Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is The Lego Movie a Classic?

Is the Lego Movie a classic? This has been an on and off conversation throughout the TJEd community, and I am sure there are others out there wondering if the film has any redeeming value at all. So what is a classic? Some will say that it is a piece of literature that has endured the test of time. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it’s "serving as a standard of excellence, of recognized value." It can be defined as something that we can read, or watch, and from which we can learn something new every time. Cliff Fadiman said, “When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.” So who is to say that, maybe, as adults, we are not in the right mindset when watching this film. We are not looking for the good but noticing only all of the goofy fun our kids love so much. Could this really be a modern classic? Really? Well, many of us have put books such as The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner into this category. Why can’t a new child’s film also join the ranks of modern classics.

 Now coming from a family with distant ties to the Lego Company, I cannot say no to Legos. I mean come on, I have a cross stitch by Edith Christiansen hanging in my kitchen—Lego founder's, third son's wife. A gift given to my late Great Great Aunt. I grew up on Legos and I love them.

I know Legos can also be a hot topic in the TJEd world but I am not going to be talking about whether or not our children should be playing with them or how often. I want to talk about the movie. Now, my husband and I have been trying to be really good about picking the movies we watch for our Friday movie night. The kids almost (most days) get no screen time. So when the previews for the movie started coming out I instantly started to wonder if I was going to let my kids see it. Needless to say I put it in the category of “candy” (tasty to watch but not nutritious for the mind) and my husband and I decided that he would take the boys to see it.

When they came home all they could do was rave about all of the silly sayings and sing the song. And what a catchy tune it is. Right moms? So the hype was big in my house, and my husband enjoyed it very much. He would giggle about any part he would try to relay to me. Yes, I said giggle like a little boy. Now I wish I had seen it. But I waited till it came out on Amazon, and I did purchase it before I had seen it. I tried watching it once and slept through most of it (I had a newborn baby at the time). A few weeks later I tried again but we were packing to move so I missed the same amount as before. So with all of the discussion on whether or not it is a good movie or not, I figured that I would sit down and pick it apart,while the kids were watching it of course.

So after enjoying the film this is what I have come up with. A classic is "One of the best of its time," and Oliver DeMille states “A ‘classic’ is a work--be it literature, music, art etc.-- that’s worth returning to over and over because you get more from it each time.” So why not the Lego Movie. Kids will remember it the rest of their lives. If it affects them positively or negatively, it may be up to how we treat the movie ourselves. And with that said I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Lego Movie is a classic. Please don't stop reading here but I am willing to back up my reasoning with research.

We will analyze the many characters and find both traits and discussion that can be had with your little ones either during or after the movie. Heck,you know this movie will stick with them for quite some time. So even a week later you can pull some of these gems out of your pocket and be the "cool" parent who knows all about the movie (When really you’re an attentive parent using the popular children’s movie to strike up deep and meaningful conversations with your kiddos). Here is the spoiler alert: I will be talking about parts of the movie and some details about books you may have not read before. Leave your judgments for after reading my thoughts and seeing the movie.

Emmet Brickowoski is our main character. He's kind, sweet, and nice to everyone. He loves to follow the rules. He starts off the movie by doing his morning routine. (How many of us wouldn’t want that to go a little quicker?) Que mothers voice in the morning.-“Do you remember how Emmet did his morning tasks right when he got up?"  I'll take a good example any day, even if it is a little man just over an inch tall with a yellow face. Now granted, he does have TV as part of his morning tasks but why not use this for an opportunity to talk about why we do and don’t do certain things. Why don’t we watch TV all the time? Why don’t we choose to spend $40 on drinks? These scenarios are all good topics of conversation to discuss with our children at any age. We will come back to Emmet a little later.

Next is Vitruvius. His voice is performed by Morgan Freeman and who doesn’t like to hear him talk. There are some very funny lines that he delivers, mostly because it is hard to imagine him saying such phrases, But when Morgan Freeman talks, we listen, and most of what his character says can be taken to heart.Vitruvius says some key things that help land this movie into the classics realm. He uses a large vocabulary and introduces words that your children may not yet know like prodigiously. He is a true believer in the prophecy (even if he did make it up). He shows total faith in Emmet as "The Special". Vitruvius said "The reason I made up the prophecy was because I knew that whoever found the piece could become the special. Because the only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster but it's true. Look at what you did when you believed you were special. You just need to believe it some more." Now how is that not inspiring. Couldn't we all believe in ourselves a little more? Even when Wyldstyle is discouraged by the prospect of Emmet being the one to save their world Vitruvius looks on the bright side and says, "Master Builders spend years training themselves to clear their minds enough to have even a fleeting glimpse of The Man Upstairs and yet, your mind is already so prodigiously empty that there is nothing in it to clear away in the first place. With proper training you could become a great Master Builder." 

