Mon
Feb 10 2014 11:00am

We Are All the Special! The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m really not the biggest Lego fan. Not in terms of the constructive toy, of course—but a while back it really started to disturb me that there was a Lego version of practically everything, and that Lego versions of popular media properties had their own separate fans. The fact that there are people who like Lego Indiana Jones completely apart from the filmed character is just plain odd to me.

That said, if you like fun, you’ll probably really enjoy The LEGO Movie. And then you’ll be terrified at what you just bought into.

Spoilers below for the film.

To briefly recap the basics of the film, there’s a really boring Lego construction worker named Emmett who works in a giant Lego city where everything is sort of vacant and by-the-numbers. He accidentally finds an item called “The Piece of Resistance” (yes, you read that right) and finds out that there’s a prophecy about him—he is meant to be The Special, a person who stops the evil President Business from destroying all of Lego-dom with The Kragle.

The LEGO Movie

What you realize as a human is that Kragle is simply Krazy Glue with some letters scratched off, and that the famed Piece is simply the cap to it. Wyldstyle, the action-lady Lego who saves Emmett from immediate destruction, explains that all the Lego dimensions used to bleed together and the Master Builders (cool Legos with ideas!) just created whatever they wanted all the time. When President Business came into power, he walled off all the dimensions into separate areas, got rid of the Master Builders, and is planning to use the Kragle to freeze all Legos permanently like a monument. After lots of adventures, it seems as though Emmett is bound to fail in his mission to stop President Business, but we’re finally shown the other side of the reality wall...

It turns out that all these Lego dimensions were created and owned by one dad, and his son keeps trying to rearrange things, to build something new. Dad is determined to model up-to-spec manual-perfect Lego worlds and make them permanent with the use of super glue. But when he gets a better look at his son’s creations, he realizes that he’s missing something and has a change of heart. He asks his son what Emmett would say to President Business, and his son tells him that he would say Business doesn’t have to be a villain. That they could play and build and that everyone had the ability to be The Special. Dad and his son begin playing together.

Yes, the realization of the plot is bound to make you teary. You spend the movie waiting for the reveal (it’s clearly coming from the beginning), and it really doesn’t disappoint. Frankly, we’ve all seen it; even if you have no children of your own, most of us have witnessed parents trying to “teach” their children how to properly play with toys. As though there is anything proper or teachable about creativity and play in the first place.

The LEGO Movie

There’s a lot of smart humor packed into this script, which is the number one selling point of the film, and makes it great for both kids and adults. The city Emmett occupies is a horrifying comment on mundane and everyday modern living. Workers do everything by the manual, complete menial tasks with the help of a single brainwashing pop tune, and everyone watches the same crap TV show every day (aptly titled “Where Are My Pants?” which feels like every horrible sitcom ever).

Because Lego has so many licensing deals, lots of great characters pop up in the film, most of them DC superheroes with a few memorable Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter cameos thrown in for fun. Batman takes up the majority of licensed screentime because he’s Wyldstyle’s boyfriend. What’s great about this version of Batman is that he’s written like every crack fanfic and goofy internet comic come to life—the parody of a parody of Batman. He plays a song for Wyldstyle that he wrote for her “about how he’s an orphan.” Everything has to be built as a bat-version of whatever it’s meant to be. And he’s given all the best incredulous one-liners the script has to offer. In other DC news, Green Lantern is basically treated like the weird annoying cousin that no one wants to be seen with, which is particularly scathing after his solo box office bomb. Liam Neeson has the most fun in this movie by just being himself to the max as Bad Cop/Good Cop.

The movie does accidentally highlight some of the biggest problems with the Lego brand, however. The lack of female mini-figs means that there are basically only two female characters in a script full of men, and one of them is a unikitty. (Although Unikitty is totally awesome.) While Batman is great, Wonder Woman makes an appearance only to be immediately packed away. Diversity isn’t big either, but we do at least have Morgan Freeman voicing the Wise Guide role. The nostalgia button gets hit hard in this movie as well with classic figures and sets—which is a very clear technique being employed to distract from the most disturbing aspect of this theater-going experience...

The LEGO Movie

The most unsettling factor about the movie overall, is that it is ultimately one giant commercial. No matter how fun or clever the script is, you cannot escape the fact that this is a film about why Legos are awesome and why you should want to play with them. The message the story drives home is wrapped up in that advertisement, all down to how special we are for having imaginations that allow us to build great things... out of Legos. A child isn’t going to be bothered by it, but adults will have a hard time ignoring it (especially when a viewing leads to a demand for more Legos, which it very likely will). There are certainly much scarier brands that could make a movie like this, but that doesn’t soothe the awkwardness of the ploy.

