Steve and myself sat down at the very hospitable Fernwood Inn and talked about The Lego Movie. This is a long read but if you are really interested in this movie from an AFOL perspective then you might like this. The conversation is mostly intact, it’s edited down a bit and we took out any spoilers, however you might glean some plot info if that’s a concern. Nothing that wasn’t already known through the trailers or sets for the most part.
The TL;DR is go and see this movie, it’s awesome.
Ok, so here we are talking about The LEGO Movie
We’ve got something to drink and Emmet and Wyldstyle here to keep us company, and well… there’s a lot to say!
Let’s start with who are we.
My name is Steve and if you played LEGO Universe you might remember me as HappyPappy. I’m a member of VicLUG and we were lucky enough to attend an advance screening of The LEGO Movie last week.
Very very lucky, and a shout out to the LEGO Community Team and Warner Brothers for making that happen. I’m Joseph, you might know me as Zipblock on LEGO Universe and other places, also a member of VicLUG. So Steve, we have known each other for along time, and we’ve been “playing LEGO” for quite a long while…
Yeah a very long time, if I had to put a date on it I would say our first meeting was November of 1992 and further to that, our first conversation was about LEGO.
Yes it was LEGO centric. So we’ve been doing LEGO for a long time, and this movie is a pretty big development.
It is. I don’t remember the exact moment or how and when it happened, but I remember the emotional experience of learning that this film was being made, that a LEGO Movie was happening, and it was similar to the feeling I had hearing they were going to make more Star Wars movies, and by more I mean The Phantom Menace, not this year’s announcement.
Yes I think I’m with you. That was for a lot of fans a pivotal moment of anticipation, and ultimately a complete absence of met expectations, and I’m sure that we’re not alone in not having the same kind of expectations going into movies ever since then. I don’t know about you, but for me the best thing to come out of The Phantom Menace and the subsequent films was the LEGO pieces! All those great new parts, and also the LEGO games. That was the silver lining, what eased the pain.
I would agree but in a less personal way. The LEGO / Star Wars licensing partnership which began around that same period, for me marks a combined boom in creating new adult LEGO fans around the world – it was very much a gateway for lots of people rediscovering LEGO as adults – and also it was oddly legitimizing for those of us who were already there.
Yes, very much a twofold effect. I think there have been subsequent waves of new AFOL fandom through LEGO Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but nothing exploded the LEGO community quite like Star Wars.
And now we have our own movie, which is going to do the same again, to some degree.
It’s going to do something! I think we’ll see a new shift for sure. Now, I went into the show hopeful, but we’ve been hurt before.
Right. Before there were ever any names attached to the film, my thoughts first went to all the LEGO direct-to-video movies; Clutch Powers, Bionicle, even Ninjago, and also the generally high-quality animation and cutscenes from the Traveller’s Tales games. – I don’t know if you heard, there’s a LEGO Batman video which is essentially all the cutscences from the LEGO Batman 2 game…
Yes! And did you know, now I haven’t seen this but I played the game, did you know that someone took all the cutscenes from the LEGO Lord of the Rings game, stitched them together and made essentially an hour-long LEGO LOTR movie? Which goes to show that people really admire those cutscenes and the games in general, and see them as a cinematic event in their own way.
Oh for sure, myself included. So yes, all this previous animation came to mind when I first heard about The LEGO Movie, and the quality of some of these titles is varied to say the least. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the creative team on The LEGO Movie was also responsible for Clone High, one of my all-time favourite animated series. The team being Chris Miller and Phil Lord who later became better known for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. If the announcement had been that they were making an animated feature, period, I was going to go see it, but now it was them… making The LEGO Movie!
And with a surprisingly huge cast to boot!
Now, I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Banks and pretty much everything she’s done. I’ve – yes, been stalking her – seen every thing she’s in. She’s consistently very funny and I was kind of excited to learn she was the female lead in this. I did not clue in when I first heard of Chris Pratt as Emmet – I didn’t make the connection to Parks and Rec – but of course he’s hilarious, a natively funny guy. And if you play a little connect-the-dots, there’s this underlying Bat Man theme going on, not just that he’s in the film, but with the casting; Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, and I actually wonder if Neeson was roped into it because of the Bat Man momentum that he brings…
Oh I have to mention, have you seen the promo clip called Behind the Brick?
