The LEGO Movie – Mixed Feelings About a Block-Buster

Okay! Let’s get down to business! By business, I mean following through on my Patreon rewards. The requests have started to trickle in, and it’s time to get rolling. My very own spouse Steven Schapansky requested this one, which will come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows him.

The-Lego-Movie-Trailer

Before we go any farther, I want to give a big old SPOILER WARNING. If you haven’t yet seen The LEGO Movie, you may want to stop reading here. For one thing, I don’t really do any plot-recapping, so you might get a little lost. For another thing, I don’t hold back on talking about the film, so there’s a real possibility you’ll get spoiled. You have been warned.

So let’s start with the positive. The LEGO Movie is great. I finally saw it after it had been out for weeks, and I was worried because so many people had talked it up so much. That tends to put a damper on my enjoyment. In this case, I need not have worried. It really is as awesome (AWESOME) as everyone said it was. Whew!

It’s charming and clever. It features some excellent vocal performances. It’s as chock-a-block full of subtle sight gags and visual LEGO-related creativity as one could hope. The story is classic and heartwarming. The pacing is excellent; I never got bored. The denouement is even more heartwarming than the rest of the story, and the bit at the very end with the DUPLO creature elicited a big out-loud laugh (one of many).

The one problem I have with it is a problem I’ve had with LEGO for years. It’s something I think they’re getting better at, but I felt like this was a bit of a step backward. Where are all the girls?*

To jump back to the movie for a moment, it’s clear The LEGO Movie is purposefully making fun of movie tropes, and doing a great job of it. A couple years ago, I wouldn’t have blinked at that. I’d never been one to watch media with an eye to how many women there are or what they’re doing. (Admittedly, being on Verity! has changed that a bit.) So even noticing something like this is new for me. I might have simply noted it, filed the observation away, and continued watching–if it wasn’t for a real-world incident I witnessed a few months ago.

Last Christmas my nephew got a sweet LEGO set–a coast guard rescue helicopter. One of the minifigs included in the set was a woman.** My nephew seemed skeptical that she could/should pilot the ‘copter because she was a girl. Now I do realize there’s a lot more involved in building this kind of prejudice than a lifetime of building LEGO sets, but the fact that there are so few lady-figs proportionally does exactly zilch to help combat it. It genuinely broke my heart.***

Meanwhile, his little sister was sitting a few feet away putting together her LEGO Friends set. I’m not here to utterly bash the Friends line. Some of those sets are totally sweet. They have great stuff, much of which you can’t find in the regular LEGO line, and the engineering is every bit as amazing as on the regular sets. The problem I have is the scale. Yes, the bricks interlock with bricks from the regular sets, but the models you build don’t match regular LEGO size figs. The Friends figs are basically giant Amazons compared to the adorable classic ones. Why do they need to be so separate, so “other”? My niece seemed rather annoyed about it. And then she wondered aloud, “Why does everything always have to be pink and purple and stuff?” Oy. I tell ya, the next gift that kid gets will be a super-sweet LEGO set. Regular LEGO. Preferably something with a decent number of female minifigs.°

Anyway, back to the film again. If I hadn’t come into the flick with this event lodged in the LEGO section of my brain, I think I would’ve loved it wholeheartedly. Instead, I just loved it. There was a distinct chamber in my heart that felt deeply sad through a good deal of the movie. I kept picturing my niece and nephew watching it and learning (or reinforcing the belief) that the boy is the hero no matter how doofy he is, and the girl (despite being rather kickass in many ways) should be pretty and have a boyfriend, even if he’s kind of a giant dick.°° (Though definite kudos for Gail, the female construction worker. I wanted to cheer at that!)

And YES. As I said, I completely understand The LEGO Movie spoofs just about every movie trope ever. That is super-fabulous-awesome. It’s incredibly well done. But I doubt that the young’ns in the theater picked up on that subtle mockery. I certainly didn’t grok that sort of social commentary and irony when I was little. I only absorbed the surface niftiness of the media I consumed. Understanding layered storytelling came much later.

I know there’s a sequel on the way already. Through most of the the movie I hoped the sequel would turn the status quo on its ear and give kids something every bit as awesome without the same old gender roles. But at the end of the film, the dreaded DUPLO arrived. (HI-LARIOUS! Seriously, I laughed out loud.) As much as I laughed at that, I’m a bit itchy about the little sister being the “bad guy” in that brief scene, and now I worry about the sequel. It can still be done well, and I’m not the type to freak out about something that doesn’t even exist yet, so I’m trying to keep my worry under control here. *deep breath*

I’ll be the first to admit my issues with The LEGO Movie are largely personal. I don’t think they’re unique though. (I can’t be the only person who’s witnessed a kid shunting the female minifigs to subordinate positions simply because they’re girls.) I’d really love to shed myself of this emotional baggage and see the flick again. I want to enjoy it with the pure, unadulterated glee I’ve seen in so many of my friends. I just don’t know how I can blind myself to a splinter that’s so deeply lodged in my soul.°°°

Bottom line: The LEGO Movie is great. It’s a fantastic film that does what it sets out to do perfectly. Really–I think it’s perfect in most ways.

The other bottom line: The LEGO Movie made me sad. It’s not entirely the fault of the movie, but it was the catalyst, so I can’t fully embrace it the way I want to. The way I really really want to..

