Destroy All Monsters: Girls and LEGO

Matt Brown, Columnist

Major spoilers for The LEGO Movie follow. If you don't want to read about the ending, bookmark for later!


So girls can't play with LEGO? That's the takeaway from The LEGO Movie, a takeaway which I thought was just a piece of malignant subtext until the film's final moments, where The LEGO Movie went ahead and made it text. Everything is awesome, use your imagination - just don't let your sister play. Her imagination sucks.

The toy industry must be one of the most rigorously gender-separated subsets in popular culture, and it's hiding in plain sight. The messaging isn't even subtle; whole toy stores are bisected down the middle with an invisible Berlin Wall. It's the great toy store divide, across which no child shall pass (lest their passport be stamped either with "sissy" or "tomboy," respectively).

I'd have thought LEGO, at least, was an equal-opportunity plaything. It's bricks. It's bricks used to build real-world objects, and not-so-real-world objects, and whackadoo objects halfway between the real world and a methadone patient's hallucinations. One would think one could have a seat at that play table regardless of what one has between one's legs.

But I learn that in this regard, The LEGO Movie comes by its sexism honestly. Its parent company tried to buoy flagging female interest in the product line a couple of years ago by introducing Ladyfigs, a girl-specific LEGO product line that looked like traditional LEGO minifigs (thumb-sized representatives of humans, who make up the majority of The LEGO Movie's principal cast) crossed with the Bratz dolls.

It was all very girly, in that the Ladyfigs sets were concerned with homemaking, and fashion; and there was a lot of purple and pink.

Maybe some of this is natural. Children are inherently emulative, the younger you go; one could argue that there's such a strong divide between what toys boys will play with and what toys girls will play with because that strong divide still exists between what mommy does and what daddy does. And daughters want to be like mommy, and sons want to be like daddy, or so the theory goes.

It's shoestring circular logic, and it suggests that the toy world is at the very least a pernicious reinforcement system for existing cultural biases, but it's built into The LEGO Movie from the green studded baseboards up. The main character is a (LEGO) boy. His mentor character is a (LEGO) boy. The villain, the comic relief, and the other comic relief are all boys.

And at the climax of The LEGO Movie, we pull out of the animated, fantasy Legoscape in which the entire adventure has taken place, and find ourselves in a basement, with a real boy, who has a real Legoscape laid out before him. Meta-text win: this is clever.

So is the majority of The LEGO Movie. In the annals of successful movies made out of things that suggest no movie form of any kind, The LEGO Movie falls behind Pirates of the Caribbean, but not by much. The withdrawal into the real world at the story's climax fits nicely in line with the movie's remarkably developed conversation between Instruction (i.e. those booklets that came with the Lego sets that told you what to build) and Inspiration (i.e. the half-spaceship, half-manta ray with a Christmas tree sticking out of one wing, which you inevitably built with the set).

That conversation is important, because it tears apart the unsettling migration in the concept of LEGO that has taken place in my lifetime: the branded LEGO universe. When I was a kid, castles were made out of yellow bricks and populated by generic knights with yellow faces. Now, castles are made to look as much as possible like scale models of Helm's Deep, and the knights look like Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen.

Pre-existing universes have overtaken the LEGO universe. It's not that you can't build the alternate LEGO models on the back of the box; it's just that the manner in which LEGO is now being marketed tends to suggest that the purpose of the toy is to build the model, rather than build the concept. A moon base is a concept (and The LEGO Movie's obvious fondness for 1982-era LEGO spacemen warms my heart). The Death Star is no moon base. (It's a space station).

But here's The LEGO Movie, pulling all the bricks apart and suggesting that the mad shit you come up with off the top of your head is as valuable as, or even more valuable than, the regimented LEGO construction kits. It re-prioritizes building, and plays out its final moments in the real world to reinforce the point.