No, I’ve been meaning to.
It’s fantastic, I had to mention it because for the briefest moment and only in jest, Morgan Freeman does Bat Man. It’s really funny, and you being a fan of Elizabeth Banks should definitely watch it too. Nuff said.
Ok, sounds good. So yeah, with this movie; the cast, the production team, the animation style, it all adds up to something fairly epic, and when the first trailers came out it was the animation style that really stood out for me. This was something completely different. Well, there had been this kind-of simulated stop-motion thing before, I am thinking of Aardman in some other movies, like Chicken Run?
Chicken Run was stop motion. You’re right though too, Aardman has done some CG animation with characters that are modeled in The Aardman Style, but you’re talking about CG animation done in stop-motion style, which is very much what they’ve done here in The LEGO Movie.
It’s something I don’t think has been done quite like this before, or at least not to this extent. Nothing comes to mind, other than that Aardman comparison.
I think you’re right. I actually had to watch the trailer half a dozen times to be completely convinced that it wasn’t stop-motion…
…which came mostly because they would have had to invent wholly new technologies to accomplish some of the battle scenes…
…yeah for me the realization was attached to a matter of scope. The characters in the shots could conceivably have been stop-motion animated and superimposed into those vast CG backdrops, but of course if the backgrounds were obviously CG it followed that the characters were CG too.
Yes, without really knowing, my guess was that they brick built many of the interiors, vehicles and other monstrosities, and did CGI for the sprawling epic landscapes; the ones that would occupy a gymnasium in real bricks…
…like – from the trailers, no spoilers! – the desert environment, the ocean…
…I think that is possibly the most amazing animation I have ever seen, the undulating waves; I would like to watch the movie ten times just to grasp how they managed to pull that off. It was fluid yet blocky, it was perfect…
…and reminiscent of whaling scrimshaw or Japanese brush & ink; not just beautifully animated but the design and mood of it too…
Just perfect. So, we knew we were dealing with an entirely new beast before we even went in the door of the theatre. It’s a pretty big deal! An now we’re going to have to figure out how to go over this thing, to explain The LEGO Movie without… explaining it!
Well it’s not giving anything away to talk about the basic framework; it’s an everyman-in-over-his-head, getting carried away and discovering a lot about himself and the world he inhabits in the process.
There are some moralities through it, but not in the Toy Story hit-you-with-the-cry-hammer way. They’re in there but not an overwhelming aspect of the movie; independence versus conformity, and a greater family-togetherness message that I found very powerful. OK here’s something, and I’m not saying this is where the movie falls short, but in the individuality versus conformity message there’s something worth exploring, something we can poke a bit: They’re saying “creativity is good,” and then LEGO set instructions are – while not necessarily negative – portrayed as an oppositional force in the movie, kind of an embodiment of conformity…
…which reminds me of a funny feeling I had while building one of the Movie sets; I think there are thirteen sets in this wave and at least three of them are these 2-in-1 double sets where you can build the regular… thing… or the whacked-out “creative” version…
…FROM INSTRUCTIONS! Right? And that’s where I want to poke them and say “see what you’re doing?” They’re making it all about The Set, not creativity. This is something I have seen LEGO doing and had a problem with for a long time. Sets bother me. A lot. I feel like LEGO Marketing has been pushing The Set as the endgame; you buy the set for what it is, build it for what it is, and repeat. My own primary motivator for buying any set is for parts. I see them as themed parts packs. I do build them, I get ideas and inspiration from them, but then the parts dissolve into the primordial soup. So, this whole push on sets in the last few years, due largely to the licensing, has a side effect I find distressing. People will pick and choose their sets based on interest or disinterest in a franchise; “oh I don’t like Harry Potter so I won’t buy those sets” or “Hagrid’s hut looks boring so I will get this other thing,” and end up missing out on some really excellent parts that are only available in that one set. I feel that LEGO has created this climate themselves, where The Set is The Product. And now, along with this movie that props up creativity, come more… sets! It’s a kind of funny and confused message.
I see what you mean. I don’t know that I would agree that LEGO has put such emphasis on The Set. I do miss the days when you would get alternate instructions, or at least the box back was covered in photos of inspirational alternate builds…
…and when did that stop? I think with Star Wars. I can’t say for sure. I’m thinking of Insectoids and other themes from right before Star Wars, and they had those wonderful alternate models on the back.
