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'The Lego Movie' has all the right pieces

2Lego as a company has done an exemplary job of staying ahead of the curve. They were able to digitize and expand a brand based on plastic construction pieces to video games and now film. The ability to see the world changing around you and make appropriate adjustments is how dynasties are created.

Making a movie based on toys is tough. "Battleship" was an abysmal failure and the recent "Transformers" movies are not far behind. These properties failed artistically ("Transformers" makes a bunch of money it doesn't deserve) because where there should be a beating heart, there is instead an inflexible engine set to overdrive.

"The Lego Movie" does an absolutely amazing job of capturing the essence of what makes Legos the phenomenon they are. I'm sure the producers of this film knew very well they had to win three key battles to win the war.

They needed to capture the hearts and minds of the children of the '80s and '90s who grew up with Legos and capture the attention of young children just discovering Legos. Finally, they needed to make a film that could appeal to movie-goers who haven't experienced Legos.

Those three objectives are this reviewer's appraisal of the challenge of making this movie, and this reviewer counts three decisive victories.

Major victories aside, "The Lego Movie" also nails the details. Everything from the art, the animation, the voice acting to the sound design are top notch. Moments of rekindled childhood joy are followed by genuine humor and are wrapped up in a story every child should see. Very intentionally, the heart of this film is the heart of what makes Legos such a joy: The juxtaposition of order and chaos. Where those ideas intersect is a fundamental component of the human condition -- choice.

While "The Lion King" and "How to Train Your Dragon" are the cinematic masterpieces of animated films, "The Lego Movie" might teach the most important lesson -- the world is what you make of it; your constructions are your own. Being able to watch a movie with that message that includes an over-the-top, riotously funny Batman character is an experience not to be missed.

6 of 6 stars

'The Monuments Men' overreaches

"The Monuments Men" tells the story of a squad of Allied soldiers who are tasked to find and protect art tthe Nazis have stolen during World War II. The core idea behind this film is a beautiful thing. Is an inanimate piece of art worth fighting and dying for?

I really enjoy watching the trailer for this film; it hints at a heartfelt story mixed with situational comedy and epic moments. While that is certainly true, there isn't enough of it to fill a two-hour movie. This story would have been better suited to a half-hour short film.

This film is ambitious to a fault. It reaches too far and stumbles.

"The Monuments Men" should have taken a lesson from Germany's defeat. You can't have everything and expect to hold it. Better to give some ground than to be spread too thin.

4 of 6 stars

James Gerstner works at the Fort Hays State University Foundation.

james@sixhorizons.com