Movie Discussion– The LEGO® Movie (2014), darker than you imagined

In a world ... one man ... etc Spoilers here, as we discuss the movie with assumptions that you’ve seen it and want to hear some discussion about it.

The Lego Movie won me over. It’s true. When I first saw the trailers and promotional material, I thought would be nothing more than a hugely crass commercialization of the toy line. And yes, in effect, it kind of IS a giant movie-length commercial– after all, it ends with father and son happily sharing playful fun times together, thanks to colorful building blocks. But thankfully, the movie has a lot more going on. Others have done a better job at that. But we all admire the hyper-kinetic pacing (fun!) and the over-the-top humor (funny!) which is more verbal/situational than crude or purely physical. Not to mention the brilliant animation that is perfectly matched to enhance both of these elements, proving to be a subtle and sophisticated use of the medium.

(Incidentally, if anyone dismisses The Lego Movie out of hand because they say it’s “just a big commercial,” check to see if that person holds 80s’ cartoons like G.I. Joe or Transformers to high esteem.)

Overall, the best review you could give The Lego Movie is that it consistently captures, through its animation, characters, and tone, a sense of play. Remember the opening scene of Toy Story? Sheriff Woody helps save Bo Peep from Potato Head– or at least that’s what their owner Andy is making them do. The whole scene perfectly summarizes the wonder and playfulness of a kid and his toys, and hardly anyone should be able to watch that scene and not smile. And The Lego Movie does this for the entire length of the film!

So, when you’re watching it, it’s not hard to figure out fairly quickly that if this is a child’s playtime, there’s some kind of psychology at play here. There’s a reason that the Big Bad is called Lord Business, you figure out. However, the film isn’t content to let the subtext stay “sub,” and the last act of the movie it moves into actual “text” as the movie switches back and forth from the hero Emmet to the kid and Lord Business as his father. I suppose that, since this climatic moment REALLY is what the movie’s about, it’s kind of necessary. And hey, maybe if I didn’t see it coming, I would have seen it as more of a twist.

Unfortunately, it’s by making this feature so blatant that other elements of the movie start to take on some darker implications.

The film literally connects the Lego characters with their live action counterparts, as I’ve mentioned, and the father even tells his son “what would Emmet say to Lord Business” when everyone, even the characters themselves, realize that he’s asking his son to tell himself. What’s great about this is that the son is able to tell his dad how much he loves him– that he’s the “the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe,” a recurring mantra in the film. What’s so dark about this is that the whole time we assumed this phrase would help describe the hero, and by extension, the kid. In other words, if Emmet, the kid’s stand-in, isn’t special, then the kid doesn’t think of himself that way, either.

Think about it– the tag line of the film is that this movie is about “A nobody who saves everybody.” So the hero the kid chooses to role-play as? A “nobody.” Maybe, like Emmet, the kid is trying his hardest to follow the rules, to be nice to his “co-workers” who still don’t hang out with him, to try to be part of a prophecy that isn’t even real in the first place.

Obviously, direct one-to-one parallels between the characters aren’t possible, as Emmet claims he can’t build things but the kid is metanarratively the one who is, of course, building all of the non-Lord Business’ stuff. Still, it could be noted that Emmett CAN build, it’s just that he can’t come up with the “good” ideas because his creativity is dismissed or looked down on by others of more talent. It’s only when his dad looks at the kid’s constructions with fresh eyes that he realizes that creativity is just as wonderful as order. (More problematic is Emmet’s kind-of love story with Wildstyle/Lucy, which would either mean that the kid literally loves his toys or that there are unrequited loves in his elementary school, which we can never have evidence for.)

So maybe the kid really thinks he’s not so special after all. The hope is that, by sharing his love with his father, they are able to live happily ever after… as long as they can play with Legos together, of course.

However, if you think about it, Lord Business (the villain) is not the only analog to the father in the movie. After all, the film gives two roles, specifically, to the father– the father is represented by Lord Business and is also labeled as The Man Upstairs. (At first I thought The Man Upstairs would be the kid who is playing with the Lego. However, when the father literally comes down from the upstairs, and Emmet acknowledges a difference between the father and the “littler one,” it seems the father is meant for the role. This seems to want for more allegorical significance, but the film muddies the distinction and a significant metaphor is lost.) All of this to say… could the father have a third representation in the move? Could he also be figured as the other villain in the show– Bad Cop?

That has darker implications, by far. Here is a character known for being friendly and open, then twisting into rage and anger. Literally, the man is two-faced. He also needs a steady source of furniture around to kick and throw when cursing in his frustrations. So this is the kid’s interpretation of an authority figure? We know that it’s the father’s (and Lord Business’) goal to freeze the Lego constructions in place, and when Bad Cop takes on this goal as well, he has to literally wipe away his “good side” in order to do so. Here, the kid is acknowledging that the actions his father will be taking are destructive to creativity and thus to “goodness.” His father is thus “bad.”

So… to summarize, we have a film where a father is spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to purchase an insane amount of Lego in order to construct specific and segregated vignettes. He is a control freak, prone to violence, ignoring the creativity of his kid, who thinks of himself as a nobody with no real friends anyway. The kid risks the ire of his father by playing with the Legos he’s been expressly told are off limits, and he alternatively builds and destroys his toys as he wrestles with his conflicted feelings of duty and creativity. This could be the last time he’s able to play with them, as his dad will set everything in glue on Tuesday. But it’s too late, he gets caught. He pleads with his dad to be “special” like everyone should be, and his dad relents, acknowledging that Lego can be whimsical and not merely blinded constructed. If only his sister wouldn’t have to play with him…


The LEGO® Movie was directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, animated by Warner Animation Group and Animal Logic, distributed  by Warner Bros. Pictures.