Second Part. Someone else’s fun does not inherently make our own less valuable, and the opportunity to share in that fun should be explored, not feared.
The notion that there is a correct way to enjoy a form of entertainment, especially one as limitless as Lego, is ultimately self-defeating and can become a conduit for many of society’s most negative impulses. Look at the apoplectic reactions to any supposed slight against “real fans” and you know the mentality The Second Part addresses, then deflates.
The Second Part is not the same revelation as its predecessor and the gags can be a bit more strained, but writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller show there’s still plenty of life in this idea. The use of Lego vs Duplo is clever, and the free-form animation of shapeshifting Wa-Nabi is very inventive. It’s a well-meaning and still altogether entertaining addition to the series that opted to age along with its audience, not chain them to the past.
The Lego Movie 2:The Second Part/ PG, 107 minutes
See it again
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056, drafthouse.com/charlottesville
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213, regmovies.com
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000, charlottesville.violetcrown.com
Check theater websites for listings.