I Don’t Know Parks and Rec – Lego Movie Review
First, I must address the uncharacteristic absence of myself upon the prior Friday. For those rife with worry and concern, I can confirm that I had most grievously been stricken by that most deadly of contagions – the flu. It had been of my utmost concern to do my daily work but between preparations for the arrival of the dear kin to our home and my own flight from the plague ridden halls my sister haunted, I had not succeeded in preparing some words in advance. Consequently, when the day of postage arrived, I was struck down mercilessly beneath my malady and spent most of the sun’s hours unconscious and in a fitful state. My recovery, however, is arrived and thus I am able to scribble towards you now.
Course, my goal isn’t to spend the entire day discussing with you sickness and suffering. Instead, I want to talk about the Lego Movie.
Yes, the Lego Movie.
This film, by all promotional material, was quite obviously a Derek movie. I mean, it even featured Will Arnett (of Arrested Development fame) as Batman and if that doesn’t have Derek written all over it than I don’t know what does. I hadn’t seen any trailers or really anything about the film, mostly because when I go to the theatre it isn’t to see children’s entertainment. In fact, it’s been awhile since I have seen anything directed at a child. Even Disney, that great malicious blackhole that pulls in infants and adults alike, had failed to pull me or my family to one of its awful attempts to milking older creative works for every copyrightable ounce they could.
Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes for the feature but, because I’m such a wonderful friend, I was willing to see it for Derek’s sake anyway. Surely, you all are on the edge of your seats awaiting my verdict. Well, I shan’t keep you in the dark for long.
The Lego Movie is weird.
There is truly no other way to describe the film. It’s bizarre. It’s non-standard. It’s off kilter. It’s a peculiar little creation that left me thinking about it long after the ending credits rolled and the audience was reminded one last time that “Everything is Awesome!”
But why this confusion? Well, I’m not entirely convinced that the Lego Movie is a children’s film. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t designed with children in mind. It was targeted, almost locked on and homing in on the youngest generation capable of producing speech and willing to put forth any amount of effort to getting their bum in a seat before it. All of its components are simple and digestible for the little ones. It’s bright and colourful. The pace is frenetic as it careens between showy extravagance and goofy exploits. The dialogue is digestible and much care is taken to scrub it clean of any possible offense from its initial presentation. The characters are simple with direct arcs and uncomplicated personalities… for the most part. For a good half of the film, you could be lulled into gentle repose by the mind numbing banality of its narrative, kept awake by the sheer creativity of its visual effects as the animators explore a building block world with far more exuberance and ingeniousness than any child will ever display.
And then suddenly the movie plunges off the edge of the map. Gleefully, I should add.
As it turns out, The Lego Movie is my favourite kind of media. It is thematic and every character and theme is purposeful in exploring those themes. Consequently, there are some unexpected narrative twists that will most certainly turn some audiences off of the whole spectacle. There is risk, of all things, in a god damn Lego Movie. I can not stress how utterly bewildering this is in this day and age. And it is with regret that I have to draw attention to how rare this is.
You see, there’s a funny thing about children’s movies – and children’s entertainment in general – that the Lego Movie highlights in grand fashion. I have no idea who this stuff is directed at. At the end of the day, the Lego Movie is most certainly not targeted at children. Its messages and themes are wrapped up in irony: a concept infants under five or six years of age are going to struggle with simply due to developments of their cognitive functions. The grandest theme the movie itself is exploring is wrapped in tradition and rigid adherence to classical methods versus creative freedom, a conversation skirting quite close to copyright and the discourse surrounding those laws – themes that I can’t imagine are pinging on prepubescent radars. And it’s a Lego Movie. There’s no way that teenagers are going to be the primary market for a children’s toy line.
No, the narrative focus seems most assuredly directed at adults though with about the surface complexity as your typical children’s fare. There’s clearly been placed a lot of work and effort in communicating the writers’ themes in this piece, something that is most unusual for the genre it’s in. Let’s face it, people don’t hold much expectations for children’s movies. Check Rotten Tomatoes and the vast majority of the time, the highest rated movies in theatres are typically children’s shows. Does this mean that children’s shows are our best products?
