On Saturday afternoon, when you all were most likely enjoying the long awaited arrival of spring outdoors, I found myself sitting in a dark cinema watching the latest must-see kids movie. Yep, that Lego thing.
Being the corporate refusnik that I am, I didn’t rush our kids off to see it when it first came out, suspecting it to be one almighty, highly sophisticated 90 min long advert for more plastic. But after too many people had given it glowing praise and my son was desperate to see what all his friends were on about, we booked the tickets (before the weather turned glorious, I might add….)
So, I’m sitting there hoping I’m not going to be too bored or fed up that I’ve missed the best sunset since last September…but guess what? I ended up really enjoying it. Why? Let’s just say I ended up laughing louder than most people in the cinema, and found myself nodding at its life lessons. In short, it surprised me with the unexpected.
The unexpected of a multi-million pound, block-buster, corporate kids movie, pedalling a subversive anti-corporate, free-your-imagination line presented with a canny mixture of tongue in cheek and a serious point to make. Adult satire and ironry ran throughout but thankfully they left enough jokes and story line for the kids to appreciate. It had me laughing out loud rather too often (the “you can trust me as I’m on TV” bit particularly funny). I couldn’t believe I was laughing at lego.
The all-controlling tyrannical villain, President Business, rules his Lego universe through subjugation, controlling every aspect of life from jobs, TV and radio programmes to the the Over-Priced Coffee (‘That’ll be $37, sir”) to ensure total hegemony and control. His robotic ‘micro managers’ who are wheeled in when subjects didn’t comply were one of my favourites. The anti-hero is the blandest, most compliant Mr Nice Guy you ever met, whose inner security revolves around “following instruction” and was generally a bit of a nobody. But by the end of the film he’s learnt to think for himself, that being told he’s Special empowers him to be special, and that we all need to throw about the instruction book and be free to create.
But this is where I got confused. Doesn’t Lego now sell every bit of highly coloured plastic with a detailed instruction manual? This was the company that started out selling bits of plastic bricks to set the imagination free and now sold everything in controlled, step by step, boxes. Who made this film? Did the ghost of Mr Lego Past, have overall control of Mr Lego Present who paid for the film? Was the benevolent Vitrovious, the slightly zany Prophet/Wizard, the ghost of Lego Past? And was the whole thing designed to persuade me to love Lego even more through a strange form of anti-advertising…..? Well, if it was, it hasn’t worked: we came home determined to use what we had more imaginatively (my son already does that, but just reinforced that what he does is a good thing).
As for life lessons, well I feel there was something in there for the kids, and the adults. Yes, of course it had the usual Believe in Yourself and You Can Do Anything line, that essential ingredient, that Disney Doctrine, woven into every kids’ film these days. But it seemed somehow subtly different from all the rest of those films. Partly because it didn’t hammer home the Believe in Yourself commandment with usual accompanying smultsey, violin-heavy ‘inspirational’ music. But also because it pedalled the line that whatever crazy idea you have, however ordinary you are, it is valid and useful, especially if you work as a team. What’s more, we need to have the courage of our convictions and stand up for what we believe in or have created, even if it is a double decker sofa (I have to say, I loved the double decker sofa before it turned out to be their literal life saver. Anyone else?!)
And wasn’t it refreshing to see the prescription feisty lead female not beating up the lead man who’s too weak to be respected, but who brought out the best in him by believing in him (even if that was a false belief at first)? It somehow made up a little for the usual unhealthy polarisation of genders portrayed in films: the dumb harmless male/clever powerful female which I’m not just tiring of but beginning to get quite worried about…
Maybe the sun had got to me, but I felt the film resonated with me and showed up some truths about our modern world that my children have yet no clue about….
And then there was the big corker of a lesson about the dangers of over-controlling parenting that hit me over the head like a frying pan from Tom & Jerry. The all-controllying tyrant turned out to be a parent. Aagh! With his black, robotic Micro-Managers (oh my husband would’ve loved them – too many has he had to deal with in life, including his wife….) and his all-powerful, all controlling tube of Kragle Glue, the villain of the day was the Dad who wanted to fix all his lego creations in place so his son couldn’t mess it up.
Oh, what a brilliant analogy of what over-controlling, perfectionist parenting can do, where imagination and freedom to rip up the instruction book is banned. Where the super powerful, all dangerous Kragle glue was the ultimate weapon in the war to gain control and perfect order. Hardly subtle, but this was a Lego movie, after all…
I’m just wondering when that song “Everything is Awesome” is going to stop ringing around the halls of my brain like an annoying chirpy mosquito….
For a much better critique of the film’s commentary on late capitalist, consumer culture, the New Republic does a great job of it here