Well, if that was ever a thrust by The LEGO Group or not, let’s be glad for the Movie’s message of creativity…
…but that’s just it! Is this message “them” recognizing that they’ve been promoting The Set, which we will agree to disagree on for now, Sets which as soon as they’re released generate comments and reviews were people dismiss them outright based on franchise; on what’s On the box, not what’s In it?
…right, does this represent a shift in thinking or some recognition on LEGO’s part? I think no. Our argument over LEGO’s position aside, no not at all. I think that this movie was written and directed by a couple of extremely creative young men who are clearly LEGO fans although likely not in the sense we use the term for ourselves, who grew up with LEGO and view it as a creative medium rather than being about The Set; a position which is strongly reflected in Their movie… Which LEGO signed off on, “let them make,” but did not dictate the inclusion of the creativity over conformity message.
OK right. Along the same lines, here is something I was doing today. I do this a lot. I was building random Minifigures; I have this “gene pool,” I just happily put random figures together haphazardly, I “press the random button”… and you don’t see that in the movie, the movie characters are very set and iconic; definitely to play on theme and nostalgia but also for character identification and branding, this is all understandable. But I think a fundamental part of LEGO is the modularity and there isn’t a whiff of it here. Even in the Traveller’s Tales games there is the random button; creating your own character, that functionality is included.
But in The LEGO Movie, all the Minifigs look like they stepped right out of a set.
Yes and there is a reason. It’s explained in the story but that’s another conversation. I still would have liked to see it!
And as we all know, any one thing can never be all things to all people, which brings us right back to expectations and anticipation, and I know we are going to talk about this more later but this movie exceeded my expectations in every respect.
Let’s broach something close to both our hearts; the connections, real or imagined, to LEGO Universe. Even if unintentional, I really think Wyldstyle is going to make some very nice Paradox custom Minifigs.
Oh, she is Paradox
I have to wonder if this is someone, somewhere in some LEGO department tipping their hat.
Well the resemblance is undeniable.
Flipping around all ninja style with a purple streak in her hair.
And Emmet is Assembly.
And Vitruvius is kind of a Maldorf figure. I found there were quite a few easy character comparisons, but they are also archetypes and easily overlaid. Then there is the Thinking Cap; the use of imagination in LU had a strong visual comparison in the movie. Same but different, but for someone trying to find connections between the two that’s another one.
And the towers, Nexus and President Business’s headquarters seem similar in scale.
They could be. I remember one of our Luprechaun contributors, Jamesster, figured out the scale of Nexus tower, it is shocking just how big that thing is.
And definitely some Maelstrom parallels.
Ooh yes yes. I know exactly the sequence you are talking about.
I think it’s worth mentioning again that you and I are intentionally and admittedly and gleefully drawing parallels between things that have no business being compared. Through the LU lens.
Absolutely, but that’s just our little pet project. We will see if we can come up with any others.
Now, how will this effect AFOLs? How will this movie contribute to our vocabulary and culture? I just love and have already adopted some of the terms it offers. I also love some of the spins it throws on some of the stuff we do.
Well, as I already mentioned I expect we will see in increase in our numbers as a result of the film, which isn’t quite what you’re asking…
But that’s a thing. People will find out the AFOL community exists! Just think of every time VicLUG does a show, of all the people saying “there’s a LEGO club in Victoria?” … I mean if that was a drinking game we couldn’t do a proper show. We would be on the ground.
And about once per show there’s also the person who says “you guys really need to meet my neighbour”… all those isolated fans who haven’t found the community yet, maybe closeted fans will come out.
Now that said, do you think this movie is going to help or hinder that?
You’re talking about the movie’s take on AFOLs? Its depiction? In my experience, AFOLS are an exceedingly creative breed, and you and I are in a minority among them as we are not engineers, coders, physicists…
But we rub shoulders happily. You and I are from an arts background, but all AFOLs have an innate creativity to them.
Absolutely, and what I mean to say is creativity is as individual as the people doing the creating. Like the toy, the hobby is what you make of it. Whether that means doing nothing but original builds, or being simply a collector as some who count themselves as AFOLs are and I welcome them as such…
Very true! There are so many ways to be into this hobby, and just because you only do sets, why can’t you be counted as a LEGO fan.
