Skip to comments.The LEGO Movie is Practically Communist
Posted on 02/07/2014 11:57:05 AM PST by nickcarraway
A tubby panda bear becomes a kung fu master. A snail races in the Indy 500. A forgotten garbage-robot saves humanity. Our cultural products for children these days often reflect the fact that we live in the age of empowerment. Its become something of a cliché, frankly the outcast or nobody who wins the big race and/or saves the world. And at first glance, The LEGO Movie, as brilliant as it is, appears to be no different. The films hero, an average construction worker named Emmet, is told that by finding a sacred object, called the Piece of Resistance, he has fulfilled a prophecy and become the Special, the most interesting and important person in the universe. Wielding the Piece of Resistance, the Special is to lead a rebellion against the dark forces of President/Lord Business, who rules LEGO land with an iron (plastic) fist.
If you think you know where the story goes from here, thats because narratives of empowerment have become practically the norm in American culture. We believe that children need encouragement in order to become their best selves, and our movies and stories often reflect that. But have we taken it too far? In an eloquent article in the Atlantic last year, Luke Epplin criticized childrens films for what he termed the magic-feather syndrome so named for the feather that Dumbo once thought could make him fly. (Of course, the feather wasnt magic at all; the real feather was Inside Him All Along, or rather inside his giant, flapping ears.) Epplin writes: It's probably no coincidence that the supremacy of the magic-feather syndrome in children's movies overlaps with the so-called cult of self-esteem. The restless protagonists of these films never have to wake up to the reality that crop-dusters simply can't fly faster than sleek racing aircraft. Instead, it's the naysaying authority figures who need to be enlightened about the importance of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how irrational, improbable, or disruptive to the larger community.
Epplin contrasts these magic-feather narratives with Charles Schultzs Charlie Brown comics and films. Because Charlie Brown, for all his belief in himself, remained forevermore an adorable loser who had to learn to be happy with his lot in life to accept his place in the Peanuts Great Chain of Being.
But even as many films have adopted the self-esteem narrative, there has been a counter-current of films pushing back against it. These narratives of exceptionalism are rare, but theyre out there. Chief among them is Pixars The Incredibles, in which a family of superheroes has to keep its powers hidden from a society that has grown to resent them. Whats more, the bad guy, Syndrome, is a resentful former fanboy frustrated that his lack of superpowers kept him from becoming a hero himself. As A.O. Scott articulated it at the time, the films message seems to be: Some people have powers that others do not, and to deny them the right to exercise those powers, or the privileges that accompany them, is misguided, cruel and socially destructive. (Or, as the film itself so succinctly puts it: If everybody is super, then no one is.) Other films have carried the torch of exceptionalism to varying degrees, In Monsters University, for example, adorable cyclops Mike Wazowski dreams of becoming a world-class scarer only to discover, ultimately, that hes better off as a functionary, leaving the scaring to the truly talented one, his hulking beast pal Sulley. In The Nut Job, Surly Squirrel uses his wits to get his own food for the winter, in direct opposition to the collective needs of the rest of the parks animals; even though he eventually learns to be a begrudging team player, his superiority is never really in dispute.
The LEGO Movie, however, takes a different approach. The film opens on a scene in which the great, Gandalf/Morpheus-like mystic Vitruvius (voiced, hilariously I might add, by Morgan Freeman) makes up the prophecy about the Special on the spot, as hes being terrorized by Lord Business. The special-ness of The Special is, therefore, bogus right from the start; when our protagonist Emmet starts to realize his destiny later on, we understand that hes living a fake dream. Indeed, the terms here are so blunt, so direct the Special is an expression that cant even bother to be syntactically correct that they feel like digs at the very artificiality of the narrative of self-esteem. And so, just as the film plays like a spoof of many popular genres (of superhero movies, of quest narratives, of dystopian sci-fi, etc.), it also plays like a parody of the you-can-be-anything-you-want school of storytelling.
The film also acknowledges the inherent double-standard in the idea of ordinary people becoming extraordinary: At one point, the heroine Wyldstyle tearfully reveals to Emmet that she herself was looking for the Piece of Resistance, hoping that she would be the Special. I cant begin to describe how remarkable and rare a confession this is, coming from a heroine of a kids movie. Its something these kinds of narratives rarely address the angst of the dreamer who isnt the one to fulfill this fictional destiny, even though theyre clearly more suited for it. (Wyldstyle actually is powerful and brilliant, unlike Emmet.) So, even as it purports to present a self-esteem narrative, The LEGO Movie dares to suggests that for every ordinary schmoe who gets to be special, theres someone more deserving who doesnt.
So, is The LEGO Movie an exceptionalist narrative in disguise a film that purports to be about a zero becoming a hero while mocking that very idea? No, because the film has, I think, a different agenda. It wants to take the self-esteem narrative to its logical extreme. Unlike other movies, it refuses to shy away from the social implications of saying that everybodys special. Instead, it shows it. In the midst of the movies climactic battle, after Emmet finds out that he isnt the Special that no one is he tells the people of LEGO land that theyre all special, and he inspires them all to break their chains and start creating and building. As a result, the people rise up, and start conjuring up cars, planes, weapons, all sorts of crazy vehicles and other instruments and whatever else in their battle against the forces of Lord Business.