But the fact that it was a boy annoyed me. We're great at teaching boys that they can build; building has a, shall we say, in-built relatability to the male life experience? When my father was growing up, these sorts of teachings weren't even particularly subtle; he played with some horrifying thing called an Erector Set. And The LEGO Movie is replete with representatives of the next generation of erector-boys, as a couple dozen male (and a few female) Master Builders run riot across the Legoverse building whatever blessed thing they can think up.

When we first pop out into the real world and see wild-haired Finn staring down at the minifig of Emmett, The LEGO Movie's main character, my first thought was aw, it couldn't have been a girl instead? The role itself is gender-blind. It could have been cast either way - for the purposes of the story and the theme, it's only important that it's a kid, not whether or not the kid has an Erector Set.

And regardless of how much LEGO currently sells to which gender group, the audience for a Saturday afternoon animated movie is inevitably going to be a lot more gender-neutral. There was an opportunity here. It only seemed like a missed opportunity at first, and I was willing to let it go. But then, like a million sexist douchebags over a thousand years of history, The LEGO Movie kept talking.

The antagonism in the film's climax is between the kid and an adult - revealed to be Will Ferrell, playing the boy's father, as well as the villain in the Legoverse - who promptly comes down the stairs and censures his son for screwing around with his perfectly constructed Lego city by inventing nonsensical designs of his own.

So now, we have two male LEGO builders competing with one another on opposing sides of the philosophical divide of what LEGO is for. But clearly, either way, boys (and overgrown man-boys) build. Boys imagine; boys (ultimately) think outside the box and find value in creative play.

There are two female LEGO characters in The LEGO Movie. The female lead, Lucy, is a Trinity-inspired white rabbit for Emmett. Lucy - after starting out as a Master Builder of visually astonishing proficiency - spends the rest of the movie stranded between two love interests, Emmett and... ahem... Batman.

The other LEGO girl, Unikitty, is a walking piece of foreshadowing of the very last gag in the movie. She's the sort of lunatic sparkles-and-rainbows confection you presumably get when you let a girl do whatever she wants with LEGO: the union of a unicorn and a kitten.

To expand upon the point, the final joke in the movie has Finn's mother call down to the basement from upstairs - where she is, of course, making dinner - to ask if Finn's sister can come down and play. This scenario is greeted by Finn, his father, and all the citizens of LEGO Town with abject horror. We end the film on the arrival of girl-designed Frankenstein's monsters descending on Lego town, cooing in Teletubbyish voices.

OK. If LEGO is a boys' toy and this is a LEGO movie, what's the hubbub? Can't a movie be just for boys? (I didn't argue like this when they made The Barbie Movie. Though I probably should have.)

It's a reasonable argument - except for the bit about what the movie is saying, which would be tear-inducingly sweet if it weren't also so one-sided. The LEGO Movie deserves to be an equal-opportunity inspiration. But a movie that has been, in part, about the importance of stepping outside the rule set to use construction toys to explore creativity, concludes with a joke about how there are some rules that aren't made to be broken: like how girls really suck at LEGO.

Up until that moment, I was willing to concede that The LEGO Movie had some unfortunate subtext in its otherwise rather splendid text; but that coda lays all of the film's puerile cards on the table, and thus I am spared the burden of having to be nice about this. The LEGO Movie is needlessly, recklessly sexist. And it's the needlessness and recklessness that ultimately bothers me the most. The great toy store divide didn't need another brick in the wall.


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Twitter.

Around the Internet:
  • David Von Bostaph

    EVERYTHING IS SEXIST? NO!

    SPOILERS GALORE: But this is the single most idiotic, simple minded, heinously misguided attempt to take something amazing (The Lego Movie) and find SOMETHING to be offended by in it. The criticism here is obviously written by a man who has the polar opposite of rose colored glasses. You know, the ones where there is dour gloomy rottenness behind anything any everything. Probably the type of person who gets offended by a misplaced banana in a grocery store and complains about the phallic nature of their produce. I took away that the movie was more about a father and his son rather than boys versus girls. I mean, he completely missed several big, key factors to the films ending...

    SPOILERS: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE FILM.