Right, so I think between the message of the film, which is essentially the mandate of the company – exploring one’s creative potential – combined with the likelihood any new people coming into the fold as a result of the movie will be meeting all these new people with their own take on the hobby, the lesson to be learned is that there are unlimited ways to play with a limitless toy and they are all Ok.
So the depiction, I personally found it hilarious. I loved it, embraced it, saw it as a caricature, a boundary pushing extremism. The behaviour is almost surreal, so I did not feel at all that it was an insult, but I have already talked to a few people who did find it off putting and I am curious about your personal experience.
Very close to yours, I really enjoyed feeling that in a way my interests and I were being acknowledged in a movie, regardless of how that interest was depicted. And well… some people can’t take a joke! I was really tickled by the deliberately ridiculous caricature of fandom and a bit saddened to hear that anyone would see it as anything but just that. Ridiculous.
I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I don’t believe they took it personally. I think they’re worried about how this will effect things in the future, in particular at shows. This was expressed to me by a couple of people who were worried that there was going to be a newly unleashed liberty among children and parents alike, to play with our creations. Personally I think it will just be a thermometer for manners, I don’t think it will open the floodgates but it’s clearly an undercurrent of concern for some people. I did not come out of the movie thinking this, I am just parroting some expressed concerns.
It’s a reasonable concern, but I think you are dead on with the thermometer comment. I don’t think this will cause anyone who wouldn’t have already done it to go ahead, but I do think it will legitimize the people who already would have in their choice to. It will enable those who are able.
Oh good phrase, that applies so many places.
I don’t think we are going to run into this ourselves, but will probably run into fellow AFOLs who have this concern. Apart from that can you think of any other potential negative effects?
I think there is the possibility it will be divisive to the community, movie lovers and movie haters, which is not the terrible thing it sounds like. Again the hobby is what you make it. Our community is already highly divided in sub cultures of LEGO fandom either by playtheme or application; robotics, models, gaming, 9v trainhead… we are already a highly compartmentalized community…
I know! One of the first thing I get asked by another AFOL is “what do you build?” meaning what style? and I really don’t like that question… “umm, antediluvian Jules Verne with a play feature?” …I don’t know how to answer that! I love all the fandoms, I love each table at a convention. The division is already there. “Yaaay! Another thing we can be divisive about! Hurray!!”
Something that we run into in Victoria, and has to exist in other places, is fans who don’t like Minifigs. They’re more of a Purist type, they don’t like the scale and won’t see this movie on principle because it’s Minifig-centric. They look upon them as a virus, the way most AFOLs view Bionicle.
That’s extreme, and interesting. There are those who love them and those who hate them. My take is I almost have two hobbies. I love the Minifigs! But when I’m building I ignore them completely. I build scale models, with some sci-fi weirdness and figs are a totally separate thing for me. That also influences my set purchases.
…that’s an important aspect though, how it informs your hobby. Something I’ve realized over the years is whenever I build outside of Minifig scale, whatever I build has Minifigs occupying it. It’s still Minifig scale despite by best efforts to build out of scale, I’ll find someway of making it mechanically controlled by them.
That’s kind of awesome. So knowing you and your love of the Build Mode in LEGO Universe Properties, is this a chicken or egg? Is the building through the view of a Minifig something you’ve always done or is it the result of building as a Minifig virtually in LU?
Let’s assume that building on Properties in the game is the Egg and the Chicken is building real MOCs from a Fig’s perspective, the Egg is the best thing that has ever happened. I’ll never be totally happy until Lego makes another product where you can virtually build and explore from the Minifig’s point of view. That was the most amazing part of LU for me.
I have to admit it blew me away to. I never utilized it to it’s fullest potential but I really enjoyed exploring players’ Properties, and really appreciated how unique and engaging that aspect of the game was as soon as I was introduced to it. I wanted to express that at ComicCon; that this was LEGO built by Minigifures for Minifigures. By the people for the people!
That was the biggest undersell of the game, but that’s a whole other conversation.
Ah! Another LEGO Universe connection; we actually saw the iconic LU logo, the U shaped hand, highlighted in one scene.
