The Lego Movie: A Lot of Fun, But Not Everything is Awesome

This weekend I actually went out to the cinema and saw The Lego Movie — in 3-D, no less! It was a fun time. The movie is laugh-out-loud funny with stuff that will make everyone laugh without the poop and fart jokes that seem to be de rigueur for kids’ movies, judging from the previews we saw. The voice acting was pretty good, but the real star of the show was Lego itself. The way the movie committed to a Lego world was fantastic, and the look-and-feel of everything was spot on. For a Lego fan like me, the touches were a lot of fun. I like that Lego made “The Lego Movie” with a thought of what exactly Lego was, and that was reflected a great deal in the script and action. In fact, a lot of the “building” sequences happened really fast and I kind of wished they were slowed down so I could really see it happening.

If you go see The Lego Movie you should have a generally good time. Just don’t think about it much.

Which I did. I’m sorry, I can’t help it.

So stop reading if you don’t want to see fun brutally murdered. Also there are spoilers.

Even a die-hard Lego fanatic like me knows that Lego has a problem with girls. They have made steps to address that, and although there are a lot of legitimate complaints there’s also a bunch of misinformed and just plain wrong foolishness. But it can’t be denied that this company has not had great success in talking or listening to girls. This movie doesn’t help it in that arena. There is only one major female character, Wyldstyle, who is mostly okay. She’s capable and smart. In fact, she is on her way towards being “The Special” of a prophecy when the main character, Emmet, just kind of bumbles his way into it. At that point, despite being more competent in every way than Emmet she is relegated to being his sidekick at best. She is otherwise presented as being Batman’s girlfriend and then Emmet’s girlfriend at the end. Since Emmet eventually proves to be more capable than Batman, this makes sense; the best man wins the only girl. It turns out the “prophecy” is just “made-up” in the end and everyone is potentially The Special (we’ll get to that in a moment) yet Wyldstyle is still an also-ran. She’s cool, confident, creative, and capable, but she’s still secondary to Emmet.

The other two female characters are a cat with wild mood swings and a toddler. Towards the end of the movie we discover that the conflict going on is between a Dad and his son. (There’s another female character in this portion, the mom, who exists only to call the men up to dinner. This also reveals that Wyldstyle, though a female figure, is still being controlled by a boy, so it’s okay.) We’ll talk about this conflict in a moment, but at the end, when they have come to an agreement and the son is allowed to play with his father’s creations, the father says that the boy’s sister will also get to. We then see Duplo-style creations appear and threaten the now tranquil environment. It’s a funny joke, but it’s really hard to not see the threat that allowing a girl to play seems to present. Again, given the prevalent view of Lego and girls, this seems like a big misstep.

Speaking of this conflict, this is also something that needs to not be thought about too much. The stated conflict is between Lord/President Business, who wants things orderly and by-the-instructions and the Master Builders, who are more creative and whimsical. When we get to the “real world” scene it’s the father who represents law and order and the son who represents creative chaos. Although they eventually come to an agreement that both sides have their strengths, this seems like an odd conflict for a Lego movie to present. Who does the father represent here? Who is it that is demanding everyone always follow the instructions? Who superglues Legos together, other than when creating something mean to be a permanent fixture (such as the Legoland models)? Even the dad in the film isn’t following instructions; the things he’s created that are off limits to the boys are still his own creations. The idea that you’re only being “creative” if you’re building wacky things with all kinds of crazy colors and pieces makes no sense for Lego to promote.

The other thread of the conflict involves conformity and, to as much extent as a movie based on a branded toy line can afford it, consumption (despite the bad guy being “President Business”, there really isn’t much of an anti-capitalist message here, despite some folks claiming such. “Lord Business” could have just as much been “Lord Order”). The orderly world of Brickopolis is shown with everyone walking in lockstep and all digging the same things. There’s a running joke of a song called “Everything is Awesome” which seems to want to be a parody of fluffy, “uplifting” party pop (it’s everyone’s jam). In the context of the movie, it seems pretty clear it’s supposed to be mindless pap. (The other song presented is Batman’s, which is just “DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! REALLY DARK!” and such.) However, not only is it being embraced completely straight-faced by fans, it’s a hard sell for the movie itself, considering its big lesson is, literally, that Everyone’s Special. So the movie’s arc goes from mocking the song as conformist junk to embracing it as a creative anthem.

I had a great time at the Lego movie. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll probably enjoy it. But I can’t deny that there were some things that bugged me. And it wasn’t like I went home and let it all stew in my head to come up with the troubling bits, they were occurring to me as I was watching.

I was, however, very glad when Benny got to build a spaceship.

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