    1. He complains that the Unicorn Kitty is a creation of the little sister, but the problem here lies with the fact that the father has not yet allowed the little sister downstairs to build with the lego sets yet. HE SAYS SO AT THE END OF THE FILM. "You know what this means? This means I have to start allowing your little sister..." So blaming the Unicorn Kitty on the little sister is completely misplaced. SHE WAS BUILT BY THE BOYS, YOU ASSHAT.

    2. The arrival of the Duplo blocks at the end of the film is criticized for being "We end the film on the arrival of girl-designed Frankenstein's monsters descending on Lego town, cooing in Teletubbyish voices." which of course is because she is a GIRL and has absolutely nothing to do with the AGE of the child, which is why they were DUPLO blocks, you know which are made for pre-schoolers?! So if they sound like a fucking teletubbie, its because that's the AGE of the child, it has nothing to do with the sex.

    3. Finally, he takes aim at the MOM for being "upstairs - where she is, of course, making dinner"... WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THAT? Are we not never show a woman making dinner for her family ever again in a film just so we don't have near sighted cretins bemoaning sexism every friggin' time? Buddy, you better avoid the produce section, I am afraid it maybe too stimulating for you. BTW... The Mom called down to let the Father and Son know that it is Taco Tuesday, not to ask if the little sister can play... That is the FATHER'S suggestion, but you twist it to whatever fits your arguments best, buddy.

    Yes, the story was male focused, but the protagonist was a male child, and he told the story through his eyes. It was about fathers and sons. So there was a girlfriend, who was not nearly as lame as this critique made sound, but did he want the 8 year old to have Emmett love Batman? Or Bad Cop? Did he want Emmett to enter into a forbidden relationship with the Unicorn kitty? If the story was borne of an 8 year old, male imagination then we got reality. I am more shocked at the idea of including Unicorn Kitty into this young man's playtime imagination. I mean, this is a time where boys are ridiculed for liking My Little Pony to the point of attempting suicide at age eleven.

    Not everything is SEXIST. Not everything means INEQUALITY. Watch the movie again. Pay attention to what you are watching this time. Maybe if you spent less time rolling your eyes at sub text that JUST IS NOT THERE, you may not miss so much next time.

  • Chris Eaton

    I can't LIKE this more than I already have. Thank you! You've summed up my frustration with all this neo feminism stuff that's taken over the web as of late. If every film now has to be boiled down so that it's safe for everyone, and girls especially get a strong message out of it, how is that any better than the bland messes Hollywood puts out that try to appease everyone and end up being boring shits of film? Everyone plays with Legos. But, this is just me thinking out loud, is there a possibility that more boys play with Legos than girls? Because maybe, boys have a more "Natural" tendency to enjoy building stuff? This isn't a proclamation of any sort mind you, just food for thought. If so, what's so goddamn wrong with that? I thought we were all about embracing what makes everyone unique. Not just by race, but by sex as well.

    Anyway, good point are made David

  • Facebook suggested I read this, the first time Facebook's done anything right. ;)

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new...

  • Todd Harrington

    Great piece in Daily Mail and exactly why my daughter says she doesn't like the "LEGO Friends" line -- she takes the girl figures and just builds with her brother's space/adventure/monster sets.

    Before I had a daughter, I never truly realized the lack of well-formed entertainment options -- both in media and toys -- for girls out there.

  • Joseph

    I'm glad that it's been mentioned a couple times, and have to echo, it's not the gender of the daughter, it's the age. The horror and chaos of Duplo made a stark comparison to the minifig scale. It was a hopeful and awesome scene, because it indicated a sequel.... with a girl! How you got to this incredibly negative viewpoint is too bad. I don't disagree with you on Lego's push of the set, or that there could have been even more girls in the movie, but your coup de grace is misdirected.

  • Guest

    I loved the film and so did my kids. The lack of brown and black minifigs is what stood out to me. It also would have been nice to have a child of color at the end, but I get that the kid had to somewhat resemble Will Ferrell. I also feel like the ending was less about gender and more about age. I guess once your mind is made up on what the "message" of a film is, you see what you want to see.

