Lego Movie Surprises with Universal Appeal

I know I promised to discuss some
of the Academy Awards’ Best Picture selections this week, but like many other
critics, a certain release has thrown a wrench into my gears. I’m not going to
be able to move on until I address the dark horse that is The Lego Movie.

You read that correctly.

Now let me say this: I am
absolutely infuriated with the nostalgia movement in Hollywood. From cult
classic films (RoboCop, The Day the Earth Stood Still) to
popular television series (The Last
Airbender, The Lone Ranger
) to freaking board games (Battleship), it seems like no extant concept is safe from a
Hollywood remake or adaptation. This sort of unoriginal, opportunistic capitalism
is representative of massive disrespect toward the consumer. Marketing, it seems, is infinitely more valued than quality; as long as the studios can draw an
audience by appealing to nostalgia for a beloved media, they can still
make a profit before the public catches on to how terrible and uninspired the
movie actually is.

The point is that when I first
happened to see a trailer for The Lego
, I groaned with the best of them. What better way, I thought, to
encapsulate the whole idea of the nostalgia movement than with Legos, which
have always relied upon seizing popular culture icons for their sets? And, to
be honest, the trailer made The Lego
look like the fluffiest, millimeter-deep B.S. you could possibly
imagine. I remember someone asking me at the time if I thought the
film looked any good, and I think I actually laughed in their face. I can’t
really remember whom it was I laughed at, but I sure as hell remember the

So, uh, I guess this column doubles
as a formal, public apology to whoever that was. I’m sorry, friend. Never have
I been more utterly wrong in my prejudice of a movie, expect perhaps when I
thought that, based on the trailer, Scott
Pilgrim vs. the World
looked boring. And know this as well: I am absolutely
thrilled to be wrong.

Not only is The Lego Movie a great film, it is assuredly one of the greatest
kids’ movies of all time—right up there with the best of Pixar. And, believe
me, I know that sounds sacrilegious, but I make that informed statement with all
the confidence of a devoted cinephile and movie critic.

To steal an argument from a
favorite critic of mine, Devin Faraci, the best children’s entertainment must
appeal to three major demographics: toddlers, elementary-aged kids, and
parents. The way to best accomplish this is with three levels of
engagement: a unique visual style, an exciting story, and some degree of
emotional complexity. The toddlers won’t be able to follow the
story but will still be enthralled by interesting images, the slightly older
kids will get bored if the plot doesn’t move fast enough, and the parents will
be driven insane if there is no depth to the film. And you know what? The Lego Movie nails each of these
levels with brilliant swagger.

First off, the aesthetic style of
the film is absolutely perfect. Although the movie is computer-animated, every
detail, from water droplets to flames, is designed to appear as though it were composed
of actual Lego products, and the few exceptions only go to prove the rule. The
film has also been edited to resemble stop-motion animation, which I greatly

The action and general story of the
film is off-the-wall fun in a way that keeps kids and adults equally
entertained, and relies on the sort of subjective logic that is central to the
imaginative play of children. 

For an idea of what I mean, imagine an entire
movie based around the opening minutes of Toy
Story 3
. And what makes this even better is that this all has been set in
the Lego universe, where dozens of seemingly incompatible realms and media
collide (which occasionally provides material for some great meta-humor).

And while this is all well and
good, what is perhaps most surprising about The
Lego Movie
is that it actually strikes some fascinating philosophical
chords, because at the center of this story is a conflict that lies at the
very heart of what Legos are. Or at least it was certainly an issue that I
always faced as a kid. The question: Do you follow the precise directions
laid out in the kits, or do you just wing it and build your own thing? 

me, I know how lame and cheesy that question sounds, but in the context of the
film it is an astonishingly resonant issue, because THAT is what Legos are all
about—building versus creation. And, seriously, you’ll never guess where they
take it.

In conclusion, I will now butcher a
quote from my favorite video game critic, Yahtzee Croshaw (the man behind Zero Punctuation), regarding the
nostalgia movement: “Nostalgia does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. Projects based around nostalgia are at their best when they do not recreate a
thing so much as evoke the atmosphere behind it, while also creating something
new and unique.” 

The Lego Movie
represents perhaps the greatest production of the Hollywood nostalgia movement
because it takes this ideal to heart. It understands precisely why people love
to play with Legos, and uses those reasons as guidelines, not instructions.

Dan Brown PO ’16 is a media studies major. You can check out his show, Out of Breath, on the Claremont Colleges Television channel on Youtube. 

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