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)

Dad and Son Gain Global Recognition by Reuniting Lost Gloves

(Instagram/lonely_glove_club)

Brooklyn dad Lance Vining and his 4-year-old son, Zach, were walking to school on a brisk December morning when Zach noticed a lone glove abandoned on the sidewalk.

“Daddy, what happens to the gloves that are just left on the sidewalk?” Zach asked, clearly concerned.

“Well, nothing happens to them,” Lance responded. “Because you can’t do anything with a single glove.”

This answer simply wasn’t satisfactory for Zach, who was “crestfallen,” according to Lance. So, instead of accepting his own answer, Lance decided to actually do something about it.

With a few posters and a laminator, the duo created the “Lonely Gloves Club,” a network of neighborhood ‘lost & found’ locations made specifically for neglected gloves.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Zach and I having fun trying to be good neighbors. #lonelygloveclub #windsorterrace

A post shared by #lonelygloveclub (@lonely_glove_club) on

Locals immediately began to take notice.

“As we were putting up the signs, people were commenting, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea,’ which was kind of awesome,” Lance told New York News 4. Realizing additional steps could be taken to reunite folks with their lost gloves, Lance even launched an Instagram page to promote new arrivals to the club.

The campaign has gained some followers—both online and off—with people requesting signs to start their own Lonely Gloves Club in their local neighborhoods. Lance and Zach have sent posters to California, England, the Netherlands, and a number of places in between.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Zach mailing off another poster! This one for the second time. #notenoughstamps

A post shared by #lonelygloveclub (@lonely_glove_club) on

It’s hard to track just how many people have been reunited with gloves due to the club’s efforts, but Lance says he and Zach “see new gloves appearing and other gloves disappearing, so it seems to be working.”

Currently, there is only one documented glove recovery story on Instagram, but the heavy use of hashtags and exclamation points emphasizes just how special the find was.

“It’s really rewarding to think that such a small, little idea that was supposed to just be for our neighborhood is being so well-received by other places in the world,” Lance said.

“I guess it’s kind of a universal thing that everybody goes through every winter — we’ve all lost and seen gloves on the side of the road.”

Working as a creative director in Manhattan, Lance has loved the opportunity to participate in a project with his son.

“This is the kind of thing I do for big brands all the time, so it’s a bit of an insight into my world for him,” he said. “I wanted to show him that if you see a problem, you can solve it. You don’t have to wait for somebody else to solve it.

Tweet Roundup: The Funniest Tweets About Winter…With Children

(Getty/Elizabeth Sallee Bauer)

Gloves, hats, mitts, boots, snow pants, jackets and the dreaded snow day. These are just a few of the hardships people who parent in cold climates have to endure.

Here are the funniest tweets about winters…with children.

If you have kids in school, winter can be especially frustrating.

So try to look at every snow day as a blessing.

Sure, you could use the weather as an excuse to be lazy inside.

But that will quickly try your patience.

So take the young’ns outside and make the most of it!

First, you gonna wanna bundle them up.

Be sure to invest in a nice coat they’ll hate.

Like, HATE hate.

Don’t forget the mittens. They will.

Ready to head out?

Perfect! Time to build a snowman. Round up an old scarf, a carrot, and okay they’re already bored.

Cool. Great.

Plenty to do inside.

8-Minute Short Film About a Dad and Son Will Hit You in the Feels [WATCH]

(YouTube/Pepe School Land)

Short film Alike highlights an all too common theme in parenting but in a fun, whimsical way. It opens with a father loading up his son’s backpack with an unreasonable number of textbooks. The son, seen joyfully running around the house, is instantly anchored to the ground when his dad straps it around his tiny shoulders.

Acclimating to the bag’s immense weight, the boy happily wobbles out of frame. His father grabs an equally heavy work briefcase and follows suit out the door.

On their walk to work/school, the boy spots a violin player in the center of town and is instantly captivated by the performance. Surrounded by grey buildings, grey cars, and grey pedestrians, the boy, father, and violinist appear to be the only things in color.

Despite his son’s obvious enchantment with the musician, the father reminds his son of their responsibilities, slips the backpack full of books back on his son, and leads him back into the drab, colorless environment of the city. Clearly, this severe lack of color isn’t a simple design choice.

After a quick embrace, the father departs from his son’s school and heads to a dead end, soul-crushing job. Surrounded by menial tasks, the color literally drains out of him. Watching the clock with dull grey eyes, he counts the minutes until he’s free to leave, his color only returning when he’s with his jubilant son once again.

The son, however, retains his color initially—daydreaming about the violinist and the way the music made him feel, but he’s told day after day that his passions are not appropriate. As time wears on, his color also begins to dwindle and he’s forced to leave his interests behind to conform to the other students.

In a behind the scenes video, the film’s co-director Daniel Martinez Lara explains how fatherhood means constantly asking ourselves what the best things are for our children at any given moment. We try our best and don’t always get it right. This film doesn’t answer that question per se but acts as a reflection of that process.

