I’ve briefly talked about it in past blog posts, but my childhood in the late 80s and throughout the 90s was a huge factor in preventing me from coming out earlier in life than I ended up doing. That isn’t to say that I knew I was transgender when I was that young, but rather that time frame left me with a deeply seeded binary view of gender and what it meant. Before I could come out as transgender, I would have to break free of that limited notion of gender, and gender expression.
I played with a lot of toys when I was younger, but my favorites could easily be counted on one hand. The toys I loved the most were a combination of Lego sets, cars and trucks, dinosaurs, and video games. There were other toys I’d play with, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I loved them in the same way as those mentioned. Many were simply because the other kids liked them, such as Nerf guns and Super Soakers, or were a quickly passing fad, like POGs.
I eventually out grew playing with the cars and trucks and the dinosaurs but Lego and video games have remained a huge part of my life. I’ve talked a lot about video games, and how much they helped my exploration of gender, but I’ve never really talked about Lego the same way. In fact, it wasn’t really until tonight that I started having gendered feelings about Lego.
Lego was at one time the ultimate genderless toy. They were originally marketed to both boys and girls equally. Just look at this 1955 commercial that features a song about both a boy and a girl enjoying the building blocks. This is significant because at the time toys for girls were largely advertised as being made to prepare them for being a homemaker. Fortunately by the 1970s, toys had become more and more gender neutral. In fact, in 1975 only 2% of the toys in the Sears catalog were gendered. Lego continued to be pretty gender neutral even up to the early 1980s.
Unfortunately the 1980s were a time of drastic change in the toy industry. In 1981 Ronald Reagan appointed Mark Fowler as commissioner of the FCC. Fowler proceeded to deregulate advertising of the broadcasting industry and with the next few years, coincidentally coinciding with my being born in 1984, there was an explosion of children’s cartoons that would exist for no other reason than as advertising for toys.Shows such as My Little Pony released in 1984 and G. I. Joe in 1985 drive this home. Toys began being marketed depending on which show was being watched, and before you knew it Lego had gone from releasing commercials featuring both boys and girls, to advertising specifically to boys.
For most of my life, Lego has been a “boy toy” because that’s what advertising told us. This started to change in the past decade, and in 2012 specifically Lego released Lego Friends in an attempt to win back the 50% of the population that they had been ignoring for the better part of 30 years.
Of course, none of this is really news, and there are hundreds of thousands of articles and scientific studies about all of this. So why am I writing about it now? Well, I just saw the Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.
I cried. A lot. Many feels were had, and that’s exactly what I wanted to write about.
The first Lego Movie came out 5 years ago. Roughly a year before my egg cracked and I came out for the first time. The movie hit a huge soft spot in me, and I fell in love with it. The soundtrack was on a loop in my car for months. However, it wasn’t perfect. Several aspects of the movie bothered me.
From here on there be spoilers, for both Lego movies. Proceed at your own peril.
The Lego Movie is about a character named Emmet, who finds “The Piece of Resistance” and becomes “The Special” who is destined to save the world from the evil Lord Business. Along the way he meets Wyldstyle, an awesome female protagonist and total badass. I wanted to be her. Goals, indeed.
The majority of the movie is spent showing how hapless and not special Emmet really is, with the ensemble cast questioning whether or not he really is the special. Meanwhile, Wyldstyle spends the entire movie being badass, saving Emmet on multiple occasions, rallying the cast around her, and does all the work to save the day. Except that Emmet gets all the credit.
In a M. Night Shyamalan twist it is revealed that the movie has been part of the active imagination of Finn, an eight and a half year old boy. Lord Business, as it turns out, was Finn’s vision of his father. Finn was getting into trouble for playing with his dad’s perfect Lego city, who had started gluing all of the Lego bricks together with Krazy Glue. The Piece of Resistance turns out to be the cap of a Krazy Glue bottle, and Finn and his dad put the cap back on the bottle, resolving their fight.
At the very end of the movie, the dad agrees to let Finn play with his Lego city, but only if Finn’s younger sister gets to play as well. While Emmet, Wyldstyle, and the rest of the cast are celebrating, invaders from Duplo show up in the city.
The biggest fault of the Lego Movie is attempting to deconstruct the idea of a destined hero that saves the damsel in distress, and teasing a badass female protagonist that saves the hapless “hero” instead. It does such an amazing job with this, up until the end where it forgets all about the message it’s been threading into the story, and has Emmet save everyone anyways. Wyldstyle, in the end, gets regulated to being the girlfriend.
The other main message of the movie, that Lego bricks are meant to be played with and not glued together like some kind of picture perfect model, is problematic as well. Not for gendered issues, but instead because it bites the hand that feeds. One of Lego’s biggest markets, are the Adult Fan of Lego, or AFOL for short. Lego markets sets that cost hundreds of dollars towards this market. While children might spend, or more accurately their parents might spend, a few hundred dollars a year total on sets, there are AFOLs that spend thousands. The message seemed to try and remind AFOLs what made them fall in love with the bricks, while at the same time marketing a giant pirate ship from the movie for $249.99.