  • Todd DuBois

    I too will spare myself the burden of being nice: This is pure rubbish brought on by Mr. Brown taking his preconceptions and hangups into the movie with him. The kid sister's creations are thoroughly a product of immaturity and young age, gender is completely irrelevant to the humor of it. Nor is there even the slightest implication that her creativity is somehow intrinsically a bad thing, which is so completely contrary to the message of the movie that EVERYONE'S imagination is valuable. Or is the movie also somehow saying bad things about the boy's creations because of the numerous points in the movie where Emmett and company are put in danger by Lord Business' creations and don't react well to those?

    Please avoid this absurd trap of evaluating movies by whether some completely arbitrary quota is met or not.

  • Matthew Price

    "The message of the movie that EVERYONE'S imagination is valuable". Hence the "anti-incredibles" sentiment. If everyone is valuable, then no one is.

  • Corey Pierce

    "If everyone is valuable, then no one is.:

    But that is not the message of the Incredibles. That's merely the driving thesis of the villain. Remember this is the same director who told us "Anyone can cook"

    Each member of the Incredibles family has an individual ability while also being a valuable member of a team. You share your individual creative gift, but you also create something amazing together. The Incredibles and The Lego Movie have the same message.

    "Some pieces compared the viewpoint to the objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand. I thought that was silly and the writers were humorless. I was into Rand for about six months when I was 20, but you outgrow that narrow point of view. Some compromise is necessary in life." - Brad Bird

  • Kurt

    Ratatouille said a fair bit about taste and expertise being important, and cultivation, curation, and talent are also important as opposed to just eating whatever the hell is passed your way.

    The Incredibles celebrated encouraging people with gifts rather than raising everyone to their level (by handicapping the gifted person at best by not rewarding them with any acknowledgement, at worst, actively suppressing their abilities to not rock the boat) for the sake of everyone's self-esteem.

    The LEGO movie is a bit more scattershot in what it is trying to say and is a fair bit more ADHD in the telling, but I guess, basically, everyone's skill set and imagination has a time and place and a little team work can capitalize on this and that all brands can play nice together as intended, or mixed up, as long as you keep using the brands that LEGO is shilling at you... :P

  • Corey Pierce

    "The Incredibles celebrated encouraging people with gifts rather than
    raising everyone to their level (ie. handicapping the gifted person) for
    the sake of everyone's self-esteem)."

    The first part is true. The second is not. Elastigirl (the most sensible character in the film) says everyone is special, Dash disagrees and says the "so nobody is" line. He is identifying with Syndrome in this moment, who like Dash has been discouraged by Mr. Incredible in being super. Mr. Incredible discouraged Syndrome when he was Incrediboy not considering his enguinity and inventive gifts to the point that Syndrome wants to put everyone on the same level for the sake of damaging the self esteem of heroes. Meanwhile early in the film Mr. Incredible insists on working alone, and his individuality ultimately does him a disservice.

    Syndrome has his own frigging desolate island and is the real Randian hero who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps. The Incredibles family never earned their gifts, and it's only over the course of the film and working as a unit that they finally make good use of them.

    "The Incredibles celebrated encouraging people " is the correct sentence. It just so happens that the main characters are superheroes, which is meant to be an analogy for ALL gifts but some have simply chosen as Randian superiority, which Bird has flatly repeatedly denied. The characters that want to be seen as gifted ahead of others are all portrayed as selfish and/or are punished for their hubris. The main message is to not hide who you are which is juicy when beyond the obvious protection program there's a shy girl who just so happens to be able to make herself invisible, and that directly ties into trying your best/showing who you are.

    I think you're fundamentally misunderstanding the whole Mr. Rogers "you are special" mantra. You've chosen to believe it's a cynical ploy and/or are confusing it with the kind of entitled laziness that has infested places like Tumblr with its special snowflake syndrome. Those people have warped "Everyone is special" into an Orwellian "But some are more special than others". Attention fetish = bad. Feeling good about yourself = good. THE Special = bad. Special = good. Spending all your days trying to be the best may drive you mad, but being the best you can be is awesome.