This is the reason the father and son characters are playfully known to the film crew as “Copi” and “Paste.” We often consider our children to be miniature extensions of ourselves rather than unique individuals with dreams, desires, and personalities. Alike begins with Copi dragging Paste through the motions of what he believes life should be. It isn’t until he listens and acknowledges his son’s passions as legitimate that a genuine connection is established once again.

Parenting can often be viewed as a long list of “shoulds” and “musts,” but it’s also an opportunity to see your children for what they are: amazing people. So, while we have a responsibility to teach and guide our kids, so they don’t become garbage human beings when they grow up, it can also be important to stop and just let them listen to the music every once in a while. You never know what you might learn as a result.

Dad Grades: Homer Simpson From The Simpsons

(20th Century Fox)

D’oh! In whole year we’ve been doing Dad Grades, we’ve neglected to offer analysis for one of the most iconic, influential, beloved dads in the history of pop culture: Homer J. Simpson. Let’s jump right into it.

STRENGTHS

By the end of any episode surrounding him and his kids, Homer Simpson has revealed himself to be, deep down, a caring and devoted father. Jumping the Springfield Gorge on skateboard to earn Bart’s respect.

Working two jobs to afford Lisa’s dream pony.

And as far as Maggie goes, who could forget this tug at the heartstrings?

 

WEAKNESSES

Wow. Okay. Where to begin. Chokes his son, for starters.

The first sketch of Homer strangling Bart (1988)

We know this is the same unrealistic cartoon violence they themselves satirize by way of Itchy & Scratchy, but we’d be remiss to omit that piece of information from this very serious analysis. Yikes.

Look at this.

That’s a mace.

Don’t worry. All uphill from here. Drinks excessively, can’t forget that one. Again, fully aware cartoons operate within their own system of both physics and ethics, so we’re good on smug comments condemning the actions of Wile E. Coyote or whatever. You knew this damn well this Dad Grade had to happen at some point.

(20th Century Fox)

Kept Bart out of school for some time to start a business that amounted to stealing and reselling grease. Multiple crimes in that sentence.

(20th Century Fox)

Oh yeah, DANGEROUSLY stupid. Jumped over Springfield Gorge on a skateboard Did we include that as a strength? Yeah, that was a dumb thing for him to do. I mean, a DRAWBRIDGE closed on his head one time.

Just an unprecedented level of ineptitude, really. A horrible example to set for your kids. We here at The Dad do not take such reckless abandon lightly.

You know what? Let’s just stop with drawbridge on head. Doing a deep-dive on the paternal competency of Homer Simpson is like watching footage of hot dogs being made. Trust us, best to just throw some relish on that bad boy and enjoy it for what it is.

VERDICT

Over the past year, we at Dad Grades have offered analyses on countless TV and movie dads, all the while priding ourselves on doing so with both accountability and fairness. We aim for complete objectivity throughout every one of these super serious evaluations that should be taken seriously. We do not like what we’re about to do any more than you do. It is with a heavy heart that we give our very first…

FINAL DAD GRADE: F

Check out our previous edition when we graded Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor!

Dad Builds Wheelchair-Accessible Igloo for His 9 Adopted Kids

(Reddit/danthoms)

Parenting is a tough gig. We’re all doing the best we can, trudging through, mostly happy to survive another day without blowing it too badly.

Then we run across some parents who are doing more than merely surviving, they’re crushing it on every level, and making us look like amateurs. Like the Cincinnati dad who built an igloo for his kids, complete with wheelchair access. Nine kids. All of whom have special needs. All of whom they’ve adopted.

If I had nine kids, I wouldn’t have the energy to get out of bed, let alone build an igloo, let alone add a ramp to the igloo! Gregg Eichhorn is a superhero, and so is his wife Katie.

“We adopt all medical and special needs kids because seems like those are the kids where they have the hardest time finding homes for them,” Eichhorn told CBS.

His oldest, 19-year-old Zahara, was adopted from Uganda. She is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair, but she had no problem rolling into the enormous snow fort her dad built with his sister. She couldn’t wait to get in there.

“Her face lit up – she gets super excited,” Eichhorn said of Zahara’s reaction when she saw the igloo. “I think she felt like a movie star.”

He wasn’t the only one! Elijah, Zahara’s brother, also uses a wheelchair, was excited about the igloo. All nine of the Eichhorn kids were.

“They’re all loving it. They think it’s really neat,” Superdad said.

Obviously. Who wouldn’t want a badass igloo like that in their yard!

Reddit agrees. One of Gregg’s friends posted about the igloo on Reddit and it immediately took off, garnering over 70,000 upvotes and nearly 1000 comments as people shared their admiration for the dad, and for his handiwork.

Card

Card

Eichhorn is happy for the extra attention his viral post is bringing to special needs children who need homes.

“I think it’s really important that all kids with medical and special needs that are orphans have people to step up and provide them with homes.”

