I’m really torn on The Lego Movie for one reason, which I’ll just spell out because I’m pretty sure everyone is going to see this anyway and so this is just a final parting thought. I really like that the movie is about this idea of denying toys as toys in order to fill them with importance. I like that the movie mocks people who follow the directions, who build sets as they’re depicted, and goes out of its way to champion the weird ridiculous things you can build by mixing and matching. I like its final act, which veers into such a poignant place of what toys mean to people in a fundamental way. I like the movie a whole lot, is what I’m saying.
But I’m left with some disquiet about the whole thing, on purely anti-capitalist grounds. This is a movie that advocates creativity about a toy company that has blown up in the past decade because of its big directions-heavy models and intricately licensed playsets. It tells you that whatever you build is okay, but then any toy store has Lego Movie playsets that come with instructions to build exactly what you see in the theaters. And it is about the fundamental joy of Lego, which I get and share, but we’re talking about a toy that is very expensive in bulk. The movie has real life playsets in it, but it doesn’t mention that those are thousands of dollars (if not tens of thousands) worth of Lego being depicted on screen. Sure, it’s a wonderfully creative toy, if you have the money to invest in utilizing it.
It’s a strange thing to talk about, but it bears mentioning, because this is a big budget film about a branded product that is sold and marketed to both kids and adults for purportedly very different reasons. Regardless of that, the key reason remains: to make the Lego company a whole lot of money. Which is fine if you’re okay with capitalism as a good, but that same kid today could be given a $30 copy of the game Minecraft or one of the free Lego building tools and create the same kinds of worlds (or even much vaster ones) at a fraction of the cost without fuelling a giant corporate machine that wants to sell you $30-100 playsets in order to engage with its ‘creative’ product.
Which isn’t to say it isn’t a good movie, just that the collision of art and product in a movie where the villain is named Business can’t be ignored. Lego are cool, but they’re also a toy dependent upon certain classist prerequisites to enjoy even on a basic level, much less the extravagant level depicted in the film. That’s not a deal breaker, but it’s the kind of thing that should give one pause when considering what exactly is packed into a message as broad as the one in the movie.