‘The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part’ Brings Back the Charm and Exuberance of the Original

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is an exuberant sequel, expanding the world of the first film while basking in cheerful visual invention. Five years after “The Lego Movie,” this new chapter understands that the passage of time for kids means the inevitability of growing up. It’s also a hilarious meditation on the rivalries between siblings. The first movie was a novelty and wicked satire, giving us animated sights the likes of which hadn’t been seen on the big screen. This is a return to that film’s great energy, but with new sensibilities and new songs designed to stay lodged in your memory.

We’re back right where the first film left off. You may recall that Finn (Jason Sand) had been caught by his dad (Will Ferrell) playing with his vast Lego collection and sets, it ended with the two bonding, but with dad warning Finn that now his little sister, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) would have to be allowed to play as well. So as we re-enter the Lego world an alien invasion of distorted, yet lovable and cute entities with baby voices have rendered everything to ash. Now Emmet (Chris Pratt), Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and their friends, like the egotistic Batman (Will Arnett) wander a “Mad Max”-style wasteland called Apocalypseburg. Emmet remains ever so cheerful and aloof, still getting his expensive coffee even as all around him there is chaos. He even wants to move into a nice yellow house with Lucy, who isn’t very keen on the idea. Then, the aliens send General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) to Apocalypseburg to scoop up a group of hostages to attend a wedding ceremony being held by Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who resides in the “Systar System.” Now Emmet sets off on a mission to rescue his friends, bumping along the way into Rex Dangervest (Pratt), a badass adventurer with a crew of Velociraptors.

This is one of the year’s first great entertainments. Like its predecessor, “The Lego Movie 2” combines light family fun with witty satire and visuals alive with a boundless joy. Director Mike Mitchell works from a script by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who both worked on the Oscar-nominated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” They have a gift for joining the eye candy of animation with stories full of sly humor adults will enjoy, while the kids bask in the sheer ride. A wise choice is not recycling the plot or even style of the first movie. The 2014 film was very much a commentary on consumer culture, with Emmet happy to buy $40 coffee as everyone mindlessly sang along to the brainwashing tune “Everything Is Awesome” (which returns for the sequel). It was only gradually that we realized the whole film was really a manifestation of Finn’s invented world as he played with his dad’s Legos. Now that we know what’s going on, this new adventure becomes a more clear statement about a child’s imagination and when your younger sibling becomes a pest. Queen Watevra’s kidnapping of Emmet’s friends is really Bianca running off with some of Finn’s Legos, and we all know how often that happens. The film shifts more often, but not too much, between the Lego world and the adult world, with Maya Rudolph playing the mom trying to keep peace in the house (while painfully stepping on a Lego or two).

Yet like the first film, “The Lego Movie 2” is a hilarious critique of pop culture disguised as a children’s entertainment. This time it satirizes everything from toxic masculinity to science fiction. Visually it’s a thrilling buffet full of endless references to other films as well. You can just sit back and drink in what’s on screen. Apocalypseburg winks at “Mad Max,” “Blade Runner,” and many other visions of civilization falling apart. There’s even a brilliant “Planet of the Apes” reference via a collapsed, tilting Statue of Liberty. General Mayhem is decked in a white space suit with wings and a bass voice reminiscent of every cliché space invader. Rex Dangervest looks like a combination of Kurt Russell from “Escape from New York” and Han Solo, boasting that he has chiseled looks once hidden under baby fat and has no need for family or friends. Dangervest’s fleet of Velociraptors are a total howler, this is of course poking fun at Chris Pratt’s raptor trainer from the recent and absurd “Jurassic World” movies. Even Batman gets a makeover, looking like a superhero Liberace by the end. The Systar System is all glitter and sparkles, with Queen Watevra changing shape as she likes while singing songs parodying those classic Disney numbers designed to get tattooed in our brains. Watch out for the movie’s closing number, “Catchy Song,” performed by T-Pain and That Girl Lay Lay, where the title truly says it all.

“The Lego Movie 2” is above all just a lot of fun. At times it’s funny just for the sake of real laughs. Alison Brie is back as the short-tempered Unikitty, Jonah Hill is back as the very uncool Green Lantern and Channing Tatum’s Superman is a complete dork. Even Jason Momoa appears as Aquaman, making fun of his own character’s jock persona. Of course Charlie Day steals the screen as Benny, the demented astronaut Lego obsessed with spaceships.

Since the first movie a franchise has developed, with offshoot movies like the entertaining “The Lego Batman Movie” and the so so “The Lego Ninjago Movie.” “The Lego Movie 2” returns to the heart of what makes this particular vision so charming, in that it makes fun of multiple themes and general popular culture. This sequel eventually develops into a rather endearing movie about siblings, as Queen Watevra’s scheme becomes more about Finn and Bianca learning to play together. Hidden in there are also good ideas about gender equality, kindness and friendship. In a season of aimless movies, some made for no other purpose than profit, “The Lego Movie 2” is a visual ride, but it actually has things to say. It’s fun, but not brainless.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” opens Feb. 8 in theaters nationwide.