“Is this the line for The LEGO Movie?” we sheepishly asked a crowd of other 20-somethings in a line for a 9:50 showing of a kids’ movie at Williamsburg cinemas – yeah, it was. While not totally sold out, the semi-adult crowd filled up the theater, either totally bored on a Saturday night or curious about the early buzz from respectable critics.
Or maybe they were just 15 again like me.
And while all 3D movies are fun in a certain state, this movie is one of those miraculous ones that acts like a drug – a movie that makes you totally happy. But why did it work?
The LEGO Movie re-affirms to millennials that yes, we are special. We are special. That’s the message. Keep repeating it – because it’s the only thing we can hold onto anymore. I’m special, you’re special, we’re all fucking special.
I’m not going to spoil the plot, but I will say it’s set in a dystopian universe, similar to The Truman Show or Wall*E. Our hero, Emmit, follows an instruction manual on “how to be happy” put forward by President Business – the instructions range from “wake up in the morning” to more sinister “buy overpriced coffee.” Everyone loves the song on the radio “Everything is Awesome” and everyone is happy in this idyllic world. They’re happy because they follow exactly what they’re told to do.
To get a taste, The Lonely Island wrote some verses:
I just heard the news
Everyone’s talking: Life is good!
‘Cause everything’s awesome
Awesome jobs and new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community
I feel more awesome than an awesome possum
Put my body in chocolate frosting
Three years later, washed out the frosting
Smelling like a possum, everything is awesome
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It’s awesome to win and it’s awesome to lose
However, Emmit breaks routine when he meets a girl Lego who tells him he’s the chosen one – he’s special – something he’s never heard before. You’re immediately invested. Everyone loves a movie about non-conformity.
The other main aspect to the movie’s success is the Toy Story factor. The animation is incredible: it feels like stop motion and it feels like we’re in the best lego set we ever could’ve imagined as kids. We watch movies to be able to escape, but when we were younger, we used to be able to escape on our own. Playing was the most important part of my childhood… writing always felt like a natural extension of that.
So, it’s easy to say The LEGO Movie plays on nostalgia — it’s jam-packed with the pieces we used for our own creations, from Batman to the weird ghost guy to the special Star Wars set. What Legos did you play with? I was always more of a Playmobil kid, but the mystique of friends’ houses with Lego collections never escaped me.
Look at these fine individuals!
This nostalgia factor also heavily plays into why this movie works for millennials. Legos have been around a long time, but this movie is about the way we grew up with them – the pop culture sets that we had. Not the early Lego sets, initially made to follow the building instructions in an assembly line America.
But Legos for our generation? …well, it was the 90s. We were told to color outside the lines, be different, BE YOURSELF… and where did that get us? Where are we now? An anxious mess of a generation, terrified our college degrees mean nothing, and grasping for something to define us – our cover letters, personal statements, college essays, and Facebook “About Me’s” all fade eventually.
But, if you’re like me, that’s what art is for – to put anxiety at ease. The LEGO Movie doesn’t do that – it’s not a cinematic film with a literary thesis (don’t worry, I won’t go into movie vs. film distinctions). It’s not an intellectual film the way Inside Llewyn Davis is about thinking you’re special but being good rather than great…
…or the way Wolf of Wall Street is about a special individual who becomes trapped by his own obscene selfishness
…or the way Her is about falling in love with someone who makes you feel special, only to realize others have experienced it too
…or the way American Hustle is about hair-pieces and microwaves
The difference between the protagonist of The LEGO Movie and the protagonist of all these hold-a-light-up-to-society films is that Emmit doesn’t already think he’s special – he has to be convinced. We have believed we’re different and unique for so long, we’ve forgotten what it’s like for someone to tell us.
Which brings me to My Favorite Comment on Commercialism and Our Generation Told By Levis Ads
Here is the kind of 50s ad that inspired JD Salinger to write Catcher in the Rye – Buy Levis so you can be like everyone else, buy Levis because the guy you admire has Levis.
This is for us. Go forth! Don’t wear a shirt. Fuck society. If you wear Levis, you don’t have to be like the rest. You can see sunsets, you can be in nature, you’re not tied down to Netflix buffering. Or, as my favorite line from this campaign says:
What’s the problem here? Men in Suits made this advertisement… so what do you do now? We grew up being told we’re different, advertisements still tell us we’re different, but how can we be different if everyone else is too? The LEGO Movie comes to this conclusion: as long as you know you’re special, you are special. Pretty gay, right? Well, gay as in happy – because I smiled, god dammit. I went “aww.” It’s a feel-good moment and a little earnestness can go a long way.
The movie is about the greatest existential struggle we’ve had to deal with since the 1950s gave us enough conveniences and free time so we could have existential struggles. And it’s the fucking LEGO MOVIE. The most branded, the most commercial, the most manipulative type of creation on the planet works because it’s self-aware and gives us the message we didn’t know we were craving.
Oh, and the new generation (who the movie was actually made for) might be special too, but not as special as we are. Not as special as you.