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LEGOs are truly something special. While other toys come and go through the decades, LEGOs are always there, standing the test of time with their creative potential and endless possibilities. With The LEGO Movie, will LEGOs become even more iconic?
Unlike the toys themselves, this filmic take on LEGOs falls apart thanks to a foundation laid according to faulty plans. As a result, the movie’s pseudo-redemptive theme collapses on itself and is buried under the rubble of harmful content.
LEGO mini-figure Emmet has clearly defined goals for his life: he wants to fit in, have everyone like him, and always be happy. Handy for him, there’s an instruction manual that promises to tell him how to do just that, and he carries this book with him at all times. While others don’t carry such ideals around in the form of instructions, most (in this movie and in real life) want the same things.
Yet Emmet’s single-minded adherence to the directions of this book and the rules of his city’s overbearing government makes him decidedly unpopular. He seems incapable of an original thought, and the people he pretends are his friends barely know he exists. “Everyone has something that makes them something,” one of these almost-friends says, “but Emmet has nothing.”
When this seemingly “nothing” Emmet literally stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance, he becomes part of a prophesy that identifies him not only as special, but “The Special.” This long-awaited individual called The Special, is supposed to be a Master Builder, able to quickly construct whatever he needs to get out of trouble and, ultimately, to defeat the diabolical plans of Lord Business to freeze all LEGO figures with Kraggle glue.
Reluctantly teaming up with LEGO superheroes and a tough builder who calls herself Wyldstyle, Emmet’s obvious lack of skills soon makes these more heroic types question if Emmet is The Special at all. The Special is supposed to be “the most important, most talented, most interesting, extraordinary, and special person in the universe.” Two minutes in Emmet’s company are enough for most folks to see he doesn’t fit those qualifications.
As Emmet races to save his world from sticky destruction, he has to find the inner qualities that make him special and prove to all other mini-figures that they are special, too.
Like a completed LEGO structure, The LEGO Movie is fun to look at. Animating LEGOs carries unique challenges, but also exponential creative potential, and the filmmakers capitalize on these possibilities with seemingly endless inventiveness. Each shot of this movie presents a new LEGO structure, whether a tiny detail or massive feat of engineering.
The LEGO Movie filmmakers are smart, too. They don’t just show viewers already completed structures, but allow LEGO fans to watch many of these objects being quickly constructed on-screen. Anyone who loves LEGOs, and some who thought they didn’t, will leave the theatre itching to get their hands on LEGO pieces and build something.
At the same time, youngsters will sadly leave with many new images and thoughts that are not conducive to building solid lives. The harmful content of this film begins with the opening line: “Cover your butts.” This is the first of countless mentions of “butt” and “rear end” that inundate the film, along with other unpleasant jokes that include a LEGO figure making photocopies of his bare hind end on a copy machine, and a TV show called “Where Are My Pants,” which shows a LEGO man without pants on asking his “honey” where his pants are (this TV clip is shown repeatedly throughout the movie).
Police officers also say at one point that Emmet was seen “convulsing with a strange piece,” which Emmet says is “disgusting,” while other off-color bathroom and body humor jokes persist. Batman, likely already a hero to many children, is here shown as a womanizing, self-obsessed fellow who writes angst-filled songs about “darkness.” Superman fairs only marginally better, saying, “I super-hate you,” to the overly-adoring Green Lantern character.
Such words aren’t the only problems in The LEGO Movie. While the script carefully avoids using the Lord’s name in vain, the swearing substitute, “gosh,” is overused and accompanies appearances of “heck” and “dang it” (the latter is even said three times in a row by one character).
Slapstick violence rounds out the film’s lowbrow tone, as kids watch Emmet and other characters encounter all the usual tumbles, falls, and bodily injuries that would kill a person in real life, here depicted for the sake of laughs. Wyldstyle also dishes out a lot of punches and kicks, but she only attacks the “bad guys.”
An unexpectedly gory moment occurs when a character is intentionally beheaded (by the villain). This character’s head roles toward our heroes, and he continues to talk from this disembodied head for a bit. While the filmmakers are clearly trying to make a joke out of the non-human, piece-like attributes of LEGO mini-figures and no blood is shown, this beheaded character does still die, thus making his beheading a more realistic event than many parents might expect or desire. This character returns as a ghost, which doesn’t improve the movie’s family-friendly score.
A few scenes that show different forms of torture are equally disturbing. One features a police officer called Bad Cop, who in himself already adds to this film’s problems by portraying police officers as aggressive, uncontrollable people to be feared (he frequently launches into throwing and smashing furniture, particularly when trying to intimidate others). In the most disturbing sequence with Bad Cop, the villain, Lord Business, forces him to watch his parents being frozen with Kraggle glue, and then tells Bad Cop to finish the job.
Because of Bad Cop’s other personality, called Good Cop (yes, he also apparently suffers from a split personality disorder), he initially resists. Lord Business proceeds to erase the Good Cop face with nail polish remover, which, judging from the sound effects, is a torturous experience for the officer. Once his Good Cop personality is erased, Bad Cop easily, and rather horrifically for parents in the audience, agrees to finish gluing his mother and father himself.
But The LEGO Movie’s filmmakers are obviously determined to do all they can for a laugh. Their effort to be funny is so transparent that, similar to a comedian who takes the same approach, the comedy largely falls flat. The script’s heavy sarcasm and quick delivery of even the body humor lines overshoots the child target audience, while many adults won’t be served by the rather exclusive style of humor here employed, which tries to be cleverer than it usually is. Most parents will likely be too bothered by their unamused and therefore bored children to take notice of the jokes they might have liked.
At least among all these faults, kids are learning that they’re special, right? Wrong. If the weakness in the content of this structure wasn’t enough to topple it, the film would still be doomed by its foundation. Perhaps because of a lack of actual substance, the overly obvious theme of specialness doesn’t have a solid piece to stand on.
As The LEGO Movie progresses to the climax, the audience anticipates the long-awaited conclusion to Emmet’s struggle to become special. The anticipation builds into a disappointing crash with the supposedly inspiring statement, “The only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that they are special.” Easily defeated with logic alone, the message this film sends kids will be particularly disconcerting to Christian parents.
The ideas communicated here are that belief can make something true that is not otherwise true, that specialness comes from something kids can do or who they are, and that being special is the only source of true happiness. The movie’s tacked on sequence between a human boy and his dad that randomly throws in a different message against selfish parents does not do a thing to undo the damage done by the movie’s primary theme, which is deceptively packaged as feel-good inspiration to kids.
Want to pass on your love of LEGOs to your kids? There’s an inexpensive and more beneficial alternative than The LEGO Movie. Get out the toy LEGOs at home and talk to your children about where actual truth and specialness can be found—in the real-life Master Builder. Now that would be something special.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24-25