Work Not In Progress: The LEGO Movie

Another abandoned spec piece, on The LEGO Movie. This one wasn’t coming together either, and the more I think about it now, weeks after writing it, the more I think that I was writing out of my ass and didn’t have a real conclusion to build towards. Good thing I gave up.

In some ways, it’s difficult to parse the success of The LEGO Movie, especially after its surprise second weekend at the top of the U.S. box office despite high-profile competition from the remakes of About Last Night (A movie that should have benefited from its Valentine’s Day timing) and RoboCop.

On the one hand, it’s easy to be cynical and dismiss it as another case of a successful grab at a movie market fueled in large part by nostalgia for childhood things — LEGO, after all, is probably a more common and fondly-remembered part of many childhoods than comic book heroes like Iron Man or the toy-cartoon hybrids of Transformers and G.I. Joe (If nothing else, it’s arguably one of the few childhood brands to be given the big screen treatment that wasn’t primarily aimed at a male audience first time around).

And yet, there has to be more going on than just appealing to happy memories, doesn’t there? Don’t get me wrong; the movie shamelessly plays on nostalgia in very particular ways — the spaceman’s cracked helmet being my favorite of the small shout outs that has to be familiar to anyone familiar with that toy — but if all that was required to make a movie a smash hit was a basic recognition of a particular brand, Taylor Kitsch wouldn’t be bemoaning the decision to take a role in Battleship right now.

It helps that The LEGO Movie is also a good movie, something that Battleship could hardly claim. Then again, we all know by now that quality is rarely an indicator for success — insert your own “Best Movie Cruelly Shunned By Mainstream Audiences” here as proof. In fact, it’s arguably true that we’ve come to a point where the opposite is true, these days; that a good movie being a hit on the scale of LEGO is more of a surprise than the alternative. Our smashes are movies that we hope to enjoy, instead of love, to make a small but important distinction.

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