If you haven’t seen The Lego Movie yet, you ought to.
I found that the film lived up to its expectations, which included the usual kiddy fanfare. But what I was unable to anticipate was the level of depth that the film undertook, as well as the unintentional nod to what I consider the most ground breaking issue in comic book history, Animal Man #19. Spoilers will follow.
Lego Movie is foremost, a self-referential property. I’ve been building Legos since I was 5 years old, and I have collected almost 500 sets. (It’s been almost ten years since I’ve built a model, but when my future children are of age—Lord willing—I will resurrect them and build the shit out of some Legos.) I’ve built everything from pirate ships, to castles, to NASA space shuttles, to 6000 plus piece big rigs, to simple Technic race cars, but each model resides in its own universe. The mechanics of how Legos work, however, integrate each world into a larger framework though, sort of like our own world works. Each country has different cultures, different norms. It’s the same with Legos, and Lego Movie.
The story begins simply, like any other. A relic of great evil, the Kragle (i.e. Krazy glue), is uncovered by the aptly named Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), and protected by Vitruvius, a sage-like elder that will mentor Emmet “8 years later.” The story picks up following Emmet’s introduction as a completely generic Lego figure, a construction worker, which finely integrates into the analogy that he is a cog in the perceived mechanical order of his city universe. Everything around him is bland and uninteresting, especially himself. The people he works with and encounters in his daily life are unique characters with particular functions, thereby emphasizing their individuality. So, when Emmet disappears on the job and finds the “Piece of Resistance” (the cap for the Krazy Glue applicator), he awakens to find his life in danger and those that he thought cared about him are in fact completely oblivious to him ever being around them.
The adventure continues through a variety of worlds, when it is discovered that Lord Business, in his pursuit of order and cohesiveness, had long before forcefully sectioned away the worlds that connected to Emmet’s domain. The substitution for the diversity of the Lego world had given way to a bland “cookie-cutter” existence where everything was predicable and completely streamlined, at the behest of a corporate monopolistic tycoon with Illuminati scale horizontal integration of his parent corporation. The plot is woven through these worlds, which showcase the extent of the Lego franchises (DC Universe, Lord of the Rings, Wild West, Pirates, etc), while also disparaging the failed, albeit cheesy undertakings that were commercial failures (Bionicle, Barbie, etc). It is not until the climax of the story that the plot takes an unexpected turn, when a confrontation with Lord Business sends Emmet hurling into the ether, and into the “real world.”
Grant Morrison’s Animal Man features a similar protagonist, though he has super powers. Still, Buddy Baker is fairly generic as far as comic book characters go. But Grant Morrison’s run explored the relationship comicbooking shares with the characters, establishing the implicit deism that comics seem to establish. Both The Lego Movie and Animal Man #19, establish that the perceived worlds that the protagonists move through are constructions created by a higher order to fit some predetermined purpose. Finn, the son of “The Man Upstairs” has created a world in his mind from his father’s collection, reconstructing his unique experiences into the Lego metropolis that lies in his house’s basement. The idea that the entire gambit of events in The Lego Movie are inspired by the mind of a “Master Builder,” Finn, and translated into cinematic events in the movie’s ongoing plot is heavily inspired by Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, especially when, in issue #26, Morrison interviews Buddy Baker and declares that the existence of superheros are predicated upon the cynical, self-fulfilling, wishes of the comic book creators whereby they imagine a world where the complex struggles and conflicts of the real world can be dealt with, using the metahumans they fabricate as Deus Ex Machina. The only difference here, of course, is that Emmet is the expression of Finn’s imagination and childish whimsy, which is wholly endearing. Morrison’s takes ultimately takes a darker, though bittersweet approach. When Emmet confronts Lord Business to plead with him to stop, the entire scene is a dramatic reconstruction of Finn’s conversation with his father in real time, in which Finn argues that Legos are tools to express the limitless imagination of children, and the simple wonder gained by building Legos. The catharsis of “The Man Upstairs” setting down the Kragle is just as powerful as Morrison mercifully restoring Buddy Baker to his home, at the side of his wife and children.
Even these examples are superficial, though. The Lego Movie is filled with moments that substantiate the higher level of reality that lives above Emmet and his fellow brick companions. The idea that their collective consciousness is lived out in the mind of another allows room for plenty of existential quips and rejoinders that all come to fruition at the climax of the film, all of them being hysterically funny. Even the DC Universe’s deprecating caterwaul of their own commercial failures (the Green Lantern film) resounds as legitimate self-evaluation that conjure respect for their own transparency. Aesthetically the universe is beautifully rendered, but even that is deserving of its own introspection. For now, let it be cried out into the vapors that The Lego Movie is a fine film, and a thought provoking deconstruction of Animal Man #19.