I just had a discussion with a mate of mine who adored ‘The LEGO Movie’, so much so that despite seeing it in the cinema he now also owns a copy on blu-ray. That talk made me work through my feelings on that particular movie, feelings of which I am going to to articulate/vent/spew here.
Firstly, I was intrigued by the film, I certainly didn’t loathe it, I even rewatched it, not only because I enjoyed my experience but also to figure out what precisely was nagging at me, why was it that when I watched the film there was this little nugget of conflictedness rearing itself in that squishy thinky part of me. The conclusion I came to, and a rather unpolished one at that, was that it felt like Toy Story with real, preexisting toys. This conclusion, while not incorrect, lacked a certain level of nuance. So the talk earlier with my ‘The LEGO MOVIE’ loving friend helped me flesh out those feelings and give a little more substance to my thought than I had previously.
Animated shows of the late eighties (which I wasn’t alive to see but regardless) and nineties (which I was) existed to sell shit, Transformers, Biker Mice from Mars, that one with the Sharks in a motorcycle gang, yet even when revisiting them I don’t get weirded out. Probably because I first watched them as a child, so at that time you’re not really thinking on any sort of ‘THESE SONS OF BITCHES ARE TRYING TO MANIPULATE ME!’ level. But also and I think importantly here, they exist on a level of abstraction, Transformers as far as I recall was never something I watched (it may not have been on British tv?) but in both the cartoons and Michael Bay’s films you aren’t watching the toys, what you are watching is either drawn or computer animated machines of alien origin. Whereas ‘THE LEGO MOVIE’ has the toys in a fashion that while slightly idealised (no chew-marks from difficult to separate pieces) are completely representative of the product you get out of the box. You could of course argue that like the Transformers, the lego characters move on their own, without a child’s hand to manipulate them. Except of course for the part of the film where a child does manipulate and play with the lego figures, and his developing relationship with his father, which then leads directly to a scene that epitomizes many toy commercials of my youth, that of the FATHER FIGURE PLAYING AND HAVING FUN WITH HIS SON! You actually root for this reconciliation during the film, you want that scene to happen and like a dog following a trail of treats, inevitably find yourself trapped in an upturned washing basket.
I know when I watch this film that I’m being manipulated and the film tells me; ‘HEY DUMB-ASS! HERE ARE A BUNCH OF LEGO PRODUCTS, DON’T THEY LOOK FUCKING COOL?’ The worst thing is that they do! The toys do look cool and fun, the film succeeds in persuading you that lego is a great thing to play with, especially as it allows you to FORM INTIMATE AND CLOSER BONDS WITH FATHER! And that’s what gets to me, it’s like a conman telling you he’s going to pick your pocket then you’re all surprised when you can’t find your wallet. You’re a little impressed but also annoyed, you’ve paid with whatever is in your wallet to be fooled and that, despite all the glamour and skill involved, rubs me the wrong way.
If you didn’t pay for this entertaining commercial, either through someone else buying it or literally ANY OTHER WAY that didn’t involve you giving money to film that tells you to BUY BUY BUY! Then you’ve won! For the rest of us, I feel compelled to re-purpose a quote from a classic;
But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved ‘THE LEGO MOVIE’®