How to be Special: the Overlooked Genuis of the LEGO Movie

Someone on Twitter, while discussing The Lego Movie, linked to this blog post in my feed recently:

My Least Favorite Trope (and this post will include spoilers for The Lego Movie[…]) is the thing where there’s an awesome, smart, wonderful, powerful female character who by all rights ought to be the Chosen One and the hero of the movie, who is tasked with taking care of some generally ineffectual male character who is […] actually the person the film focuses on. She mentors him, she teaches him, and she inevitably becomes his girlfriend… and he gets the job she wanted: he gets to be the Chosen One even though she’s obviously far more qualified.

This post made me more upset than it probably should have.

And then it made me think even more about why I love The Lego Movie so much.

Let’s start with all of our cards on the table. First, I happen be one of those penis-having “men” type people. Second, The Lego Movie is probably my favorite film of the year. So let’s dispense with the notion that these thoughts are going to be somehow “objective.” I am a person and I like things and other people are different from me and they maybe like other things.

But with all that said, I really wanted to say to the person who wrote this blog, “Did you even see The Lego Movie?”

I mean, really, I get it (or at least I like to think that I do); women are underrepresented are misrepresented in popular media all the time. And yes, The Lego Movie does have a male protagonist.

But the idea that he somehow becomes the Chosen One while Wyldstyle is forced to give up her dreams and just sit in the background supporting him in his manly quest for manly fulfillment…just…no. No, no, no, no, NO. This completely misses what the movie is trying to say.

And the thing is, I suspect a great many people missed the message of the movie. Which is sad, because it’s such an incredibly important message.

The problem is, The Lego Movie pretends to be something it’s not for at least two thirds of the film. It pretends to be a story about the threat of an evil force and the power of fate and prophecy. It pretends that Emmet is the hilariously inept Chosen One who must put away his instruction-following ways, and learn the true path of the Master Builder from the free and independent Wyldstyle. It pretends to be a story about heroes and villains.

But then you get to the end. And the film reveals the truth: the prophecy was made up. There is no Chosen One. There are no good guys and bad guys.

And somehow we still miss it. The movie flat out tells us what it’s about and we still don’t want to see it.

Here then is the not-so-hidden truth about The Lego Movie: it’s not about the free-spirited girl teaching the rule-following guy how to lighten up and get in touch with his creative side so he can be the hero and save the day. Instead it’s about a guy and a girl who are both trapped trying to conform to an ideal created by misguided authority figures.

Emmet follows all of the instructions because that’s what he’s been told is right. He tries to fit in with the people around him, but inside he’s still lost. This is the part that we get. We’ve seen this story before.

But somehow we miss that Wyldstyle has the exact same problem. She’s trying to live up to something she’s been told she should be. She’s had stories of the Special whispered in her ears for years, and she’s built her life around becoming the ideal master builder. She has tried so hard to seem spontaneous, creative, and strong that she has changed her name half a dozen times and dates a douche-bag just because he’s “dark” and “edgy.”

Emmet is trying to live up the impossible ideal of being “normal.” Wyldstyle is trying to live up to the impossible ideal of being “special.”

A friend of mine said recently that the theme of the Lego movie was “be yourself.” And at first I wanted to argue with him. Because we’ve heard that phrase so often in hackneyed kid’s films it’s become trite and meaningless. But then I thought about it some more and realized that he was right.

The Lego Movie isn’t the story of Wyldstyle helping Emmet become the Special. It’s the story of the two of them learning to reject the facades they’ve created for the outside world and becoming comfortable with their identities. That’s why the scene when Wyldstyle reveals her real name is so crucial. It’s not just a moment of trust between her and Emmet. It’s also her learning to accept her true self.

The message of the Lego Movie is that there aren’t “good” guys and “bad” guys. There isn’t a right way to be and a wrong way to be. There is no ideal to live up to, no Chosen One to become. So accept who you are and build something out of that. Don’t let anyone tell you what kind of person to be.

It’s a waste to spend your life pretending you’re something that you’re not. Creative or not; pretty or ugly; smart or dumb; outgoing or shy, none of these things make you any more or less special. Everything is awesome.

4 thoughts on “How to be Special: the Overlooked Genuis of the LEGO Movie

  1. A riff on the “the obviously awesome person isn’t the chosen one” – Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, where the Chosen One can’t be there to save the day.

    It’s officially a book for kids, but that just means the normally clever, literate and political Mieville has to be serious for an entire book and not write about octopuses. Read it for the current best guide to deflating standard fantasy tropes. And read it to your kids when they’re old enough to appreciate it.

  2. Could it not also be said that Lord Business himself falls into the same category as Emmet and Wildstyle? I don’t think that his motivations are as clear-cut, but he clearly has two very contrived and carefully crafted personas, both as President Business (because, you know, politicians are all about facades), and as the much more showy and larger-than-life Lord Business. And the message that Emmet delivers to him at the end is exactly the lesson that he and Lucy had just learned. By saying, “You don’t have to be the bad guy,” wasn’t he essentially saying that Business was not obligated to conform to anyone’s ideas about who or what he should be, or even to anyone’s concept of villainy?

    The only thing that I don’t really get is why he felt the need to cast himself as the villain of the piece in the first place.

    Just a half-baked thought. That probably should have stayed in the oven a bit longer. Oh, well.

    • That’s absolutely true, and I had original considered throwing that thought in the post as well, but it didn’t fit with the flow. You said it well, and the only thing I’d add is that it’s not REALLY Lord Business conforming to what others thought he should be, but the father in the real world. He’s conforming to the unseen corporate structure of his job. Which gets super meta when you think about the kind of people who would have greenlit this movie. You can read the whole thing as a message to the corporate types in Hollywood saying, “You think it’s all about the money, but deep down the thing that’s really going to bring you happiness is making things that come from your heart.” And the SUPER meta message is that the movie made BANK in the real world, proving that you can follow your passion and still be commercially successful.

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