Grown Up Talk: The Lego Movie

The word is out. It’s true. You can make a great movie about Legos. For those who have seen The Lego Movie, you understand why it’s as famous as it is. If you have not seen it and don’t want it to be spoiled, then wait to read this article until after you’ve seen it. You’ve been warned.

If you’ve seen the film, you know that there’s more to this Lego world than what we’re seeing. Along the way, you probably realized through either the simple and juvenile dialogue or the fact that they’re toys, that most likely a child is playing with the Legos and through his or her imagination is creating this Lego universe. It’s no surprise later on to discover that you were right. What you probably weren’t expecting was all the other connections between the Legos and the real world, namely The Man Upstairs.

This is the moment the film becomes more than just a children’s movie, and instead becomes a message for all the adults in the audience who had to come because their kids wanted to see it, and for those who wanted to see what all the hype was about. Although the most obvious message is one that we’ve heard before, spend time with your children while you can, there’s something more that we need to talk about.

Once we get to that part toward the end of the movie, where Emmett sees Finn for the first time, we discover that this whole Lego world, the entire story, is being created through the imagination of a child who ties in his experiences in his world to the world he’s created. The major one is Lord Business aka The Man Upstairs aka Finn’s dad. Like Lord Business, Finn sees his dad as being strictly a rule follower, that there’s a structured way of doing everything, and in essence believes that everyone should follow the guidelines. That it’s the way the world works. So with this mindset, let’s look again at The Lego Movie.

Emmet follows his routine for the day.
Emmet follows his routine for the day.

In the beginning we’re introduced to construction worker Emmet Brickowski who wakes up in the morning, and follows a set of rules in order to get ready for the day. Let’s just call this his “routine”.  In order to achieve his perfect day, he has to follow the routine in order to “fit in, have everybody like you, and always be happy”. Already we’re seeing a connection to Finn’s life. Although his father’s career is never mentioned, it’s safe to assume that he’s a business man (considering the fact that his Lego self is called Lord Business who is the president of Octan Corporation “and the world”). Although it’s not true of all business people, the stereotypical presumptions on their morning activities are continuously presented in multiple films, The Lego Movie being one of them. They start with a workout, take a shower, groom, and eat breakfast with their families. Then there’s always the part in the movie where the business person steps out of their homes and greets all their neighbors like they do every morning before going to work (this is starting to sound like The Truman Show).

The drive that Emmet takes to work also seems familiar. While dropping off his stuff at the dry cleaners and reading the headlines he’s also listening to the “top of the charts” song again. And again. He’s also surrounded by people who sing the song again. And again. Although somewhat blown out of proportion, this is definitely a reflection of our world. Do you know how many times “Wrecking Ball” was played when it first came out? Too many. And what’s a morning without buying a cup of ridiculously overpriced coffee (Starbucks) and being happy about it?

Finally, Emmet arrives at work. the “Everything is Awesome” song playing in the background. There his coworkers are discussing the latest episode of Where are My Pants?, a late night comedy show that continuously tells the same joke with canned laughter in the background being activated at parts that aren’t even funny. Let’s not forget the after work activities, going to the sports bar, eating chicken wings “and go(ing) crazy!”

Now, it’s a safe bet that some or all of this is close to how the average worker spends his workday, including in this instance Finn’s dad. By Finn constantly experiencing this in his life, he recreates it in the Lego world. There’s something wrong with this argument, however. If Finn is role-playing his father’s routine based life in his playtime, why do all the characters experience it except Lord Business who’s based off his dad?

Finn faces The Man Upstairs
Finn faces The Man Upstairs

The answer has actually already been given. Lord Business, on his morning announcement, declared himself to not only be president of the Octan Company, but also the world. When we’re young, our perception of the world is very limited for the most part. We know there’s a great big world out there and that one day we’ll experience it fully, but for that moment in time our world consists of school, friends, and our family. For what we see of Finn’s world, in the ten minutes or so that we’re in it, we learn that his world consists of his love of Legos, a mother who makes his favorite tacos on Tuesdays, a little sister who also loves playing with Legos, and a father who has an obsession with the colorful bricks and their proper placement in their respected worlds. Finn and his father possess a similar passion, and Finn is amazed at what his father can do with them, although he’s sad that his building is limited to what the directions say to do. To Finn, his dad is the master builder, “the special”, the ruler of the world; his world. He respects his father, and loves him even though his dad squelched his creativity. And since his father is the “ruler” of his world, Finn must abide by his rules much like the Lego citizens have to obey Lord Business.

After that pretty standard day at work, Emmet’s life spirals out of control and goes in a pretty crazy direction. Reality doesn’t set back in again until we meet Finn and his dad. However, the way that Finn incorporates so much of what he sees and lives daily into those first moments of the movie is pretty amazing.

Which, when we look back at the film says a lot about how a kid views the world.

