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The Lego Movie


Peter T Chattaway
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CrimsonLine wrote:
: I laughed the whole way through, in part out of disbelief that DC Comics and other corporate entities would allow their characters to be portrayed as such relentless jerks.

 

I dunno, DC is owned by Warner Brothers, which is the studio (or corporate entity) that made this film, so getting *those* characters wouldn't have been too hard.

 

du Garbandier wrote:
: Let me take a parenthetical moment to recommend a classic Anthony Lane piece about Lego from 1998.

 

Aha! And he links the modern dissatisfaction with Lego back to Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, which came out in 1995! I was telling SDG on Twitter today that I first heard some of these complaints about Lego via this 2001 article on "Lego values" in Fast Company, but I see Coupland and Lane were there before. (And Lane wrote his article *before* Lego struck its licensing deal with Star Wars in 1999!)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Something I can't figure out.  If somebody can help me, that would be great.

 

S P O I L E R A L E R T .....

 

...

 

...

 

...

 

...

 

...

 

What's the big deal with calling the main adversary "President Business"?  What's the Business angle?  What's the filmmaker's satirical point?

 

When we find out the root of everything in the story, it is clear that the boy's father is a Lego hobbyist.  There is no indication that he wishes to make money off of the designs in his basement.  Even if he did wish to make money off of those designs... it's in his BASEMENT.   I mean, you see the size of that impression? Making it nigh impossible to sell the units and transport the new worlds to whomever other hobbyist (or Lego museum) who wishes to purchase them.

 

How is it possible that this obsession with his Lego-world perfection is related to anything business-oriented?  How would he make money with such a venture?  Wouldn't damaging his pieces (by way of nail polish, among other elements) significantly reduce the selling price? 

 

Didn't he see Toy Story 2?

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Something I can't figure out.  If somebody can help me, that would be great.

Nick, I should think Amy's blog post that you just linked to provides a useful interpretive key here.  

Lego has been criticized for decades for a business strategy of marketing expensive Lego "kits" that are "tightly designed to be One Thing." The father is thus a victim of the corporate intention that buyers should "use these blocks to make this set and this set only.  And then put it together and look at it."

 

Amy says she was "aghast at the gall of The Lego Movie" because "the very attitude it was critiquing was the attitude that the corporation encourages." But as I wrote in our tweets on the subject, "If Lego deserves this critique, whether they didn't understand the movie or didn't care, that doesn't make it less valid."

Also, the effacing nail-polish incident occurs during the son's play, not the father's. (The agent of this incident within the Lego world in some ways symbolically represents the father's actions and agenda, but only within the perspective of the son's imagination.)

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Lord and Williams are not the LEGO company. That they got away with making the first feature LEGO movie a critique of the company that owns the product... well, I wouldn't say "the gall." I'd say "the gumption."

 

By the way, I know this video's been around a while, but I just watched it, and kudos to whoever thought of actually getting Morgan Freeman to read the phone book.

 

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Lego has been criticized for decades for a business strategy of marketing expensive Lego "kits" that are "tightly designed to be One Thing." XXXXXXXXX is thus a victim of the corporate intention that buyers should "use these blocks to make this set and this set only.  And then put it together and look at it."

But that is not business. The moment of business happens when the sets are purchased. Whether or not I purchase a Batman LEGO set, and decide to take it home, melt it, and use the black moldable plastic as some sort of black casing for my iPhone, that's my choice. The moneys exchanged would be exactly the same had I used it to build the scenes on the box.

And if LEGO does decide to run with Amy Welborn's idea and sell buckets of random blocks with nary a single instruction sheet, that is still a business decision. Money would still change hands.

Also, the effacing nail-polish incident occurs during XXXXXXX's play, not XXXXXXXXX's. (The agent of this incident within the Lego world in some ways symbolically represents XXXXXXXXX's actions and agenda, but only within the perspective of XXXXXXXX's imagination.)

So a central character has a juvenile understanding of exactly what business means, and is never really corrected over the course of the film's running time. As I see it, this decision to keep the title is a political decision, and not one that makes a whole lot of sense, except if you're a little kid.

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Nick, if I understand your recent statements on this subject, you have a policy of responding to everyone who engages you. You have even instructed individuals to stop replying to you, lest your policy oblige you to dominate discussion until every other participant has quitted the field. 

 

In this case you appeared to ask a question seeking clarification on a point of interpretation, so I ventured to offer what I thought was a helpful interpretive response to your query. Now it looks like you want to argue a point. As it was not my intention to argue and force you to dominate discussion, I will take your advice in the other thread and quit the field now.

