You know this movie is for kids and I know this movie is for kids. So what better way was there for me to write a review than with the input of my very own 6 year old nephew? Following his kindergarten graduation, the boy and I watched it together and I’m happy to report that he sat still and watched it all from start to finish, and that’s saying something. He’s one of those bouncing-off-the-walls kind of kids. But not only did he stay focused throughout the movie, but he was riveted by the bonus features as well. What better endorsement can I give than that? Well, if you actually do need to hear more, keep reading!
LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite is made up of most of the cut scenes from last year’s video game LEGO Batman 2. I only played about 1/4 of LEGO Batman 2, but I thought it was hilarious and a great deal of fun with some amazing unlockables. If you want to relax and can find that game for around $20 bucks then I highly recommend you do so. As for my nephew, he owns that game too and he’s played through it numerous times. He’s never beaten it mind you, he gets frustrated 3/4 of the way through and restarts from the very beginning, or at least he did until the new Skylanders game was released. Since then, LEGO Batman 2 has been collecting dust… until now. Immediately after watching the Blu-Ray our little review is about, my nephew has done nothing but play LEGO Batman 2 and I hope he actually sees it through to the end this time. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start from the beginning.
LEGO Batman doesn’t take note of the Nolan films, those weren’t exactly the most fun for the 13 and under crowd. It instead draws quite heavily from a casual knowledge of the comics and cartoons and Tim Burton’s first film, BATMAN (1989), even going so far as playing homage to its opening title sequence as we ride the grooves of the batsymbol like a roller coaster. As you can imagine, the channels of Batman’s trademark emblem aren’t quite as smooth because it’s made out of — you guessed it– LEGO. From there we open cold to a scene in which Batman and Superman are apparently killed. Yes, you read that right. Already we’re breaking away from the structure of the video game by telling the story in a non-linear fashion and that works well. After their apparent demise, the story rewinds 2 days prior where we pick up at the moment the video game started only you should notice a drastic improvement in the visuals.
Although 90% or more of this movie (again, I never finished playing the game myself) is lifted directly from last year’s video game, the graphics have been given a good polish. Just to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself, I popped in the video game immediately afterward and compared the two. It’s a noticeable upgrade. However, that doesn’t mean that it suddenly jumped to Pixar-like quality throughout. At around the 20 minute mark I started noticing shots that looked lazily lifted from in-game footage rather than cut-scenes that could be transferred to the movie screen. Shots like that were a bit annoying, but they are very few and far between. And, of course, the six year old never cared at all. He was too busy laughing at the chicken.
What chicken? Well, the humor in this is actually quite good and kids and adults alike can laugh out loud. I know I did a number of times. But there are also the outright ridiculous things like a banana being used by Two-Face instead of a gun or, as I mentioned, the chicken. I don’t know why, but my six year old pal found this random chicken that shows up in one or two scenes to be one of the funniest things he had ever seen. The idea that Joker and company would be in the same room as a clucking LEGO chicken was too absurd to not enjoy. Things that adults will love more than the kids are the many references to the Tim Burton films and the way the grumpy Batman and cheerful Superman clash. Superman’s perfection is overplayed to a really humorous degree and seeing Batman’s frustration toward the guy who can fix anything without breaking a sweat makes for some of the best laughs.
Superman and Robin are without a doubt the funniest characters in the story while Lex Luthor is played pretty straight forward by Clancy Brown. It’s kind of funny how every character in this story is toned down for kids yet Lex Luthor still feels like his usual maniacal self. It’s Lex who is actually the main villain of the film. He wishes to become the next president but in order to get the public to fall in love with him he needs Joker’s gas, which for whatever reason makes people adore the Joker. The change in the gas’s intent is one of the few examples of outright changing something major about the mythology. As you know, Joker’s gas is lethal, whereas Poison Ivy is the one who is better known for chemicals that bring out the effect Luthor wants. But I suppose Poison Ivy just wouldn’t make as marketable a central villain as the Clown Prince of Crime. Other changes I noted were that Bane has a “Mole Machine”, a giant truck with a drill on the front of it… that was kind of an odd choice but, it’s a LEGO movie so obviously you can let it slide. And then there’s Clark Kent, who is seen as a television reporter rather than a newpaper man, a change that I actually think is overdue (or maybe not, I don’t read many Superman comics so I might be way off base with that statement). Anyway, Joker and Luthor team up to neutralize Batman’s gadgets and Superman’s powers so that Lex can become the POTUS. Along the way we see our heroes confront a wide variety of Batman rogues and some cameos by some of DC’s most well known superheroes.
The music in the film is quite good, borrowing most of its score from Danny Elfman’s BATMAN and John Williams’ Superman, which was even used as a great joke while Superman and Batman are riding in an elevator together. Voice acting is top notch. I have absolutely no complaints about the cast and thought that everyone fit their LEGO counterparts well. In addition to Clancy Brown as Lex, many other actors have worked in the realm of Batman before. Troy Baker, who does the voice for Batman, actually played Robin and Two-Face in the video game Arkham City, though you would never notice since he’s so versatile. And then there’s Rob Paulsen, who is terrific in everything, playing The Riddler. Paulsen has starred in The Batman, Batman: The Animated Series, and The Dark Knight Returns.
