The entirely appropriate theme song.
The LEGO Movie is exceptional.
Watching it feels like watching a virtuoso performance; the people who made the movie clearly know their craft, and you can see them having fun playing around inside the boundaries set out for them, playing with the audience’s expectations even as they satisfy them. And they do it so skillfully that they are able to take a story that we’ve heard millions of times before and turn it into something wonderfully fresh and enjoyable.
You certainly have heard the story before, because The LEGO Movie is built around the monomyth. It also, by virtue of its medium and a few helpful hints, manages to tell a story outside of the story with which the film opens. I’ll talk more about that later, but that topic is full of spoilers.
I strongly recommend that you go and watch The LEGO Movie. As my friend Ben put it, “this could be the Toy Story of this generation.” If you want more of my thoughts on the movie’s virtuosity, read on…
Hot damn, this movie is fun and funny. I don’t usually laugh and cheer loudly while watching movies, especially not in a theater, but this time I was cheering and laughing right along with the rest of the audience. The lines are beautifully delivered by an excellent cast, the humor hasn’t been dumbed down whatsoever, and the film’s zany self-awareness shines through brilliantly.
You’ll understand what I mean by self-awareness pretty much the moment that you start watching. The filmmakers know the tropes that you expect, they know that you know that they know those tropes, and they make shameless use of that by layering moments of hilarious story-awareness in amongst the rest of their delivery. This might seem like a risky option given the potential for meta-story wankery, but the movie delivers. I… I really like this movie.
As a non-movie aside, I also freely acknowledge that it is basically a huge advertising platform for an already enormous global toy company. But I’m ok with that. I always liked playing with LEGO, to the point where my second girlfriend quite legitimately teased me about it, and the movie is just too good in its own right for me to care about how many LEGO sets the film will sell. If they keep making more LEGO and occasionally make media as good as this, I’m totally down. That said, I do wish they’d cut the crap with their horribly divergent gendered marketing schemes.
I want to go on, but the rest of this is going to include *SPOILERS* of one sort or another. I’ll try to keep them as mild as I can, but if you don’t want to have sections of the movie spoiled for you, you might want to wait until after you’ve seen the movie to read the rest of this.
I’m actually very strongly reminded of The Matrix. The original one that we all still like, that is. Both The Matrix and The LEGO Movie play with many of the same tropes, and both of them are highly competent re-imaginings of the monomyth with reluctant or incompetent heroes. It doesn’t hurt that there are obvious parallels between Trinity and Wyldstyle as well as between Morpheus and Vitruvius. The wildly creative capacities of Master Builders are neatly paralleled by the rule-breaking abilities of the enlightened operatives on Morpheus’ crew. Even the villains are similar in their love of conformity and business suits, though the resolutions of the two stories are somewhat different.
Echoing those parallels, there are a few things that I wish could have been done differently. As one of my friends recently pointed out, there are relatively few versions of the monomyth that focus on a female hero, or which feature a female character who undergoes the same sort of growth and change expected of the male lead. Somehow, female characters in adventure stories often start and finish a story at the same level of competence rather than experiencing the growth of a typical hero on a Hero’s Journey.
Here, I feel that the Trinity / Wyldstyle parallel is something of a letdown; fifteen years later, we still have badass ladies (good!) but they aren’t given the opportunity to undergo growth and change in the same way that the hero is (bad). I think it’s fair to say that Wyldstyle is less sidelined than Trinity was, but… more would have been nice. This isn’t enough for me to say that the movie is bad, because it’s actually really good, but it is enough for me to say that there was a missed opportunity here. I honestly don’t know that it would have been possible to work in a clear Hero’s Journey for Wyldstyle given the other things that were already going on in the plot, but I think that if anyone could have done it, these people could have. I hope they’ll decide to put the same level of attention to detail and exceptional storytelling talent into an adventure story with a female hero in the near future.
Remember my earlier comments about “stories outside stories”? To be more clear, The LEGO Movie pulls something that I last remember being done with The Neverending Story: it incorporates a story external to the original premise of the main fiction and does it in a way that includes the additional material in the Hero’s Journey. In fact, the Atonement with the Father step of the monomyth could be said to happen twice during the film, the first time being exceptionally literal. This moment is almost hokey in its execution, but it fits perfectly and makes a wonderful commentary on what it means to be able to play with LEGO, and what that toy can mean for people. It also brought back memories of my semi-religious or cargo cult-ish attitude towards the LEGO constructions left by my brothers when I was little.
What else can I add? I don’t want to spoil everything. There are clearly a few places where I feel that the story could have done something different or better, but the truth is that I really loved this film. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.