 

This is not because I don't have answers to your rejoinders. I do. Your interpretive critiques seem eminently answerable to me, if one responds to the film with sympathy. But I think there are more productive ways of exploring how movies can be understood than the style of cross-examination you seem to favor.

 

It is hard to understand something by arguing with it first. Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter. 

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Stephen, I would be interested in your theory, if it is answerable. If my belligerent demeanor is off-putting, I apologize. I have been gladly helped by this board and when I jumped strongly back it wasn't against you; it's me still trying to understand how it can make sense.

Jeffrey was surprised that the LEGO execs allowed such a critique in its first big movie. It may be because the execs found the critique to be toothless and thus unworthy of any concern. Please prove otherwise.

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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For what it's worth, Nick, as regards the critique being "toothless," I suspect critiques of large systems tend to be toothless in the sense that the large systems either ignore or else assimilate, adapt or exploit them for their own purposes. Rage against the machine as you like: Either you will be unsuccessful, in which case who cares, or you will be successful, in which case, Welcome to the Machine. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. All that stuff. 
 
That doesn't mean critiques serve no function. But I think we should be realistic about what can be accomplished within the context of, say, a big-budget, multi-franchise, toy-empire branded, computer animated family film. 
 
In this connection, I think it's helpful to remember that Lord and Miller are not the Lego Group, nor executives thereof, although their work was obviously done in partnership with and under the auspices of the Lego Group and subject to approval by individuals whose interests closely conform to those of the Lego Group. So, in the end, it's reasonable to assume that the movie will play as a celebration of Lego. 
 
At the same time — and from here on in I'm going to skip the spoiler tags, so proceed at your own risk, those who haven't seen the film — we see that the movie brings out two different approaches to doing Lego, not only between the father and the son, but in the parallel struggle between Lord Business and the resistance. 
 
Lord Business, whom I take to be the imaginative embodiment of the son's frustration with his father, resents the chaos of free play, just as the father does, and wants each Lego scenario to be the one ideal version of itself, and remain exactly that way. To the extent that Lego's business strategy, as critiqued by Amy and others, has encouraged and promoted exactly this approach to Lego — "use these blocks to make this set and this set only…and then put it together and look at it" — the father, and by extension Lord Business, have internalized and embraced the spirit of this controversial Lego corporate strategy. 
 
Business is not solely transaction or exchange. It also embraces the larger world of business models that include audience targeting, product design, marketing, image, corporate culture and so forth, all of which facilitates those transactions. The theoretical possibility of someone melting down a Batman Lego set and turning it into a black casing for an iPhone is irrelevant to the Lego Group's business model, because Lego is not selling iPhone casings. The Lego business model is not "Buy this plastic and do literally anything with it!" 
 
What Lego is selling with a Batman Lego set is not just so much plastic. Rather, it is selling a specific user experience, targeted to a specific demographic of Batman-interested individuals, the vast majority of whom (judging from what Amy says) will use it in the prescribed manner, since it is designed to be not very conducive to other applications. 
 
This user experience, which Amy says is foundational to Lego's business model, is what the boy's father has been buying. He has filled his basement with the Lego business model user experience; he has stifled and frustrated his son's creativity with it. The son's frustration with the stifling of his creativity by his father's buy-in into the Lego business model has been personified and expressed in the villainous character of Lord Business. 
 
I think Amy expresses all of this much more succinctly when she says that the movie "critiqu[es] the attitude that the corporation encourages: use these blocks to make this set and this set only. And then put it together and look at it." What enrages her is not that the critique is incoherent, but that Lego has the gall to release the movie and then not take the critique to heart by continuing to do precisely what the movie critiques, i.e., sell products based specifically on this movie that are "tightly designed to be one thing." (I hope it's clear by now that I think Amy's critique is really a critique of the Lego Group, not The Lego Movie.)
 
To be fair, I think the critique embodied in the name "Lord Business" is most coherently understood as Lord and Miller's critique, not the boy's. The boy can reasonably be understood as resenting his father's stifling approach to Lego play; I don't think we can ascribe to him a complaint against his father's actions grounded in a larger critique of the Lego Group's business model. 
 
To the extent that we ground the name in the boy's psychology, perhaps it could most plausibly be grounded in a general identification of his professional father with the world of business. As such, it is not diegetically a critique of the business world per se, but extradiegetically it can be understood as Lord and Miller's critique. 
 
Hope that helps. 

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Thank you for this response, Stephen. It is a nice defense. I will honor it by letting it sit for a day or so, to ensure that it will not be treated flippantly and without courtesy.

