That title is (sort-of) an attention-grab. It’s partially combative — somewhat suggesting that you’re wrong if you disagree, and that if you do disagree than your opinion is somehow less worthy.
Alas, that’s the game we’re playing now with headlines. All mediums have games. The Lego Movie would be on of the first to tell you that.
I keep reading articles about how the movie business is doing terribly. There’s clearly a business-model problem, and most definitely a problem of 22 year-olds not wanting to spend $14 to go see Horrible Bosses 2. That said, there were some pretty excellent, innovative, and profitable movies this year; Guardians of The Galaxy, Maleficent, Gone Girl, The Fault In Our Stars, Boyhood, Birdman, Nightcrawler — even some movies that didn’t clean up at the box office (see: Edge Of Tomorrow), have been critically raved about, and maybe could’ve made more money with a different marketing strategy.
In my (debatably valid) opinion, The Lego Movie was very ‘2014’ — it worked within the existing framework and expectations of present day Hollywood, was a financial success, yet still offered some very real commentary and critiques on both movies and society in general:
1. It Hopped On The Chris Pratt Train At The Perfect Moment
More technical than the rest of the points, but Chris Pratt is definitely one of those people who have “Won” 2014 — as this compilation of GIFs momentously notes, Chris Pratt will be in big movies for awhile now.
I think you can make the argument that as a newcomer to big-time Hollywood, Pratt added an interesting sort of innocence energy. On some level, it made Emmet — our unlikely hero who didn’t think he would ever be as talented as the other master builders (other established A-List actors?) — that much more believable. Had the main guy been say, Brad Pitt, it that narrative might not have felt as sincere.
2. It Flourishes Within The Current Movie Framework
I read this interesting article yesterday, which argues that Hollywood’s business model has moved from “hope to secure franchises” to “ruthlessly acquire properties and solely exist on big franchises.” The thinking here is that these sequels provide a great ROI — you have a built-in audience whose very loyal to the brand, who will keep coming back because they feel some some of ownership of and/or an obligation to see the movie. Hence, why Spiderman 14 is coming out in 2023.
There has been a pretty heavy critique of this model, saying it’s killing creativity, and that Hollywood is increasingly less open to original and innovative ideas. The Lego Movie writers Christopher Miller and Phil Lord essentially spend the entire movie not-so-subtly poking fun at this trend. The movie’s primary antagonist, President Business, is a human iteration of studio executives — wanting to make “everything the same,” sapping the “master builders” of their creativity so that they only mindlessly produce exactly what he wants.
Yet, this is all done in a manner that seems somehow tasteful, and definitely doesn’t go out of it’s way to make a point. It all works brilliantly within the structure. As Lord and Miller noted in a recent interview, “President Business is based on bosses we’ve had. But we have a gentle touch. We don’t punch anyone in the face, we just poke them.”
3. It Takes The “Unique & Special” Thing And Turns It On Its Head
Us youngsters — millennials and the younger generation — have been chided for being told we’re special, and that because of that we should be celebrated constantly. The movie’s emotional arc centers around Emmett feeling like a nobody, and then suddenly feeling loved and important because everyone keeps telling him he’s special — when in fact, he’s done nothing whatsoever to prove that he’s remotely a “Special.”
The moment the Morgan Freeman-voiced Vitruvius reveals that he made up the prophecy saying Emmet was “The Special,” Emmet loses complete faith in himself and undergoes a brief spell of worthlessness. Ultimately, with the return of “Ghost Vitruvius,” the idea of being special is moved from being rooted in external validation, to that which is internal. Says Ghost Vitruvius, “…the only thing anyone needs to be special, is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.”
To take it a step further, I took the message here as “you can do something pretty awesome with yourself, so long as you believe in yourself and act upon that belief”
4. Will Arnett Should Probably Be The Next Batman
This excellent article, which touches on a number of similar points, spends some time discussing the awesomeness of Batman — who in the movie is portrayed as a conceited superhero, clearly infatuated with his own mythology. Says Alyssa Rosenberg, “Superheroism is a small part of The LEGO Movie‘s pastiche, but their interpretation of Batman is the freshest we’ve seen on the big screen in several years.”
Personally, I found Will Arnett’s Batman to be utterly hilarious. Shades of that character are very prevalent in Arnett’s latest voice venture (Bojack Horseman), and I spent a good chunk of the movie hoping that his character will get a spinoff.
5. It made a lot of $$$
In terms of measuring success, profit is certainly important. The Lego Movie was the 4th highest grossing movie of the year ($257 mill domestic), falling short to only Captain America, The Hunger Games, and Guardians Of The Galaxy. This is impressive.
6. Following The Rules Isn’t Necessarily Bad
Emmet is a regular guy. In the beginning we see Emmet “following the instructions” of society, being a typical consumer who’s perceived to be relatively happy. He loves the generic CBS-style sitcom, is polite and respectful to his fellow citizens, and does a good job at work. His emptiness doesn’t stem from the fact that he’s willingly participating in the rat race; in many ways, the movie argues that “ceding to conformity” is a bad way to look at life. Why not remain upbeat within the structure of reality?
Later on, when all the other Master Builders want blow President Business out of the waters with super epic invasion ideas, Emmet sticks to the instructions; suggesting that if one simply follows the rules of a given task — and executes them to perfection — you’ll end up building something just as great. I took this as both a metaphor for not only screenwriting, but any professional endeavor. Rather than try and come up with some sort of zany marketing proposal with spaceships and fireworks, why not just focus on execution? Would an understated, yet masterfully executed proposal be equally, if not more effective? And would putting the time, effort, and brainpower into doing something like that not create an equal amount of satisfaction?
7. Everything Is Awesome
In addition to being one of the catchiest songs of all-time, it’s got the perfect mix of positivity and cynicism; it acknowledges that humans crave familiarity and a next-level catchiness, but is silly enough to portend a barely-below-the-surface sarcasm. “Everything” is of course a lot more complex than being “Awesome,” but if we continue to believe everything is awesome, pop music (and culture in general), becomes a vehicle for brainwashing. This is necessary for The Anti-Totalitarian Lego Movie, in which a single entity controls culture.
8. It accurately laments the unconscionable rise in coffee prices.
This is a problem, and I’m glad The Lego Movie brought it to the forefront.