Monday, December 8, 2014

Currently Watching 12.8.14

Currently Watching:
The Lego Movie

Undoubtedly, the best part of hanging out with kids is that you get to slip back into kid mode. “Woah this action figure is awesome! And it shoots missiles! I’m bored, lets draw our own comic book!”

So I was super excited when my nephew asked over the Thanksgiving break if I wanted to watch the Lego Movie. HECK YEAH. But I was a little nervous (perhaps why I hadn't seen it until then); how good could it really be? And how much will it ruin my childhood if it's bad? Well thankfully, I won't have to answer those questions because it's pretty awesome.

A nice little article from the LA Times highlights what’s so cool about this movie: it’s actually crazy. Even the creators can't believe they got it made. I postulate that there are literally multiple jokes occurring in just about every FRAME of the movie. There’s just so much to talk about! But Legos have always been about constructing something new out of a mountain of disparate pieces. Let’s just list through some of the casting awesomeness:

Chris Pratt continues in his quest to dominate Hollywood, one genre at a time. Morgan Freeman is surprisingly hilarious. Gob as batman. Charlie Day as Benny, the 1980-Something Space Guy. Alison Brie as essentially the spirit animal to her character on Community. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum continuing their bromance as Green Lantern and Superman. Shaq as Shaq. C-3PO as C-3PO. Lando as Lando. Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, a character shamelessly making fun of his own character from Taken. Chris Offerman as a mechanical pirate named Metalbeard (new band name, I called it). And Will Ferrell as a villain with Ronald Regan’s hair. No, that's actually something Bill O'Reilly complained about.

And a completely (kind of?) fourth wall breaking climax? References to Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League, Lord of the Rings? It won a freaking Grammy? (Perhaps a liiiittle ironic that the song embodying everything that’s wrong with current pop music wins an award? Naaaaaah.)

What's cool is that the animation follows constraints. The characters can’t really move except in ways the lego pieces could move. Fire, floods, explosions, laser beams are all produced with individual bricks. But instead of limiting the spectacle, it just makes it that much more awe-inspiring. Even the lighting is worth mentioning; it’s so perfectly done! Don’t get me wrong, it is a kids movie. But it’s a kids movie that sneaks into your brain.

And it does have some issues. It’s colors and energy are great but sometimes it can turn a bit too frenetic (perhaps why they purposely started the movie in the boring city area). And the movie’s use of the dress-like-a-pair-of-stormtroopers trope made me a little uneasy, given its weird, inadvertent similarity to black face. And the ending drags on a bit; they write themselves into a bit of a trap where, not only does the ending need to slow down to deliver the oozy E-Z Cheesey moral of the story, but it has to do it in two scenes running concurrently. It’s sound structurally, but it essentially doubles the length of that last scene, which hurts it. Apparently the sequel will also have more female characters, which will be nice.

But there's another, bigger issue with this movie: it's a 90 minute infomercial. Don't get me wrong, I stand by my above statements and it's a great movie, but its function as advertisement can't really be ignored. The message is supposedly removed from the product – think for yourself, allow your creativity to run wild, break away from rigidity and the soma of corporate consumerism, you can be creative and individualistic, etc.. But what toy is literally perfectly suited for this? The movie moves from obviously Lego, then departs into moralistic adventures, and then the conclusion applies perfectly to both the moralistic message AND the actual physical toy. Conservative pundits don’t really know what to do with the movie – its villain is actually named Lord Business, but after all, isn’t the film just a self-conscious advertisement?

Appealing to adults as well as children is just a good business plan; it allows for twice the audience and our own nostalgia rubs off on the next generation and works as another advertisement. If uncle Ivan is excited about Legos, so is little nephew. It's telling that most of the cameos appeal not only to younger audiences, but older ones as well.

But is all this really any different from any other blockbuster movie? I mean, who else saw the climactic battle scene in Iron Man 3 as a badass 30 minute commercial for the inevitable line of all 42 of Tony Stark’s suits as action figures? Similarly, every time a new vehicle was introduced in the Lego Movie, all I could think of was “man, that’s gonna be a pretty sweet set.” And voila!

I think it’s a fallacy to say that just because it’s a movie produced by a company that nothing worthwhile can be gotten from it. After all, all movies are made with someone’s money, and those peoples’ goals are rarely to make less money. And while it does leave a weird taste in my mouth, perhaps being aware of the advertisement buried in plain sight is better than it being hidden away.

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