(WARNING: Spoilers ahead for The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie.)
In 2014, #TheLEGOMovie shocked the world by proving that a feature-length commercial can be chock full of humor and heart. While the LEGO brand had never really gone out of the public eye, The LEGO Movie cemented the company's dominance in the toy industry and birthed a new cinematic universe for future movies.
This universe expanded in February of this year with #TheLEGOBatmanMovie, which also had huge success. Showing no lack of ambition, Warner Bros. is also set to release #TheLEGONinjagoMovie in September.
On the surface, it seems as if these films are separate from each other, existing in the same universe but not carrying an overarching plot. But as I watched LEGO Batman save the day and viewed the trailer for The LEGO Ninjago Movie, I weighed in my mind what the first two #LEGO movies talked about thematically and compared that to the next installment. What stood out to me were varying portraits on the dynamics between parent and child. Each movie is not simply a commercial to sell products; underneath, they explore the wrestling of how family works.
The Evils Of Lord Business
I, like many others, was surprised at the wonder that was The LEGO Movie. This delightful film follows Emmitt, an ordinary nobody who winds up at the center of a fight to keep the evil Lord Business (played hilariously by #WillFerrell) from gluing everyone in place to halt creativity among the different LEGO worlds. In a surprising twist, we find out that the whole thing is playing out in the imagination of a boy messing with his father's sets that he's using for work. The dad (also Ferrell) is initially upset at how his son is ruining his models but eventually comes around to realize these are in fact toys that are meant to be played with by children.
Some may say the parallel is a little too on the nose, yet the movie makes its point. The dad is so disconnected from his son and caught up in his work that he can't even share his models (which are kids' toys) with him. He is stifling his son's creativity, not developing it or investing in his boy. Like Lord Business, the dad sees the supposed chaos of his child's mind as irrational; he wants to order it even if that ruins his son's involvement.
Many parents can relate. They look at their children gleefully putting together LEGOs only to blast them apart in a strange story playing out in their minds. To an adult, this is nonsense. To children, this is their world. So, The LEGO Movie boils down to a plea for "sophisticated" parents to take the time and understand their kid's inner workings. The resulting connection is its own reward.
Batman's Greatest Fear
In the recently released The LEGO Batman Movie, the Dark Knight of #DC gets a comedic comeuppance as he learns the value of family. While #Batman looks for a way to take care of the #Joker for good, he accidentally adopts Dick Grayson, a.k.a. #Robin, and quickly employs him in a scheme that horribly backfires. While Gotham City is overrun by villains beyond Batman's abilities, the Caped Crusader must face his greatest fear: being part of a family again.
Faithful butler and surrogate father Alfred confronts Batman about this early in the film. As the adventures ramp up and danger increases, Batman can't face the thought of losing more people close to him and pushes them away. Of course, he doesn't get far on his own and soon realizes his need for a family.
Any parent knows that starting a family is a scary journey. Bringing a child into the world carries a great responsibility and a great risk. What if you lose the child? No parent wants to think of that, and yet the possibility is always there. Parents can relate to Batman's fear, but the message still shines like a beacon in the sky: For all its risks, family brings joy.
The Problem Of Evil Dad
Though The LEGO Ninjago Movie is still months away, its first trailer gives us a look at one of the movie's central plot points. Lloyd leads a group of ninja warriors who must defeat Lloyd's father, Garmadon. The trailer humorously plays up the dysfunctional relationship between father and son, showing that Garmadon comes up as "Evil Dad" on Lloyd's phone. But as we've seen from the previous movies, the message will run much deeper than a series of jokes.
The humor and complications that define Lloyd and Garmadon's association can be easily imagined. Lloyd will have to come to grips with having an "evil dad," simultaneously trying to defeat him and also redeem him. Their relationship is defined by tension. They can't see eye-to-eye, they can't connect, they don't share the same goals. I have a feeling the driving plot of the movie will revolve around the dynamic of this divided family.
It's no secret that children have a mind of their own and rarely follow beat-for-beat in their parents' footsteps. Their concerns and ambitions often drift into different courses. For parents, the temptation is to give in to frustration and let the distance grow between both parties. But this tendency must be resisted. We don't want our kids putting us in the phone as "Evil Parent" because of disconnection. A common ground must be found and both sides should try to understand and encourage the other. Kids want to connect with their parents if only the adults are willing.
Families are often a messy matter, yet they are highly important. LEGO, I think, has struck a soft spot in culture by focusing their movies in that direction. Maybe that was the intention from the start; maybe the theme simply resonated with them and, in turn, has resonated with us. It will be interesting to see how themes of parenthood and family are explored as this universe expands and grows.
What themes have you seen in the LEGO Movies?