Thursday, August 28, 2014

Can't LEGO the past.

Saw The Lego Movie a few days ago, and am compelled to share my thoughts. Stop me! Stop me before I share my thoughts again! 

Ha! Too late.

First off, it was a lot of fun. I don't know much about the creation of the film, but it was clever of them to do an anti-consumerism movie for a consumer product. Talk about hanging a lampshade on it! Also, the filmmakers clearly had fun with the project, start to finish. It was astounding to see a movie made for kids that did not have one poop joke---or if there was I missed it; the jokes were flying pretty fast. It was the only time we'll ever get to see Gandalf and Dumbledore in the same place. And Superman gets to treat Green Lantern like a nerdy kid brother, presumably because the movie Green Lantern flopped and Man of Steel made a ton.

Mark Mothersbaugh, who began his career writing infuriatingly catchy technopop songs, wrote the infuriatingly catchy technopop music, especially "Everything Is Awesome," which will probably win an Academy Award for best song. If that pimp song could win a few years back, I'm convinced there is nothing that can disqualify a song for nomination anymore, and there are far too few musicals to provide a competitive field.

I enjoyed the voice work, from some surprising quarters. Morgan Freeman made me laugh for the first time since he was Easy Reader. Chris Pratt, who looks like a JV Kirk to me in the Trek movies, was perfect as the unlikely hero. But I am sad that there's so little work for pure voice actors anymore, guys like Mel Blanc and Paul Frees in the old days and Larry Kenney now. I'm told that average workaday thespians can't even get gigs doing audiobooks. Everything is celebrity.

My philosophical problems with the film begin with the fact that hanging the aforementioned lampshade on a problem doesn't make it go away. It's still as much a movie-length commercial for a product as any Care Bears or Barbie movie is. I can endure such a thing if it's entertaining enough, just as I can watch an ad that's entertaining without feeling like I've burned 30 seconds of my life. This movie passed that test. (It had me at the "I just wanna go home!" gag during the first big chase.)

My other problem is with, well, people being made of Lego* blocks. I ran into this with the Batman game for the Wii a couple of years ago, when Robin gets his head knocked off, and Batman pops it back on and Robin's fine. Yes, you can do that with Lego toys, but it kind of lowers the stakes, you know what I mean? (Inconsistently, in the movie one character does "die" following decapitation while another character does not. Maybe in the Lego universe, decapitation is only fatal if you don't get your head plugged into some blocks quickly enough.)

I think what annoyed me most, though, is that Lego has been selling these complete scene sets for years, where they supply all the pieces for a castle, a Western town, a city block, or whatever, and you just build them to look like the picture on the box---and this is what we're supposed to rail against in the new film? That someone puts the sets together the way the manufacturer sells them? Lego has given you a set with everything to make a specific scene... and now they want you to screw around with it so you don't end up like Will Ferrell in the movie.** It's like selling a paint-by-numbers kit and then ridiculing the person who paints the picture, insisting that he ignore the outlines and numbers and just paint whatever he wants. Hey, Lego, that Western town was your idea!

When I was a kid, back in the Holocene Epoch, the Lego set didn't even come with people. The only special piece I remember was the window. You could put a Lego window in a wall. That was it! I don't even think there was a door. Maybe. Now everything is a special piece, but back then we had just Lego bricks of different sizes and had to make them into our own things.

I remember taking a huge pile of them and making all kinds of little sculptures (little houses, dogs, larger houses, people, horses, more houses, whatever) and putting them out on tables with little tags like an art museum. My mom forced herself to go through it and ooh and aaah, God bless her. It didn't look like much, but it was a lot of fun, and made me into the world-famous sculptor I am today.***

That's sort of the play Lego wants you to do with its sets, although by supplying the pieces to be used in particular ways they hinder you from doing exactly that. What do you want from me, Lego?! And apparently you shouldn't ever glue the blocks in place to save your creation, not ever. So it's okay to dismantle things at Legoland or at the Art of the Brick exhibit. Go ahead! It's fun!

Anyway, on the bright side, The Lego Movie makes a tremendous amount of fun of the tropes of the modern adventure film, and for that I have to give it high marks.**** And it gave Abraham Lincoln a rocket chair. Who doesn't love that?

But any parent who watches the movies knows the real bad guy in the Lego universe is the brick that waits in the hall, or on the stairs, for your naked feet in the middle of the night. That guy is a bastard.

* As an editor I have wrestled in the past with others who want LEGO to be all caps, as in the company nomenclature, for news stories and the like. But the word Lego is from the Dutch leg godt, or play well; it's not an acronym like IKEA. Remember, kiddies, when you're copyediting, just because a company insists on funky punctuation or spelling does not mean you have to play along. They want you to write (as an imaginary example) joSEph?ne"Z B..eaUty PROdUct!s in text because they know you'll ID the company name immediately by the stupid way it looks, but for the benefit of your reader (and your sanity) just write Josephine'z Beauty Products. 

** A good thing to not end up as in any of his movies, actually.
*** Not really.

**** They have a sequel slated for 2017, but it's hard to imagine they'll capture lightning in a bottle twice. This movie has the feel of a one-off, a nonpareil, a lovely experience that can't be forced to repeat. I guess we'll find out. 

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