Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Everything About The Lego Movie Is Awesome


This weekend, I finally had the opportunity to see “The Lego Movie”. After my last, less than pleasant experience seeing a children’s movie, I must admit I was a bit wary. However, my fears were completely unfounded. Once again, I find myself compelled to review a film, but this time for the delightful reason that I want to encourage people to see it.

 The hero of the film, Emmet, is at first a painfully ordinary person. He reads books that teach him how to be well-liked. He likes the most popular television show, drinks overpriced coffee, and cheers for the local sports teams, because that is what people are supposed to do. When they are interviewed about him, Emmet’s coworkers describe him as rather dull, since he simply agrees with everything everyone says. One Lego man states that “We all have something that makes us something and Emmet is… nothing”. Emmet does not have original thoughts; he only knows how to follow the rules. These rules include the instructions “If you see anything weird, report it immediately” and “Destroy everything weird”. Complete conformity is expected, and Emmet is happy to comply.

 From time to time, Emmet notices that there is something wrong with the society in which he lives. While watching TV, he hears a message from the President warning the citizenry to follow the rules or they will be “put to sleep”. For a moment, Emmet worries about the implication of those words. But when an ad for the popular sitcom “Where Are My Pants?” begins to air, Emmet exclaims “Hey, sitcom!” and loses his previous train of thought. While explaining the company Octan to the audience, Emmet eagerly states that this wonderful company produces everything: music, television, surveillance systems, history books, voting machines… He then trails off, noticing that there might be a serious problem in this system. A moment later, he shakes off the feeling and returns to comfortable complacency.

 When the villain was introduced within the first several minutes of the movie, I was deeply concerned that I was in for a very uncomfortable cinematic experience. His name is Lord Business. I was horrified that I might be about to watch a film that centered around the idea of businesspeople as evil. I realized that the movie was taking a very different path, indeed, when “8 Years Later” he was reintroduced as “Lord Business- or as you know him, President Business”. At no point in this film is the idea of legitimate moneymaking endeavours portrayed as mean or bad. What is wrong is the idea of using power to control others. President Business, through his company, Octan, creates and controls everything in the Lego world. He wants to keep everything exactly the same and perfectly within his control. To achieve this, he seals off the different worlds so that people from different Lego sets cannot communicate. In an even more drastic step, he employs Bad Cop to arrest all of the Master Builders. These are the creative minds of Lego World who develop the best new ideas and, in the words of President Business, “they’re always changing everything”. They are imprisoned in a dimly lit, spooky room called the “Think Tank”, where they are forced to divulge their ideas for President Business’s use.

 Even this is not enough control for President Business. He has stolen the Kragle (Krazy Glue) and plans on spraying it on everything, preserving all of Lego World in a state of unchangeable “perfection”. The only thing that can stop this all-powerful weapon is the “piece of resistance”, which is lost and must be found by a Master Builder. A prophecy states that this Master Builder, known as the Special “will be the greatest, most talented, most interesting, most important person of all times. And it’s true.  Because it rhymes.”

 Emmet’s mundane existence is turned upside down the moment he disobeys one of society’s rules: “Don’t touch strange pieces”. Although the strange piece he has discovered below his job site is definitely strange, Emmet feels compelled to touch it anyway. With this single action, he is jerked out of his mindless life and forced to face the reality of President Business’s oppression. His new colleague, Wyldstyle, is horrified that he is the man described in the prophecy. Emmet is boring and mundane, certainly not exciting like the Special is supposed to be. Although Emmet builds thing at his job as a construction worker, he cannot build anything without instructions. Wyldstyle laments that he will never be able to be a Master Builder. Vetruvius, the leader of the resistance movement, calmly remarks, “Of course he won’t. Not if you keep telling him he can’t”.

 Throughout the course of the movie, Emmet learns that he should not worry about what everyone else is doing or try to match his work to theirs. He should embrace what is special about himself and try new things, even if they turn out to be weird. Emmet brings a very different skill set to the group of innovators. He notes that they are often so focused on their own inventions that they overlook the benefits of working as a team in certain situations. Because he had previously been so completely consumed with following the rules, Emmet is very familiar with the system he is now trying to overthrow. He suggests that they work within the system to get close enough to change it, a very useful strategy that many people attempting to effect change can employ.

 After Emmet has gained both self confidence and the trust of his peers, a shocking truth is revealed: Vetruvius made up the prophecy. There is no Special. Rather than allowing this news to shatter his confidence, Emmet makes a powerful realization. The things he has achieved since believing himself to be the Special are very real, even if this title is not. He knows now that “the only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe they are”. President Business is stifling new ideas to retain control. To fight this assault on freedom, the Lego people must all act on the ideas in their heads and build new things. Everyone can be special because everyone has unique ideas.

 Perhaps one of the most impressive features of “The Lego Movie” is the fate of the villain. He is not run out of town or jailed or killed. Emmet simply reasons with him calmly. He explains to President Business that he doesn’t have to be the bad guy. Like everyone else, President Business is special because he has his own ideas. Emmet explains that new ideas do not negate old ones. “People are inspired by each other.” They take what others have made, alter or improve it, and make something new out of it. Finally, Emmet urges President Business to put the cap back on the Kragle and allow everyone the freedom to be creative. Swayed by Emmet’s reasoning and persuasiveness, President Business agrees.

 Since the release of “The Lego Movie” in February, the main song from the soundtrack, “Everything is Awesome” has received great acclaim. The tune is catchy, something that would fit in at a dance club. Many people think that the song’s real appeal is its lyrics. It is a song about teamwork, and having fun in life by working hand-in-hand with each other. Unfortunately, those who have not seen the movie are missing a very important piece of information about the song. It is satire. The song is the anthem of the society built by President Business, designed to energize people to do their work while encouraging complacency. Wyldstyle is appalled when Emmet tells her it is his favourite song, even though she finds the rhythm catchy. It is the theme song of all she despises, of complacency and obliviousness. And it is playing on our radios. Ladies and gentlemen- irony.

 This film is exactly the sort of inspirational entertainment that I would love to one day show my children. It encourages creativity and individualism within society, not conformity. Growth of a civilization can only occur if people have the opportunity to try new ideas. True, some of them will fail, but it is a risk that the creators of these new ideas are willing to take. A parallel storyline with a parallel plot runs alongside the societal lesson. This story is of a parent stifling the creativity of a child to keep things neat and orderly. Parents are reminded to give their children the opportunity to get messy, to change things up, to make something new, and to explore their minds fully. This important lesson is often lost amongst standardized testing and structured after school activities. It gives me hope when stories such as “The Lego Movie” and Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers Are Red” address this very real concern.

 In addition to the important lessons contained in the movie, it was an exciting adventure story with clever and amusing dialogue. On all levels, this move was a home run, and definitely worth seeing. (Even if you don’t have children to take!)

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