Rated PG for...um. How can Babe, a movie with blood and is live-action, get a G rating and The Lego Movie gets a PG? Here's me trying to figure out what direction the MPAA is taking this: It comments on commercialism? There is kinda sorta peril in the movie. There's some toy-on-toy comic violence? I mean, it's pretty tame guys. This? Writing this is a burden on me. It is so hard to figure out where the PG rating comes from. At one point, a prude might consider Wildsyle's dress in the Old West to be less than modest. But even that's a stretch. PG.
DIRECTORS: Christopher Miller and Phil Lord
I swear that I've written about this movie before! I've cited it so many times! I use The Lego Movie as the cornerstone for so many of my arguments that I'm a hypocrite. Still, apparently I haven't written about it before because it doesn't show up when I try linking things to it. I was so jazzed when my son picked this for his movie because I thought, "Oh, I've already written about this. Nothing to worry about." And then I checked. That's a real bummer, you know. Quarantine has gotten me to watch so many movies that I'm really working to play catch up. That's saying something, considering this is a daily blog.
I love The Lego Movie. I've said ths before and I'll say it again. Ironically, I was just complaining about Chosen One tropes yesterday talking about the most recent season of Doctor Who, so this all lines up with the fact that The Lego Movie is Exhibit A for my hypocrisy. I have always complained about the insane marketing and cross-promotion that films have. Listen, I get that all cinema isn't high art. But it is hard to defend a movie from every being art or even having quality when the movie is more concerned about selling a product than telling a story. The Wizard had potential in its narrative until the movie became all about selling Nintendo products. The Lost World: Jurassic Park bothers me because of how toyetic that movie is. (Toyetic was a word coined my studio execs to explain how this movie would help sell toys.) CastAway completely lost me when all of the FedEx boxes washed up ashore. There's something that really pulls me out of a movie when I'm aware that there's branding going on. It gets to the pit of my stomach, thinking that there's little attention to the value of the product as long as money is made. I'm not an idiot. I get that movies are made to make studios a criminal amount of money. That's the business. The business gets me stories to enjoy and I'll continue paying them for that opportunity. But Lord and Miller, whom I revere as geniuses, managed to take a crap property and turn it into something that transcends its conceit.
Legos are rad. I'm not saying that Legos aren't. But The Lego Movie is named after the product it was trying to sell. I love hot dogs, but I also think that "The Oscar Meyer Hot Dog Movie" sounds like a terrible name for a film. Lord and Miller don't necessarily strike me as Lego obsessed. What I do take them for is funny and nerdy. They get that it doesn't matter what the obsession is, it's what people love about that thing that matters. (For the syntax obsessed, I apologize right now for that last sentence.) The Lego Movie never really tries to hide what it is, but it does let you forget because it places storytelling and comedy first. Lego is never really seen to be a cool thing in the movie. Perhaps there's the consequence of Lego being cool, but the movie never asks you to take out money and spend it on the movie. Yet, the entire movie does look pretty cool. It is the flexibility of the product that is the only thing that is actively marketable in the movie. These guys cared about making something good, not just for Lego fans, but for movie fans. That's kind of the attitude to have in this era of filmmaking. Instead of saying, "Let's sell more toys", it's making licenses accessible for new viewers. You know how everyone's a Marvel expert now? That's because it was the same attitude.
But in terms of talking about the actual story, can I say something dangerous that is going to make me out to be the oldest man in the world? I agree with Dad. I know. I'm a bad guy for doing this. The entire movie is about being able to do whatever you want with your designs. Lord Business is obsessed with keeping the separate worlds. Initial reads of this theme are that Lego is supposed to be whatever you want it to be and stuffy Lord Business is trying to make it locked into one thing. I get that read. We want kids to express creativity and to expand what is considered normal. I love that. But the movie straight up drops a bomb on us at one point in the movie. Emmett leaves Lego world and we discover that everything that's going on in the movie is the product of the imagination of one kid playing with his dad's Lego. It's in this moment that the moral of the story is spelled out as tightly as it can be...except for a few lines. Dad's basement is a Lego heaven. It's something really special to Dad. He's spent years building his own Lego project and it is his passion. A quick glance at the movie makes it seem like Dad wants to horde the Lego all for himself. But Dad has purchased his kid a box of Lego. He doesn't want to build those Lego. He wants to build Dad's Lego.
