Our toddler didn’t like The Lego Movie. I’ve learned over time that there’s really no better barometer for how I’ll end up feeling about a lot of things. Our toddler loves Frozen, so Frozen is compelling. Breakfast at the dank college pub is superior to the once a month Beatles themed brunch at the posh restaurant because our toddler prefers their pancakes.
So, while seemingly everyone thinks everything about The Lego Movie is awesome, I know there’s something rotten in trademark.
The Lego Movie is, first and foremost, a toy commercial. I know. I know that sounds trite and obvious. So obvious, in fact, that a lot of reviews take it for granted with a knowing wink and move on. Sure, it’s a toy commercial, a parade of registered international licensed properties. But is it a good movie? Maybe it is. Superbowl commercials can be as entertaining as the game.
It’s pretty, in a LEGO® way. It’s action-packed, in a LEGO® way. And it’s clever, in a LEGO® way.
You can see what I’m doing here. And the viewer can see what The Lego Movie is doing. It’s offering up a wry postmodern ironic take on its lack of sincerity and its status as a toy commercial. Juxtaposition, shock, and bricolage fuel the cynically arch humor. It’s custom fit for Gen-X parents brought to you by two Gen-X dudes. In the same way The Matrix congratulated us for going to college, The Lego Movie mocks us for ever thinking that was profound.
The narrative is the same. It’s every postmodern narrative. The protagonist cannot see the world as it is. This happens on both levels of the story, actually. And the protagonist chooses, not to be a hero, but to confront the metanarrative dominating his story. Again, this happens on both levels. That’s not special. It’s just the same story told twice. They reinforce one another.
The Lego Movie is particularly pernicious, though. In a lot of those narratives, there’s at least a simulation of real challenge to patriarchal capital. There are stakes that, while bathetic and melodramatic, question authority. Here, the tension is all about play. Do you follow the directions or make up your own? You know, in a LEGO® way.
The film isn’t merely a catalog of Lego licensors. It’s actually structured as a toy commercial; with about two thirds animated fantasy followed by a hyperrealized demonstration of actual play.
The emotional crux of The Lego Movie is nested in this final third, which is objectively quite clever. Having dealt with archetypal ciphers for much of the movie, the viewer is plunged along with the plastic protagonist into an environment with an entirely different, more immediate set of stakes and required to reorient herself.
Well. Him. Self. Since the male protagonist concretely supercedes the female lead. Despite being the talented firebrand of the story she’s subservient to and dependent upon the overwhelmingly male cast. We didn’t need Emmet, but we got him.
Maintaining the frenetic pace of the Lego narrative, these sequences are effective insofar as they give the viewer the opportunity to invest in them. For me, there were missing pieces. I got it. It just didn’t stick.
The conflicts on both sides of the bifurcation are resolved through play. In a LEGO® way. The narrative, whatever it was, is recuperated into the Lego ethos. The young build for fun and the old build for realism.
The Lego Movie is a child’s-eye view of where power lies and the fanciful notions of detournement we allow ourselves. Senseless stories set against a rigid reality. But always a reality overdetermined by a carefully constructed system of interlocking parts.
You can make Metalbeards and Double Decker Couches out of spare parts. But you don’t have to. As long as you have $250. They even come with directions.