Finn and his dad come to an understanding.
Finn and his dad come to an understanding.

As adults, we often forget how perceptive children can be, that they see more than what we give them credit for. Any child that is in our lives, whether they be ours or not, watch what we do, how we act, and learn from it. Whether it be a good or bad thing is up to us. What we also must remember is that although children learn from us, we can learn from them. Together we live a never-ending cycle of learning and re-learning from childhood to adulthood. Finn learns how to appreciate the Lego set designs, and his father re-learns how to appreciate the creativeness that can come from them. In the end they learn how to appreciate each other as father and son, and as master builders.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Dale Johnston

    Nice writeup. It’s so hard for me to go to the movies, I end up usually not seeing a lot of films I’d love to. But this one, I saw it twice.

  2. Tuyet Bach

    When I see plots like this, and that of movies like Iron Man 3- I’m caught in a moral dilemma; on the one hand these plots and ideas play into my own thinking, and reaffirm my political beliefs to some extent, almost patting me on the back for thinking them and letting me laugh, or enjoy them in the wider context of the film in question. Simultaneously however, I know that these are productions in some way brought forth by the very system they appear to be critiquing, mass entertainment consumption structures. In Iron Man 3’s case, what is propagated behind the cooption of terrorist-myth-conspiracy is a hyper-militarism and acceptance of society’s precipitation to the apocalypse- fear. I’ll watch The Lego Film with interest, but I’m wondering- a film built around cutesy little cartoon hollow simulacra (hollow because, Lego by essence is a toy of interaction, of user-design: remove that and there is nothing left, only empty sign value) of the toys we used to play with as children rendered as satire for adult consumption- who is it that’s really being satirised? Capitalism will sell you the rope it hangs you with, and make children of us all whilst doing it.

    • I think you make some valid points, but at the same time, a film is at best a reflection of societal attitudes: it shouldn’t be taken as a guidebook for how we should think or act once we leave the cinema, and you’re allowed to disagree with the conclusions the film leads you towards. Many people are just treating it as an enjoyable animated film.

      I’d also add that while broadly The Lego Movie does exist to sell a product (like most films to a greater or lesser extent) it’s also willing to poke fun at its own conventions even if it doesn’t succeed in overturning them entirely.

    • boudreaux

      If one lives the changing the world again and again by proxy in films, is one then not less likelly to actually act to change the real world?

      Or in other words, is this not the circus in “bread and circus”, meant to provide us with a feeling of elation and of achievement without us actually having done anything in any way to achieve a better world?

    • Abe Emanuel

      I agree with you, but I think it would be best to keep in mind that the corporations would love this kind of manipulation to be real, a kind of corporate utopia if you like. I think we, as individuals, are far too difficult to control, otherwise once a company like Apple gets you they would never let go. They died once, they will die again.

  3. I haven’t seen the movie yet but this perspective on the parent-child relationship and mutual learning gave me a greater interest in seeing the film. As a writer, a few points to keep in mind: 1) people are always “who” not “that” and 2) subject verb agreement.

    So, for example, this sentence
    Any child [single noun] that [who] is in our lives, whether they [plural pronoun] be ours or not, watch [plural verb] what we do, how we act, and learn from it.

    would be better expressed as
    All children in our lives, whether they are ours or not, watch what we do and how we act—and learn from it.

  4. Jemarc Axinto

    I was very surprised at how much the Lego movie criticized society. Right from the get go I was astounded, but what really pulled the movie together for me was when it was secured in reality. It’s certainly a movie that appeals to young and old alike, but most of all the way it forces parents to confront themselves is amazing.

    Also, when I saw the parent was Will Ferrell I just about died.

  5. I wasn’t going to see this movie. Now I feel like I have to!

  6. First off, I’d like to say that this movie had stunning cinematography. Even as an animation, it was brilliant. As much as I truly enjoy this movie, I feel like the underlying themes directed toward children aren’t so deeply imbedded after all. Children do usually absorb surprising amounts of information, and I think the writers of this script (marketed to children) are especially aware of it. Looking at the movie at a larger scale, it seems to me like it was one of the movies that know what they are, and instead of trying to hide it, they market it harder. You could even say it is a brilliantly designed extended commercial for LEGOS. Really, the entire movie sums up to say loosely: as children, be creative, be yourself, and do it with LEGOS. To parents, it reaffirms that if you play with your children with LEGOS, it will create a relationship with them. And that is only scratching the surface themes. This movie is definitely more deliberately constructed than many are willing to believe. Either way, the story was very impressive. I really enjoyed watching it.

  7. I loved this movie so bad and I’m an adult. I shouldn’t be judged.

  8. are all kids movies these days not filled with stuff only adults get? its a good ploy to expand the target audience beyond the nippers

    • Zetta Gavin

      I genuinely wonder if this has something to do with the infantilisation of adult culture, and whether it contributes to the retarded, often nostalgia-themed, intellectually vapid childish shlock that most people consume as culture in later life.

