I experienced the collective cringe we all felt at the announcement of The LEGO Movie. Does their avarice know no bounds? They’ve made billions of dollars, saturated childhoods for generations, moved into video games. Nobody doesn’t know what Lego is. Do they need the marketing? A movie at this point seems cynical, doesn’t it? It’s like Eddie Murphy moving from comedy to film and then to the hit 1985 single “Party All the Time.” It’s like, We get it! Everything you touch turns to gold.
The collective opinion on The Lego Movie indicates that they’ve nailed it. Here’s the premise: Everyman minifig Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) likes to follow the instructions and fit in with everyone else in Bricksburg. But he’s still lonely—he doesn’t fit in. That becomes a strength when he falls in love with Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a girl who shows up at his construction site after hours searching for the mythic “Piece of Resistance,” the only thing that can stop Lord Business’s (Will Ferrell) plan to use the doomsday device “The Kragle” to end life as Bricksburg knows it. Emmet accidentally fulfills a prophecy when he finds and touches the Piece of Resistance. As Bricksburg’s messiah, Emmet must team up with Wyldstyle, the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and a host of Master Builders. Master Builders are a special class of gifted minifigures with the ability to make virtually anything they can conceive of out of just what’s lying around. Master Builders do not have to “follow the instructions.” They follow their imaginations.
And so on. It’s The Matrix for kids. That’s not meant to be disparaging. The Matrix is a take on the Christ story for cyberpunk adults. It’s well-executed. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street) wrote and directed it. They do pretty much all of it in Lego. This is LEGO stop-animation at a very high level. It looks cool. These guys learned from Fantastic Mr. Fox that homespun effects like using wisps of cotton to create smoke doesn’t break the reality, it enhances it. The color palette is vibrant. If you’ve seen Chris Pratt on Parks and Rec, you know that he’s probably the most instantly endearing human on God’s green earth. The story is compellingly put together and snappily told.
But the movie didn’t really resonate with me. It’s not hard to resonate with me. I liked the RoboCop remake. The Matrix resonates with me. World War Z moved me. The first 15 minutes of Pixar’s UP probably constitute the most emotionally significant experience of the past 6 years for me, and that encompasses my first viewing of Tree of Life. (I’m making a joke, for fun, mostly.) I can’t necessarily say why I didn’t go nuts over The LEGO Movie. Part of it might be that it treads the same ground that Toy Story 2 does. But I don’t think that explains my apathy completely.
The movie holds the idea that everyone is special tightly. It offers a twist on the prophecy trope that undermines the idea of a fixed destiny. Emmet finds that he’s not the prophesied “Special.” But it doesn’t matter. In conflict with Lord Business, he says:
“You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you… still… can change everything.”
I’m not too terribly put off by this kind of language. I mostly agree that there’s much to be gained by pushing past what we or others perceive as our limitations. It runs directly counter to the wisdom of The Incredibles, which pushed the idea that “If everyone is special, then no one is.” That lesson is a hard lesson. And the lesson of The LEGO Movie feels easy. That could be much of it for me. It’s a well-executed movie. Strong storytelling, great production. But “we’re all special,” still feels like a great way to sell a movie, and sell a videogame, and sell more toys.