The LEGO Movie

February 12, 2014

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When correspondents on the Fox Business channel did a segment complaining about The LEGO Movie’s bad guy being “President Business” and why Hollywood has to teach kids to demonize CEOs, it should have been a parody.  Charging what is basically a feature-length advert for a huge corporation’s product as some sort of anti-capitalist propaganda is so self-evidently absurd that only a dry wit or a complete lack of self-awareness an be responsible.  I have little doubt in my mind that it was the latter in this case, but I will give them some credit after having seen the film:  Though what they were suggesting was incredibly stupid, The LEGO Movie certainly defies easy “Right v Left” categorization.  

The film centers around a somewhat thoughtless worker, Emmitt (voiced by Chris Pratt, who more or less embodies the “ditzy sweet man” type) stumbling upon an artifact called the Piece of Resistance (yes, that’s my kind of humour) and being identified subsequently by a group of freedom fighters as “the chosen one” (dated though it may seem, The Matrix parodies are many).  His love interest is WildStyle (Elizabeth Banks), one of many Master Builders who have been kidnapped by President Business (Will Ferrell), who plans to use his secret weapon of Craglu to keep everything in his Legoland just as is.

The Master Builders are those special Lego people (is that what they’re called?) who have an innate inventiveness that allows them to assemble a myriad of things out of totally unrelated parts, and though their “specialness” is almost Randian in their perceived superiority, their exploitation by the thoughtless businessman by plugging them into his “Think Tank” is an amusing twist made doubly clever when the satire on conformity spins itself around by suggesting that individualism isn’t enough – you need a community of individuals.  Hardly a Marxist critique of capitalism, perhaps, but it’s subversive enough that I can kind of/sort of see how some humorless right-wingers could get their bow-ties in a knot.

The entire plot is doubly amusing when you consider that LEGO has, as a brand, diversified into video games and other platforms through a prodigious use of licensing.  You can buy Star Wars and Pirates of the Carribean sets that give you precise instructions on how to use the LEGOs to recreate something from a movie.  If the original inspiration of the product was the ability to mix and match and basically build whatever you wanted, it’s hard not to see the film as a pointed critique of the company’s ever decreasing trust in the imagination of youth.

This would all be interesting enough on its own, but I suppose the really impressive element of The LEGO Movie is just how purely entertaining it is.  It’s a gag machine, and not just in a “this one for the kids and here’s a sly joke for the parents” way.  It draws heavily on pop culture (it really makes the most of its licenses), but it’s playful enough to get never bogged down in a lazy string of references.  There’s visual invention galore (few things spark creativity quite like limitation), and a solid run of jokes on just how silly it all is.  Then it careens into the surreal and, dare I say it, touching for the final act.  Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who managed to turn the terrible idea of a 21 Jump Street movie into one of the biggest comedy surprises of that year, have a real knack out of getting something of worth out the most cynical of properties.

In the end, the film is too delightful to get bogged down in the ideological implications even if it does seem to perfectly encapsulate (if I’m understanding it right, of course) Mark Fisher’s theory of Capitalist Realism.  The modern capitalist world bogs us down in rigid rules and soul-sapping conformity, which is fine in an “ignorance is bliss” kind of way, but breaking those chains and leaving the cave is how Emmet becomes who he is.  The fact that the solution to breaking out of that LEGO-created cage is to play with LEGOs is the best kind of corporate self-serving irony.  Of course, I loved LEGO as a kid so I’m not complaining

-M

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