Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Lego Movie and cinema magic

I'll likely re-examine both of the central themes of this brief post later on, but I'm trying to stick to a regular posting schedule again and this is a good summary so far. Also, there's a jump here, because of spoilers. You were warned.

Good versus evil, impossibly terrible songs, deus ex machina as regular as a Crossfit workout. The Lego Movie script was torn from my pre-adolescent mind and given life on the big screen. As I watched the first two parts of the film unfold, I was snared in a web of nostalgia, but by the time of the third act twist, I could look back and see the stories I used to tell. No subtlety, false layers or red herrings. No artifice. Just heroes and villains, a quest laid out with the precision of German packaging and the only resolution I could imagine. Every one of those stories ended the same way, just like this one did. But they all got there in a myriad of ways. Built from story blocks I stumbled across in books, television shows, videogames, comics and the fertile imaginations of the friends around me. 

It doesn't feel cheap, or overwrought. The story is an eleven year-old's, but it works. Beautifully.

For me, that's the triumph of the script. That's the most incredible thing about the film. A story about Legomaniacs, about childhood, about dreams and obstacles to be built around or over. All of those things, and Morgan Freeman. But there's something beyond the instructions; constructed out of satire and drizzled with meta-sauce. The Lego Movie challenges the built-to-spec assumptions of what a movie story is.

Much like Up, though in reverse, the Lego Movie distills every element of its central theme down to an emotionally-charged micro-episode. The opening sequence from Up is unanimously acclaimed, for packing the heft of a dramatic epic into spare minutes. More telling, the opening of Up is actually the entire movie, encapsulated. When you talk about the strange adventure Carl goes on, you aren't actually talking about the film any longer, just a side episode that happens to take more time than the film itself.

The same thing happens with the Lego Movie. The "third act", or ending, of the movie is actually the entire movie. The child storyteller's imaginings are intimate, poignant and as fully realized as most films, but they aren't really all that relevant to the movie's overall story.

As I said before, the fact that the child's story is so powerful is the triumph of the script. But it isn't the only success to be found during the movie's run time. Despite the lack of film dedicated to it, we're treated to a painfully honest family narrative that demonstrates as much character growth, action, climax and revelation as the entire other plotline.

The intersection of the two stories, and the way both plots are so delicately given the attention they need, is what allows the Lego Movie to transcend the genre and join the pantheon of so-called "children's movies" that are beloved by nearly as many adults. With Frozen raising the bar for female storytelling and the Lego Movie incisively asserting an aggressive masculinity that feels different from the standard patriarchy, the hand-wringing and disappointment of Oscar season plays second-fiddle this year to the brilliance of the best of the media form playing in front of the audience most unlikely to fully understand the genius of it.

There's still magic in the movies, even if it might take a tumble through a makeshift cardboard tube to turn it up. 

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