Remember, I'm a fan of this movie so don't get angry with me. There are all these narratives that adults shouldn't grow up in every way possible. Adults are stuffy and boring and are all obsessed with business; hence the name "Lord Business". Dad's hobby is something that is considered by many to be childish. Instead of rewarding Dad for being passionate about something that he can share with his son (his son's box of Legos), he's supposed to kowtow to anything that's not his. As much as the son has this narrative going through his head, so does Dad. Why is Dad's story less valuable? If anything, Dad's story is more valuable because he was willing to put that kind of work and effort into creating a city. His son's desire to be involved with Dad? Great. I totally respect that. But think about how much Dad just wants to show how effort and dedication mean to finding joy. The kid totally has a right to make his own Lego worlds, but they shouldn't infringe on the joy of someone else. Again, this is a deep read that I've had about The Lego Movie for a while. I adore sharing my comic collection with my kids. I love sharing movies I love with them. But should I model good ownership to them as well? That basement is rad. It's totally rad. Yes, the kid is also good at Lego, but why not making something new instead of destroying something that someone put a lot of effort into? I know. I'm going off on The Lego Movie. But it always stares me straight in the face. That's kind of why The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part kind of undoes the rules of the first one. The son feels what it must be like to be Dad in the first movie.
But Emmett's story is the one we're caring for. I know, I focused a lot on the Dad and the Son, but that's the theme of the movie. So from Emmett's perspective, what is happening? For a Chosen One narrative, this one actually does flip some conventions on their heads. A common motif within the Chosen One narrative is the idea that it is someone who is ordinary that discovers greatness. Let's use Neo in The Matrix as our grounding element. Neo is mortified with how boring his life is. He's actively searching for his own (white male) greatness. When the world proves itself to be false, he goes through a series of trials and tribulations to shed the lies of his old life and embrace his new role as the savior of humanity. Emmett, however, finds his greatness in himself. There have always been expectations placed on Emmett to be somehow better than what he values. From an outside perspective, he's basic. He likes expensive coffee and whatever's on the radio. While I'm a huge snob, I can respect what the film is doing with these elements. Emmett...likes what he likes. Perhaps he does want a degree of acceptance, but that always seems secondary. He's a genuinely happy character who just keeps letting people down because he's somehow not more special. This actually makes Wildstyle such an excellent foil and, by extension, Batman as well.
Wildstyle is a poser. I'm Wildstyle, guys. Not always, but there are times. There's a reason that the movies I watch more often are in the basement, but the Criterion DVDs are upstairs on display. Part if it is because the art on Criterion DVDs are rad, but it is all of that attempt to gain street cred. But Wildstyle has devoted every waking moment of her life trying to redefine herself that she loses the point of it all. When she reveals that she knows all the words to "Everything is Awesome", coupled with the revelation that her name is Lucy, we actually get the tale of a lost girl who was so desperate for acceptance that she loses who she really is. It's in that moment that she sees herself in Emmett. Emmett likes what he likes. Part of it is because that is all that he has been exposed to, but also because the reaction is earnest. But it is important to remember that both Emmett and Wildstyle are dynamic characters.
Emmett's character arc takes him from a place of comfort to a place of challenge. A lot of this is done for the sake of humor, but it is remarkably telling that Emmett's mind is completely blank. He's never felt the need to challenge himself or to take risks. While his soul is honest and pure, it is lacking oxygen and food. It's when Emmett is forced to experience pure awe to help his friends that he realizes that these great things can actually happen. It's not that he doesn't want to be more cultured, but that he can't get good at something complex immediately...until the movie is almost over and then he can. (I'm not saying the movie is perfect. It still has the constraints of a runtime.) Wildstyle, in contrast, thinks that she has it altogether. She is so obsessed with finding value outside of herself that she destroys what made her great to begin with. I love the revelation that Wildstyle is the author of "Everything is Awesome" in the sequel because it is a wonderful backstory for the girl who is trying too hard. It's when she learns to love herself is when she learns to appreciate / love Emmett. She doesn't dislike Emmett because he's basic. She dislikes him because he reminds her of who she used to be. I get it. I always hate me nine years ago. But that's a story of self-esteem and I adore that.
I could analyze this movie all day. (Honestly, I'm running a bit dry right now and I'm looking at my clock.) But I also really want to stress that Lord and Miller get storytelling and that they get comedy. While I may not absolutely embrace every theme in the movie, it works for the sake of good filmmaking. I might be glad that the Lego movies are taking a bit of a break, but I will definitely see more if they make them.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.