Emmet the construction worker may be a Lego Minifigure, but he's no blockhead. In fact, like all of us, he's interconnected with all things.
"There's a moment in the story where he's heartbroken when he discovers that these people he's considered his friends all his life don't even really remember who he is," muses Chris Pratt, who voices him in the animated adventure "The Lego Movie," opening Feb. 7. "He's truly alone, which is kind of a heavy and deep thing to think about when it comes to most animated movies. But it resonates," says the "Parks and Recreation" co-star by phone from Los Angeles. "You root for this guy; you want him to feel special, to have an opportunity to be extraordinary, even though he isn't necessarily equipped to be extraordinary."
PRATT'S BREAKING OUT
We're still talking about Emmet, right? Because Pratt, 34, who's had supporting roles in "Moneyball," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Her" and other films, is about to have his own extraordinary opportunities as the lead of two high-profile films: Disney/ Marvel Studios' "Guardians of the Galaxy," scheduled for release Aug. 1, and "Jurassic World," for which, he says, "I'll be leaving to do soon." But, for now, he's giving his all to Emmet.
"We knew Chris a little bit socially, and we always thought he was funny," says Phil Lord, who with co-director Christopher Miller did the animated "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (2009), for which Pratt's wife, Anna Faris, did a starring voice. "Luckily in animation it takes so long for the movie to come out that by the time you're done, enough other people have noticed that the guy is a star. I want to state for the record that we cast him as a superhero before Marvel did!" he says.
Pratt is, indeed, endearing as Emmet, though calling the character a superhero is a stretch. An obedient consumer who happily watches the same TV shows, listens to the same music and enjoys the same leisure activities as everyone else in one nation under president Business (voice of Will Ferrell), Emmet doesn't gain superpowers or anything after stumbling onto a plot to freeze the universe in place, ending whatever little chaotic creativity exists. Think Times Square cleanup, only with, y'know, extra added evil.
Emmet does, however, find himself attached to the fabled Piece of Resistance, which, according to a prophecy by the mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), makes him "The Special" who will save the universe. As much as Emmet would like to believe that, he really doesn't -- and neither do freedom-fighter Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), her boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett), the anarchic Unikitty (Alison Brie) and the pieced-together pirate-cyborg Metal Beard (Pratt's "Parks and Rec" castmate Nick Offerman), among others. Emmet must both overcome and embrace his ordinariness if the various interconnected Lego worlds are to survive.
That pièce de résistance pun is just one of the many signals that Lord and Miller's movie owes more to Bullwinkle than to Bionicle, a fellow Lego line that inspired four direct-to-DVD movies. Like the filmmakers' "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and live-action "21 Jump Street," "The Lego Movie" has the same off-kilter wit -- and, for a movie squarely aimed at young kids, a surprising amount of cheerfully blatant social satire about consumerism and conformity.
"We're interested in doing things that are both silly and sophisticated at the same time," says Miller, who cameos as the announcer of a reality show that could have come straight from Mike Judge's wicked satire "Idiocracy." "That's usually what we're trying to do: something that's a lot of fun but is also smarter than you'd expect."
"We, in our way, want to celebrate unique thinking," adds Lord. "We're telling a story about a guy who looks like every other guy, and the only difference between him and the million other guys who are manufactured to look exactly like him is what's going on in his head. And my mom always says, 'They can't arrest you for what you think.'"
The movie has been in the works since 2009, initially under brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman ("Hotel Transyl- vania"), who share a co-story credit. "They were at Sony at the same time we were making 'Cloudy,' and they said, 'We've been toying with this idea for a Lego movie, and Michel Gondry is going to direct it,' and when that didn't work out, we all talked, and we thought maybe we would take that on," Miller says. "They had the idea that this was a quest movie and that it would have the kind of twist at the end that our movie does. So there's a certain amount of inspiration that we got from their original take, and then we went off and did our own completely different thing."
The "completely different" part extended to the recording sessions, which, in animation, is generally done by each actor solo. But the directors often had Pratt work in groups, "which is a giant pain in the ---- for the audio department," Pratt observes, "but the payoff is that you get to create these organic moments. Actors get to react to one another and interact, and there's a little bit of magic when you get to look each other in the eye, as opposed to reading lines from a page in different ways."
And that's just one more reason, it seems odd to say, given the source material, that it might be fair to Lego of your expectations.
Some roles toy with actors
Lego construction blocks aren't the only toys to have inspired movies, of course. But most such films are animated. Not so these four live-action flicks:
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) Dolph Lundgren as He-Man! Frank Langella as Skeletor! Courteney Cox as Julie! And Jon Cypher? Man-at-Arms! Despite that cast, the Mattel-based movie earned little except critics' enmity.
TRANSFORMERS (2007) The Takara Tomy / Hasbro line of vehicles that transform into giant robots was transformed into a blockbuster movie franchise from director Michael Bay -- though the fourth film, June's "Transformers: Age of Extinction," likely won't transform any critic's opinion of these transgressions.
BRATZ (2007) MGA Entertainment's line of dolls for little girls became a poorly received, wholesome movie about high-schoolers.
G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (2009) Fans felt it was more Generic Joe than G.I. Joe, and critics were rooting for Cobra. But while it did only so-so box office compared to its cost, last year's sequel proved great guns commercially.