Director: Mike Mitchell Screenwriter: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Running Time: 107 min. MPAA: PG

2014’s The Lego Movie was such a groundbreaking animated take on toy-based property films that a sequel would not be easy to craft. So it’s not the least bit surprising that The Lego Movie 2 treads and fairly safe ground, taking care to stick to what made the first film so inspiring and clever. It’s nothing all that new, especially when we’re aware of this animated tale being part of the bigger story about families coming together. But it mostly gets the job done of being another silly scenario of merging properties and toys.

Kids can at least relate to the simpler message of the picture, perhaps more than the previous picture. Picking up where the first film left off, the Lego world is invaded by the most dreaded of toys from the younger sister. They’re simpler beings, constructed in odd shapes and speak in toddler voices, arguing and crying with how they will get along in this world. The chaos leads to the Lego people vacating their town and hiding out in an apocalyptic wasteland ala Mad Max. The rebellious cool girl Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the bitterly baffled Batman (Will Arnett) take to the environment well or at least play by the rules of lawlessness for the tone. Emmet (Chris Pratt), however, is still his chipper old self, refusing to grow up and get tough when the world wants to go that way. Of course, since Emmet was the special Master Builder, his spirit will be the one that saves the day. Or will it?

The Lego world is now being attacked by the girly toys of the Systar System. Eager to meet all the Lego people is the shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who wants to stage a marriage and promises the deepest desires of all the Lego citizens. Sounds like a sinister plan that Wildstyle doesn’t so easily buy, despite the Queen singing a song to assure everyone she’s not evil. While she tries to avoid the brainwashing, Emmet sets off for the stars to rescue his friends and be the man Wildstyle hopes he will be. Maybe with the help of the super-cool space explorer and bounty hunter Rex, Emmet can be the Lego he thinks he was meant to be.

It’s a little off-putting that even though the first film stressed a need to go off book and not follow the manual, The Lego Movie 2 sticks surprisingly close to its rigid formula for fun. Even with a handful of new twists that shakes things up, including time travel which seems to blur just how much of the imaginative and real world merge, many of them come almost by assembly. Of course, this is from the perspective of an adult that has weathered too many movies. I’m willing to bet the kid audience will by intrigued and astonished at what this film has in store for them with character reveals, which are thankfully kept as fast as the zippy pacing of the humor.

I smiled a lot during The Lego Movie 2 but never quite felt that same witty punch the first film had. The positive message of a brother and sister learning to get along with age is charming enough to admire and there’s a winking nature to the film’s comedy that still works, albeit doubled up to a degree where my eyes nearly rolled at the terminology of Ar-mom-apocalypse and the bin of Storage. The animation still has its creative touches, from the Queen taking different forms to the understated simplicity of Lego pieces rattling around. But the reliance on the expected pep as well as the nagging Lego trend of featuring cameos where guest stars have to state their name and claim to fame is really displaying signs that this Lego train is starting to go rusty. Until it derails, however, the film is suitable enough for kids as a pleasing animated adventure with good wit and greater themes. And though the film is lighter on adult-oriented silliness, I still found myself grinning at how Rex described Back to the Future as a cool film older kids watch and The Matrix as a movie mature adults watch. There’s a more insightful joke in there but it’s not worth digging into; just let the kids enjoy their reality-bending, space adventure film and be kids before they grow older and start believing The Matrix is mature.

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