As a result, something rather politically loaded, almost transgressive, emerges. Its a downright proletarian LEGO revolution right at the climax of that most capitalist of film genres, the toy-based childrens movie. (Remember, the movies villain is named Business.) It is, of course, a fantasy of equality and revolution, but its in keeping with the disruptive, anarchic spirit of the film itself. In other words, after exploring the simmering debate between stories of self-esteem and stories of exceptionalism, the movie settles on the self-esteem side, but with a self-aware wink. Narratives of exceptionalism argue that if everybody's special, then nobody is. To that, The LEGO Movie offers a sly retort: Everybody IS special, BECAUSE nobody is.
Is there a transgendering Lego man?
Only when a Democrat is in office. When a Republican is in office, they're named Government.
Ooooh, a movie about plastic cubes. Where can I find tickets. < |:/~
If it was Communist, they’d be building gulags.
DO.. NOT.. SEE.. Don't Go See Lego!
Didn’t this guy see the trailer? This movie isn’t worth watching, much less writing a column about it.
Kids will go (and be taken) to this movie if for none other than because the bricks are shiny and the film is new. The submerged idology may not even register on the surface. Our author is very adult-smart (and I agree with him as an adult), but a well trained young person KNOWS better than to bite so hard.
A good parent will put on The Incredibles after dinner, though.
Exactly. Quite hypocritical. One of the largest toy exporters in the world. Have you SEEN the price of some of thier sets, in one of the MANY outlets around the country???
OTOH, Lego Batman makes a snarky comment about Ben Affleck. :)
All Legos are inherently transgendered. With insies on one side and outsies on the other.
Leggo of my Eggo!
Geez, the author of this piece thinks waaaaaaaay too much.
For some reason Mrs. Mudd sticks in my memory ... maybe ‘cause I’m twice divorced?
lego’s are about 10 cents for each piece, and have been for a long time. The sets you are referring to just have A LOT of pieces.
The small, seemingly insignificant person who goes on to perform heroic deeds is not something new dreamed up by the self-esteem movement; it's as old as children's literature ("The Little Tailor"), if not as old as literature itself (David and Goliath).
cld51860 complained about the cost, I didn’t.
I can also tell you the specialty sets (e.g. Star Wars), cost a lot more than 10 cents a piece.
Everyone is special because they were made in the image of God. That being said; not everyone is equally talented/gifted. People need to realize their own potential and stop focusing on the achievements of others. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things and that is a good message to me.
Since I really am not clear about the movie’s storyline from this review, I am not sure if I agree/disagree with the worldview. More problematic to me are instances in movies when bad behavior goes unpunished or get rewarded. For example, in “The Little Mermaid”, Ariel’s disobedience leads to a happy life with her prince. That is not how the book ended.
This review is more than a little confused. There’s nothing wrong with starting small and, through hard work and determination, accomplishing heroic things.
No, the problem—aside from the fact that it’s apparently a bad movie—is that the villain is “President/Lord Business.”
Clearly the film was funded by wealthy Hollywood Obama supporters.
That’s the reality of communism - gulags.
But if the communists were making a movie about communism,
all the “workers” would be free and own the means of production
and produce everything that they wanted and needed.
Which, I think, is what the author is stating.
And they would dance at work.
The movie critic on fox & friends this am loved it. He said this and Lone Survivor are the BEST movies of the year so far. He thought Clooney’s movie sucked, really bad.
No accounting for taste, I guess. My wife and I saw that trailer and said thank goodness are kids are old enough we don’t have to see that movie.
Oh yes. Remember Mudd’s Women quite well! Yep, it has been around forever and is not going away. Heck, even Frank Capra’s movies are riddled with it, but call them a guilty pleasure for me. I love Capra’s work.
Is/was there a Lincoln Log movie?
Erector Set - The Movie?
We’ll be taking our kids to see it...will have to judge for myself. The boys are too young to care about politics but will love the movie.
Really interesting analysis. I have been badgered into promising to take my kids to this movie, so I appreciate the heads-up on themes (or possible themes) in the movie.
However, I wonder if this reviewer has possibly misinterpreted the ending. I took my kids to “Monsters University” so I saw that one first hand, and this reviewer has, in my opinion, misinterpreted Mike’s final realization about himself. Mike is NOT just a “functionary,” as in, someone who keeps the books or makes sure that the official scarer gets places on time or whatever. Mike is, in fact, a coach and teacher. He is Scully’s director. Scully is many times more effective in his scaring with Mike as his team member, analyzing what he needs to do, working on his timing and delivery, telling him, “Go!” Scully is the “talent” but he’s not half as good without his director, Mike. So Mike’s realization is not that it’s okay to be just a wannabe, but that in fact you don’t have to be the “talent” or point man to still be a necessary and vitally useful part of a team.
