Present Day Cartoons: An Analysis of the Lego Movie

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Legos, for many are a manifestation of one’s childhood. They were a source of entertainment for people of all ages. Brick by brick people built both miniscule and massive creations. From Walmart shelves to Legoland this form of architecture has kept people entertained for decades. But Legos grew to whole new level of entertainment in 2014 when the Lego Movie found it’s way to the big screen. With an all-star cast including Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell and Chris Pratt this film scorched the box office grossing close to 260 million dollars; 200 million more than its budget. The Lego Movie had amazing success in the box office as one of the year’s best-animated films, but through this blog I will be looking passed the profit and entertainment value. I’m going to uncover some of the films underlying messages and themes. These messages stem from how the film interacted with popular culture and certain philosophical ideas like ideology and mass culture.

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For the longest time cartoon television shows and movies have been produced primarily for children. There were only a number of cartoons, such as The Simpsons or Family Guy, which focused on an older audience. I would argue that these shows became and are still heavily part of American pop culture. The themes and messages that they presented are very relevant when it comes to society. But these, and a couple others like them, were outside of the norm of cartoons on television for a time. Cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants, Fairly Odd Parents and Jimmy Neutron – to name a few – catered to young children. There was this split between what children watched and what adults watched. Networks pushed agendas that said cartoons were for children, and unanimated shows were for adults. Obviously different age groups have different levels of cognitive skills. Cartoons are produced for children because they are more easily entertained by the colors and animation. For the most part most cartoons presented messages that children could more easily understand as well. This displays a pattern in American popular culture that dictated what role Cartoons play in society. Nowadays that trend is somewhat shifting, and there are a number of new animated shows, such as Adventure Time and Rick and Morty, and movies that are stepping out with more complex and mature messages for older and more diverse audiences. The Lego Movie is part of that new wave of cartoons that are changing how popular culture interacts with this type of production.

One of the themes that the Lego Movie primarily interacts with is this idea of mass culture. Within this theme the first aspect that I will analyze is the goals and intentions of the films antagonist. President Business, voiced by Will Ferrell, is the Lego version of Big Brother. He controls the economy and development of Bricksburg, one of the primary settings in the film. His goal is for everything to be the way he wants it to be. “All I’m asking for is total perfection,” is one of his key lines. President Business’s vision fits one of the three general categories that Raymond Williams talks about in his article, “The Analysis of Culture.” Williams says, “There is, first, the ‘ideal,’ in which culture is a state or process of human perfection, in terms of absolute or human values.” Business wants to force his vision of this “state of human perfection,” or in this case Lego perfection, onto the citizens of Bricksburg. Their reaction is to blindly accept his vision and go along with every plan that he implements.

This mass reaction fits the third category of culture in Williams article. He explains this category as the “’social’ definition of culture, in which culture is a description of a particular way of life, which expresses certain meanings and values not only in art and learning but also in institutions and ordinary behavior.” The idea of meanings and values in institutions and ordinary behavior is what I’m most intrigued by when it comes to the Lego Movie. When analyzing the culture of Bricksburg it is plain to see that Emmet places heavy value on what he is told is “ordinary behavior.” This is evident in his constant goal of following the instructions. His initial scene has him following a step-by-step guide on how to go about his day. This depicts a mindset so influenced by President Business’s that he feels that he has to strive day in and day out to follow an ordinary behavior within society.

The last theme that I will analyze within the Lego Movie is ideology. In his article, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Louis Althusser presents a thesis concerning ideology. That thesis says, “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” I believe that this idea of ideology fits with the culture of Bricksburg. The citizens have this imaginary relationship with their conditions. That relationship to them is a good one, where workers build skyscrapers, people pay for overpriced coffee and people follow the instructions without blinking an eye. The reality is that they are part of President Business’s system. To someone watching the film all of the actions carried out by the citizens is insane, but not to them. They are unaware of their real conditions of existence because they believe everything that Business instructs them to.

When I first watched the movie back in 2014 I would have never thought to analyze what was going on like this. I, like most people, was merely there for the entertainment. But the hidden themes and messages the Lego Movie conveys make the movie a lot more complex than I had originally presumed, and I believe this is how a lot of new cartoon movies and shows operate nowadays.

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