Lastly is the throw away joke that Finn gets a taste of his own medicine, by having to deal with his younger sister “destroying” everything he builds, just as he destroyed everything his father built. I’ll talk more about that after I talk about the sequel.
The sequel released in theaters earlier this month, and I had been hesitant to see it. I’m a different person than I was when the first came out, which is weird for me to say considering when I first came out of the closet I insisted that I would still be me, and that I wouldn’t change. My initial love of the movie faded as time passed, and what stuck with me the most were the faults that I had with it. As excited as I was to see the sequel, I was really worried that it would double down on the issues I had with the original.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part picks up where it’s predecessor left off. Duplo blocks have invaded the city, and Emmet haplessly tries to win them over with a giant pink Lego heart, which the Duplo monsters promptly eat.
Fast forward five years, and the beautiful city is in ruin. In a very on the nose reference to Mad Max, everything is no longer awesome. Everything colorful has been destroyed, because color will attract the dreaded Duplo aliens to return and destroy everything again. Emmet, being the hapless dope that he is, isn’t phased by the post apocalyptic setting and decides to build a house for him and Wyldstyle, now going by her real name Lucy, to live in together. The two of them get into a fight about how Emmet hasn’t grown up and hasn’t changed, and that Lucy wants something more out of him. Emmet reveals to Lucy that he had a dream that “Armamageddon” is coming.
Within minutes, a new alien threat arrives. A Lego Friends mini-doll figure in a space suit named General Sweet Mayhem attacks the city. She demands to see the city’s leader, and it’s revealed that everyone is now considered a special, and they all argue over who the actual leader should be. Including a really on the nose discussion of how Lucy did all the work in the previous movie, only for Emmet to get the credit. General Sweet Mayhem then demands that Emmet and all his friends join her for a wedding ceremony, and when they all refuse, she kidnaps all of Emmet’s friends, including Lucy.
Since the first movie’s big reveal is that the story all being in Finn’s imagination, we see flashes of happenings in the real world. Bianca, Finn’s younger sister, is now the age that Finn was during the original movie, and she has stolen his favorite Lego mini-figures and run off to her room.
Emmet builds a spaceship out of the ruins of his dream house to chase after his friends, where he crashes and is saved by Rex Dangervest. Rex is everything that Emmet thinks Lucy wants in a man, and demands that Rex teach Emmet everything while at the same time helping chase after his kidnapped friends. Finn takes Emmet and Rex out of the basement, chasing after Bianca for stealing his toys.
Meanwhile, Bianca spends the rest of the movie cleaning the dust off of her newly acquired mini-figures, revealing that the brooding badass Lucy’s black hair with purple highlights, has been light blue with purple highlights this entire time. Finn apparently took a sharpy to her hair. The rest of Emmet’s friends get brainwashed by Bianca’s own creations, and Lucy barely escapes.
Emmet and Rex travel through various worlds designed by Bianca, finding an entire city of lost friends now covered in sparkles and glitter, eventually running into Lucy again. Lucy is stunned by the changes that Emmet has undergone through Rex’s coaching, and voices her displeasure. Rex tries to convince Emmet that Lucy is just as brainwashed as their friends, and that the real Lucy wouldn’t be acting that way.
Regardless, the three of them are convinced that the upcoming wedding will bring about Armamageddon and that they have to stop it to save their brainwashed friends. Rex hatches a plan for the three of them to split up and stop the wedding before it happens, therefore saving the day.
Lucy’s job is to head to the center of the wedding complex and turn off the entertainment system, where she gets into a fight with Bianca’s creations until realizing that she was wrong about everything, and that the wedding is supposed to bring peace between the two factions. Emmet’s job is to reach the top of the complex and destroy it all, just as the entertainment center gets turned off. Emmet sees Lucy and all of his brainwashed friends colluding with the enemy, and destroys the complex without them.
In the real world, Finn rushes into Bianca’s room, destroying everything she’s built. It is revealed that Bianca only stole the mini-figures because she wanted Finn to play with her, and that she’s built everything that she has because she looks up to him and wants to play with him. It’s revealed that the heart Emmet built at the start of the movie to give to the Duplos, was something special that she’s kept for the past five years. The two fight until their mom rushes in and demands that they stop fighting, and as punishment she is taking away all of their Legos. The two are supposed to destroy everything they’ve built and pack their Lego bricks away in tubs. Lucy is the last to be dropped into a tub, before the lid is closed and they are all left in darkness.
The cast begins singing a song about everything being most certainly not awesome. Lucy, refusing to give up, begins singing about how despite everything not being awesome it’s still going to work out. General Sweet Mayhem joins her in song, and at that moment Finn decides to give one last look at his toys. He opens the box, and discovers Lucy all cleaned up sitting on the top of the pile of bricks.
He finds the pieces of the heart that he originally built for Bianca, rebuilds it, and returns to her room. The two talk, and rush back down to the basement together. From there a convoluted plot about time travel reveals that Rex was really Emmet all along. Rex abandons Emmet under the washer and dryer, and just as Emmet works up the courage and strength to free himself, Rex shows up to make sure he stays put.