    It's not about handicapping anyone else for the sake of those lagging behind, it's a simple message of encouragement to do your best, that you have value regardless of whatever your limitations. A naturally gifted person who doesn't try is no more exceptional than a person who with limitations who doesn't try.

  • Todd DuBois

    To the extent that is true, it is a good thing because it champions the application of one's own mind and creativity. Emmet spends a lot of time in the movie believing he's too ordinary to contribute anything of value whatsoever before he is finally disabused of the notion, notwithstanding that he's not as talented as the master builders surrounding him. It is difficult to see how that lesson could possibly be harmful when applied to the real world.

  • Thomas

    Not sure if we watched a different cut of the movie, but an invisible mother didn't invite the sister to play with legos. The father said if he was going to let the son play, the daughter had the same right to play as well.

    Wildstyle being sidelined was irksome, yeah, but you're mischaracterizing the end of the movie pretty badly.

  • Only saw the movie once, I may have muddled that beat. I don't think it changes much of what I'm saying, though. The question of whether the joke is based on her gender or her age is much more interesting.

  • Joseph

    There is no question. It's about her age. That was the intent of the creators of the movie and the takeaway from everyone I've talked to except from your article. You can choose to believe it's about gender though, free world.

  • Thanks! But I think it's important to underline here: the stinger gag we're referring to comes at the end of a 100-minute movie. There is subtext leading up to that point that I argue has gender issues. With or without the stinger, the movie is predominantly boy-centric, and that context inflects the stinger.

  • Joseph

    See, I chose to see it as a hopeful and optimistic glimpse of what the sequel might be about, since that is already a go for sure. We all bring our own lenses. I think this movie is Lego already trying to change direction. I don't disagree with you whatsoever about how they push the set and it's been a longstanding issue for me. On one hand it keeps the company afloat but on the other they have engendered this culture where people choose sets based on their biases towards franchises or depictions, not the actual bricks.

    With this push towards creativity and self-awareness of what they are doing as a company reflected in many of the dichotomies in the movie, I wasn't bogged down by the gender imbalance. Wildstyle is a great female lead and Emmet is hapless. Portraying Will ( or any male ) as the hobbyist is natural as it's a caricature of the current climate in the hobbyist community, which has an emerging female contingent. Having the child be a boy didn't distress me as the father/son conflict was easily understood through the metaphorical conflict in the bricks. Other father/daughter conflicts have been very successful in the past, such as Labyrinth, but I don't fault Lego on this. They are forging many new paths as it is, and you can bank on them upping their game for the next installment.

    So, even though I find some of the points you make informed, I truly think you are really misguided into considering the final reveal to be about gender, at least in the negative context as you portray it. Sure it's his sister, and now he has to share equally his father's hard won attentions with her. It's about equality in the face of emerging chaos. I think this potential new character will be like Boo from Monsters Inc or the girl from TS3, with her own imagination and play style.

  • This comment is too good for me to merely use the little "up" button. Kudos.

  • Nick Perkins

    My 8-yr-old daughter sure didn't get that message out of it. And the "horror" at the end had nothing to do with Little Sister's gender; it was her age. Hence the use of Duplos (hilarious as aliens to the Lego people) who had come to "destwoy."

    I agree that Lucy was given surprisingly little to do after such a powerful introduction, though. That was kind of disappointing. My daughter still won't stop talking about how great she is in between bouts of singing "Everything is awesome," though.

  • Fhnuzoag

    Did people forget entirely Wyldstyle's role in the climax? She didn't
    get sidelined, she initiated the who 'everyone is special' rebellion! That's, you know, kinda a big deal.

  • Kurt

    (a bit off topic from the article, but since you brought it up, Nick...)

    I don't get the EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. At the beginning of the film, it's a horrid, fascist mind-control object of derision. At the end of the film, it's a celebration of the freedom of the Lego World. It's scary Orwellian and utterly distasteful to me as a parent. And it's lazy satire, IMO, to boot.