We’ll see the Lego movie next week and I’ll take a careful look at its themes then. But it sounds to me like I’ll actually like the movie’s theme. This almost sounds like a reprise of the American Revolution. It sounds like Emmet’s realization is that no anointed princeling (even if he is called “Mr. Business”) has the right to run others’ lives, but that everyone should practice self-determination and “speak truth to power.” I think I might like that. :)
I saw the movie opening night and you are absolutely correct. The author here is dead wrong. What I saw was a fascist/corporatist dystopia that was overturned by ordinary human ingenuity set free to pursue individual dreams. The Lego folks were kept unaware of their true talents and desires by a constant drone of media fed propaganda/bread and circuses pablum (sound familiar?) but as soon as they heard another perspective they snapped out of it. The movie really gave me hope, not to mention it was freaking hilarious from start to finish, fast paced, witty, cleverly executed, etc etc etc.
Freepers! Don’t listen to this drivel! The author wants to suggest something that isn’t there in order to obscure the real message of the film. Go see the it, you’ll love it!!!
Oh yeah, and the author’s name is actually “Bilge”, which should tell you a lot.
“Freepers! Dont listen to this drivel!”
Thank you for posting this. My family was really looking forward to the film, and then I started seeing things like “communist”, “church/state issues”, and the like. Now we can look forward to it again! : )
Not all businessmen are good....In fact, many businessmen hate competition and free enterprise, and will seek out to use government to keep out competition.
It was vastly more political than I ever imagined...
Stupid me thought it would be about Lego's
Grandkids really enjoyed it...
I'm still trying to digest it's message...
One of the many things in the movie I enjoyed was they put all types of references only adults would recognize...they took a theme from just about every popular film made and inserted in the movie...
Almost every superhero old and new was in it.
Lincoln was portrayed, I think Rembrandt character was in it, Hans Solo, the Wookiee, and CPO, Wonderwoman, Batman..
The Overlord Mr. Business had one for all the Master builders...
Don't tell me Moochelle was in it?
Saw the movie last night and your comment is spot on...
I was quite surprised by the ending...
It did take about half the night to get this "Everything is Awesome" earworm out of my head...
Heh heh heh heh...awesome.
Exactly! If I hadn't read Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism I would have had a much harder time working out the message of the movie. That's why you see so many major corporations donating to Democrats, even the major corporate foundations giving to PBS, etc. Unfortunately LIV's like this reviewer are in danger of misinterpretation since their thoughts never go any deeper than business=bad, government=good. But for the informed it's impossible to miss. I'm thinking of Emmet's enthusiastic listing of all the "cool stuff" President Business does for the people, like make the dumb tv shows, run the government, build the chain restaurants, sell the overpriced coffee, create the voting machines..."huh???" It was great.
Oh, another source that was instrumental in seeing the corporate/government interest in micromanaging our lives was John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of Education in America, the link to which some great FReeper posted here a month or so ago. Thank you whoever you are!!!
Ah-Ha! “LEGO MOVIE: An Analogy for Stop Common Core?”
While I liked the movie overall, from a family viewpoint, a big problem is that the dad (lord business), is seen as the bad guy as he only wants his lego creation left alone. Junior has his own set even. Did he ask dad for his help or use his own “creativity”. No, he just wants to tinker with the set dad worked so hard on. Now dad is the bad guy in the movie. But even with all of his efforts (from Emett/the kid), dad/lord business still had full power (parental decision making) but had a change of heart after Emett’sspeech. Interestingly, While he wanted to play with dad’s toys, it doesn’t appear that at the end of the movie he was too thrilled with dad’s decision to let his little sister now play with the legos as well. So really, what did the little kid learn - “Dad (Lord business), change your rules inasmuch as they apply only to me?” I know it was meant to be funny but still a bit selfish.
You are so correct. We saw this movie last night and it is an ANTI-STATIST film.
“Ordinary people can do extraordinary things and that is a good message to me.”
Most people don’t do extraordinary things. which I think is the point of what the writer is saying. 99% of people are not living their lives extraordinary. This is also a problem in some of the Christian churches. The Bible says nothing about us doing anything extraordinary. It is God who is extraordinary. Our lives are suppose to be centered around how extraordinary God is not us.
If you talk to people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. Most people are not doing anything extraordinary. But thanks to movies we now all feel we should be doing more. I’m not sure what more is, but we should be doing it. If in the Christian church we are not feeding enough, not giving enough, not whatever enough and we lose focus. The thing about live is that most of us and our kids, not matter how great we think they are, well most likely be an average Joe or Jane. But when did that become a bad thing? When is serving the Lord just not good enough? In the Bible all the awesome things that happen was because of God, not us.
I get it’s a Lego movie lol! But i can see the trend of everyone has to do something awesome, live awesome, change the world, be different blah, blah, blah. I think even in kid movie we need to be carful about what the world tell us is extraordinary and read the Bible is see what God tell us extraordinary is.