Probably the best feature of The Lego Movie is its meta humor. A shockingly good feature-length toy commercial, the film actually promotes creativity and doesn’t shy away from lampooning the sillier incarnations of its product. The plot trajectory is familiar, with an average Joe construction worker, Emmet (Chris Pratt), living in an all-Lego world and discovering he may be the unassuming key to bringing down the secret dictatorship of Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Emmet is painfully ordinary and so boring that everyone fighting against Lord Business is suspicious when the prophecy of the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) appears to indicate the construction worker as their savior, the Special. In part, it’s revealed they’re right.
“The Chosen One” trope should be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Sailor Moon, Harry Potter, or Luke Skywalker’s role in the original Star Wars trilogy. Indicated by prophecy, a person often on the outside of a broader, ongoing conflict is drawn into the story. Due to unknown, potentially divine forces, the man (or, at least, a man more often than not) is believed to be the one who will bring peace and help save the underdogs of the story.
At its best, The Chosen One is an exploration of “The Fool” archetype, in which a person with little talent turns out to be mysteriously adept. He (and, as previously mentioned, less often, “she”) has supernatural good luck. Whether it stays that way depends on the degree of danger The Fool is willing to sift through or the lesson this character will eventually learn.
At its worst, The Chosen One trope is lazy, stale, and tyrannical. It’s an excuse to bring in a character who will save the day because, for no easily explained reason, someone said so. This is the sort of logic that drives the very dictatorship villains like Lord Business create: the Lego world should be run a certain way because he thinks it should be. He doesn’t earn the right, he just captures it. Similarly, Emmet is the Special because he’s the one who ends up having the “Piece of Resistance” accidentally glued to his back for part of the film. His intentions are less malicious than Lord Business’, certainly, but the mechanics are very similar.
The Lego Movie knows this. There are tons of characters in the film more qualified to be the Special than Emmet, specifically the Master Builders (DC Superheroes like Wonder Woman, historical figures, pirates, and the Harlem Globetrotters) who work to liberate the multiverse from Lord Business’s regime. Emmet’s love interest, Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), points out her overwhelming disappointment that, even as a talented Master Builder who can cleverly remake the world around her in any way she wants, she is still not good enough to be the Special.
Despite being uncreative (a running gag involves his first original idea being a “double couch” rather than something like a spaceship or weapon), Emmet is still the subject of the prophecy. He doesn’t get there through hard work. It’s implied Lucy and other Master Builders like Will Arnett’s Batman, Alison Brie’s Princess Unikitty, and Charlie Day’s Spaceman Benny underwent lots of practice to become as good at building as they are. Emmet ends up the hero because he was at the right place at the right time.
And thank goodness the movie points out just how ridiculous that is.
In the penultimate moment, it’s revealed Vitruvius made the entire prophecy up. The Special is literally anyone who decides he or she wants to be creative and inspire others to think in non-traditional ways. This dovetails nicely with the movie’s message that it’s okay to mix-and-match the different genres of the Lego multi-verse into one, over-the-top world, a sincere goal to promote playing with toys in fun, different ways. Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy may be a masterpiece, but where its first film’s villain was a boy who wants to disassemble and create new, unconventional things with his toys, The Lego Movie encourages audiences that there’s no wrong way to “play” or be “the hero.” Lord Business, in wanting a sense of order, isn’t entirely wrong, either, and ends up coming to a compromise with Emmet.
Unfortunately, while this is a fantastic, meta move on the part of the movie, this “everyone can be special” message doesn’t translate to every part of the film. Emmet may not be the Special, but he still ends up with a role in the film he didn’t necessarily earn. He returns to save the day with previously unknown powers, ones he, again, earned by being at the right place at the right time.
Wyldstyle/Lucy does get her chance to shine, successfully inspiring the denizens of the Lego multi-verse with a televised speech against Lord Business’ establishment, but it’s a speech made in order to support Emmet. She’s a hero, but she’s not the hero of the story. Her talents still aren’t good enough to let her be the one who saves the day. In a more pessimistic reading, one can see her romance with Emmet as nothing but his “default prize” for being the main character, reducing Lucy to an object rather than a person. Note that Lucy’s ex-boyfriend, Batman, still has to give his approval before the union can go forward, as if he’s “giving” her to Emmet. It’s a disturbing moment. Lucy has worked so hard to be heroic and become The Special, but her role is still diminished because she doesn’t fit the mold of the outsider, male “Fool” that Emmet is. She can’t even make her own romantic decisions. He may no longer be the Chosen One according to the surface narrative, but Emmet’s still the Chosen One at its structural core, someone who earns more than the effort he puts in.
No piece of media is perfect, and while not everything in The Lego Movie works, it’s still a visually stunning and hilarious film. It’s s a tour de force of parody and is enormously engaging for adults. And yes, it really does encourage Lego fans to be creative with what they use the toys for. Legos are, after all, designed to inspire creative and new ways to think and build. With any luck, this message will outlive the one within the story’s shortcomings.