The use of LEGO in the movie is really well done and makes for some great sight gags, but I was most impressed by the visual of Green Lantern building constructs with his ring! I would actually go so far as saying that the LEGO effect was better than what we saw in the Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds. Seeing the green, glowing LEGO quickly assemble out of thin air looked really cool. The world in which our story takes place, however is surprisingly organic and only appears to be made of LEGO on occasion. I would’ve liked to have seen more blocks int he environment, but I suppose it is difficult finding just the right balance of what should and shouldn’t be made of blocks in order to make something that’s still pleasing to the eye. Perhaps if there was too much use of LEGO in things like dirty terrain or grass, audiences would be too focused on those details to pay any mind to the story.
And what is the moral of our story? After all, a good kids movie should probably have some kind of life lesson, right? Batman needs to turn to other for help once in a while! It’s okay to call upon friends in a time of need and you don’t have do go it all alone. It’s really a pretty good message and one that’s fitting for a Batman film. After all, that was the very same message taken away from Grant Morrison’s Return of Bruce Wayne. Batman isn’t in this alone.
As you can imagine the hour flew by and more importantly, I never had the feeling of “Jeez, this is just like the video game only without the fun of playing it.” Never. It never happened. Nor did my nephew whine about how he would rather be playing the game. He stayed put, laughed, cheered for The Flash more than I was comfortable with (this is a Batman household, son) and then ran upstairs to play Xbox as soon as it was all over. It’s been LEGO Batman everything in his home ever since. Director Jon Burton and writer David A. Goodman made a very entertaining movie for kids and adults and they did it with material based on a video game, which was based on a toy, which was based on movies, which were based on comics. No small feat. Just small blocks.
Here’s where the Blu-ray really convinces folks to pick it up. Simply offering spruced up footage from the video game is kind of a hard sell, but luckily the disc also includes quite a bit of supplemental material. Unfortunately, none of it involves a look behind the scenes. How it is that there wasn’t a glimpse into the making of the game, the making of the movie, or a sneak peak at the next LEGO Batman game is pretty disappointing, but my nephew, again, didn’t mind. He was too enthralled by the collection of LEGO stop-motion shorts.
“Building Batman” is a 15 minute long special that shows a group of children learning the art of stop-motion animation from master builder Garret Barati. The short video is filled with pop-up fun facts about LEGO that further educate kids about these famous blocks as Barati shows them how they too can use their imagination to build fun creations of their own and then turn those makeshift toys into a movie. It’s really an amazing time we live in when inexpensive cameras and smart phones are so ubiquitous that anyone can make a stop-motion feature if they just put in the time and effort. It certainly got the wheels in my nephew’s head to turn and he’s been asking his mom to help him “bring his LEGOs to life” for days now.
That’s the most substantial original content on the disc and it’s backed by five contest winning stop-motion short films. Most of these were quite good and my nephew was disappointed to learn that there were no more than five and he even wanted to watch them all again the very next day.
Something everyone can enjoy again and again, are the three cartoons that are included. These features include two Batman the Brave and the Bold episodes and an episode of Teen Titans that’s centered around Cyborg. The first Batman episode, Triumvirate was excellent and had some wonderful nods to the Mark Waid and Alex Ross classic, Kingdom Come. The second episode, however was very Green Lantern focused and had a more serious tone than the majority of B&B episodes. But it’s worth noting that the before-credits vignette about Wonder Woman was fantastic and very funny and that the Green Lantern of the main story was voiced by the same voice actor who played Dick Grayson in BTAS and it was a treat to hear him in a Batman cartoon again.
The Teen Titans episode? …meh. Let me make it clear that the six year old superhero fan this collection of entertainment is marketed toward loved all of these cartoons, but this was my first time sitting through an entire episode of that Teen Titans and I still don’t see the appeal. At least now I see where Cyborg’s “Booyah!” catchphrase from Injustice: Gods Among Us came from.
Last, but certainly not least, this Blu-Ray Combo-Pack includes a real LEGO! Packaged here is a LEGO Clark Kent who is changing into Superman, or as my nephew called it “Superman dressed as Clark Kent.” But that’s a whole other discussion altogether.
Value: Sale Price
Even with around an 60-90 minutes worth of bonus features and Blu-Ray presentation, I think that a cover price of $24.98 is still asking too much when you consider that the LEGO Batman 2 game it’s based on is only $19.99 and will give you and your kids a lot more bang for your buck with at least 10+ hours of gameplay plus the bulk of the cutscenes from this movie. Amazon is offering it for $13.99 right now, which is reasonable when you take into account the 3 extra cartoons and exclusive toy.
This is a must-have for kids who love these heroes and since it comes with an Ultra-violet and DVD copy as well you can always store the flick on your phone or play it on an overhead screen in the back of your car during long trips to keep the little one entertained the whole time. It’s really funny, well animated, and comes with quite a few nifty bonus features that won’t only entertain, but they’ll light up a child’s imagination as well. Do I think it has a very high replay value? Meh. That remains to be seen. Since it’s based on a video game and my nephew just so happens to own that video game, he’s more interested in playing the game now than re-watching the movie. Kids who have never touched the game might pop this disc in over and over and over or they might demand you buy them the video game too. And with the game being cheaper than the movie… you might be better off buying it instead.