  9. I thought this movie was great and I think your write up is intriguing, but I don’t know that I fully agree with you. I don’t see Emmet as a version of Finn’s father, instead Emmet represents Finn, or more appropriately every character in the film represents a piece of Finn. I think that Finn’s father represents all the societal norms that Finn thinks he should follow hence the opening scene with Emmet, but quickly realizes in real life that life isn’t nearly as fun when it’s always structured. What’s really curious about this movie is that it fights the idea of structure and conformity for some, but in fact gives into those ideas in order to express creativity more clearly. The Legos aren’t all thrown around and it’s mass chaos. There is an obvious order in what Finn creates, but what is exciting is how creative some of these new characters, buildings, and vehicles are.

  10. ilovesaintpaul

    Loved this film. It was a real surprise to me. I had thought that my kids were just dragging me along and I had to be play the role of compromising/giving Dad. What a surprise to find out the movie was actually pretty decent! I must admit, however, that I felt the ending was a bit long.

  11. I was surprised at how much fun it was to see this movie. Normally, I hate children’s movies, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Good write-up.

  12. Correct me if I’m wrong (I only saw the movie once, a couple months ago), but the master builders and the “special” are those who can build anything from the bricks at their disposal, disregarding the instructions completely. Which is why, at first, Emmett can’t do it, because he’s been brainwashed by Lord Business into believing his life has to be structured around rules. So Emmett wouldn’t necessarily see his dad as a master builder (at least not before the very end of the movie), though “ruler of the world” is more accurate. (And, in this movie at least, that title has a much more negative connotation.)

    Another way to look at these characters is to see Emmett as Finn. Finn knows he is a “master builder,” but raised as he has been in an environment of strict regulation (courtesy of his father, Lord Business), he hasn’t had the opportunity to experiment with his creativity. Destroying the Kragle opens up the possibility for Lord Business/dad to loosen the restrictions placed on the world. At the beginning of the movie, Finn sees his father as a villain with plans to destroy the world with absolute perfection (one man’s idea of perfection, anyway), but by the end, their heart-to-heart suggests that dad may have become a master builder, if not the “special,” in his son’s eyes.

    I…forgot where I was going with that. I saw this movie because I wanted to get to the bottom of all the hype and it was so worth the price of tickets. And I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of the social commentary or just how…meta it was until I walked out of the theater. Truly a genius kid movie based on some toy building blocks.

  13. Zachary CruzTan

    Your last couple of sentences are the truest. To me, Lego is not only for children. Finn’s father rediscovering the joy of the “toy” in the movie is perhaps the most moving moment. Adults need to reconnect with their childhood, and no “toy” does it better than Lego.

  14. I found The Lego Movie to be quite refreshing. I knew it would be interesting when I saw the directing team. They seem to be experts on taking material that should not translate to film and creating interesting movies that actually have something to say. I look forward to their future endeavors.

    The social commentary you mention in your article was one of my favorite aspects of the film. Underneath the interesting animation and funny gags there was some actual meaning (something that we seem to be losing in modern film).

    The change in perspective at the end will make rewatching the film (something I have yet to do) a new experience.

  15. If more parents played with their children, the world would definitely be a funner place. The whole world within a world business went over the four year old’s head, but the six year old got it, and has thrown it in my face since.

  16. billingz

    This movie was really a great movie.

  17. Great article. I loved The Lego Movie. I remember walking into the theater just expecting a fun animated film but it was so much more than that. I wasn’t expecting all of the commentary in it which was nice and refreshing. Such a well written and imaginative film.

  18. Sean Buckley

    This is a beautiful and groundbreaking movie on so many levels, both in its cinematography and its message. Seeing this just after my 22nd birthday, a realization hit me – my generation will be the first of our kind to have more toys than our children. Not fancy cars or jets or big screen TVs, but literal toys that we’ve kept and grown up with. So many of us will pass down our video games, board games, and hopefully LEGOs (in the spirit of the movie), and the film teaches my generation the lesson that even though we grow older, we must never forget to share. Sharing is what makes having those toys worth the experience. The father in the film forgets this valuable lesson, and his relationship with his son suffers.

    The cinematography has been covered by multiple people here but I’ll just reiterate how fantastic the stop motion-CGI combination looked and felt like real LEGO brick. As someone who worked in a LEGO store for a few months, seeing them represented on the screen as if a child were shooting the film shot for shot was wonderful. The understanding behind the film is equally astounding; the LEGO Movie is perhaps the first post-modern animated feature. It knows it is an animated film and does not attempt to take itself too seriously, even when delivering a serious message. Never forget that message, however, for all that this film offers the senses, it is what it offers the mind that is most important to hold on to.

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