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M Keala Milles, Jr.
M Keala Milles, Jr.


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Posted in Arts / Films & Movies / Awards

The 'Lego' Movie: Building on Tradition, Deconstructing Convention

Feb. 24, 2014 8:57 pm
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Every September growing up in Graham, WA the school year would roll around and while many students dreaded the return I looked forward with anticipation of more challenges for my agile mind. Time to leave behind summer vacation and playing with friends and trips to Hawaii and engineering cities in gravel with Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars or Tinker Toys buildings…or Legos.

But leaving all of that behind also meant the arrival of the Western Washington State Fair at the Puyallup Fairgrounds (and a free student admission one day during the season). And while growing up meant trying more food—elephant ears and scones and Earthquake burgers—and getting to ride bigger rides, one of my fondest memories involved the Arts and Crafts hall.

Perusing the rows of demo tables a young creative person gets fanciful ideas about the potentials of maturity and what kinds of expressive freedom adulthood might bring. Baseball card collections entertain fantasies of fame and fortune while on the other side of the convention hall handmade gifts transcend the hidden commercialism just outside traversing the pavement and fields now fettered by mechanical amusements.

Perhaps my favorite of all these demo tables might have been the Lego displays. Collectors put together what we, at innocent ages, remember as impossible feats composed of more little plastic blocks than we could ever dream of possessing. And over the years, as we grew in experience that paralleled Lego’s engineering advancements, so did the accomplishments of these fine collectors and fans of a simple toy.

Today, I live in San Diego. It is February 24, 2014, 4:48 pm and I just returned home after watching the Lego Movie. I chose the 3D screening—against my instincts—and my current stance on the irrelevance of most 3D films remains unchanged; ironically so has my childhood perspective on the ability of Legos to tell great stories. I would have been home sooner, but I had to sit through all of the credits: in part because I rather enjoy perusing the longer list of below-the-line contributors; in part because I needed to identify the names of the voice actors I thought I recognized; and in part because I knew my teary eyes would not adjust well to the sunlight still making its descent towards the Pacific Ocean.

I set out today to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a movie. About LEGOS. And I’ve already been disappointed by another highly-anticipated animated film of late so how could this one be any different?

I mean, how good could a Lego movie really be? They don’t have expressions! They barely even move! Sure, the development of new fantasy series’ and more engineering-based collections have certainly improved their sustainability in a world saturated by video games and more portable (and safer) toys, but in essence how can building blocks possibly succeed in the great world of special effects and corporate tie-ins and brand recognition and meta-analysis?

As it turns out, surprisingly well; perhaps even better than just about every other animated film in recent history. In fact, the LEGO movie doesn’t just survive—it demonstrates how brands can market their product and still tell an immersive story and comment on social issues in a way that inspires both young and old to build fresh and, more importantly, together.

The LEGO movie does more than just rekindle the love many adults might have once had for the simple plastic building blocks of their youth. It does more than introduce this generation to a timeless toy. It does more than comment on corruption and politics and our disconnected world. It does more than achieve one of the most brilliantly-designed Brand identity campaigns in the history of marketing.

Indeed, Noah Kristula-Green may have said it best (in The American Conservative article “Why ‘The Lego Movie’ Resonates”): despite the film’s subtle “cross-ideological appropriation” and far-less-subtle “representation of capitalist expression”, it simply connects...

It connects the old with the young. It connects play with work. It connects “the Left” and “the Right”. It connects leisure with business. Finally, it connects brand identity with personal identity by involving the audience in the revelation that independence is not as important as interdependence—that each of us is “the Special” because everyone has a talent (or two) to build or make or think or lead in unique ways; that our collective ability is greater than the sum of our parts.

Perhaps what I loved most about this film lies within its ability to deconstruct traditional tropes and archetypes in practical, conventional ways and make obvious social commentary without somehow also abandoning its innocent nature. “Everything is Awesome” might just be one of the best songs ever written for a movie simply because of what it represents within the framework of this project. Pay close enough attention and you will identify the components that will return at the end to help save the day—a common screenplay standard which they accomplish with subtlety and intelligent humor that won’t get lost on children yet still reward the avid critic and classical literature scholar.

Parts of the story do feel a bit contrived—we can break from the action to learn, for instance, that the entire movie takes place in the imagination of a child, which helps skirt past some of the more difficult plot points—but that is a brilliant device that helps us to remember that in the world of imagination anything is possible. The writers (Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller) cue us on this concept by making the passage of time irrelevant and comical (that a character can be anywhere in a matter of seconds because that’s how long it will take for the kid playing with the toys to transport them). This is just a minor example but it has a big payoff in the end when we learn about the actual importance of time (within the realm of a fleeting relationship between, say, a father and son).

See this movie. If not for you, for your children. If you don’t have children, see it for your future children. Or better yet—see it for your inner child. Even if you never touched a single LEGO block in your life, the message might speak to you in ways you didn’t even realize you understood. Because childhood innocence is universal. Because love is a language everyone speaks. And because time is the most valuable most precious most fleeting commodity we possess. And the only way to increase these things—childhood innocence, love, and, most importantly, time—is by sharing them with others.

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