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CODA

I watched The LEGO Movie last Friday night. I wrote the bulk of this post on Saturday, and then let it sit (as I sometimes do–it’s nice to come at something emotional with a fresh eye). By Sunday, I found my feelings were much less strong. I suspect spewing all these words on the virtual page was therapeutic. I no longer feel quite the same sinking-stomach-sensation when I think of the film. So maybe I’ll be able to ditch the emotional baggage after all. Here’s hoping!

While I’m turning back to the positive side, let me also cover something I noticed while watching the film, but neglected to mention: The LEGO Movie struck me as a cute, kids’ version of The Matrix. (Or at least there are a lot of nifty similarities.) It’s the story of a regular dude who not only learns he’s someone special, but he’s literally removed from his own universe in the course of making this discovery. Emmet is “The Special” (as opposed to Neo’s “The One”.) He’s led down the path of self-discovery by an older male figure.ˆ There’s a beautiful woman who’s much more competent than he is (at least at the start), whom he eventually wins over.

The heroes of the LEGO universe are able to manipulate reality to create whatever they want. In The Matrix, those who have escaped can return and do something very similar. There’s even the scene where they go into Emmet’s mind and find it pretty much empty and blank. Very reminiscent of the construct in the The Matrix, the loading program where they can create anything they can imagine.

Of course, both The Matrix and The LEGO Movie are pulling from the same tropes and storytelling history, so this is no big revelation. But  The Matrix is one of my favorite movies ever,ˆˆ I found the parallels extra fun. Yay Matrix! Yay LEGO Movie! I like to end on a high. So yeah, Yays all around!

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About the Patron:

In addition to being my spouse and a patron of this blog, Steven co-hosts one of the most successful Doctor Who podcasts around: Radio Free Skaro. As if that’s not enough Doctor Who podcasting, he also co-hosts The Memory Cheats, a short podcast in which he and his co-host give their instant reactions to randomly selected classic Doctor Who stories. For even more DW goodness, he’s blogging about every episode at The Chronic Hysteresis. If Doctor Who isn’t your thing, perhaps you’ll enjoy his contributions to the Shaken Not Stirred (James Bond) or Beam Me Up (Star Trek films) commentary episodes of the Prognosis Negative podcast.

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*I’m reminded of a twitter conversation in which my Verity! cohost Liz asked why there were no female minifigs for a certain pirate set. (Yes, there WERE lady pirates in history. Some of them were quite kickass.) LEGO answered that girls could certainly enjoy the set too. Liz responded that perhaps all the figs should be female, and that boys could still enjoy the set too. No response from LEGO.

**I’m simultaneously thrilled with LEGO for including a woman and bummed that there was only one.

***And yes, I did make it abundantly clear to him that women can be helicopter pilots too.

°Recommendations gladly accepted!

°°Yes, there’s the “everyone is special” bit at the end, but it struck me as too little too late.

°°°Sorry to get so melodramatic, this is just something that bothers me A LOT.

ˆGet it? “Figure”? I kill me.

ˆˆI’ve gone on about it at length on this very blog.

4 responses to “The LEGO Movie – Mixed Feelings About a Block-Buster

  1. Lego’s gender attitudes are a constant sadness to me too – I’d love to see more sets that encourage boys AND girls to believe that you can play with both genders without it being a thing. The one that really upset me, actually, was the big Quidditch set some years ago (and this was before I had daughters old enough to be super into Lego) which featured ALL MALE PLAYERS. Despite the fact that in the books, only Slytherin (the evil house of evilness) did not field a co-ed team.

    I agree that Lego Friends has some great stuff in it, and kudos to Lego for providing engineering toys for girls, but it seems to be used as an excuse for not doing better with the gender mix of their larger sets, and that’s really sad.

    Let’s be clear here, there are no large awesome Lego sets which have a lot of female minifigs. Usually the ratio is 4-1, 6-1, 7-1 etc. My solution to this was to buy a bunch of cool female minifigs on eBay for my daughter so that I didn’t have to bash my head against the wall every time I saw a Castle set with 5 knights and 1 princess. (or more commonly 5 knights and a male wizard or whatever) She has her Princess Leia, her Poison Ivy, her Jane Goodall, her ‘ripped off from Brave forest maiden’, her Cleopatra, etc, and that makes the other sets better.

    Her Hobbit set has no girls, which is one where you can’t REALLY blame Lego… but it’s definitely improved by having Princess Leia visit Gollum from time to time.

    The thing I have seen Lego improve on quite a bit since Raeli reached the age of Lego (4-5 though it is lower I feel for younger siblings) is seeing more female figures in the smaller sets – I was genuinely surprised to be able to get a Wonder Woman for my godson on a set with only 1 other superhero. Mostly it’s more like – you had to buy the massive $80+ set to get a Black Widow along with male Avengers and generic villains.

    An assorted ‘hamper’ of female minifigs sourced from eBay is highly recommended for the small Lego-loving girl in your midst. And if you add a bunch of swords and other cool props into the pile as well, that will probably go down splendidly!

  2. I’m glad you liked it! I just asked a girl I work with if she saw the movie. She hadn’t yet but said she might rent it. I gave her my opinion that anyone who’s ever played with Legos should see it. “Did you play with Legos?” I asked. She said “Well, I DO have two older brothers.” I was like.. um… what? Why should that matter?

    I remember my childhood days playing with cousin Loren. I’d enjoy getting high off the fumes of her Strawberry Shortcake dolls and she’d try to steal my He-Man figures. And my brothers and I would always play with the girls in the neighborhood. Still do! haha. Toys will always be gender-ized, but there are a lot more options for little brats these days, so that’s good. And as long as parents of the little brats are progressive-minded about the whole thing, things will get better. Because everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. :)

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