  • Josh Rosenfield

    The message of the song changes as the message of the film is revealed.

    At the beginning, it's a mindless mind-controlling chant about how everything is great and we shouldn't question whether things are wrong or not.

    But then, in the climax, we get the film's ultimate moral. No one is more special than anyone else, which means that *everyone* is just as special as everyone else. Anyone can be "special" as long as they believe that they are, because that's all that actually matters. Everyone is special. Everything is awesome.

    As for it being "lazy satire," dunno where you're getting that from. It's heightened and exaggerated, because the best satire is, and that's different from being "lazy." Might as well call Stephen Colbert a "lazy" satirist for being so broad and ridiculous in his critique.

  • Corey Pierce

    "The message of the song changes as the message of the film is revealed."

    In relation to Matt's piece it should also be noted that this song and message is being sung by two women.

  • Kurt

    Well, it's the same tired 'kids movie moral' that so many kids movies use. Which makes LEGO kind of the 'anti-INCREDIBLES' and that doesn't sit too well with me.

    (also, it's a bit of a graceless WALLe and somewhat of a lazy-MATRIX, but I digress...)

  • Josh Rosenfield

    No, usually the kid's movie moral is, "You can defeat the villain as long as you believe that you're strong enough!" LEGO's moral is, "The villain isn't any more special than you, and you aren't any more special than anyone else. And that's okay, because it means that everyone is just as special as everyone else." He doesn't defeat the villain at the end, he *talks him down* by repeating that tired kid's movie rhetoric. It's a total deconstruction of the monomyth, and it's brilliant.

  • Corey Pierce

    At the start of the film it's an imposed mantra and the ONLY SONG, via Lord Business... it has one purpose.

    By the end it has been reclaimed and recontextualized by learning about the co-habitation of teamwork and chaotic artistry. And suddenly you have this more robust version with a Lonely Island section that includes lines about losing your job, well now you have more time for your community. Stepped in mud? Now you have new brown shoes. Multiple ways of looking at the world and endless opportunites.

  • Kurt

    I find the newer version of the song at the end even more depressing and Orwellian than the original 2-line song.

  • Pa Kent Says Maybe

    Absolutely agree. Turned into bubblegum rap, it's even worse.

    I would also argue with this recontextualizing gibberish. When everybody's special, nobody is. That's what special means. THE LEGO MOVIE was on a grand and original track when it was poking holes in the monomyth of heroism. "Ordinary is good enough" is an inspiring and original theme and, as it was going, great for satire. But, that turns quickly into "You get a spaceship, and YOU get a spaceship, and YOU get a spaceship, and YOU get a spaceship" for the sake of a sentimental ending which, I think, is pandering.

    Everything is AW-SHUCKERY?

  • Corey Pierce

    The very definition of special is

    "better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual."

    You seem hung up on the first two parts. Everyone is different, and if you look at anything else closely, everything is different. Heaven forfend we look at anything closely rather than generalize.

    You get a spaceship, and you get a space station, and you get an airship and you get an airhorn.

    "If everyone is different, then no one is" doesn't make sense.

  • Pa Kent Says Maybe

    Bah. The idea of "special" belonging to everyone just because everyone is unique is rationalization for The Entitlement Generation. The democratization of Heroism.

    Complete hooey.

    Ordinary is usual. There are infinite shades of ordinary, and ordinary is good enough. Let's keep "special" really special.

    Then again, we're talking about a childrens movie, not deep philosophy. And, a very, very good childrens movie, at that. One of the intentions of such things, besides entertainment, is indoctrination, so all the little urchins learn their Ps & Qs to take their places as good little contributors to the status quo. That's all good.

    I was just let-down when it seemed they had gone from something subversive and fresh to something sentimental. Seemed to me like they capitulated. Not that I have any idea where they would've gone otherwise...Maybe just let Lord Business krazy-glue himself into a square box while they all went off and built their own ordinary stuff. Fewer spaceships and more horses-on-horseback kinds of things.

    I'm as sick of spaceships as I am of precious snowflakes this winter.