Good Cop Bad Cop is an interesting character. We see him and think,Oh how clever. It's a LEGO guy with two faces just like the toys. But really he is a classic bad guy, where we can actually see his good-guy alter ego right on the surface. At one point Lord Business feels that Bad Cop is too soft and erases his good cop side only leaving Bad Cop to govern choices. But by the end of the movie, Bad cop starts to think for himself and brings back good cop. Inside us all we have the inner struggle about what we should and should not do. This is a very important core ideal. Good and bad, right or wrong. Bad Cop provides a visual that little ones can understand. This can also be seen quite literally in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A man with two personalities that contradict each other. You can also use this example to compare two very different characters within the same story such as Joe Gargery and Mrs. Joe in Great Expectations. Jean Valjean and Javert of Les Miserables. Who is in the right? Who is in the wrong? Can you see the perspective of both characters. How would you have handled the situation? What do you think caused the character to think this way? You can even have discussions about self mastery,Should we let others determine how we act. Loed Business takes away Good Cop Bad Cops agency was taken away when Good cop was taken away.These deeper conversations can be introduced and played with and they can stem from the character Good Cop Bad Cop.

Wyldstyle did not have much insight for life. She was painted as the current day typical angry female and was paired up with Lego Batman as a girlfriend.But one thing that does materialize by the end is that she finds value in Emmets character and can appreciate him for what he is—Emmet! This made me think of the story The Secret Garden. Mary was a snotty little girl that could only see things through a single lens. Everything was horrid and everything was about her. The smallest thing could upset her. As Mary meets others and learns about them, her views begin to change for the better and she can see things around her in a different light. Wyldstyle hated everything about Emmet, his need for instructions, his love for the Totally Awesome song, Bricksburg, and the fact that his favorite T.V. show is Honey, Where Are My Pants?, once she realized that there was no way he could be the Special. It took some time but she comes around and proves that a person’s heart can be changed. Just as Mary learns to find joy in the very things she dislikes and does not understand, so does Wyldstyle grow to like and understand Emmet. You also see this happen in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. Reuven Malter has very strong negative feelings towards Danny Saunders. Yet as he gets to know him, and understand him, a deep friendship is born.

Now back to Emmet.
 There are some moments in the film that mirror events from other great books and real life experiences. Now keep in mind that my journey into classics is in its infancy. There could be better examples out there but these are my personal observations. Also that this analysis is meant to be fun so please do not take any of my comparisons as an attempt to make light of other serious pieces of literature. That is the exact opposite of what I am trying to do here. With that said I am going to try and find parallels to other works that are widely thought of as classics. 

Emmet begins to show leadership-type qualities and self-esteem that he clearly didn’t have at the beginning of this flick. When first presented with the idea of being "special" he clings to the idea but is hesitant. Obstacles are thrown at him right away as he and Wyldstyle are trying to make their escape from the clutches of Lord Business. Once confronted about his abilities he realizes that he is in over his head.  In the Hobbit, Bilbo is very reluctant to go on an adventure when invited by Gandalf. Even though he decides to go, he is always second guessing himself but slowly his self-esteem and leadership abilities improve. He was able to save himself and his friends from the trolls when they were about to be eaten. This provides a great way to open a conversation with your children about developing talents they may feel they do not have or about a lack of self-confidence. What helped Emmet or Bilbo find their self-confidence? See what your children can find.

Emmet has a moment when he tries to rally the Master Builders when he is in Cloud Cuckoo Land. The speech is horrid and leaves all of the Master Builders feeling less than inspired. But then a bit later on Metal Beard’s ship, the Sea Cow, Emmet finds his inner leader and presents a plan to take down Lord and Emmet becomes a worthy leader inthe eyes of the Master Builders. The development of his character really begins to shine here as he encourages all of them to come together and fight for their freedom that Lord Business has taken away. He uses rhetoric and new ideas that the others at first view as radical, but results in uniting them in a single cause. Likewise, Thomas Paine uses his words to rally the people together and encourage those of the colonies to fight for their independence and freedom when he wrote Common Sense. His views were not popular to say the least. He also wrote The American Crisis which encouraged the soldiers to continue fighting when they had felt tired and defeated. From this example we can talk to our children about the importance of words and how we use them. How words can do good or how words can hurt.

