Screentime: The Lego Movie – Building Something That Lasts

(YouTube//Warner Bros Pictures)

A Foregone Conclusion

For my final Screentime column, I wanted to talk about a movie that meant something to me personally. I considered picking something from my own childhood, maybe the first movie I saw in a cinema (Aladdin), or some obscurity that we just happened to own on VHS (1997’s MouseTrap, for example). But this column isn’t about looking back, about my own nostalgia. It’s about what kids movies mean to me now. How I interpret them today, as a 30-year old in 2018. As a father. So instead, I want to talk about The Lego Movie.

The Lego Movie was always going to have a special place in my heart: It was created with me in mind. I’ve always been a huge Lego nerd, and a lot of my happiest memories as a child center around that Danish construction toy. The directors, Phil Lord & Chris Miller, know their audience and pepper the film with references to Lego ephemera old and new, general and specific. For me, the film mines nostalgia in way that’s so precise as to feel personal. Many of the Lego sets that I grew up with are featured, and seeing details like the tiny break in Benny’s helmet feel like I’m hearing the fragment of the theme song from a long-forgotten, but much-beloved show from my childhood.

For my daughter, the thrill comes not only in seeing the toy she loves to play with come to life, but also in seeing the mashup of culture that Lego’s exhaustive brand relationships allows. Seeing Batman for the first time elicited a laugh from her, and every time he appeared on screen thereafter she would confidently inform me that “That’s Batman” or “Batman’s being silly.”

(YouTube//Movieclips Coming Soon)

Beyond Reference

This combination of general pop culture nostalgia and specific Lego fandom was enough to get me to buy a ticket way back in the halcyon days of 2014. Lord & Miller would have known this. Lego, backed by generations of devoted fans, was a pretty safe topic for a movie. That’s why so many of these branded tie-ins are so bad. The product is already so popular there’s no need to make the movie good. You sell tickets just based on the thing’s existence. A lesser creative team would have taken this route. Play up the nostalgia, throw in as many simple gags, memes, and winking references as you can and call it a day.

That approach may get butts in seats, it may pay the bills, but it doesn’t get people coming back. It doesn’t make for a cultural experience that affects people, that elicits emotions, that lasts.

The reason movie studios can so easily leverage those cultural touchstones, the reason that we will buy a ticket for The Lego Movie simply because its The Lego Movie, is that these references are shorthand for something deeper, something more personal and more meaningful. Lord & Miller understood this, and understood why it was important. A Lego brick, or the Batman logo, or the Thundercats theme; these things are like snapshots, reminding us of memories and feelings we used to have. But their thin evocations pale in comparison with what we’re searching for, which is to feel those feelings again.

It is obvious that Lord & Miller are, themselves, huge fans of Lego. They understand this longing. They understand that these trappings of memory are not enough. The simple fact that we all know and remember the shape & colors of a Lego minifig isn’t enough. What truly binds us to these commonalities is the actions they evoke. The sight of a Lego brick brings to mind the action of building with it, the feel of it in your hands. So rather than simply show you the object of nostalgia, The Lego Movie places the act of building, the act that binds Lego fans across the world together, centrally not only in its narrative (more on that later) but into the way the film itself is constructed. Watching The Lego Movie is the nearest you can come to actually playing with Lego without, you know, actually playing with Lego.

This raises the movie beyond an act of mere reference. It is not just paying lip service to the things we love, but actively evoking them.

(YouTube//Warner Brothers Pictures)

Building Something That Lasts

Most creators would be happy with this achievement, with turning a corporate exercise into an act of love, with transforming cynical reference, alchemy like, into passionate evocation. But Lord & Miller know that even this isn’t enough. Playing on familiar brands & ideas was enough to summon an audience, elevating that reference into something deeper was enough to turn that audience into a fanbase. But in order to turn those fans into devotees, people who watch the film not once, but 183 times, people who do deep dives into the film’s mythology, you need something more.

The films that last are the films inspire people, films that change the way people think, the way they feel. Films that say something.

Because while quick jokes or nostalgic brands or memes may make us smile, the media that stops us in our tracks, the media that we tell others about, the media that we return to again and again and again, are the films or TV shows or websites that present us with an idea we’d never considered before, an idea that scares us, an idea that changes how we look at the world, even just a little bit.

So Lord & Miller took the audience they built with their attention to detail, with their love of Lego, and they told us some things. They told us not only that “Chosen One” type stories (Harry Potter, The Matrix, Star Wars) are ridiculous and undramatic, but also the exact ways in which they are toxic. They told us that individualism is doomed to failure, but we still need to embrace each other’s unique perspectives and talents. They told us that Lego and life is about ever-changing creation and innovation, not unbending rules and inflexible ideas. And they told us that we were playing with Lego wrong.

Think about that last one. They took a movie designed to appeal to 30-something nerds. The kind of guys who spent hundreds of dollars on a Lego Millenium Falcon to display in their home. They took a movie created with those specific guys in mind. And they used that movie to tell their audience they were wrong.

And their audience loved them for it.

Because what Lord & Miller understand is this: If you love something, be it Lego, or Paw Patrol, or your kids, you think about it a lot. You are passionate about it. And that passion means you cannot be neutral about it. You have strongly held opinions and beliefs, and you want to fight for those beliefs. And when you see someone else fighting, arguing passionately that Lego is to be built with, not to be displayed, you know that that person loves Lego too, just like you.