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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I mentioned this on Twitter, but might as well say it here too: A *really* daring film would have pursued this "creativity" idea by getting the characters to swap bodies and heads and whatnot. The loss of bodily integrity, which in Toy Story was evidence of how eeeeevil Sid had been to his toys, would here be the ultimate expression of thinking outside the instructions. Almost the Lego version of trans-humanism, in a way.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Businessweek's perspective (spoilers!)

 

Key quote: "One of the great messages of the movie is that everybody can be creative and that there's no wrong way to build with LEGO.  For us, that's a really important message."  - Jill Wilfert, LEGO vice president for global licensing and entertainment (and Liberty U grad).

 

My comment to SDG's thoughtful last post will come later.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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LEGO Movie Easter Eggs. (Spoilers!)

 

I'm not really sure these deserve "Easter Egg" status. They're really just details likely to be overlooked by the casual viewer.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I was going to wait a few more hours to provide a reasoned rebuttal to SDG's analysis... namely, I disagree with his and Amy's contention that the LEGO business brand was to stifle creativity, even with the overabundance of LEGO kits that reenact scenes from one's favorite pop culture references.  And I have one such bucket LEGO purchase at home that proves exactly this (along with the money quote from the LEGO executive above).
 
But then...
 
I saw...
 
This.
 

This I put down to them trying not to reveal spoilers but having listened to Slate’s ‘Spoiler Review’ by Dana Stevens and David Haglund I have come to suspect that the reviewers may well have completely missed the point. Stevens and Haglund actually believed that the movie overplayed an ‘anti-business’ stand that they thought was a bit much. In actuality, it never presented an ‘anti-business’ stand at all. Instead, they were confused by the naming of the chief villain as ‘Lord Business’ as some sort of caricature of evil businesses (perhaps even the Lego company itself). Instead, the word ‘business’ is a child’s definition meaning ‘it’s all business and no fun.’ That is, it is the embodiment of the ‘rule-maker’ being evil and overly focused. It has nothing to do with capitalism.

And I am very happy with this interpretation.

 

P.S. When Slate reviewers call it anti-business, nobody bats an eye.  When Fox-Business Channel calls it such, wowzers.  Such vitriol.  Still, the above-quote is the better interpretation.

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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P.S. When Slate reviewers call it anti-business, nobody bats an eye.  When Fox-Business Channel calls it such, wowzers.  Such vitriol.  Still, the above-quote is the better interpretation.

 

This.

 

Trust nobody who attacks Fox (and/or conservative commentary on films generally) as beneath contempt or consideration until you see their reaction when left-leaning outlets make essentially the identical point, albeit with a different normative conclusion. That is, to cite the proper nouns in this case, "THE LEGO MOVIE is anti-capitalist/anti-business! Boo!" (Fox, Breitbart, etc.) and "THE LEGO MOVIE is anti-capitalist/anti-business! Hooray!" (Ebiri, Slate, Criticwire) are equally brilliant or equally risible.

 

ADDENDUM: I have not seen THE LEGO MOVIE yet (will remedy in a few hours) and thus have no opinion on the substantive merits of these critical claims.

Edited by vjmorton

Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team. Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team. Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team. Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team.

Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team. Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team. Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team. Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team.

5 HOURS LATER...

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Jeffrey Weiss @ Religion News Service:

 

But references to Aristophanes? Ibsen? Orwell? To an architect who died more than 2,000 years ago? I guarantee you did not see that coming. . . .

 

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was an engineer and architect who wrote a 10-volume encyclopedia on architecture in the first century B.C. His work was so influential that Leonardo da Vinci used it 500 years later to help design his famous drawing of a man inside a circle, the Vitruvian Man.

 

This Vitruvius is one of the film’s “master builders,” figures able to effortlessly construct anything out of the Lego materials. “Master builder” may be a nod to Ibsen’s play “Master Builder,” about an architect who dies when he falls from one of his buildings. (Yeah, that’s dark.)

 

Go deeper? The hero of the tale, the anonymous construction guy, is named Emmet, or “truth” in Hebrew. I asked Lego director Philip Lord if this was coincidence.

 

No, he replied in a Tweet: “’truth’ — was Greg Silverman’s idea at WB and we embraced it.” (Silverman is president for creative development and worldwide production for Warner Bros. Pictures.)

 

Our plucky band ends up at one point in Cloud Cuckoo Land, a chaotic place where there are no rules. That’s an unambiguous nod to Aristophanes’ satirical play “The Birds,” written about 2,400 years ago, which included a chaotic realm called Cloud Cuckoo Land. . . .

 

Kyle Smith @ New York Post sums up the political meanings people have seen in the film (It's Marxist! It's anti-Marxist! It's anti-business! It's pro-business! It's a radical paradigm shift and Hollywood's answer to the Occupy movement!").

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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