I normally write about video games here. This is about the Lego Movie.
The Lego Movie is a fascinating piece of entertainment. It’s a double-meta-commentary; it is a not merely a thing which is about itself, but a thing which is about the nature of it being about itself, and I readily admit that I am a complete sucker for such works.
The Lego Movie is a film about how, given the full freedom of his imagination, a child raised on modern entertainment products will develop for himself a narrative which exalts the ideal of non-conformity while in and of itself completely conforming to formula. That while children have been raised to understand the concept that blind conformity is bad, they are still going to conform to the reality tunnel laid out for them. That, to whit, given infinite possibility space the narrative that a young man raised by our pop culture will tend to create for himself is one that conforms to the prescribed monomyth in almost every way, because that is the ur-narrative, a narrative which contains both the symbolic birth and resurrection and the literal atonement with the father, as created by a marketing company to put in the mouth of a child to create, in circles and in circles forever.
A bet my husband refused to even take: whether or not there existed a kit to create an exact duplicate of WyldStyle’s motorcycle, featured in the film specifically as something she creates extemporaneously using her power of free-wheeling genius and without instructions, now whittled down to a specific set of Legos you may buy with specific pieces and instructions. Of course this exists, and of course you too can create with painstaking accuracy the exact situation as shown in the film. If you do this, please, Krazy Glue all the pieces together, and offer it up on an altar as the final gift for the Irony Gods.
“Why can’t you just enjoy this film which is a film for children” – because I’m supposed to question it; it itself told me to, please look at this lyric:
Everything is awesome
When you’re living your dream
Which is to say the pre-described dream that we have personally assigned to you, you cog in this orderly dream-machine; whether other dreams may exist have yet to be determined
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
and in that team you have a specific role to play, whether or not you accept or reject the job chip: Hooray, I’m a delivery boy!
Let’s talk about Women as Temptress in The Lego Movie – this doesn’t happen – except, it does happen; WyldStyle is non-conforming and marches to the beat of her own drummer and changes her hair and name all the time but it is only in releasing her self-definition by returning to her boring old conforming original name does she find self-actualization (and also get the man “who deserves her”) (and become possibly her true self who she was all along deep inside). What she is tempting our hero to do is be someone different; what he convinces her to do is be slightly more the same, and in that she becomes the hero she was always destined to be, which is to say she becomes second-banana to the actual hero, like any good female lead should.
Let me be clear I am not criticizing the Lego Movie for adhering to a formula while being about not adhering to formula. I am in fact, in awe of the way it manages to do that. WyldStyle is clearly second banana but she is still cool, and she’s still cool in a way she largely chose for herself; she dresses like a Goth and dates Batman, and it’s unlikely anyone will ask her to stop doing the first thing. But she is a type of cool we understand – as she must be, as we must – because a film for children made with Legos only has so much time to attempt to describe its message to us.
It is a funny, clever movie. It is quintessentially a product of its time – the production design, the sense of humor. There are pop-cultural references, but I don’t think they will make the film dated, largely because they consisted of gently mocking characters that have already been around for decades by which I mean especially Batman. The difference between Michelangelo and Michaelangelo was properly noted in this film. The 1980s Space Lego Guy was included in the cast exactly for olds like me; of course I had the 1980s Space Lego Guy, and all the playsets that went along with him, except in my play some of the Space Guys were actually women because of course they ought to be because women go into space too. (It actually wouldn’t have hurt anything at all for Lego Guy to have been a woman in this version as well, and then she and the unicorn kitty could talk to each other, about the computer, but here I am only nitpicking about the personal play I indulged in as a child.)
There is no possible way that I (a Transformers fan, with so many toys and T-shirts and posters) can say anything damning about product placement as a method by which to develop a creative universe and story. I have no quarrel with The Lego Movie at all on this matter. Licensed toys can create “pure” play – as they did in my childhood exactly the way in this movie described, by mixing them all up and creating the play version of crossover fan-fiction. I am glad the film is able to recognize how imagination can fill in the gaps. What is interesting is the form not of the described world that has been set out but how we eventually structure even that imagination.
If you have children, see The Lego Movie with your children, but then talk to your children about The Lego Movie, if you at all find that possible. I know I probably wouldn’t, but I don’t have children, so I am in no place to actually give this advice. I can barely say anything coherent to a supposed audience of mostly adults, but, here goes anyway:
What The Lego Movie says and what it is are two different things; we know how to listen to what it says and we internalize that message to be different and be special, and yet we do not know how to actually do what it says and – what is beautiful and inevitable about it is – neither does it. The best it can offer is that we should mix and match things a little bit more, but if we get lost along the way, here are the exact instructions on how to mix and match the things we want to get pleasing results. And these instructions are important; without these instructions the end results will end up all wibbly-wobbly, cats and unicorns making babies and repressing their feelings, and we don’t want that but we don’t know what else we want that isn’t just another version of a hero story or another version of utopia.