Monday February 10, 2014
Movie Review: The Lego Movie (2014)
“The Lego Movie” is a 90-minute commercial for a global product into which my nephew Ryan has already sunk (or we have sunk for him) something like $10,000. I believe that was his father’s estimate last Christmas.
It’s also the following:
- A satire of contemporary pop culture.
- A satire of overdone movie storylines.
- A meta-message on traditional Legos (the kind I grew up with) vs. its modern update (the kind with instructions).
- A morality tale about the folly of wishing for permanence in an impermanent world.
If, in other words, you’re going to see a 90-minute, synergistic, corporate commercial, this isn’t a bad one to see.
The ordinary special
Emmet Brickowoski (voice of Chris Pratt) is one of those Ken-doll-haired, construction worker Lego guys. He loves his life even though his life doesn’t really love him. His favorite song is everyone’s favorite song, “Everything is Awesome,” which plays all the time. His favorite TV show is everyone’s favorite TV show, “Hey, Where’s My Pants?,” which plays all the time. There are intimations that both of these things—song and TV show—are used as thought control for the masses. That’s the satire of contemporary pop culture I was talking about. It’s the world Emmet lives in. He goes to work, roots for the local sports team, buys $37 lattes.
But good ol’ Emmet, who has no close friends, gets caught up in a plot he hardly understands. He falls into a pit and winds up with the “Piece of Resistance” affixed to his back, which means he’s “The Special,” the one who has been prophesied to save the world from destruction—just as Neo was “The One” who would save his world from destruction, just as Harry Potter was the one who ... as Bilbo Baggins was ... as King Arthur .... as Jesus ... as yadda yadda. This plotline was the main reason I went to the movie in the first place. I wanted to see it satirized. I’m tired of how often it is used and how much it feeds into the id in all of us: making us think we’re the one rather than one in seven billion.
They don’t do a bad job with it:
Wyldstyle: You’re the Special! And the prophecy states that you are the most important person in the universe! That’s you, right?
Emmet: Uh ... Yeah. That’s me!
Except ... The Special is supposed to be a master builder and Emmet knows he’s not a master builder. He’s only good at following the instructions. He’s can’t do what the others can do: use his creativity to create virtually anything from the building blocks of their society, which are, of course, Legos. “I don’t think he’s ever had an original thought in his life,” says Wyldstyle, his kick-ass sidekick (voice of Elizabeth Banks).
The villain in all of this? Pres. Business (voice of Will Ferrell), who doesn’t like the notion that the building blocks of their society can be reconfigured into something else. He wants permanence and perfection. So he’s ready to use “the Kragle” to create that permanence. To keep everyone stuck in the same place.
In this battle, Emmet, despite having Wyldstyle on his side, along with the wise, wizened Vitruvius (voice of Morgan Freeman), who first prophesied the coming of “The Special,” not to mention Batman (voice of Will Arnett), and Superman (Channing Tatum) and Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and the 2002 NBA All-Stars (including Shaq), despite all of these partners, Emmet still gets nowhere. He can’t do what he needs to do because he lacks both imagination and instructions. It’s not until he sacrifices himself—as Neo, Jesus, et al.—that he is able to return, stronger and smarter, and win the day.
“Sacrificing himself,” by the way, means falling into our world, a non-animated world, where we realize that this entire adventure is taking place in the mind of a young boy, Finn (Jadon Sand), who simply wants to play with his Legos. Unfortunately, his father (Ferrell again) likes creating the perfect Legos diorama and doesn’t like it messed with. He doesn’t want it changed. In fact, he’s ready, this Tuesday, Taco Tuesday, to use an old tube of Krazy Glue with several of the letters rubbed out so it reads “Kra--Gl-e,” to glue everything in place. To make it all permanent.
That’s what the battle’s been about all along. It’s a father-and-son battle over the son’s toys.
Old Legos vs. New Legos
Question: Does this final pullback into our world diminish any of the other levels of the movie? Early on, I was hoping for a better critique of our culture, a la “The Simpsons” in its heyday. But can you properly critique a culture through the mind of a young boy? It feels slightly off for me, less relevant, less cutting. It went the “Toy Story” route but without the big heart of “Toy Story.”
Plus the lessons of the movie, which was written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “21 Jump Street”), keep shifting. Trying to create permanence in an impermanent world is obviously a bad idea; but the movie doesn’t really resolve the conflict between the Legos I grew up with during the 1960s (use your creativity to build what you want) and the model-kit Legos reboot from the 1990s (follow the instructions). I suppose the movie, and the brand, doesn’t want to resolve this conflict. Creativity is obviously better to promote in a movie but no one wants to kill a cash cow. No one wants to suggest the cash cow is the lesser thing.
The final lesson of The Special, too, is that we’re all special, which is a bit of a fudge on the meaning of “special.” But what the hell. I guess the greater lesson is something Vitruvius tells Emmet in the middle of his hero’s journey: “Don’t worry about what the others are doing. You must embrace what is special about you.” That’s a lesson worth repeating, no matter your age.