Well, of course not. Had we not a separate category for them at the Oscars and they would almost never receive any recognition. Instead, there’s a general consensus that we don’t need to be harsh or critical in our assessment of a children’s movie because it’s “just for children.” However, this is a sentiment I vehemently oppose. And the Lego Movie is the perfect example why.
Watch the first section of the Lego Movie as Emmet goes through Builder’s World (or whatever the hell the construction setting is called). It is a fascinating if not poignant example of just why we should be equally critical of children’s movies if not more critical than an average film. This media is, essentially, propaganda for the most impressionable members of our society. Emmet’s world is very much the epitome of a collectivist totalitarian society. It is run by the villain President Business who enforces a strict code of conduct on his people through a Rulesbook they all read and follow every morning that details the exact business of their lives which the citizens are expected to adhere and maintain with a smile and song. This regime is worked into every aspect of their lives, even their music and entertainment is dictated by the Rulebook and everyone watches the same show and listens to the same song day in and out with a smile. Obviously, despite the facade of cheerfulness, we’re presented with the extreme of a socialist dystopia which is immediately countered with the introduction of “master builders” – individuals capable of bending the fabric of their very world through their individual creative genius. It’s the age old collectivism vs individualism dynamic with such a sickeningly severe condemnation of collectivism ideals and socialist stances.
Let me take a moment to highlight this. The opening act of the Lego Movie focuses most of its time communicating to children that co-operation and community are terrible things and should be abandoned instead in the name of personal glory and fame.
While this is certainly trumpeting the typical “American Dream” I have to wonder if this is the moral that we want to express to our kids. And it’s not like you can really shake your head and just say “Well, it’s a children’s movie.” The studios are expending a lot of time and money to communicate these lessons to the children whether we ignore it or not. This isn’t to say other movies don’t try to convey messages and ideals but there’s a difference between Fight Club pushing for anarchist revolution on an audience capable of evaluating Tyler Durden’s message and a group of children who aren’t likely to question whether the overall theme of a colourful, singing ensemble should be followed or not. Had the Lego Movie continued in its generic hero’s journey direction, would we as an audience be comfortable with children taking home the lesson that working in a team and co-operating others is bad and we should really abandon our friends in pursuit of a dream that doesn’t exist?
Thankfully, the Lego Movie is far more nuanced and spends quite a bit of time subverting the traditional morals that are usually bandied about in these pictures. It’s more to the movie’s credit that it manages to strike a balance between the collectivist and individualist ideals. And it’s a shame that such an effort will not stand out compared to other children’s entertainment which will be rated the same because “it’s just for children.” And it is foolish for us to think that these movies are heavily laden with ideals. Even the decision to not use swear words is promoting a certain ideal – despite it being a common one shared. So, in my incoherent, rambling way, this is my argument for why we need to be more critical of children’s entertainment.
Anyway, there’s lots more words I could write on the Lego Movie. Unfortunately, I lost my train of thought after taking an extended break to make Derek’s apartment smell like orange and apple peels before the girl could return so I don’t remember where I wanted to take this. Suffice to say, I enjoyed the Lego Movie. It’s something more than “a children’s movie.” It’s a proper movie, much like the Incredibles and Wall-E. Which is how I feel children’s movies should be. At the end of the day, targeting solely children is a pointless endeavour. Kids are dumb, there’s no two ways about it, and they like simple things. Hell, halfway through the Lego Movie, the row in front of me seemed to get more interested with the popping of the lid on their M&M container than the millions of dollars in front of them. Parents will always laugh about purchasing a big toy for their child only for the kid to be more intrigued by its big box. Children will find entertainment in anything, so making them the primary target is a waste of effort. Instead, we should focus on making movies like the Lego Movie. Yes, they’re accessible at a low level so children can enjoy them. But there’s more to that picture than a bunch of animated building blocks. It attempts to pierce into something fundamental. It tries to comment on our lives and experiences. It diverges from being just mindless fun and approaches something, perhaps, a little closer to art.