Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: The LEGO Movie

I took some cold medicine in an effort to stave off my cold and get some solid sleep before going back to work tomorrow (this is your regular reminder that I write these things the night before because mornings are for other people), so we're going to have to make this quick. The LEGO Movie. I liked it. I did not anticipate that, and I feel, well, almost a little betrayed.

But in a good way, I assure you. It's just that this movie is so good, so much better than it had any right to be, and I feel kind of upset that I had such low expectations. I was expecting a piece of product placement dreck, or at the very most, one of those Scary Movie ripoffs, where everything is jokes and nothing makes any sense. But while there are a lot of jokes, this movie is actually really coherent, and, more than that, it's freaking good.

The anger, of course, is due to the fact that if Hollywood can make a compelling, well-written, hilarious movie about plastic LEGO bricks happen, then why the hell is so much else they put out crap? Guys. You made LEGO Movie. You have no excuses.

Anyway. The movie is convoluted, but not in a bad way, necessarily. It follows the inhabitants of an all-LEGO world as they try to stop evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from unleashing the Kragle, a world ending device that will forever stop the people of LEGO world from changing or innovating or building. Our hero is Emmet (Chris Pratt), a guy so normal that he literally has no distinguishing features. When asked to describe him, his coworkers barely even remember who he is. Still, when he falls through a hole in the ground and touches a strange piece, Emmet accidentally becomes the most important person in the universe: the only one who can stop the Kragle.

And along the way he has to go through wacky shenanigans, convince a council of "Master Builders" that he's the Special, the one who can defeat Lord Business, escape the mean Bad Cop (Liam Neeson, perfectly cast), and generally bumble his way to victory.

The thing is, it's almost impossible to explain this movie without sounding stupid. Or like you're on crack, to be honest. So, take my word for it: The LEGO Movie is good. Really good. Worth watching multiple times and then buying a copy of good. And a huge part of that is because this movie doesn't just play around with the usual "inspirational kids' movie tropes", it freaking destroys them.

That's a good thing. For the record.

So, Emmet is the hero of our story. He's the Special, the one that found the piece that will stop the Kragle, as prophesied by the wizard Vetruvius (Morgan Freeman, because this movie has the best cast ever). He's going to save everyone, except he's kind of really normal. He doesn't have a special skill that's waiting to be unlocked, he doesn't have any hidden potential, he's just...Emmet. His one idea, the only idea he has ever had, is super dumb. And everyone tells him how dumb it is. All the time.

We're all set up to get an inspiring montage of Emmet learning to be a master builder, and him turning out to be a better builder than anyone before him, but that doesn't happen. Emmet never gets better at this. His ideas still suck. What happens is actually much, much better.


Emmet is the Special, yeah, but he's the Special only because he thinks he is. He can do amazing things literally only because he thinks he can do amazing things. And he's never fixed or transformed or made into a genius. No, instead, the movie shows us that we're thinking about it all wrong. Emmet doesn't need to be transformed. He's fine. He has something amazing to contribute because he's Emmet. He's the guy who's never had an original thought in his life. And that is what makes him the hero able to save the day.

The other characters, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), all of the Master Builders - they all look down on Emmet because he's got no imagination to speak of. But it turns out that Emmet's ability to follow the directions is what will save us. Because everyone actually is important, whether they're super artistic or whether they're really not.

And this message, which is pretty rad all on its own, is made even better when you get to the end of the film and you realize what's really been happening this whole time. SUPER SPOILERS NOW - When you see that this is a story being told by a child, it's honestly really wonderful. This kid gets it. He knows that it doesn't matter if you're creative or just great at following the directions. You should still get a chance to play.

The overall plot of the movie, which you don't actually understand until the very end, for the record, is also really refreshing to see. It's about the idea that everyone has something to offer, even if it seems kind of dumb or weird or unhelpful. That change isn't necessarily bad, and that order, while helpful, isn't always the answer. 

Plus, I love a good reveal ending. Probably why I love Sophie's World so stinking much (we'll be talking about that tomorrow). I just...I love everything about this movie. I love how it's cheesy sometimes, but it's never bad. How it isn't afraid to tackle some real philosophical issues. And how it rightly points out that sometimes conformity is okay. It's great to do your own thing, but sometimes it's cool to do things as a team too.

I have so many feelings about this movie, and all of them are positive. That in and of itself should tell you how good it was. It was good. It was hella good.

I think ultimately I love it because it's actually a healthy message to give to kids. The idea that you can be the hero of the story, even if you're not actually special. That you don't have to be special to be special. You don't need superpowers or to get sucked into a car engine and get superspeed or to win the talent contest or whatever to make a difference in the world. You make a difference by doing your best, whatever your best is. For Emmet, his best is being average, and that turns out to be exactly what we need.

And sure, there's other awesome stuff too, like Unikitty and her rage bomb, or Benny the Astronaut (Charlie Day) and his love of spaceships, or Cobie Smulders' Wonder Woman, who is honestly one of the best versions of Wonder Woman we could get. Or the amazing interplay between Superman (Channing Tatum) and Green Lantern (Jonah Hill). Really, it's all magic. Oh, and Billy Dee Williams voicing Lando Calrissian. That was just awesome.

But really this is about kids. It's actually a kids' movie about kids, and about imagination, and about the ways that we as adults affect how children see the world. It's a good movie, and it's a silly movie, and it's an important movie. Like I said, I'm honestly still shocked by how good this was. It's weird. But it's a good weird.

Seriously, though, you can make a movie about plastic bricks but you can't make a single female superhero movie that doesn't suck?

Will Arnett makes a surprisingly hilarious Batman.


  1. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller also did 21 Jump Street, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Clone High, and the first couple seasons of How I Met Your Mother. They are among the best working writer/directors in Hollywood without question. Hollywood could make anything good if studios continued to hire writers of this caliber instead of the usual retreads. That's not likely to happen, though, so instead I will just keep enjoying the careers of these two guys.

    1. Dang. I did not realize that the same guys were behind this as Clone High and early HIMYM. These guys are good.

      Can we kidnap them and force them to write a Wonder Woman movie?

  2. AHHH I wanna see this. Instead I saw Robocop. I made a mistake. :(

    1. Oooooooooh. Yeah, that, that is unfortunate. :(

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