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James Robinson of PandoDaily felt the need to open our collective eyes to The Lego Movie and it’s “agenda of native advertising”, incensed that he had been forced to pay 14 USD to watch a 100-minute commercial.
Worse, still, was the fact that he actually enjoyed it.
For the most part it’s extremely entertaining, and, as he rightly points out, it’s a “sharply written cultural pastiche”. My parents would find it stupid and obnoxious. Those of us who grew up with the Internet will follow its breakneck pace and absurd humour easily and with glee.
Our hero, Emmet, quickly endears himself to the audience by cheerily, if naively, following the morning routine his city and its leader, President Business, have assigned to him. From dressing to eating to his commute and his workplace, Emmet follows instructions to the letter. The city only plays one song on the radio, an infuriating yet undeniably catchy number assuring us that “everything is awesome”.
Am I sitting in a movie, made to promote a brand of children’s toy, that is projecting an anti-authority, anti-capitalist agenda?
The introduction of giant mechanical squid villains, named Micro-managers, suggests so.
Emmet’s world is carefully and consistently branded. He buys “overpriced coffee,” because he’s told to. And when he’s forcefully broken from the city, he finds that chaos can be much more fun.
This ties in with Lego’s alleged philosophy – creation is king. Lego structures don’t need to be assembled the way anyone tells you; they’re toys, they encourage play.
That’s the theme until the final fifteen minutes, at which point the fourth wall is broken, subtext becomes just plain text, and the film destroys any sense of illusion. The word Lego isn’t uttered once until this point. Then, it is repeated ad nauseum.
From a storytelling perspective, it’s pretty devastating.
Until that point, I loved every minute of this ride, regardless of how clear the corporate message came through. But when they sacrifice the film’s internal logic, it’s a betrayal. Characters aren’t who they seem to be, or, even worse (and somewhat fittingly), they’re not in charge of their own actions, merely agents of circumstance.
I have very little issue with this concept of “native advertising”. As someone who has worked in cinema, I know how hard funding can be to attain. If the story is well-told and has heart, what’s the problem with a bit of corporate branding to get us there?
But never, ever, should content be sacrificed for an agenda.
The Lego Movie is the exact kind of capitalist shell Lego says it rejects, which is shallow and disappointing.
When I was a kid, my family took me to Movie World, and one attraction was a SFX show based on Tim Burton’s take on Batman. I kept my head down during the whole show, protesting that it wasn’t as fun as the franchise’s previous incarnation with Adam West. While I did eventually warm up to the newer Batman, it turned out that my instincts about something being “off” with this darker, edgier, more adult cartoon hero weren’t had some weight.
Hold on, you say, isn’t this article supposed to be about The Lego Movie.
Let me explain. There’s been this problematic trend in Hollywood, comics and the games industry recently of taking beloved childhood franchises, like Transformers, Lone Ranger and Battleship, and slapping on them as much as sex and violence as possible in order to make them appeal to older fans.
The Lego Movie is pointing out how messed up this is.
It’s no coincidence that Batman appears as a character in the movie, and that his whole shtick is making fun of how overdone the “grim and gritty” is, but this is only the beginning. I won’t give it away, but the twist at the end is a testament to everything currently wrong with fan culture and the entertainment industry. Everyone is so obsessed with making everything serious and grown up that we’re forgetting what attracted us to these franchises in the first place – fun.
Let’s detour for a second, and talk about The Avengers. You want to know why The Avengers movies are doing so well critically and commercially, while the new Superman made them rage? Simple – The Avengers remembered that there were kids in the audience. The Avengers, and The Lego Movie remembered that kids love fun. Being “fun” doesn’t mean being stupid or frivolous. Heck, if you put enough effort into it, fun can be really smart – just look at Tintin or Astroboy or most of Pixar’s output.
Just go watch The Lego Movie already.
Trust me, it’s worth it.