The Lego Movie is an Underrated Masterpiece
The Lego Movie has a big twist. It’s the kind of reveal that changes your understanding of everything that’s come before it. Up to this point, we’ve been following Emmet Brickowski, a pre-hunkified Chris Pratt, as he’s recruited as some kind of chosen one. He’s believed to be “the special,” and he’s fighting to stop Lord Business from gluing his town of Bricksburg together permanently. When Emmet falls through a wormhole in his Lego world to sacrifice himself, he wakes up on a concrete floor. He’s in a basement. We learn that everything we’ve witnessed thus far comes from the imagination of Finn, a child who’s playing with his father’s Legos. And his dad does not approve.
This twist works not because it blows your mind. It’s easy enough to guess that Emmet, who is a toy, is someone else’s plaything. The twist works because it enriches the story it’s telling. Suddenly, Emmet’s quest to keep his town from being permanently glued is one about creative freedom.
There’s a tension in The Lego Movie between rigidity and freedom. It’s a movie that, oddly enough, is a perfect tribute to the toys it uses to tell its story. What makes legos different from other toys is that you can tear down your creations in order to build something new. Lego creations can change.
If you had never seen The Lego Movie and heard they were making a movie about toy bricks, you could think one of two things. First, you might think about what a cheap, creatively bankrupt idea that is. You might bemoan the fact that people never make anything new anymore. Or, you may be reminded that there are already movies about sentient toys that are going to be pretty hard to top.
The Lego Movie could have been a very basic story about a guy who finds out he’s special and saves the town. It didn’t have be as creative as it was to work. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller don’t really do anything halfway, though.
That’s why instead of a rote story, we got something much, much better.
Before The Lego Movie‘s big twist, its story feels like one we’ve seen before. Emmet is a normal guy who finds out he’s not normal at all. He becomes enveloped in a quest to save the world. Yada, yada, yada. Emmet doesn’t gain any magical superpowers when he’s discovered. He’s an inept man-boy whose only real idea is for a double-decker couch. Wildstyle, his female companion, is much more talented than he is.
As Emmet discovers the underground world of master builders — characters who are capable of building pretty much anything — The Lego Movie takes some time to tell jokes. Those jokes are high-brow and low, and they make excellent use of the incredible voice cast that Lord and Miller lined up for the film. Even as it becomes clear that the film has something on its mind, it never pretends that its topic is a serious one. This is a kid playing with toys. Sometimes, that’s exactly as stupid as it sounds, especially when Will Arnett‘s picture-perfect Batman parody comes along.
After the twist, The Lego Movie takes a beat to point out that Lord Business, the villain played marvelously by Will Ferrell, doesn’t have to be bad at all. Lord Business is an analogue for Finn’s father, a stern man who wishes his son would just leave the Legos alone. The movie’s climax is not a battle between them; it’s Finn realizing that his father doesn’t have to be an enemy.
In doing so, he blows up the heroic quest narrative that the whole film has been building toward. In its place is a reminder that chosen one narratives like Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are dumb because everyone is special.
When we first meet Emmet, he’s a cog in a machine. He does the same things every day and seems content with that life. What he discovers as the movie goes on is that he’s made no impression. All the people he thought were friends find him entirely unremarkable. This realization is heartbreaking, and it seems to be a clear signal that Emmet is not, in fact, “the special.” But that’s because no one is.
In its final moments, The Lego Movie suggests that stories about chosen ones are never really true. As trite as it might sound, everyone is special for one reason or another. Emmet doesn’t have to be a hero because he’s not facing a villain. Instead, he’s facing someone who wants his creations to be preserved forever, a misguided goal that’s nonetheless understandable.
Elevating Emmet as the chosen one doesn’t help anybody. It puts pressure on him to save everyone else, and it devalues the contributions of everyone who isn’t him to that same goal. Emmet is a hero, but he’s not a singular hero. He’s part of a diverse, creative team, and every member of that team contributes to their ultimate goal.
The Lego Movie embraces joy, creativity, and community. After Finn tells his father that he doesn’t have to be a bad guy, the two of them let their imaginations run wild. They aren’t confined by rules or logic. They’re just playing.
In an era where superhero movies often depict exceptional people doing heroic things, The Lego Movie offers something else. It’s a movie about ordinary people, or toys, who work together to fight for the value of individuality, and for each other. It also has a character whose sole desire is to build a rocket ship, because inclusivity matters too,
“Everything is Awesome” is the film’s theme song, and its meant to operate as a piece of propaganda that keeps the masses feeling content. By the end of the film, though, its promise of perfection has finally been fulfilled.