The LEGO Movie: Making Space for Creativity
I didn’t have high hopes for The LEGO Movie. Lots of hype makes me suspicious, because I know the power of big money and how it can convince people that Astroturf is really grass. Besides, cool contraptions and flashy special effects often conceal a weak story line.
But my buddies on Instagram told me they’d seen the movie multiple times — and that was just on opening weekend. I had a couple of free passes from the studio, so I headed to the local multiplex on a frigid Monday afternoon. Most of my fellow audience members were parents with preschoolers and kids in morning kindergarten.
So the big Q: Did The LEGO Movie live up to the hype? For the most part, yes. Furthermore, the writing team and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had the challenge of giving the movie appeal to a wide range of ages, from the young children sitting behind me (who laughed all the way through) to older elementary-age children, teens, and adults. They did this by offering a multi-layered story line: For the youngest viewers, bright colors, goofy contraptions, and nonstop action. For their older siblings, clever wordplay and cameo appearances from familiar historical and pop-culture figures, from Batman to Abraham Lincoln. For the teens, a sassy heroine and a romantic triangle. And for the adults, thought-provoking riffs on power and money, creativity, conformity, and control.
The unlikely hero of this movie, Emmet, believes in following the instructions. Like all of his co-workers on the construction site in Bricksburg, he watches the “Where Are My Pants?” guy on TV every night and sees President Business, the CEO who owns everything (including all the buildings and media) as a benevolent dictator. After all, he builds cool things and keeps people entertained. Yet President Business — who is known everywhere else by the feudalistic moniker of Lord Business — has a nefarious agenda to glue the world together so that the little LEGO people can no longer work, play, or potentially defy him. So far, Lord Business has managed to separate the worlds — modern cities, the Old West, medieval castles, a fantasy land called Cloud Cuckoo Palace — and isolate or imprison the Master Builders who threaten to bring them together and create what he sees as chaos. When Emmett finds the red Piece of Resistance that will shut off the KRAGLE (actually the top to a tube of KRAzy GLuE), he is hailed as the Master Builder destined to stop Lord Business. Lord Business unleashes his Bad Cop and Micro Managers on the baffled subversive and the ragtag band of rebels who protect him (and who quickly become disappointed in him and his abilities).
As someone who has also given personality and life to the yellow minifigures, I found the characters and their story engaging. The writers make the most of the minifig features, as, for instance, when Emmet’s head replaces the broken axle of an escaping wagon in the Old West. The story culminates in a surprise that breaks every rule of how one should end a story, but in doing so, it exposes a principal tension in the story: Are rules the enemy of creativity?
Much has been made of the “anti-corporate” bias of The LEGO Movie, particularly the bashing of Lord/President Business. It’s especially ironic since both LEGO and Warner are themselves giant multinational corporations. Yes, there is a self-critical element that is also played for laughs — the billboards extolling conformity, the herd-like obsession with “Where Are My Pants?”, the naivete of Bricksburg citizens who think President Business is giving them freebies for Taco Tuesday rather than gluing them to their baseplates. However, the movie does raise questions about too much power concentrated in the hands of a single person or corporation, as well as the inefficacy of resistance when the rebels are isolated individuals pursuing their own agendas.
Above all, though, this is a story that extols creativity. And while the creativity of the writers, directors, and actors make it entertaining, the movie has already launched a cottage industry of other creators as LEGO has done for nearly a century. On Instagram, LEGO photographers like the excellent @berryyeung reenact scenes with their own LEGO Movie minifigures. I have used various permutations of Lord Business to represent New Jersey governor Chris Christie and his Florida counterpart Rick Scott. My Pyjamas Emmet woke up this morning not in his Bricksburg apartment but in the Winter Village cottage with his grandfather reading the newspaper downstairs. Did Emmet wake up in the wrong place, or have I now given him a backstory?
When we view a movie or read a book and are then motivated to create our own versions of the story, or entirely different stories, creativity becomes a two-way street. We’re not just being fed entertainment, or made to follow the instruction book like the citizens of Bricksburg. We can expropriate the tools we’re given, like the bricks, plates, tiles, and minifigures, to critique or subvert the instructions and the stories — building our own models and contraptions, giving new roles to our minifigures, and having them act in ways that make us see those objects, and society, differently.
Now that you’ve read this far, it’s time for a giveaway. I have an extra pass to The Lego Movie (which is, unfortunately not valid for AMC theaters). I know you want it. Even if you’ve already seen the movie, you’ll want to see it again. I also have a polybag with Pyjamas Emmet. They gave these out at the movie theaters, but most of them are all gone. One lucky commenter will receive the pass and Pyjamas Emmet. If the winner is outside the U.S., the pass doesn’t work, so you will get Pyjamas Emmet and I’ll pick someone else for the pass. Contest ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, February 16, and the winner will be announced on Monday. Comment away!
