The animated flick, based on the beloved toy sets, hopes to build a big following – PEOPLE's critic weighs in

By Alynda Wheat and PEOPLE Movie Critic
Updated February 07, 2014 04:00 PM
Credit: Warner Bros.

The Lego Movie is pretty fantastic for a feature-length commercial, but George Clooney‘s long-delayed The Monuments Men isn’t worthy of its esteemed cast.

Here’s what to see and what to skip at the movies this weekend.

See This

The Lego Movie

One theory holds that an ear worm – a particularly catchy song you can’t get out of your head – only goes away when you reset the lyrical loop by singing the whole thing. In an effort to help you out in advance, here’s a link to “Everything Is Awesome,” because you will be seeing The Lego Movie – and this demonic little ditty will set up shop somewhere in your cranium. How do I know? Because so much of The Lego Movie really is awesome.

One teensy hitch: The film isn’t actually for kids. Oh, there’s nothing terribly objectionable, as the violence comes down to a bunch of exploding bricks, and jokes that are remotely suggestive will sail right over their heads. (Your kids are short.) But Lego, like the admittedly deeper Toy Story franchise, is meant to appeal to an adult’s nostalgia while serving up a fun plot that will engage the younger set.

Chris Pratt stars as Emmet, a construction worker with absolutely nothing unique or interesting about him. He follows all the rules and has never had an original thought, at least not until he meets the ballsy, beautiful Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). She’s a master builder on the hunt for a missing piece called the Piece of Resistance, in the hopes that it will stop the nefarious Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his henchman, Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson). Only, she doesn’t find it – Emmet does, which makes him The Special, the savior prophesized by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman).

From there, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) unleash a heady rush of knowing winks to other franchises (Middle-earth is a land of squat illiterates; Batman, played by Will Arnett, is a pompous prat), while skipping through various Lego landscapes, all segregated by Lord Business.

The genius here is that the film directly alludes to the difference between the way adults and children interact with Lego: Lord Business wants perfectly constructed edifices kept in tidy order, while Wyldstyle and her crew are all for throwing disparate pieces together and letting the imagination take over. The animators dabble in both approaches, using the Lego palette to create remarkable visuals (a mix of CGI and stop-motion animation using some 15 million bricks). Ocean waves ripple, fire crackles and Wyldstyle even tousles her hair, all with those iconic little pieces.

The Lego Movie is so visually arresting that it almost makes up for ebbs in the plot, just as the action should be ramping up. But that’s a small complaint in a film that is a joy to watch and so much fun to listen to, with vocal performances that are evocative and hilarious. As for that delightfully dastardly theme song, you can blame the film’s composer, Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh, for that. It’s a tune evil enough to bring a tear to Lord Business’s tiny eye.

Skip That

The Monuments Men

There’s a fascinating story to tell about the real-life intellectuals who headed for the front lines in World War II to save art from being looted and destroyed by the Nazis. This is not it. Director and star George Clooney assembles a phenomenal cast, including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman, but fails to give them much to do, as if their innate charm would somehow carry the movie. But that would be far too much heavy lifting, as The Monuments Men scatters its cast all across Western Europe as they hunt down the world’s treasures, but fails to provide them with narrative thrust to move things along.

The Saving Private Ryan meets Ocean’s Eleven tone never comes together, while the film remains confused on even its central debate: Are great works of art worth human lives? The fact that there were Monuments Men at all would attest that art is worth human sacrifice, but then the movie pivots from a Picasso burned by Nazis, to barrels of gold stripped from the molars of slaughtered Jews. Kind of takes the sting out of a burnt painting, doesn’t it?