Basically, they got you to pay money to watch a one hundred minute commercial. They got you to do it, and like it.

Look, we all know that a majority of kid’s films are made with merchandising in mind. Disney has already got loads of figures, stuffed animals, and collectables ready for every animated film they release. But at least the stuff comes after in that case. Watching a movie about Legos makes you realize this can be done in reverse, and it can be done well.

And that may make for some very scary movies in our future.


Emily Asher-Perrin enjoyed the heck out of that movie... and feels a little unclean for it. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

20 comments
Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
I was surprised when the movie went meta and outside of the Lego World. But that fits in with the "movie as commercial".

OTOH, the movie undercuts Lego's current marketing strategy, which is to sell "lego sets" where you can build specific vehicles and properties. The movie clearly marks that imagination and building what you want is important too.
Lauren Hartman
2. naupathia
I dunno, the whole "movie is a commercial" part didn't bother me, and it wasn't nearly as "in your face", to me, as you claim. But then maybe I'm just used to everything being a commercial or propaganda for *something* so I tend to ignore that part and try to enjoy what is there. Besides, how can you have a movie *about* Legos and it not feel like a commercial? It's a movie *based* on a toy.

I certainly didn't leave the theater thinking "Man, I need to buy Legos" - so if it was only meant to be a commercial, it failed in that respect. I also don't have children, so maybe that helps.

I thought the movie was really cute and funny, had some great lines and scenes, and the message was delivered well. I really did not expect Will Ferrel to actually be in the movie (I mean, I knew we'd get to the "real world" eventually but him actually being the dad since he was the voice of the villian was awesome). Overall I really liked it, and was not at all off-put by the idea of a movie based on a toy that will obviously read a bit like a commercial.
Alright Then
3. Alright Then
How is this any different than a movie adapted from a video game? Been there, done that, but finally it looks like someone made one worth watching.
Alright Then
4. Athreeren
Battleship was released in 2012. And it's not impossible that Monopoly will be completed one day (I'd rather not talk about Hungry Hungry Hippos). Clearly, it could have been much worse. This Lego movie seems to have done what it was supposed to do (a giant commercial that is faithful to the product), in a way that is entertaining, so I don't see the problem. It's not like you were surprised to see product placement in a Lego movie.
Alright Then
5. alreadymadwithbricks
For me it brought back fun times as a boy when I sat down with some bricks building whatever came to mind.
Alright Then
6. BenjaminJB
I also really enjoyed this film, everything from the LEGO jokes (when they quickly flash some discontinued lines on the screen) to the pop-cult jokes (Batman's song: "Darkness! No parents!").

And, abstracted from the commercial aspect of the movie, there seems to be a dual message here of both "doing your own thing, trusting yourself" (Emmet's main problem at the beginning is that he's too interested in what others are doing/doing things by the numbers); and "working together as a community/team" (the Master Builders' main problem is that they can't work together). And that's a message I can get behind.

(Curiously, Will Ferrell's dad suffers both problems: a by-the-numbers builder who can't work with others. His son is the inverse: interested in making up stuff with his dad (though not his sister).)

I do take seriously how this movie highlights the diversity issues of LEGO. I was dreading/hoping that it would bring in the girl-marketed LEGO FRIENDS line.

As for the commercial aspect, I sort of have to shrug. Is the AVENGERS not a two-hour commercial for all the AVENGERS-branded merchandise (video games, comic books, tv shows, action figures)? The only difference here is that the LEGOS you buy have a closer resemblance to what you see on the screen. That doesn't make this a more commercial work, I think.

