Feb 10, 2017

My Issues With "LEGO" Movies

Scene from The LEGO Batman Movie
It is an inevitable part of pop culture right now. If you have a brand, you will be at very least optioned to make a movie. In recent years, board games like Battleship have been made into action films while even internet lingo has paved the way for The Emoji Movie. However, there is one that sticks out as an obnoxious sore thumb: LEGO. With this weekend marking the second big screen release for the popular toy franchise, I felt the need to express something: I don't think that LEGO should be played with and not watched. With the trailer for The LEGO Ninjago Movie also dropping this week, it feels like a good time to suggest why these films may be okay, but are a complete disgrace to what the toys stand for.
I admit that to some extent, you can write me off as a jaded 27-year-old who hasn't played with LEGO properly in quite a few years. I'm even the one who critiqued but inevitably liked the LEGO episode of The Simpsons called "Brick Like Me." I have that curiosity. I want to believe that there's more to creating cinematic stories around LEGO than cynical marketing. With that said, it pains me on a deeper level because I associate LEGO with a different time in my life. It was one prior to all-access internet and even the 21st century. To me, LEGO represents a creativity that is literally unfilmable.
To me, the essence of LEGO is free form expression. It is how creative types express themselves through the magic of connecting perfectly designed pieces together to create a bigger vision. Yes, there was cross-marketing even when I was a kid, but they were no match for the generic western or city sets that provided more parts to not only explore design, but to tell stories that didn't have to make sense. They were about enjoying the spontaneity and freedom to follow your own vision. 
It is why the initial idea of The LEGO Movie seemed offensive to me. No matter what story Phil Lord and Chris Miller told, it wouldn't be a match for a kid sitting in his living room and creating something soporific. It's why I held off seeing the film, even amid news that the movie was "awesome." I felt it contradicted at heart everything that the brand stood for. To have a studio release a filmed version would be to dispose of the creativity in favor of a story that wouldn't provide the opportunities imaginable when you first open that box and dump the pieces on the ground. Yes, you could follow the instructions. Everything from there would be up to you.
I admit that there are other reasons that The LEGO Movie didn't appeal to me. I found the humor to be too exhausting and impatient with its own pacing. It was clearly geared at an audience more embracing of ADHD jokes-a-second style of gags than I currently am. This is generally an issue I have with all Lord and Miller films, and the only advantage that this movie has is that I like it more than their other efforts. With that said, it's hard to take a personal perception of something that is radically different from the speculative norm. It doesn't help that the feeling of dumping every recognizable property - in LEGO form - into the film only made things more convoluted. 
It doesn't help that I have another separate issue with how I don't find looking at moving LEGO to be "cinematic." To be fair, The LEGO Movie did a good job of bringing the bricks to life. But the bigger issue lies in the limited movement and reliance on parts that when substituted into fluid motion actually look too silly. Basically, LEGO characters look like LEGO and even with facial expressions it is impossible to get much of a sense of charismatic performance. Even robots from other sci-fi movies seem to have more compelling physical attributes, if just because we don't have to empathize with them the way we do with LEGO characters, which are extensions of ourselves.
I hold out hope that the magic will click with The LEGO Batman Movie, if just because it's not a Lord and Miller movie. I also think that it will be able to mix the manic humor with a satire that is more appealing to me. Like most people, Batman is a deeply rooted figure in my pop culture life, and he is ripe for skewering. With that said, I watch the ads and still see an advertisement for toys I'd rather be playing with. It doesn't held that LEGO Batman's memorable role in The LEGO Movie didn't impress me as much as others, as I feel that the narcissistic humor was bald face and uninteresting, servicing as lazy satire in a story bloated with too much skewering and not enough interesting story. I can't even tell you about The LEGO Ninjago Movie, if just because I'm not familiar enough with the Ninjago franchise that currently exists.
Still, I'm not looking forward to a world where LEGO is more known for the limiting potential of movies instead of the building blocks of creativity. Maybe the rising tide will float all boats, but I imagine that audiences will be quicker to discuss the movies than admit that they bought a LEGO Batman set and had a better time with it. Maybe it fits their humor better than mine. I don't know. I wish that I understood this phenomenon more without having a strong sense of reluctance. Maybe it's how inanimate the characters look in all three LEGO movies. Maybe I'm just old and cynical. Whatever the case may be, I see it as nothing more than advertising for a beloved brand that should be played with and not watched. At worst, just buy a video game and move around the pieces on your computer. That's a better use of your LEGO time.

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