Good review! I really enjoyed it, even brought a tear to my eye being a teacher and mum to young kids! Said a lot about encouraging imaginative play! Keep up the good work lyn!
Thank you, Fiona! I’m glad you got to see the movie already. What did your kids think of it?
Great review Lyn, and coming from one who creates her own fascinating Lego tales as commentary, I value your thoughts on this enough to go see the movie (whether or not I win the giveaway). Particularly liked your last paragraph on how, when we read a book or see a movie, we are inspired to write our own version and the implication this has for interaction between creator and audience. Isn’t a work of art really just that, an interactive process in which the creator influences her audience and vice versa? At least for me that is the most satisfying aspect of any work of art.
I agree that art should be an interactive process, Shelley, and that’s one of the things I’m really enjoying as I post my LEGO graphic stories on Instagram. I think that all too often, the corporate distributors of art see it as a one-way street, with consumers not expected or wanted to respond except by buying more. That’s in part what The LEGO Movie critiques in its portrayal of Lord/President Business and the micromanaging monopoly that is Octan. By the way, I’ve never put the Octan stickers on the vehicles that are supposed to carry them. I prefer to make my own. Nor have I put the official LEGO stickers, including the LEGO Movie sticker, on my Palace Cinema. Instead, I have edgy international films in the spots for the current feature and the coming attractions.
It does sound interesting! And cool that you got the Lego swag. Maybe someday they’ll make a movie of your Lego storylines. 🙂
I certainly hope so, Kathy! Right now on Instagram, I’m profiling the unemployed Bricksters, and the one with the most likes will find a job. I’m interested in what you think about the movie when you get a chance to see it.
Dylan says he would see it again just for Unikitty.
Unikitty is a great character, and I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.
I enjoyed your review, Lyn. I’ve seen the movie and really loved it. It’s worth seeing again. I loved the emphasis on creativity (the master builders). I also loved the fact that it was surprising and engaging–two qualities I would love for a reader to recognize about my stories.
Thank you for commenting, Linda! I talked to someone else this morning who was pleasantly surprised by the movie. He’s the father of a 5-year-old and thought it would be a nonstop toy ad, kind of like the Saturday morning cartoons, but it was a well-thought-out story.
Great review! I was going to pass on this one until people whose taste I actually trust started raving about it. I too worried about a “BUY LEGO!!!” fest but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’d also love the pajamas Emmett :).
From what I’ve heard, Shelby, LEGO gave the movie’s creators wide latitude, in contrast to the LEGO TV shows and the movies the company tried to make in the past (which were apparently a disaster and never released). Lord and Miller have a solid track record that includes the highly-rated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
I had seen the good reviews, but now you’ve sealed it for me. I’m going just as soon as I find a free moment!
I think Olivia would like the movie too. It may be opening later where you are, but it’s worth the wait and seeing it with her.
I absolutely adored this movie, and can’t wait to see it again. I thought of you, Lyn, of course, as I was watching, especially near the end. I always love seeing the photos of your Lego world. Thanks so much for posting your thoughts 🙂
Thank you, Tessa! I’m glad you enjoy the LEGO pictures. Coming up, I’m going to post a short story with the minifigs in four installments. The movie opened to a huge box office, and I think it has legs because people are telling their friends and wanting to see it a second time.
Awesome, looking forward to it!! And count me among those who want to see the movie a second time…or third…
Great look at the LEGO movie. LEGOs are a favorite in my house, and this is the first movie my six-year-old has begged to see. I’m so happy it’s a good one.
I’ve seen your family builds on Instagram. They look great! Definitely take your six-year-old. The young children in the theater with me loved it!
Let’s hear it for subversion!!! Hooray!! As some one raised her own kids with bags full of unsorted Legos (that is, no instructions) and who now has a six-year-old grandson in need of a little subversion, I’m excited to hear about this movie’s message about creativity in general. Thanks, Lyn.
Thank you for commenting, Julie! Will you be the subversive grandma who takes him?
That’s the plan – March 1, right after the AWP conference (looking forward to seeing you here for that!)
Me too! What a great way to end the conference!
Great post, Lyn! I absolutely agree that movies (and music, and books, and paintings) can stir up the creative juices within. Today I’m reading scholarly essays in preparation for a talk I’m giving next week, but tonight I’ll be reading about Nigeria star-crossed lovers and then I’ll be solving crime in the UK. I love the way you use Legos to critique people in “the real world,” and I think everyone should add an hour of “playtime” to each day. We are, after all, a nation of dreamers so the more we nourish our imagination, the better!
Thank you, Zetta! And thank you for spreading the word about the contest.