Emmet also learns from his mentor Vitruvius. Mentors are a running theme in nearly all classic literature. At the very end of the movie Emmet uses the words of Vitruvius to convince Lord Business that he does not have to be a bad guy. "You . . . don't have to be . . . the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it's also true. It's about all of us. Right now, it's about you, and you . . . still . . . can change everything." The Republic by Plato is full of things he learned and quoted from his mentor Socrates. Those words are still teaching mankind today.  In The Chosen, Danny Saunders is mentored by David Malter. Danny has a thirst for knowledge that was not met by his father. Infact it was discouraged. It was expected that he was to become a Rabi. But through the mentorship of David Malter, Danny's world was opened to an entirely new existence. Danny could see that he had potential to be so many other things. Emmet’s experience mirrors Danny’s; he did not believe that he could be anything more than a person who followed the instructions given to him. But with the mentorship of Vitruvius, both while alive and dead, he was able to see how much potential he really had within himself and was able to find his inner master builder. Robin from The Door In The Wall was a little boy who had trouble seeing how he could do any good with two legs that did not work. With the loving guidance of Brother Luke, he was able to find purpose and meaning for his life even with his limitations. Brother Luke also introduced him to others who were able to mentor him in areas he was not as familiar with. What a great subject to discuss with our children. You can talk about great mentors in history such as Socrates and Plato. You can look for mentors in history such as Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, and Pythagoras. We can ask our children how mentors can be a positive influence in someone’s life. Can mentors be both good or bad influences?  Is there an area in your life you feel you need a mentor? Ask them if they feel that they have any mentors in their lives.

Perseverance is a strong theme in this film. Everything that happens leads to yet another obstacle that they all must overcome. Loss of transportation, falling to one’s death, Cloud Cuckoo Land being blown up. These events are just a few of the setbacks they face, yet they keep looking for a way to complete their mission of stopping Lord Business. In the Ralph Moody book, Mary Emma and Company, Mary is bound and determined to provide a home and financial support for her family. She learns how to wash and press clothing in a less than comfortable environment, moves her family into a house that is falling apart, starts her own laundering business, the houses chimney flue was broken, financial challenges, and more. Event after event attempt to trip up the Moody family but they persevere and keep working as a team. Every time life tries to thwart Mary’s plans, she bounces back with yet another ingenious solution. Joseph from the Bible is faced with enormous life challenges. Is life was threatened, sold into slavery, put into jail, and more. Even through all of that he stays strong to his faith and never gives up. Every life has ups and downs and children need to know this. They don't need to know every detail, but that there is a way to work through life's obstacles.

Now there are a few characters that are just plain silly. If anything they can open up conversations about human behavior. Lego Batman had no quotes to inspire, but represents the body of now. Egotistical, self-absorbed, narcissistic, rude, limited vocabulary, and I could keep going. He even ditches Wyldstyle at one point to go "partying" with some other Lego guys. Is this the kind of person we want to have as a friend? Do we want friends who are self-centered, selfish, and insulting, or ones that help us become better people and improve our lives when we are around them. Choosing the friends we have can very much have an effect on our lives. 

And who can forget Princess Unikitty. She is full of sunshine and rainbows and resides in the most colorful and pretty Legoland anyone will ever see—any little girl’s dream come true. It’s a land full of only happy things and no rules, but the lines delivered by this super likable character paints a silly, fluffy, ditsy image of a girls mind, if you ask me. This character is a Unikitty with very little brains, and she promotes suppression of emotions until she explodes into a devilish fighting machine. Some of her winner quotes are: " Any idea is a good idea except the non-happy ones. Those we push down deep inside where you'll never, ever, ever, ever find them!" When trying to act as a business executive all she says is "Business, business, business. Numbers. Is this thing working?" I will admit that this is very funny and random. Her character brings great laughs but does not paint a picture of female intelligence for sure. One more quote before leaving Princess Unikitty "Marry a marshmallow."

So not to end on that previous note, the final heroic attribute I will shine a light on will be the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Emmet is faced with the complete annihilation of him and his friends (the Master Builders) as a timer ticks away threatening all of their lives. As Emmet takes in the scene in which he is a part and the fate that awaits them all, he manages to wiggle himself free from the battery he is strapped to. The battery powers the computer system that will trigger the explosion. Ok, take a breath! He wiggles his way over to the open wall that leads to the innumerable floors that shoot up beyond the clouds surrounding Lord Business's corporate building and hurls himself to his death in order to dislodge the nine-volt battery from its connector. Now don’t worry; Emmet lives. This is not a Greek tragedy, but the willingness is there. Louis L'Amour's most popular book, The Lonesome Gods, is full of heroic acts of sacrifice. I don’t want to spoil the book for you but there are multiple acts of personal sacrifice throughout the book both from male and female characters both with positive and negative outcomes. Living today we are surrounded by modern day heroes who are willing to give their lives for others: military soldiers, police officers and fire fighters. It is wonderful to talk to our children about the heroes in the many stories we read to them and ask them how they would have handled the same situations. Was there another way to have approached the conflict? Can they see the situation from the view of both the villain and the good guy. 

The Lego Movie presents tons of opportunities to talk to our children. So many topics and scenarios are touched on and as my kids would exclaim, “It's EPIC!” So don’t turn up your nose too hastily. There may be something to this movie full of silliness and fun after all. It can inspire hundreds of meaningful conversations. It just takes a little time for us parents to sit back and enjoy the film one time with a critical eye. Look past all of the silly remarks and ridiculous mispronunciations of Lord Business's relic collection, if you don’t feel like laughing, and find the "hidden", in plain view, messages.

"I can not teach anybody anything, I can only make them think."

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