I’ve now seen The LEGO Movie twice, and I loved it just as much the second time around, if not more. The composition and action are clever and inventive, the aesthetic is charming, the humor is genuinely funny, and the theme is something I can jam on. But a thought occurred to me that I was not expecting:
There isn’t a single character I don’t like.
The primary audience for the movie is going to be youngsters. As much as it’s written at a level that parents can both grok the themes and laugh at the humor, it’s basically a kid’s movie. It would be terrifyingly easy for the writers to keep the heroes and villains simple, if not one-dimensional, to make sure there’s no ambiguity or confusion on the part of the young audience.
However, the writers of The LEGO Movie demonstrate a level of skill and an abundance of trust in their audience. The characters in their movie are nuanced and deeper that you might think. Emmett, our hero, has no real power or even imagination to speak of. What I like about his starting position and presentation is that you don’t have to be born with some sort of special power or destiny to do the right thing or to be heroic. This comes to fruition in the end when he’s talking to Lord Business about what it means to be special (or The Special if you want to get technical).
Speaking of Lord Business, it’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a family movie and realized that the antagonist is really only villainous in presentation. Sure, his methods for going about what he wants are pretty diabolical, especially in the visuals, but in the end, Business just wants things to be ordered and organized. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. He is driven to get what he wants to an extreme, and that extreme leads to some real scorched-earth moments, but the amplification of this desire for order comes from a place where such desire might seem terrifying. I won’t say more because I still want to avoid spoilers (you really should go see this movie if you haven’t already), but suffice it to say that what the writers do with the main villain really struck a chord with me.
I mentioned that the message in The LEGO Movie isn’t quite as strongly delivered as that from Wreck-It Ralph, but I’m not going to be too hard on a movie this inventive telling kids to be themselves. Again, Emmett is encouraged to cultivate what is special about himself. So too is Wyldstyle. What impressed me the second time around is how much the girl whose name sounds like a DJ’s handle is struggling with her own identity. She’s tied so much of her desires and ambitions into the quest that Emmett stumbles into that she seems to wrestle with who she is as opposed to who she wants to be. It’s subtle, but the desire for definition of identity touches her as much it does any of the other characters.
Last but not least I want to talk about Bad Cop. In addition to just loving hearing Liam Neeson voice this character (and Good Cop… and Dad Cop…), this is another character that easily could have been one-note: the primary hench-villain. The switching between Good Cop and Bad Cop could have just been an inventive little gimmick in a movie full of them. And yet here, again, we have a character who struggles to define who they are and who they want to be. At one point, Bad Cop says a line (again, spoilers) that indicates he’s painfully aware of the better nature he could be following. He’s in a position where he has orders to follow, prides himself in results, and does not give up in pursuit of a quarry, and yet as an officer of law, he wants to do the right thing, not necessarily just what he’s told. Again, for what’s ostensibly a kid’s movie, this is pretty deep and interesting stuff.
I could talk about this for a while, about how Benny’s identity is perhaps the most one-note of them all yet he manages complexity of his own, or how Princess Unikitty’s brave-face facade reflects those of kids trying to pretend everything is fine when things are anything but fine, but I think I’ve made my point. The LEGO Movie is not just a two-hour sales pitch for plastic building blocks; it is a story about finding what’s special about one’s self and completely embracing it, because that’s how we make the best of ourselves for our own benefit and that of the world. For a family picture, one that could have skated by on pop culture references and physical humor, it’s obvious to me that this tale of LEGOs and characters and realms and spaceships was very carefully assembled.