The Lego Movie has a third-act twist. Part of me wishes very much that it didn't, but simply introduced the twist right at the start, since the reveal informs the rest of the movie in such a fascinating, pleasurably conceptual way. Part of me is very happy it plays it the way it does since it permits the movie's awe-inspiring world-building to suck us in in such an untroubled, seductive way. All of me is annoyed that it's goddamn impossible to say many of the things I'd like to without barraging through spoiler after spoiler, which means that this very enthusiastic review is also going to have to be a very bland review.

The most rewarding and entertaining piece of brand extension in many a long day, The Lego Movie proves above all else that co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are heroes of cinema comedy: not only are they now three-for-three on absolutely terrific movies that are marvelously creative in their visual approach to both storytelling and humor (the absolute bane of modern comedy), they've also gone two in a row, following 2012's 21 Jump Street, on movies that start from absolute can't-win concepts and turn into something clever, ingenious, and self-mocking without being caustic. In fact, with their screenwriting credit on the new film, they deserve an even bigger share of the credit for coming up with such a smartly absurd and surprisingly tender-hearted tribute to one of the most internationally beloved of all toys, and to the act of using your imagination to play with them, that any possibility of writing this off as a toy commercial is too cynical even for me. This is a tribute to Lego made by enthusiasts, not an ad for Lego made by hacks.

The film takes place in Bricksburg, a city made entirely of Lego blocks and inhabited entirely by Lego minifigures, ruled over by the imagination-starved Lord Business (Will Ferrell), whose dream society is one in which everything looks the same, everything sounds the same, and everything acts the same. And there is no more enthusiastic participant in this cornucopia of conformist tendencies than Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a construction worker and devotee of the instruction manuals for every waking moment in life under Lord Business's regime. Quite by accident, Emmet falls into a hole leading deep under the city, where he finds the legendary Piece of Resistance, the totem that alone can stop the ultimate superweapon, the Kragle, from destroying the whole world; thus it is that he ends up anointed The Special by an underground of criminal Master Builders, playfully themed minifigures who prefer to build things from their own imagination, instead of the carefully laid-out blueprints Lord Business prefers. These include the mystic black sage Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), clever punk girl Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), and a gravel-voiced Batman (Will Arnett) among others, just in case you hadn't noticed how much the film was playing by the Lazy Screenwriter's Tropes handbook.

One of the hardest things to get right and thus one of the most impressive when it happens is the parody that is also an exemplar of the thing being parodied. The Lego Movie is clearly a piss-take of the Chosen One narrative on the model of The Matrix, and in that capacity, it's frequently hilarious; but it's also a genuinely involving story with hugely likable characters. Despite the easy comparison (manic kids' comedy, non-stop array of pop culture jokes), this is a long way away from the heightened irony of even the first of the Shrek movies, with their vague or less-vague sense of superiority. The creators of The Lego Movie plainly regard themselves as superior to no-one and nothing, using their movie to celebrate rather than condemn. Even the vilified mass culture that serves as the butt of so many jokes turns out to be not that bad in the movie: it ends up suggesting not that playing by the rules and following instructions is uniformly evil, but that there are times and places where doing your own thing is right, and times where doing things according to a blueprint can be nice as well. And as we all know by now, because it's the only thing the internet wants to talk about, the hilariously awful pop song "Everything Is AWESOME!!!" - so earwormy in its wall-to-wall awfulness to make "Please Mr. Kennedy" seem like a piker - is a terrific send-up and pastiche of corporatised music that is nonetheless so catchy that the movie even pauses to acknowledge that part of the reasons dreadful songs like that can become such big hits is that they're a lot of fun to listen to.

Still and all, this is a film about letting your imagination run amok, both at the level of the plot - which is about that specifically - and really in every facet of its existence. More or less explicitly, the film's sense of logic is based not on things like storytelling coherence but the ideas that a child comes up with while fucking around with a bunch of toys, which explains everything from characters like the collection of pastel blocks named Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) to the quick-change of locations that have no business being together to the easy co-habitation of characters from multiple pop culture universes (a thread that could and should have much more done with it: other than one-and-done cameos, the only established characters who get much of anything to do are DC Comics heroes. I assume royalty issues trumped artistic freedom in this case, but I'd have loved more than five seconds of Harry Potter or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures). Even the animation itself is based chiefly on this principle: on the one hand, it's all top-notch CGI designed to look as precisely like Lego stop-motion animation as could possibly be done (which, given the relative technical ease of animating smooth plastic cubes, it looks effectively flawless), and like most mainstream English-language animation, it strives for photorealistic lighting and texture effects; but the physics are frequently as outrageously random as the most anarchic of Looney Tunes. The "don't feel constrained by common sense" ethos is the film's heart and soul and reason for being, and visually, it enthusiastically embraces that ethos.

The ludicrous energy gets to be a bit wearying after a bit - there's room to trim the middle of the film, which starts to get exhausting more than fun or funny - but by and large the film has a comic spark that keeps it at a vivid, delightful fever pitch throughout, and the voice cast is uniformly excellent, though I'd have to foreground Freeman's sardonic deliveries and Liam Neeson's gleeful embrace of his grim bastard persona as the thuggish Bad Cop as my two favorites. Perhaps the film has nothing more profound to say than "having fun is fun", and "if you think you're too old to have fun, you are in fact wrong", but you know what? Those things are true, and there's no reason that something as full of life and ingenuity as this should be regarded any less simply because it has no desire to speak to the human condition with the emotional rigor of fellow toy-collector porn Toy Story 3. This is a frivolous, generous (there's a Ghibli-esque willingness to forgive and redeem the villains that I found massively appealing) lark, and one that's as exquisitely enjoyable as any family film in recent memory.