(YouTube//ThFerAnima)

The Dad Upstairs

Of course, the Lego movie is about one more thing. One thing I didn’t mention earlier. It’s about being a parent. About playing with your kids and listening to them and embracing what makes them special and unique. Its about treating your kids with love and respect, like the little people they are, not the annoyance they can be.

Because Lego, like Kung Fu Panda and Spirit: Riding Free and Tangled and Frozen and Elf and The Muppets and How To Train Your Dragon and Moana and Trolls and The Wiggles and Winnie The Pooh and Paw Patrol and The Lego Movie, is for kids. That’s what makes it so important. That’s why its worth fighting for, and about. Because as a parent you want to build something that lasts. You want to instill your kid with passion and strength and love and hope. And media is one of the most powerful tools we can use to do that. Which makes it one of the most important things in the world.

(YouTube//Warner Brothers Pictures)

Father and Son Escape Burning Truck in the Nick of Time

(News Channel Nebraska)

19-year old Minnesota man Kobe Sammons drove 500 miles to visit his family in Nebraska. When he arrived he told to his father, Jeremy, that his ride just wasn’t running right. So his dad hopped in the truck and the two went for a drive in hopes of discovering what the problem was.

A short while later they pulled over when Jeremy noticed smoke had entered the cabin of the truck. The smoke quickly turned to heat and it became apparent the engine compartment was on fire.

That’s when both men attempted to open their doors but they would not unlock.

The father wondered if this would be their final moments together.

“I told him he would have to break the glass or kick the door open. I couldn’t help him.” the elder Sammons told News Channel Nebraska.

But eventually Kobe was able to kick the door open.

“It was in those moments. Just when it had to open, the door opened.” Kobe’s dad said.

By the time firefighters arrived the truck was completely engulfed in flames. Authorities on the scene considered that the fire may have caused the doors’ unlocking mechanism to malfunction.

The truck can easily be replaced, the important thing is that this father and son duo escaped unharmed.

75-Year-Old Volunteer Literally Takes Catnaps at Animal Shelter

(Facebook/Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary Inc.)

If you’re a cat lover you’ll probably agree that 75-year-old Wisconsinite Terry Lauerman is living the dream. He spends most days volunteering at his local animal shelter snoozing with cats.

Lauerman begins his day at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary where he brushes any cat that needs it, then ends up catching a few z’s with his feline friends. The cats and staff at the shelter love the service Lauerman provides and so do thousands of others because of a viral Facebook post about him.

Elizabeth Feldhausen, the founder of Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary, told The Huffington Post that Lauerman never signed up to be a volunteer but just showed up one day, armed with a cat brush and dream to help some kitties.

“He just walked in and started brushing,” Feldhausen said. “So eventually we told him he was an official volunteer and had him fill out our volunteer form.”

(Facebook/Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary Inc.)

Safe Haven is a cage-free, no-kill shelter aimed at rehabilitating cats with special needs who would likely be euthanized elsewhere. Feldhausen says Lauerman usually comes in for about three hours every day—he’ll start by brushing a cat but usually ends up dozing off.

“He sleeps for about an hour, then he’ll wake up and switch cats,”

The cats aren’t the only ones benefitting from his visits, though. “He said, [the brushing is] as great of an experience for him, as it is for them,” said Feldhausen.

(Facebook/Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary Inc.)

The post about Lauerman has received tons of positive attention and according to Feldhausen, they’ve received about $20,000 in donations since the post went viral.

While Lauerman is happy to have brought so much attention to Safe Haven, he wants people to know that there are plenty of other volunteers that put in hours of hard work to make sure the cats are loved and cared for.

Unlike them, however, Lauerman can do it in his sleep.

Father Figures: So Be It

“My money is tight living here in Silicon Valley.

My daughters are both really smart and take advanced classes, which takes a shit load of money for tests, materials and such. I too play the ‘money is tight’ card around holidays and birthdays, but I work my ass off and find side jobs. As many as I can to make sure they have the best day possible on those special occasions.

If that means not buying myself anything for the rest of my life, so be it.

They always come first, and I believe they will appreciate the struggles later on in life, and they’ll be better off for it.”

– Mauro Hernandez

Want to share a story about fatherhood? Email fatherfigures@thedad.com

Dad’s Panoramic Photo of Daughter Goes Horribly Wrong and Viral

(Twitter/sc_x_cs)

With new phones constantly boasting advancements in camera technology, it’s no wonder some people have trouble keeping up—dads in particular.

Just ask 21-year-old Twitter user Simran. She recently came to terms with the fact that her father is a bit more technologically-challenged than she realized.

Here’s how Simran appears when she’s directing the photo shoot:

While on vacation her dad attempted to snap a unique picture of her. He insisted on trying out his iPhone X’s panoramic photo mode. As you probably expect, the photo didn’t turn out quite as planned.

“My dad told me to stand by the apples because he said he discovered a new way to take pano pics vertically,” Simran told Mashable. “I agreed to it and this was the result.”

“When he saw them he said ‘they look great’ and then I saw them and completely lost it. I mean, are you kidding me? I look like an Alien,” she said.

A number of people chimed in and made fun comparisons to some pretty unflattering images.

Clearly, Simran has been a good sport and we commend her dad for a bold attempt at harnessing advanced photo technology. But perhaps he should stick with the old fashioned point-and-shoot method from now on?

Man Struggles to Fit Small Carry-On Bag in Overhead Bin