Did I miss that? That does it. I have a reason to watch this movie twice now, I wasn’t going to but now I will. (laughs)
I was talking to a fellow VicLUG’er, Michelle, about sequels. Her concern is that they set the bar too high. She is so happy with this movie that she’ll go into the sequel so excited that it’s inevitable she will be let down. She feels the movie is that good…
…I completely agree with her, and learned today that the sequel is already in talks.
Now something that surprised me about the film, and indeed about LEGO Universe too as LU became itself through it’s various phases of development, was the violence. Is this a violent movie?
Well, the highlight reel as I sift through my memory is chases, action, impact, but fighting isn’t as prominent. It depends on what you call violence…
…having just asked that, it is very much a chase and escape movie as opposed to a battle or war movie. But even in the trailer there is an absolute hail of gun fire in certain scenes, and there’s kung-fu fighting. When this movie is violent, it’s cartoon violence; it’s been rated for and is already in front of audiences full of children. What I was surprised by was how much fighting there was in it, based on my appreciation of LEGO’s continuing choice to avoid the depiction of violence in their sets and products.
I don’t think we’ve ever talked about this, but I was flabbergasted when Lord of the Rings was announced as a license. I lost a few days there. In the previous years there was a revamped castle theme, which seemed like wish fulfillment for AFOLs clamouring for LOTR. It had trolls, dwarves, a grey wizard. I NEVER thought LEGO was going to approve of this franchise that was obviously 14+. Now my new line is that they will never do Game of Thrones!! For me, LEGO passed it’s own violence threshold, so my own tolerance for LEGO violence has been diluted by LEGO themselves.
You’ve almost coined a phrase that should be in the audience warning: contains “LEGO violence.”
Our own VicLUG Lego game VicWARS is more violent with all the red one-by-ones. I think the LEGO Movie video game will be far more violent than the movie itself…
…I think you’re right, they have to inject action into a game in order to sustain it. There are beats that have to be hit…
…as a player you expect there to be mobs on every single level. They’ll add mobs even if there weren’t any in those scenes.
Another related thought; All the way back to the moment when I heard the announcement of the movie being made, right up until the credits were rolling I was wondering, is this a 100 minute advertisement?
I was having a conversation with a parent who has been grappling with just that. One of the most memorable reviews I saw on Rotten Tomatoes, from the Daily Telegraph, was: “Never before have I felt less like a film was selling me a product, and then left the cinema more desperate to fill my house with the product it wasn’t selling.” I think that is so telling, because I was dreading that we were going to be just sitting through a product list. But I didn’t feel that we were being inundated with product placement.
Well you did buy a ticket to something called ‘The LEGO Movie’, you already are buying “more” LEGO…
Parents already know this is the one toy that already has it’s own aisle in every toy store. Maybe that was the sigh of relief from the company that they already bought the ticket so we don’t have to sell any product. Let’s just go ahead and make an awesome movie. That’s what we’re trying to figure out, is why is everything awesome about this movie?
Something that just occurred to me hearing you, is that LEGO doesn’t need to profit greatly from this film. They could be perfectly happy to profit from the spike in set sales as a result of this movie being made as opposed to profiting from box office returns…
…do you think the sets are a loss leader? I think this movie will go gangbusters…
No no, I mean I don’t think that LEGO will necessarily see a piece of that action. Completely speculating but fully suspect that this is a licensed product like their theme parks.
I think that with the LEGO Movie Minifigs series they’ve already made a profit, off our club alone.
They effectively get other people to make and do the stuff they don’t want to make and do themselves. They have a brand bible they give these people…
…don’t take the Minifig hand out of the socket, don’t break these rules…
…until we break them ourselves.
So, it’s pretty obvious we like this movie. If we were to give it a rating, from 1 to 10, if 1 was “the world would be a better place if this movie was never made” to 10 being “this is the best possible LEGO movie in all infinite universes,” how would you rate The LEGO Movie?
I will say a 9.8.
High praise indeed. The imperfections are there and effectively from my own point of view. The disparity we talked about earlier: the creativity versus the collective and the take on sets and instructions. They created this conflict but suffer from it themselves. This is my insular perspective but I don’t think that will be overflowing among the general public. Plus the lacking random aspect, Cloud Cuckoo Land was really close though. You know it made my heart soar.
