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'The Lego Movie' Brilliantly Subverts Movie Tropes

The Lego Movie achieves great humor and story with a combination of childish comedy, adult references, irony, and by subverting popular movie tropes.

The Lego Movie (2014)

3 / 5
5 / 5

I rewatched The Lego Movie with my family and you should, too. Because The Lego Movie is a cinematic masterpiece. It follows Emmet, an ordinary Lego who gets pulled into a rebellion against the tyrannical President Business when he is identified as a prophesied “Special” meant to save the world. This movie is genuinely hilarious and not only fun to watch with the family, but also fun to watch as an adult who understands common film tropes. The Lego Movie achieves great humor and story with a combination of childish comedy, adult references, irony, and by subverting popular movie tropes.

The Chosen One

A still from the movie showing Emmet surrounded by his crew of Master Builders
Emmet surrounded by his crew of Master Builders

We all know “The Chosen One” trope, in which a character is chosen by some greater force and is destined to solve the main conflict. Some of the most famous “Chosen Ones” are Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series, Neo in The Matrix series, etc. In The Lego Movie, Emmet is our “Chosen One.” At the beginning, Vitruvius tells a prophecy about a “Special” who will find the “Piece of Resistance,” be “the most important person of all time,” and unite the realms to defeat President Business. Emmet finds this piece by accident and is swept into a rebellion that he doesn’t understand.

Emmet the protagonist and his double decker couch
Emmet and his singular original idea: the double decker couch

Emmet is not the typical hero. He’s generic. He looks like a default Lego, perhaps a jab at how most protagonists are generic-looking white men. He’s not dark or brooding and he doesn’t have a complicated past. He’s happy and follows all the rules without question. Yet Emmet is desperate to fulfill this prophecy that goes against the rules. He wants to be “The Special” because no one has ever believed in him or thought he was special. Emmet is not a Master Builder like the prophecy says. He’s not a “Gary Stu” who is plucked from obscurity and suddenly becomes more skilled than all of the more expert side characters. He knows this, even saying, “I know what you’re thinking. He is the least qualified person to lead us. And you are right.”

A still from "The Lego Movie" featuring Emmet talking
Emmet giving a terrible speech to the Master Builders

The thing that makes Emmet a hero is faith. He wants the prophecy to be true so he works to make it come true. Emmet unites the Master Builders with his unwavering faith in them so they succeed in stopping President Business. Emmet may not be the usual hero, but he chooses to be one, even after it’s revealed there never was a “Chosen One” in the first place, which leads us to… 

Wise Old Man/Mentor

A still from the movie featuring the wizard Vitruvius

The “Wise Old Man/Mentor” trope is an older man guiding the young protagonist on their mission. Vitruvius is a mentor to Emmet on his journey to become a Master Builder. In appearance, he’s the epitome of the old mentor archetype: he wears white robes, has long white hair and a long beard, has a cane/magical staff, and is blind. The script pokes fun at his prophecy: “All this is true because it rhymes,” suggesting to take it with a grain of salt. Vitruvius ends up serving more as comedic relief throughout the film rather than as an actual wise mentor. And when he is killed by President Business (like many mentor characters) he does something that unravels the “Wise Old Man” trope and the “Chosen One” trope: he reveals that he made up the prophecy.

A still from the movie showing ghost Vitruvius and Emmet
Vitruvius returns to Emmet as a ghost

Then, following the “Killed Mid-Sentence” trope, Vitruvius dies right before he can tell Emmet something very important: “What I’m about to say will change the course of history.” This is played for laughs because the film quickly subverts it when Vitruvius returns as a ghost to tell Emmet what he was about to say: he made up the prophecy because he knew whoever found the piece could become “The Special” simply because they would believe that they could. Vitruvius made a self-fulfilling prophecy in hopes that it would save the world. And it did. 

Action Girl

A still featuring WyldStyle offering Emmet a hand

 The “Action Girl” is a beautiful and tough female side character who kicks ass. She’s strong, she’s confident, and she’s typically the hero’s girlfriend. WyldStyle fits all of these criteria, however she is more than that. While Emmet immediately falls for her upon their first meeting and fantasizes about their romance, WyldStyle has layers that make her more than a love interest.

A still featuring Vitruvius and WyldStyle judging Emmet
WyldStyle and Vitruvius doubt Emmet’s abilities

For much of the movie she makes it clear that she thinks Emmet being “The Special” is a mistake. It’s revealed that WyldStyle wanted to be “The Special.” She found the “Piece of Resistance” herself in hopes of becoming the hero, but then it turned out to be Emmet. She’s jealous of him, and she acknowledges it. “The Action Girl” doesn’t usually get her own dreams or desires, much less ones that directly conflict with those of the hero’s. But WyldStyle does and learns to overcome those feelings as she grows to respect and admire Emmet for his positivity and faith, things she’s struggled to have herself. Her arc is a nuanced one about personal and emotional growth. 

So go appreciate the genius of The Lego Movie. It’s more than just a kid’s film.