Thursday, September 22, 2016

Theory Thursday: "The LEGO Movie" is Overrated

Scene from The LEGO Movie
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: The Magnificent Seven is released in theaters this Friday.
Theory: The LEGO Movie is overrated.

One of the most reassuring and surprising things to come out of the past decade is the rise of Chris Pratt. All one simply needs to do to understand what I mean is to go back to early seasons of the NBC series Parks and Recreation. He was always funny and charming but he was, to put it politely, schlubby. He wasn't in the best shape and arguably relied more on his comedic chops than he does now. Yet time has treated Pratt greatly, and I argue that he's done an unthinkable achievement: become a genuine movie star in an era where they are dying. It started (oddly) in prestige dramas like Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty, but soon he seemed to become more in demand with each passing year. I actually welcome it because honestly, he's just got great charisma and could make the most mediocre material work (see: Jurassic World).

It is why I get excited when I see a blockbuster with him in it. The Magnificent Seven looks to be a whole lot of fun, and the trailer plays up his witty quips. He's settled into a persona that works, and I'm frankly for it. Even if I do hope that he eventually tries his hand at deeper drama (maybe even earning his own Oscar nomination with the right material), his current status is far from the worst that an actor of his caliber could do. He has the chiseled good looks that make for photogenic heroes. He also has the acting chops to make his comedy land. Not bad for someone who seems to be getting better with age.

Though if I can be totally honest, I don't know that he necessarily has had too many great movies since his rise to popularity. Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun movie, but is too reliant on 80's nostalgia and Marvel familiarity to be anything great. The aforementioned Jurassic World comes across as more of an infomercial for the previous gargantuan hit. However, none of these baffle me to quite the extent that director Phil Lord and Chris Miller's The LEGO Movie does. To be totally honest, I find it to be an extremely annoying and isolating film that almost seems to pander to its audience.

I get it. The film is for KIDS. As someone over a decade removed from the innocent glee of childhood, one could make the irrational argument that I'm just old and cynical. I suppose that is a factor to be considered, but there's so much else to consider. I am the critic who loved The BFG and Pete's Dragon from earlier this year. I openly embrace any animated movie that achieves its tone perfectly. If I'm old and cynical, then I don't understand what cynicism means. With all of this said, The LEGO Movie received such a reputation that it became impossible for me to come out of the other end admitting that it was not good. Everyone was singing "Everything is Awesome" and suggesting that it was among the best animated films of the year. To be totally frank, the only good thing to come out of the entire film wasn't even in the film. It was the LEGO Oscar. 

So, why do I dislike The LEGO Movie? It could be that I have a direct issue with the comedy of Lord and Miller. They're considered "innovative" because they subvert genre expectations. 22 Jump Street was a film that lampooned sequels, but came across as a crass revelation of how lazy the idea was. It was aggressively obnoxious, forcing the jokes down the audience's throats and expecting them to be funny for pointing out how lazy the jokes are. The LEGO Movie isn't nearly at the level of trash fire as 22 Jump Street, but it does suffer from an ADHD-riddled tendency to be eager to explain the joke. Everything needs to be moving fast, fast, fast. There's no time for the punchline to come because it interrupted the joke. The manic energy becomes an overbearing issue on top of the broad humor that would work in any less claustrophobic premise.

I get that the film is trying to explain that "Everything is cool when you work as a team." I think that it's the one thing that the film gets right. However, everything around it just comes across as pandering if you haven't taken time to explore comedy in the last 20 years. I don't consider Lord and Miller any messiahs of modern comedy. They merely do what the maligned directors of the last decade's spoof movies on a more tolerable level. They tell actual stories. I guess that's a plus. The LEGO Movie probably works as a kids film, but I don't know that it deserves the universal praise that came with it. It's silly without purpose, and the story always feels like the characters are dimwits with one track minds. Even the reliable Morgan Freeman isn't able to make the jokes work because of how fast the jokes are expected to land.

I know that this may be seen as problematic and even a textbook example of subjective cinema. However, I do honestly think that my grander issue is that I don't get the appeal of Lord and Miller. They essentially state the obvious with dated goofball aesthetics, almost suggesting that their comedy is stronger than it actually is. They lampoon our culture-obsessed culture, and I don't feel like there's much subtext beyond that. I honestly don't think that The LEGO Movie or any of the subsequent Lord and Miller films will have much of a legacy beyond cult audiences. Yes, the films performed well, even earned a few Oscar nominations, but I do feel like things won't go to well for the long haul.

I know that this is supposed to be about Pratt. In all honesty, it's more evidence that he's fine in anything. I just wish that I understood the allure of The LEGO Movie. It just isn't good. I guess that the animation has some ambitious level, but I don't understand what's so great about making a movie out of LEGO anyways (I also don't get the animated LEGO movies fad in general)? It is not great animation. I also believe that making a movie out of LEGO devalues the product of limitless possibilities by, ahem, limiting its possibilities. I'm sure that many, if not all, of you disagree with me on this. You probably have seen it enough times to quote it back to me. I merely wish that I could enjoy the film as much as you without feeling like I would get accused of being old and cynical. I am not. I just simply don't get why it's so beloved.


  1. I agree. The Lego Movie is an enjoyable film for sure, but people overstate its pros while overlooking how simple and admittedly obnoxious the story and the comedy can be.

    I was actually somewhat relieved when it failed to get an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature (and somewhat apprehensive that that snub would cause people to spite-vote "Everything Is Awesome" for Best Original Song instead of the rightful and eventual winner "Glory" from Selma). The snub was even more relieving when Lord, Miller, and producer Dan Lin kept playing out how the other awards groups (BFCA, BAFTA) were better for awarding them.

    The Lego Movie, Boyhood (as innovative as that film was), Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, The Fault In Our Stars, Big Hero 6, and How To Train Your Dragon 2 were and remain, to me, the most overrated films from 2014.

    1. I have to admit that more artistically challenging/more deserving films got nominations for Best Animated Film, and I think it's nice for the Oscars to not give in. I'm annoyed that Big Hero 6 won (which was fine at best), as I am on the opposite side of the spectrum for How to Train Your Dragon 2 (it was in my Top 10 for 2014).

      I haven't given this year any serious consideration, but animated films have been doing pretty good. Kubo and the Two Strings, and Zootopia are both personal favorites (not as hip on Finding Dory); and there's plenty others that I still need to see like Moana (though I get the impression the awards focus will be on Lin-Manuel Miranda's music),The Red Turtle, The Little Prince, and probably a whole lot more that I don't even know about. It's a promising year for the category.