The LEGO Movie could be dismissed as a 100-minute commercial for LEGO toys, but it’s also true that the filmmakers went to a lot of extra trouble to make this film not just wholesome and fun entertainment, but to intertwine a couple of really good messages for kids into the story.
The basic plot is your typical hero quest block-ified: an ordinary “LEGO” figure who finds a relic is mistaken as the prophesied “the Special” who will save the LEGO worlds.
Emmet is the most ordinary, generic LEGO personality you can imagine–a construction worker who follows his instruction manual to do everything, who fits so well into the LEGO world that he is practically invisible. Because he accidentally finds and becomes attached to a relic (a human artifact that is not a LEGO piece) Emmet is mistakenly identified as “the Special” who will save and bring freedom to the LEGO worlds.
Unknown to Emmet, the LEGO worlds need saving because President Business is really a mastermind criminal who seeks to control them, trying to bring perfection and order, rather than freedom and joy. After being captured for finding the relic, Emmet overhears that President Business is going to glue all the LEGO people/worlds in place, thus paralyzing everyone and everything. It will be the end of the world as he knows it. (And of course President Business doesn’t care who he has to eliminate to achieve his end.)
As Emmet is being rescued by WyldStyle from President Business, he discovers how uniquely unqualified he is to be “the Special” as she is repeatedly disappointed by his inability to build, to imagine, or to think for himself. As we explore the various LEGO worlds with Emmet, WyldStyle and the Master Builders (heroic LEGO figures like Batman and Robin Hood), Emmet continues to be truly un-spectacular. Until almost the very end, when a new perspective helps Emmet believe that he truly is special. And not only has he discovered that he is special, he also discovers that everyone else is special too. Emmet reveals that we all have moments when our specific gifts are needed, when we are the special ones, when we can do amazing things. But our specialness can be lost if we don’t work together, if we don’t allow others to be special, too.
The plot in particular is outstanding: from the unexpected twist that reveals why everything doesn’t need to make sense, to the final resolution of dealing with President Business in a surprisingly beautiful way that “builds up” rather than tears down or destroys. Rich cultural references and great casting of well-known and familiar voices bring an extra richness to the animated characters.
On Saturday (June 28), the five-minute radio version of this commentary was broadcast on Salt + Light Radio.
I found an unnecessary amount of “LEGO” violence in the film–with the little brick figures falling, being smashed, hit, etc. Even though it’s so stylized–and honestly, what child hasn’t smashed a LEGO figure against something hard?–I wish there had been less, especially as this film will be seen by many very young eyes.
For the non-LEGO fan, especially the adults, the bright primary colors, constant transformation of LEGO constructions into other LEGO concoctions, and the various loud, unrelenting chases can be a bit much. However, for LEGO fans, I’m guessing the nostalgia value would be quite high. Several allusions to history and legends and many clever nods to the pop culture of the 80s and 90s–from Batman and Star Wars to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter–add another level of enjoyment for adults and older kids.
A Window to the Soul
Some reviews have pointed out that Emmet’s self-sacrifice near the end could be an allusion to Christ. I agree, although I think that it’s better described as a powerful image of selfless, Christ-like love, rather than a great metaphor for Christ as our Savior. (Elements of a Christ-figure metaphor don’t carry through to other parts of the story.) However, where this film really stands out is its twofold message about yearning to be special. Being special is such a fundamental desire that even grown-ups can resonate with Emmet’s pain when he’s harshly told that he’s not special. But Emmet doesn’t just discover that he’s special (an important message in itself for young viewers). He also discovers how his “specialness” fits with his being part of a community, part of a team. We are all special and unique, and yet we best express how special we are when we “fit” together and work with each other. This second message is delightfully reinforced by the ending, which is refreshingly nonviolent.
This film’s theme could be described in various ways: the tension between creative types vs. organized types; individuality vs. conformity; that the balance between conformity and creativity is true teamwork where all are recognized for their unique specialness, etc. Overall, this film explores what it means to be both individual and part of the human community. For the more reflective viewer (or for a family discussion), The LEGO Movie could open a window to the beauty of what it means to be a member of a family, or what it means to be a member of the Church, belonging to the Body of Christ.
A great Scripture passage to reflect on after seeing this film is Saint Paul’s beautiful chapter from 1st Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12).