  • Hiroaki Johnson

    "Kids, get off my lawn" is not a cogent argument.

  • Corey Pierce

    Well aren't you a bucket of sunshine.

  • Corey Pierce

    Your reading of the Incredibles is horrendously misread. You've apparently taken this Objectivist "not everyone is special" read. The Incredibles did nothing to earn their powers. Syndrome wants everyone to be special as an act of jealous revenge against an unfair system. He fails to realize that he is the gifted and special one, also driven to be THE SPECIAL instead of realizing he was special. Sydrome needed encouragement and to feel special rather than just acknowledgement. If the Incredibles never had to try to be exceptional, were they ever actually exceptional? Gifted kids should apply themselves and try just as much as the ones lagging behind. Which is what the family learned by the end.

    If Syndrome had listened to the message of The Lego Movie, dozens of superheroes would not have had to die in the process.

    And I think I just fucking owned you.

  • Pa Kent Says Maybe

    I think someone thinks they're special.

    I think he needs to be sent to bed without a cookie for typing the f-word.

  • Corey Pierce

    Kurt and I know each other. We tease each other somewhat... even very... aggressively sometimes. No disrespect to Kurt Halfyard or Ben Affleck.

  • Nick Perkins

    I know! It's a horrible Orwellian chant but we can't stop singing it.

  • My thoughts exactly.

  • Todd Harrington

    Great, great piece, Matt.

    I took my 5-year old daughter and 8-year old son to see LEGO MOVIE opening day -- they were both DESPERATE to see it -- and they loved it (the 5-year old especially loved UniKitty but she IS the girl from whom glitter-dust explodes as she walks around, heedless of her parents' attempts at not steering her into a pink-filled gender-role cultural morass. We failed.).

    The only thing that hit me while watching it was that they quickly took a strong(ish) female character in WildStyle -- master-builder that she is -- and quickly reduced her to that conflicted love-interest you describe. I felt immense disappointment at that.

    Reading your piece, though, I think you really nail the bigger failure here, and it is one of "missed opportunity". How much more universal do both the movie and the toys become if you flip the real-world children and have an older girl and younger boy doing the same things?

    The Duplo-attack, I feel certain, is meant to be a joke about age, but I think you're right -- given the 90+ minutes leading up to it, it comes across as a boy's club dig at the creativity of girls. Flip the script and that element is taken away.

    My guess is that there was a discussion at some point about all this and they looked at the numbers -- both LEGO sales demos and marketing projections -- and made a decision to play the safe hand, ie: stack the deck in favor of boys in the audience by making it a father/son conflict and resolution.

    I think it really is a missed opportunity because playing the riskier hand -- imo -- may have given them the same-or-better fiscal results with an even-better story.

    Great job.

  • Josh Rosenfield

    I disagree about losing Wildstyle's personality in her relationships. The moment near the end of the film where she admits that she's jealous of Emmet because *she* deserves to be the Special is pretty extraordinary for a kid's film. And she's right. She worked hard for it, she's the most skilled and talented of her fellows, she deserves to be the leader. But Emmet gets the position for no good reason whatsoever. You could see that as a comment on gender inequality in, for example, the workplace.

  • Corey Pierce

    But The Special isn't real. "I made it up". It's something she already had, and that's not meant to be a commentary on the workplace as it is a universal slap at an attention fetish. She's been looking for acknowledgement rather than being content as the special person she is. And by the end she seems to have gotten there. Emmett's arc is similiar - initially wild eyed at being told he's special, disappointed that he may not be, than satisfied by the end. "The Special", beyond also just being a reductionist Neo/The One poke, is something we're all grasping at, focused on the "The" and not the "Special"

  • Josh Rosenfield

    No, I know. I was just thinking about that one scene, removed from context. At that point, she doesn't know that it's not real. It's more about self-confidence though, you're right.

  • Kurt

    My daughter kept repeating "Whatever" like a mantra during Unikitty's outbursts in the film. Methink this may have hit close to home.