Oh I know. Every time Cloud Cuckoo Land came on screen I sat there knowing that Joseph must be grinning twice as wide right now.
I loved every second, every frame of that place. The detractions I bring to this movie are my own baggage I bring to the cave on Dagobah. Other people won’t bring those problems. It’s difficult for me to find something wrong with this movie. What’s wrong with it, I’m not sure? Part of me wants to say there’s a problem… so I’ve conjured a problem. How about you?
Speaking of a LEGO fan I can find no fault with it whatsoever. It’s the best possible LEGO movie I could have hoped for. But is it the best possible movie? It is not. If you take away the LEGO and compare it to its closest “genetic relative” which is probably Toy Story or even any Everyman film animated or not, it was at times predictable, outrageously funny sure, full of heart and bordering on saccharine but just without crossing the line. The only bad thing I can say is that it utterly aborted itself to deliver its message before the final reel. It truly shuddered and sputtered to a halt in order to say what it had to say before giving you the finale. I’m saying a round 9.0
That was my fundamental problem with Toy Story was that I felt I was being spoon fed which emotion to feel. I didn’t get that here, but it would have completely alleviated that if there was just more. Maybe there will be that padding on the DVD…
…extended cuts are in my experience a flip of the coin. They raise or ruin a film.
Has this movie changed your approach to the hobby or to your collection?
No my hobby is exactly that, mine. This is parallel to how I view the toy itself, it’s what you make it. Maybe the better question is “will the movie change what I want that hobby to be?” If you think about the themes of the film: creativity, individuality, be the best self you can be, with arguable degrees of success I practice that as best I can. I build for myself, build what I want, and can’t see that changing anytime soon.
I don’t know if this a result of seeing this movie, but 2 days after seeing this movie I started my first ever 2-player Traveler’s Tales game, another WB title, LEGO Batman 2…
…you told me about this, you made a commitment to play through the entire game entirely as a 2-player experience as opposed to single-player…
…which I had been adamantly opposed to. If my other family members were further ahead of me in the same game I requested that they play when I was out of the house so I don’t get spoilers. I wanted to get the experience of discovery…
…you will still get that, but shared in 2-player.
You’re talking about playing it with your son?
Yep, of course, and letting him call the shots, he’s the Batman. Though he’s getting a bit jealous of Robin’s ice abilities. I hone in on any game that has ice abilities.
I got to say, if there is one person in the world that I will be Robin to their Batman any day, it’s my child.
I still will play single-player games, that’s not going to change, but this 2-player thing has been boss so far. I’m not sure if the LEGO Movie has anything to do with my choice, but the timing is there.
I’m very protective of my LEGO room; don’t touch daddy’s toys. In spite of the film and the cooperative play message that it portrays I don’t see that changing. I may be more inclined to play with her and Her LEGO, but the off-limits aspect of mine will not be changing anytime soon.
Whenever I’m building in my LEGO cave, the kids are welcome to come in but they parallel play. They bring whatever they want to do, but they can’t make a mess of my own collection. All of the creations I make, I factor in that they are going to help me make it or play with it after it’s done. So they’re already part of the process, usually they are inspired to build along side of me. That basic respect of not touching, remodeling or destroying what I’ve made is still there.
That’s interesting you should say that, goes back to what we were talking about with club displays. There is an important difference worth noting between co-play and cutting loose; or manners versus disrespecting the efforts and results of someone else’s creativity.
The lines are blurry within this movie, but with individuals they are fairly firm with their convictions on where they stand before this. I don’t think this movie will change how adults are with their hobby, but it might give them a new perspective on how the public, and kids within the public might look at them. Within their own entity they are pretty confident where they are. What I’ve gathered so far is club members are not sure where the club stands with the general public. That’s the unknown quantifiable; how will this affect our shows.
A change in their opinion of us for our choice of hobby?
Don’t we have a show that takes place in the 2 days over opening weekend?
Yes, the change in actual tangible interaction. We also have another paid admission show a month later and more tellingly another openly public one a month after that. Any change will spell itself out after this movie has been absorbed.
Time will tell, assuming there’s any way of measuring this sort of thing.
We’ll get back to you in Spring Break.
Cheers, I think we’re done!