With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Lord and Miller’s The Lego Movie is up.
For the uninitiated, it was easy to take one look at the mere concept of The Lego Movie and declare it as another example of how low Hollywood has stooped in recent years. Taking one of the most beloved childhood playthings, throwing in a bunch of pop culture characters that Warner Bros has the rights to, and turning it into a feature length animated film. On paper, it sounds like the most ridiculous idea for a kids’ film since Space Jam. But for those of us in the know, those of us who knew what to expect from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same geniuses behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, we could all see early on that there was something more to this unreal concept.
For the kids, The Lego Movie is an imaginative adventure. But for us adults, it’s essentially a child-friendly Paul Verhoeven film
Upon finally being released, the expectations of those excited and those doubtful began to coalesce. The Lego Movie became an instant classic. But beyond the pure insanity of an entire movie animated to look like a stop motion fan film or seeing Batman interacting with Han Solo, The Lego Movie is far more than just simple entertainment. As good as the recent animated output from the likes of Disney and DreamWorks has been, those studios still offer very simple stories with basic moral lessons, without delving much deeper than that.
The Lego Movie still does all that for sure, with its messages about encouraging creativity and the balance between order and chaos, but there is more to it than meets the eye. For the kids, The Lego Movie is an imaginative and hilarious adventure full of great characters and gorgeous animation. But for us adults, it is essentially a child-friendly Paul Verhoeven film; especially ironic considering it was released around the same time as the neutered RoboCop remake. Much like how Verhoeven’s RoboCop and Starship Troopers spoofed 1980s business and military propaganda respectively, The Lego Movie comments on the dilution and conglomeration of today’s world.
Coffee costs $37, the same annoying but catchy song plays on the radio over and over, the most popular show on television consists of only one gag, and everyone must follow the instructions if they want to fit in. The entire world is owned by a corporation that not only controls all media, but also manufactures “surveillance systems, all history books [and] voting machines.” Our main character, Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), starts unknowingly caught up in the grips of this regime, mindlessly following the instructions and remaining oblivious to his world’s darker intentions even when they’re right in front of him.
The Lego Movie is also a biting satire of the traditional hero’s journey storyline that is the basis for most genre fare these days
It’s a ridiculously exaggerated version of our world, but its connection to it is still strong and the message valid, and to see a major studio film be as openly critical as this is a wonder in and of itself. Some radical conservatives have accused The Lego Movie of being liberal propaganda which, as ridiculous as the claim is, actually just gives the film more credibility. When a kids’ film that features Dumbledore, Gandalf, Wonder Woman and Shaquille O’Neal can get people talking about politics, there’s obviously something to it whether the subtext is intentional or not.
The Lego Movie is also a biting satire of the traditional hero’s journey storyline that is the basis for most genre fare these days. Ever since George Lucas read the works of Joseph Campbell and used them to essentially create a formula for a classic story, every movie and its dog has involved a prophesised chosen one who must face his destiny to overthrow a dark overlord. The Lego Movie parodies this by essentially following the generic beats of a hero’s journey story to the letter, but exaggerating everything.
All the archetypes are there: the naïve hero plucked from obscurity, the wise old mentor who guides our hero, the cynical sidekick who gets all the action, the evil villain who seeks to control all. There’s a huge amount of familiarity to the storyline, but that only makes it funnier when they break the mould. Wyldstyle, the usually highly competent ass kicker, is actually so insecure that she keeps changing her name and hairstyle. Batman, the brooding dark knight, only uses his image to cover up how shallow he actually is. Vitruvius, the all-knowing sage, turns out to have made the whole prophecy up. And our villain, Lord Business, is defeated not with might, but with reasoning.
Following the instructions can help, but imagination keeps everything interesting, and that’s what the creative industry needs
They say you can only parody something if you love it, and its clear that Lord & Miller love these classic story tropes. There’s an unbridled sense of enthusiasm and originality exuding from every aspect of The Lego Movie, and it’s clear this was a movie not crafted purely from a business standpoint. Yes, it is a highly commercial film that’s based on a toy and will help to sell more toys, but it’s commercialism at its best. In an age where so many films are made to create a profit or sell a product rather than simply entertain, it’s so satisfying to see a movie that can do that but also have something to say about it; to not only stand up to those films, but also challenge their authority.
Emmet learns that following the instructions can help, but imagination is always needed to keep everything interesting, and that’s what the creative industry really needs. The status quo is already starting to change, with not only The Lego Movie going on to be a massive success, but a certain other irreverent and bizarre film starring Chris Pratt becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year. Good movies will get made as long as we make sure to support them, and if you’re someone who’s still writing off The Lego Movie as a corporate cash grab, then honestly you’re just a part of the problem.
All images: Warner Bros