That is when Lucy saves the day and rescues Emmet. With Rex defeated, the wedding that was ruined by Emmet’s destruction is back on. In the real world, Finn and Bianca have made up, and combined efforts to rebuild the wedding scene using both of their styles of construction. Upon seeing Finn and Bianca finally getting along, their mother allows them to keep their Lego bricks and a new city is built.
While watching The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, I couldn’t help but be annoyed. The first act of the movie was confirming my worst fears. It was doubling down on the gender issues of the first movie, and not only painting the younger sister as a villain, but her mother as well. At least in the original, the villain was a symbol of what was wrong with the Lego industry, in a way, and a criticism of it’s oldest fans that are forgetting what it was like to create, rather than show off.
Making the villain undeniably gendered rubbed me the wrong way. The movie’s early message was that bright colors, pink, glitter, sparkles, and everything girly were bad. Of course this was all being told through the lens of Finn, who is now a brooding teenager, so the message was understandable in it’s own weird gendered way. It reminded me a lot of myself when I was a teenager, doing my best to fit in and be manly. I emphasized with Emmet, wanting to be more like Rex, which of course made me even more uncomfortable because dysphoria is awesome like that.
At the lowest point of the movie, it started to make fun of its predecessor for making Wyldstyle the hero, while giving Emmet all the credit. It didn’t feel like that moment was a criticism of its predecessor, but rather a criticism of the criticism that was given to its predecessor. It felt like it was treating that very valid criticism as a joke, rather than a fundamental flaw with the original story.
I was ready to accept the worst, but from that point on I was provided with surprise after surprise. The movie immediately started to show it’s twists and turns. When Lucy and the rest of Emmets friends are introduced to Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi who wants to wed Batman, the Queen sings an amazing song about how she’s not the villain. The song did it’s job. I no longer felt like Bianca and her mother were villains, and knew that the coming Armamageddon was going to be caused by Finn destroying his sister’s creations. Finn, as it turns out, was going to be the villain of the story.
The story got even better as Lucy reacted to Emmet’s attempts at becoming more manly. Rex was never supposed to be the perfect man that Emmet should become, but a depiction of toxic masculinity at work. Rex was the creation of Finn’s adolescent struggles with wanting to be a man, and what he thought a real man should be like. Everything about Rex and his crew reflected who Finn was as a person, and what his ideals and goals as a person were.
When Emmet runs into old members of his city, happy and sparkly in the worlds that Bianca has created, it’s revealed that Bianca isn’t destroying everything that Finn holds dear, and instead is arguably a better more well adjusted kid than Finn was. Bianca clearly loved superheroes, particularly Wonder Woman considering she had a Duplo Wonder Woman, a mini-figure Wonder Woman, and a mini-doll Wonder Woman. She made amazing Lego creations, from entire cities to a massive wedding cake, to tons of unique spaceships. Sure, some of her tastes were stereotypically more girly, hence the abundance of sparkles and glitter, but she showed a love for Lego that brooding and destructive Finn never did. This is evidence by how much care she took in restoring Lucy’s mini-figure to her non-sharpied glory.
When the credits began rolling I logged into my Discord to exclaim that The Lego Movie 2 “somehow retroactivity fixed everything I hated about the original, while both criticising and correcting those problems at the same time.”
Now that a few hours have passed, I still take issue with Armamageddon being the central plot point of the movie. Painting the mother as the villain, and showing her taking away the toys from fighting children, is such a stereotypical mom thing. It’s another gendered weirdness that I didn’t really appreciate. However, that being said, I greatly appreciate the pun that sets up the story, and also that they made the mom a character, rather than resurrecting Finn and Bianca’s father as a villain.
So, back to the feels. I mentioned that I cried during the movie. I cried, because Finn and Bianca’s relationship reminded me a lot of my relationship with my brother and sister. I was a middle child. I distinctly remember being on both sides of the battle between Finn and Bianca. I’d fight with my brother, and try and fit in with him and his friends, while at the same time I’d fight with my sister because she’d want to play with me and inevitably I’d take offense to how she wanted to play because she wasn’t doing it right.
I cried because so much of what made The Lego Movie 2 special wasn’t available to me as a kid. The Lego Friends line, despite it’s gender dimorphism, is amazing. I love the colors and the themes, and there’s nothing wrong with making stereotypically girly Lego sets, just like there’s nothing wrong with making stereotypically masculine Lego sets. The biggest problem with Lego Friends isn’t that it exists, it’s that it’s treated as “Lego sets for girls” rather than being mixed in with the rest of the Lego sets.
I cried because just like how The Lego Movie brought out feelings, memories, and revelations about my experiences as a person five years ago, The Lego Movie 2 brought out a whole new series of feelings, memories, and revelations about my experiences now.
If you’ve gotten this far and haven’t seen either of the two movies, I highly recommend you give them a watch, and while you’re at it watch Lego Batman as well, because it’s the best Batman movie ever released. Don’t @ me.