  • Corey Pierce

    PUTTING MATT BROWN ON THE COUCH PART:
    Well considered points even though I tend to think in this case you let philosophical principles push you rather than let the other points the film was making stand for themselves. You're a smart guy and I can imagine if you're not fully engaged wrestling with your thoughts may become more interesting than watching the film? Maybe we have a fundamental difference in film appreciation here. Like, I'm flashing back to Life of Pi where philosophical differences led you to hate the film, and I very much enjoyed it with reservations... yet from reading all your work philosophically we line up much more often than not. Any self analysis here would be of interest to me. I can never predict when you are or are not going to like something but when I find myself surprised at you objecting to something I seem to see it more on philosophical grounds than craft nitty gritty. Am I being fair at all?

    ACTUAL CONTENT ARGUMENT PART:
    Also expected a different article when I heard this was about gender as people were talking about WyldStyle on other threads I've seen rather than about the ending. You mention her in passing but I see a lot more going on with her that leads to an overall message about yearning for acknowledgement rather than just feeling/being special. Lucy/WyldStyle does it through constant reinvention, which is fine as we all get confused, but can be unhealthy when it's a disguise and a wall. Batman does it through pompous childishness and entitlement, so ready to abandon the team to hang with a cooler clique. Emmett has starry eyes the first second he's called special, and his arc in the film, and Lucy's, is getting over that hump and being content through finding your purpose.

    But as for the coda... all I see is a harmless sibling rivalry gag with a slight layer over top. Having two younger sisters of my own I had to include all the time and have tag along when I didn't want to, I don't see any "Your sister's imagination sucks", I just see the mind of a child who just begged his father to share his toys suddenly being confronted with the same expectations, and inheriting the same resistance. Like father like son. I thought that was damn clever.

  • Well, all I can say is I was fully engaged with watching the film. Even when the real-world scene started, I was momentarily disappointed with the gender choice, but I didn't think much of it. Most of what I've written about here came up on the streetcar ride home. I can assure you that I really do try to engage fully with every movie I see - and a movie about living toys, even more so.

  • Corey Pierce

    OK, I was maybe misunderstanding here based on previous impressions. When I saw your initial "rip to shreds" tweet and by the nature of the article, it came across like at some point you went into ragewatch. And I guess I base that on seeing enough Vines of yourself agigated after having left the theater.

  • Hee hee - fair enough. My vine persona is getting in the way on a lot of different fronts. But no, the positive comments about the film laced into the piece above are genuine: I think it's clever, and I think it's splendid. I was enjoying it while I watched it.

    I also thought, after the fact, that it was needlessly and recklessly sexist. And that's the whole story of how I got here.

  • Kurt

    Is it in fact "Batman does it through pompous childishness and entitlement, so ready to abandon the team to hang with a cooler clique" or was it all a ruse to get the hyperdrive? Only to make Emmett and Wyldechild fall on the swords of their boorish assumptions on Batman's callowness? I'm not sure.

  • Josh Rosenfield

    It's the former. There's never anything to suggest that that's not Batman's actual personality.

  • Corey Pierce

    I suppose he wrote that ridiculous song and WyldStyle and Batman look down on everyone elses tastes as a ruse as well?

  • Kurt

    Or maybe just a cheap gag.

  • Josh Rosenfield

    Big difference between a "cheap gag" and a funny moment that establishes character. There are no cheap gags in this movie. Lord and Miller are masters at avoiding that. Everything means something.

  • Kurt

    So why did Batman come back with the Hyperdrive then?

  • Josh Rosenfield

    Uh, for the reason he says he did? There weren't any women on board and he was looking for some action.

  • Corey Pierce

    Based on his personality, he realized he didn't stand out as much within the new clique and wanted to go back to where he was the shit. And you've got to come back with a reason to be accepted. It's only implied but given the character that had been established it makes more sense than being an elaborate ruse.

  • Kurt

    Not that we should apply too much logic, but he was gone for only 3 minutes.

  • Corey Pierce

    By Josh's explanation that is ample time to discover there were no women on board. Occam's Razor would likely rule in favor here.

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