Knowing their audience ahead of time, animated filmmakers have the rare chance to reach two very different mindsets (though, as of late, consideration has been levied strictly to children). Films like Pixar’s Cars 2 or Universal’s Despicable Me are largely merchandising opportunities to motivate children to consume. There are rare anomalies, such as Laika Entertainment’s Coraline and ParaNorman, which seem to be more genuine attempts at animated filmmaking in their attempts to reach a broader audience. Same goes for productions coming out of Studio Ghibli. But the plethora of animated films, whether they be Dreamworks’ The Croods or Disney’s Frozen, are serviced with massive marketing campaigns meant to sling merchandise into the little ones’ hands.
And then there is The Lego Movie. For those attending a packed screening, the bellow of laughter and applause isn’t coming from children, but rather adults. Whereas most of the aforementioned films aimed at children for their merchandising concerns, it’s The Lego Movie that lights the nostalgic fuse within parents, instilling a sense of parental connection between their children and the play-things of their youth. But in its glorification of the commercial, does The Lego Movie say anything particularly enlightening about our ability to breathe life into an inanimate object through imagination? In a word: no.
The visual landscape that defined The Lego Movie is stimulating, though it’s one that loses its sense of novelty through an incessant demand for a hyper-visual experience. Look no further than Michel Gondry’s music video for The White Stripes’ Fell in Love With a Girl to see the perfect realization of a novelty gimmick - a condensed piece of visual acuity within a two minute time frame. At about 100 minutes, The Lego Movie loses its visual appeal within its first act. And it’s not as if the visuals are particularly engrossing, it’s because directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller insist on moving the picture at a relentless pace. There’s never a pause to consider the visual space on display, nor is the audience truly afforded the opportunity to simply watch the world develop. For a film that attempts to sell the appeal of Lego blocks, there’s nary a chance to actually see items built within the film without being assaulted by hyperactive characters or an average shot length of what feels like a second.
Its problematic visual and technical construction aside, The Lego Movie can be funny. Those born in the 80s and raised through the 90s will likely enjoy the steady deployment of cultural references that clearly will not connect with younger viewers. These appeasements aren’t particularly substantial, at least not enough to alleviate problems that enter upon the film’s meta-conclusion, not to mention some particularly grating issues regarding the construction of gender in a Lego world. Most problematic of all comes from the picture’s treatment of woman. As the film enters its meta-universe, parental bonding is exclusive to father and son - effectively perpetuating the toys’ status as a Boys Only. Any possible intrusion by woman are left to voice only (mother, summoning father and son up for dinner) or as vile (sister, a venomous presence amid the construction of masculine imagination). Those who come into an animated film are usually children and their parents. In this experimental commercial, parents and children come together to rejoice in conforming to stereotypical white-heteronormative (male) norms. That’s the kind of echo chamber that animated films, hell, all films, need to step out of.