Monday, February 17, 2014

LEGO Update: What do the critics say?

Oi vey.

More libertarian delusions popped up today about The LEGO Movie, so I thought I'd look to see if I'm, in fact, right in my assumption that non-libertarians aren't seeing it through a libertarian lens. There are plenty of reviews out now - the film has an impressive 96% on Rotten Tomatoes - so I figured that a smattering of pull quotes from non-libertarian reviewers might be interesting.

Specifically, I wanted to grab anything that constituted a statement about themes & messages. There area few categories that these fall into. The most common seems to be related to my first-place noted theme "Play with LEGOs, they're super fun!!" plus several observations of the irony of a movie that is, itself, epic product placement with an overt anti-corporate message.

"Is it a touch off-message that—in connection with this giddy paean to individual imagination and not following instructions—Lego is releasing a series of complex movie-themed construction sets (The Getaway Glider, Cloud Cuckoo Palace, etc.)? Well, yes it is. But what can you do? It’s strictly business. Lord Business."
     -Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
"It certainly works as a feature-length Lego commercial, but it also doubles as a feature-length reminder of how toys can serve as catalysts for creativity, letting kids get lost in worlds the toymakers never imagined."
     -Keith Phipps, The Dissolve
"...the picture celebrates the product while sending it up and subverting corporate and consumer culture of which the The Lego Movie itself is a part."
     -Henry Fitzherbert, Express
"Mostly the film does the madness for you and it isn’t just a product-placing madness. A certain Danish toy giant will benefit – no one can doubt – from the flocking through turnstiles of the entire world filmgoing population (judging from box office returns so far). But in a 100-minute fit of colour, comedy and surreal invention, the good craziness overpowers the greedy kind."
     -Nigel Andrews, The Financial Times
Another thing a lot of reviewers talk about is simply the childhood nostalgia of it all.
"Most of all, the film reminds us that no matter how old we are, we can still tap into our childhood curiosity."
     -Rich Cline,
"It's possibly one of the most entertaining films about nostalgia to emerge from the studio system since Disney decided to crank the The Muppets back into bittersweet action in 2012."
     -Chris Blohm,
"The film functions as a massive homage to a shared childhood experience, amplified and projected on the bigscreen. So, while the result is undoubtedly the single most product-centric film of all time, it’s also just hip and irreverent enough to leave audiences feeling as though its makers managed to pull one over on the business guys. They’ve gotten away with something, upholding and expanding the worldwide Cult of Lego — the plot literally serves to cement the right and wrong way to play with the product — while good-naturedly skewering consumer culture at large."
     -Peter Debruge, Variety
Note here that the Variety reviewer (again, this is Variety!) sees 1) nostalgic fun of children playing LEGOs in a film that is built around LEGO product-placement; and 2) a moderately ironic anti-corporate/anti-consumer message. It's there... Though it is certainly not a terribly heavy or awful one.

That's not to say no one saw a free-play & creativity vs. control & fascism message. A few of them certainly recognized that:
"The movie also delivers a nice message about balancing creativity with a follow-the-rules approach to life."
     - Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun-Times
"They must outsmart and outrun the evil President Business, better known as Lord Business, who wants the piece for himself to maintain order and separation between all the Lego realms. So yeah, he’s kind of a fascist tyrant. But in the hands of Will Ferrell, he’s also hilariously self-serious.
'The Lego Movie' message of thinking for yourself and trying new things may sound a lot like theme of “The Croods” last year, but it presents this notion in a much more lively and clever manner."
     -Christy Lemire,
But again, since President/Lord Business is the avatar of Fascism, what exactly is that saying to kids? "Think for yourself, try new things... Don't be a fascist, like those evil businessmen."

There's also a whole subset of reviewers who see the film - as I did - as certainly a lot of fun, but otherwise essentially mindless with a stock bad guy businessman.
"Serving as the idealistic heart of the picture is Emmet (endearingly voiced by Pratt) a sweet but generic regular guy of a LEGO minifigure with a prodigiously empty mind, blissfully content to let instruction manuals be his guide.

And that’s just the way President Business (Ferrell) wants it. A control freak of a CEO with world domination on his mind, his obsessive disdain for creative expression has turned him into the maniacal Lord Business, whose bidding his carried out by the swivel-headed Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson)."
     -Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter
So............ I say again. I do not see an obviously libertarian message here. It doesn't appear that very many reviewers - certainly not the mainstream ones - see it either. The little bit of free-society jive in the movie is overshadowed by several far more important themes, and the lesson for little kids are basically what I said in my first post.

I'm not saying it's not a fun movie, or that you shouldn't go see it. By all means... Go! Have fun. Apparently, you should see the 3D, because I'm told it's great. But good lord, libertarian friends... Quit reading hidden messages into anything and everything.

At least, don't assume that anybody else is seeing what you see.