Dad Lands Vacation Dates for Sons With Funny Classified Ad

(NZ Herald/Facebook)

If you reach a certain age and aren’t in a relationship, parents simply can’t accept it. In their eyes, you are their little prince or princess and anyone would be damn lucky to be with you.

So, bless their hearts, they do their best to help you out with setting up blind dates and plan, planning social events, or just incessant prodding about their need for grandchildren.

One particular dad from Portland, Oregon went above and beyond, however, when he placed an ad for not one, but all three of his sons in a New Zealand newspaper while they were there on vacation.

(Facebook)

“Hello Parents. We are from the States (Oregon), visiting your beautiful country. My wife and I have three wonderful, successful, handsome, alas unmarried, sons between the ages of 28-32,” the ad in the NZ Herald read.

“We are not expecting, just hoping, to introduce our sons to nice NZ daughters. At the very least we’ll embarrass our sons and the truth is, we do find some enjoyment in that.”

Neil, the proactive father, said the ad immediately received over 200 replies and he was doing his best to sort through them all since his sons still had no idea any of it was happening.

“I’m somewhat surprised that I have got quite a lot of responses,” he said.

“It is hard to tell how many are genuine. A few are maybe just scammers but for the most part, people are really amazingly nice in your country.”

(NZ Herald/NewsTalk ZB)

Neil’s sons—Matthew, Jeremy, and Benjamin—range from ages 26 to 31 and all have steady jobs in the Pacific Northwest region. According to their dad, though, their dating lives haven’t really been a serious focus for any of them.

“I know one of my sons uses these dating sites and is always going on introductory dates and meeting somebody, but he hasn’t had a serious relationship in quite a while,” Neil told the newspaper.

“I decided to help. I have no idea what will happen, but at least we will be able to meet some people.”

Neil says he’s still deciding when and how to tell his sons about the ad, probably waiting until they are actually on the flight to New Zealand or casually slipping it in while they disembark.

“I might say, ‘Oh, by the way, I did place a little ad for you guys’,” he chuckled.

“I am sure they will be surprised and annoyed, but I am sure they will laugh. We have a good relationship and are always joking with each other. They know I am a little unusual in that regard.”

As it turns out the brothers were all good sports about it. In total the ad sparked more than 600 responses and even resulted in a few dates.

“Between my brothers and I, we went on a few one-on-one dates,” Benjamin told the Daily Mail.

“[New Zealand women] are very intelligent, kind, friendly people. We love their accents. They were a lot of fun, everyone we met seemed nice.

“I think we will continue to stay in touch with the people we met. We really want to come back – it was a beautiful country.”

Father Figures: Unconventional and Unexpected

“We were 10 months into marriage as 23-year-olds, new to NYC. Jake was in grad school at Columbia while we were getting used to living in our 400 sq. ft. studio in Washington Heights. His mechanical engineering midterms were coming up, so I made some freezer meals and went to CA to visit my family while he studied and took tests.

Two days into my trip home, we got a call from an old friend to adopt her sweet baby girl.

While my saying yes was immediate, I of course knew I should probably consult my husband! So I called him, around midnight his time, and asked him if we could keep her! (This is possibly what caused him to go grey at 25?)

He replied, “What? Is that allowed? Of course! We have to do the right thing,” and watching him meet her a week later was the most special experience. It was an unconventional and unexpected way to enter into parenting, but he is absolutely crushing the dad game and it’s as if the dad jokes started immediately.

It’s like something releases in the brain once you’re wildly in love with your kids. He’s holding off on the white leather New Balances for now, but causes our daughter, Stella Grace, to light up with his imaginative play and jumping on the trampoline.

He even said it’d be okay to have a few more kids, and he just bought me a minivan, so I assume that means he wants to max it out! I’m thankful for the father he is!”

– Monique Coleman

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

Frosty the Snowman Stops Vehicular Vandals in Their Tracks

(Cody Lutz Media)

Sometimes things just work out perfectly.

Cody Lutz of Petersberg, KY enjoyed the recent snowfall in the “Bluegrass State” by constructing a giant 9-foot-tall snowman with his fiancee and soon-to-be sister-in-law.

Lutz commented in a Facebook post that his fiancee’s sister was “elated to experience the biggest snowfall she’s ever seen.”

(Cody Lutz Media)

Using a giant tree stump as a foundation for “Frosty,” this giant snow fellow was about as sturdy as they come. So much so, in fact, that he survived a head-on collision with a would-be vandal’s car.

When Lutz cam home later that day, he noticed tire tracks leading up to the snowman from the road. Clearly, some motorist out there had vehicular snowmanslaughter on the mind but underestimated all the junk in Frosty’s trunk.

(Cody Lutz Media)

The snowman looks a little worse for wear with the tree stump in its base now exposed, but the snowy imprint of the bumper definitely adds some flair.

“You reap what you sow,” Lutz said. “Still standing and still smiling, Frosty certainly had the last laugh!”