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The Lego Movie: Review
Introduction and Summary:
The Lego Movie caught my eye mainly because I have sisters who are 8 and 9 but also because it was recommended by friggin' everyone. Did it live up to the hype? Mostly. I'll start by providing a quickie review of the movie now (possible spoilers to follow).
The Lego Movie takes place, obviously, in a city made out of Legos. Citizens of this city are living in a kind of happy but heavily authoritarian society, where everyone is handed rules to follow like automatons by the ruler, Lord Business.
Much like society in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, people in the Lego city are entertained throughout their rule-abiding days with mindless frivolity so that they don't realize that they're being oppressed.
The truth is, a long time ago, every Lego man and woman was free to travel to whatever Lego-world they desired and to build whatever they wanted. But Lord Business imposed his own fascist order on the place, separating the Lego people into various themed places.
So, average construction worker Emmet is out doing his average Joe construction worker stuff when he stumbles on a mystical bit of plastic he is told is the mystical "Piece of Resistance", and he runs into a girl calling herself Wild Style.
She tells Emmet that finding the Piece of Resistance makes him the prophesied Special, someone who will be so creative and talented as to be able to put the breaks on Lord Business' machinations for good.
The only problem is, as Emmet fumbles his way through adventures in a series of adjacent Lego-lands, Emmet doesn't feel special, let alone like "The Special". He's dull and uncreative, unlike the rest of the "master builders" he meets along the way (people in secret defiance of Lord Business), he rarely even has any original thoughts.
However, of course, like in any Hollywood action flick ever, Average Joe saves the day and gets the girl in the end. But hey, getting there is all of the fun.
The Lego Movie in many ways contains a lot of United States Big Movie Industry cliches that I'm pretty sick of, but that doesn't make it a bad movie.
Average guy becoming an action hero.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl saves man from a life of boredom.
Girl starts out as taken, but ends up with the main character by the end.
Ragtag bunch of misfits stick it to the man.
Fight a bad guy and win a girl.
And, another annoying thing about the movie was that they seemed like they were trying to just cram Lego franchises into the movie, even though most of them added little to the story other than background decoration.
But there is a lot this movie did well.
The side characters were probably the most interesting example of the "ragtag bunch of misfits" I've seen in a while.
Lego really shines here with its creative animation and Lego-based world-building. This is Lego doing what it does best; creating imaginative fantasy worlds in which children's creativity can flourish.
The main tension in the movie is about how Legos should be used and not used. It's also about a struggle between anarchy and totalitarianism.
It asks, how much control should individuals have to build their own lives?
Rating for The Lego Movie: 8/10
Here are also a few interesting philosophical ideas I think the movie touches on:
In the Lego Movie, the good guys are called Master Builders, and they are defined by their creativity and individuality.
What sets them apart from the rest of Lego society is that they don't just follow the rules. As in, there is literally a rule-book for Lego people, and most people follow it.
The Master Builders reject this, preferring to create their own reality. This tramples on preconceived ideas about order and rules. That infuriates the dad/Lord Business, who wants everything to be neat and orderly.
The Master Builders all have unique personalities. Their personalities are expressed by their unconventional building ideas.
In philosophy, religion, and psychology, the idea of "self" is very important.
Individual perception of the self is a major concept in humanist psychology. In The Lego Movie, the Master Builders are all unapologetic about their uniqueness. They free themselves to create the world around them, instead of following some overbearing political authority's rules for how that world is supposed to look.
This is a good metaphor for real-world artists, who have an impulse to create for themselves, not for the sake of pleasing others or maintaining some kind of tradition-based status quo.
In the absence of these creative impulses, the only other choice left to the Lego-people is "obey the rules".
This would make them less like sentient beings, reducing them to automaton-like objects made to populate some other person's vision of a utopian society.
Creativity then, is what makes people (and unikitties) sentient beings, rather than objects or machines.
For centuries of human history, the dominant form of political organization has been autocratic, whether talking about princes, kings, queens, emperors, etc.
Throughout more recent history, in the 20th century and today, totalitarian regimes still try to cling to this idea of "kingdom" or "empire" that is dying out,gradually but surely.
Over time, we have seen many authoritarian governments topple, and the general trend seems to be toward democratization and decentralization. This has a lot to do with technology. Weapons technology in particular has become so advanced that the usual way of building an empire, war, is decreasing, due to the threat presented by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
But improvements in communication and information technology have been even more instrumental to this trend.
Authoritarian governments rely on secrecy. A well-informed citizenry boosts a country's potential for success as a democracy. Old authoritarian regimes, such as the Nazis or the Russian Bolsheviks, relied on threatening citizens with a fear of the world outside their borders.
This is exemplified by Orwell's 1984, in which perpetual warfare against some external threat is used to keep the citizens of Oceania in a constant state of fear and rage, so that the people spend their energy energy occupied by that fear, not even daring to imagine rebellion or question the way things are.
In The Lego Movie, what really changes Emmet's perspective of society is travel to other worlds within the Lego world.
He realizes through this experience that life is not just what he thought it was. He learns that there is not just one culture and way of doing things, that the world is beautiful in its complexity and diversity.
Just like in North Korea or Stalin's Russia, travel outside is restricted under Lord Business, because people bringing in outside influences and experiencing the full diversity of the world presents a threat to the dictator's ideal order.
Fictional Role Models
In The Lego Movie, superheroes and many other fictional characters are Master Builders. Batman becomes one of the main team of Master Builders. The movie obviously does this to cram as many recognizable beloved children's characters into the movie as possible to sell merchandise.
But, what I find interesting is that the characters like Superman and Wonder Woman, despite their amazing superpowers in their own stories, are merely mentors and advisers to the main characters in this story.
Maybe they wanted to avoid having a hero that makes the story boring by being too powerful.
But this also reflects the way that in real life, we can draw strength and inspiration from fictional role models. Superman doesn't really swoop in to save anyone in this movie, but he doesn't need to. His supporting role in the film is actually a lot like the supporting role he might play in a fan of his' life: more of an ideal to look up to than actual person.
This movie is somewhat lacking in narrative creativity, and sometimes a little cheesy. However, it is still one of the best American children's movies to come out in a while. It is a delight to watch, and features some great characters.
It also features some imaginative world-building, and is probably worth looking at just for the impressive animation and design.
It also has a lot of heart, exploring the father-son relationship, as well as the larger symbolic conflict between order and chaos, or between totalitarianism and creative free will.