(And, as others have commented, this sort of thing has happened before, where a product preceded the media: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN came after the ride; the GI JOE tv show and comics came after the original action figures; etc.)
Bruce Arthurs
7. Bruce-Arthurs
Oh my God, you mean I'm not the only person in the world who finds Lego mini-figs kind of creepy?
Alright Then
8. HadaGreatTime
No one mentioned the theme song? I saw the movie Saturday night and I still can't get 'Everything is Awesome' out of my head. I went with my son, who at 14 is still into Legos and we both really enjoyed it. The inside jokes and asides kept us laughing the whole way through.
Rob Munnelly
9. RobMRobM
Emily - what an Awesome review. But where are your pants?
S Cooper
10. SPC
The extra nostalgia boost of the blue 1980s astronaut really got me (being a 1980 child myself). By the end of the movie, I was cracking up every time he was on screen ("Spaceship!") and my daughter was shushing me.
Evie Manieri
11. eviemanieri
@PrinceJvstin makes an excellent point about how they've oddly - and wonderfully - undercut their own marketing strategy. Granted, my daughter already has Legos, but the movie didn't inspire her to ask for more. It did inspire her to dump all of her carefully-segregated sets out onto the floor and mix them all up - including the Spongebob sets she hasn't touched in five years - and then build some crazy medieval helicopter thing.
Alright Then
12. Jordan360
I found out I was the villain after seeing the movie. I buy Legos that my kids aren't allowed to play with. I suck. (They do get their own sets, though.)
James Whitehead
13. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
My wife took our two sons to see this over the weekend and they all loved it; including my wife who didn't play with Legos as a child.

The new joke in the family is the question, when one does/says something stupid, "Are you on the Kragle?" My youngest also loved how the movie tweaked the nose of the entire Batman Franchise, figuratively speaking.

Not terribly concerned that the movie may be one huge commercial for Lego; it is definitely a major lovefest for the toy, however. There are movies that are far more problematic in this regards; not to mention at the cartoon tv 'shows' that exist simply to sell the next action figure/doll/stuffed animal line.

Also, Legos are awesome and all children should play with them - my wife & I have always been big believers in buying toys for our children that require imagination; toys that they have to make up the story or the noises as they play.

Kato
Eric Hughes
14. CireNaes
Took my 7 year old son to see it for a boys night out. On the whole it was fine with some fun character jokes.

A few oddities:

1) Good Cop/Bad Cop voiced by Liam Neeson came off as vocally lethargic to me. I don't know whether to attribute that to the vocal director or the actor.
2) Morgan Freeman did a great job as the Wise Guide. Then he was beheaded. So the only character who dies is the black/ethnic character.
3) The script writers bring back said black/ethnic character as a ghost on a dental floss string. Unless you look really closely, it looks like the string is tied around the characters neck. I know they were going for a visually funny, "Ghost flies in on string" thing, but it really missed the mark for me. I said, "Holy crap!" out loud in the movie theater before I realized where the string was looped.
Alright Then
15. elvensnow
@14 It's sad that that's the first place your mind goes. I didn't even think it looked remotely like a hanging or anything. It seemed natural that if you were to try and make a figurine "float" that you would tie it to string...

As far as "the only black character dies" well 1) his Lego character wasn't black, so does it even really count? and 2) why are we even discussing race in a freakin Lego movie, THEY'RE ALL YELLOW. Sigh.
Alright Then
16. Chandra26
It didn't really strike me as just a commercial. And it's not like Lego is the first or anything. Barbie has been making movies based on a toy for years now. I know, my daughter has owned damned near all of them at one point or another. And gotta say, the Lego movie was way more entertaining than all the Barbie movies combined.
Eric Hughes
17. CireNaes
Sad, why sad? If you're not comfortable with a certain topic that's been expressed in a respectful manner then fine, but personal jabs at my character are unnecessary.

All the other "movement through the air" aspects were visualized on screen using unassisted animation techniques. The laser bolts moved without strings, the batarangs moved without strings, the canon balls, Superman, all of the vehicles, every single character jumping around...nope, don't think I've missed anything.

Then the animation team switches it up for a visual gag. Which as I said, speaking for myself, looked really off, both from a standpoint of consistant production design and the framing of the establishing shot.

I don't think it was intentional per say, but I do think it was a bad decision.


You should also get an eye exam.
Marty Beck
18. martytargaryen
Saw the movie last night w/ my wife and kids (12, 14). They both loved it and I loved this review.
I even made jokes to my son about it being a giant commercial, but it did not bother us.
Alright Then
19. russr
#17,

I saw the string as a sign of the blending between the two worlds rather than a visual gag. It was the literal "hand of the builder" shaping events.
Eric Hughes
20. CireNaes
I recognize that's what they were going for and the connection was implied by previous references to "the Man Upstairs."

It was also played for a laugh. I don't think it worked and it didn't make sense from a standpoint to continuity in production design and animation (as I've stated before) as well as the placement in the storyline sequence since the string was used before Emmet falls off the table/out of the tower into the whirling storm vortex when the movie's internal fourth wall is clearly broken visually.

I still enjoyed the movie. I'm not trying to ruin it for people. I still think it's worth seeing. My original list was labeled as "a few oddities" as in, this could have been done better because it doesn't play particularly well in the movie.

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