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Things About The LEGO Movie You Only Notice As An Adult

LEGO is one of the most popular toys ever, so it's not a huge shock that The LEGO Movie was a huge hit upon its release in 2014. What was a little surprising, however, was just how good it was. The world of LEGO came to life in dazzling animation with a moving story about the power of creativity, with delightful voice work from Chris Pratt (Emmet), Elizabeth Banks (Wyldstyle), Morgan Freeman (Vitruvius), Will Arnett (Batman), and Will Ferrell (Lord Business). It was also the rare kids' movie that adults could enjoy—it's full of jokes and references that are targeted squarely and specifically at older viewers. Here are a few things that were probably only noticed by the adults. 

There must have been a lot of paperwork and rights-wrangling

A big part of what makes The LEGO Movie so fun is its authentic eye toward how real kids play with LEGO. Most kids probably don't keep all their different types of LEGO separate, and The LEGO Movie brings together lots of disparate different characters, many of them licensed. Just to name a few, it's got DC Comics characters, Star Wars characters, Harry Potter characters, Simpsons characters, and real people both living (Shaquille O'Neal) and dead (William Shakespeare). 

Kids don't know much about intellectual rights and copyright law, but adults do, and any adult watching The LEGO Movie with a critical eye had to have the thought about what a legal nightmare it must have been to get the rights to use so many different pop cultural entities. Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have confirmed that it was a logistical nightmare to secure all the necessary permissions, with Star Wars and Harry Potter characters being the trickiest to lock down. Also, with every major script revision, rights-holders had to be approached anew.

The clever casting decisions

Kids probably aren't as likely as their parents are to recognize the voices of The LEGO Movie's actors. Nor are they likely to pick up on the fun in-jokes about why some stars were cast in certain roles. 

The LEGO Movie was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who created the early 2000s cult classic cartoon Clone High. On that show, about the teenage clones of a bunch of historical figures who have been re-created for nefarious purposes, Will Forte voiced Abraham Lincoln. In The LEGO Movie, Forte reprises his role as LEGO Abraham Lincoln. Elsewhere, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill play Superman and the Green Lantern, respectively. Tatum and Hill previously teamed up in the big-screen adaptation of 21 Jump Street, which was directed by Lord and Miller.

The esoteric literary references

There are some relatively obscure references to pop culture, literature, and history that wouldn't be understood by most kids, but also all but the most well-read adults. The fantasy realm of the LEGO world is named "Middle Zealand," a portmanteau of "Middle Earth"—the setting of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings books, and "New Zealand," the real-life wonderland where Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies were filmed. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land, Princess Unikitty's bright and shiny homeland in the sky, is a reference to the idea of an impossibly perfect city in the clouds, an idea popularized in The Birds, a play written in 414 B.C. by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. And then there's the wise sage Vitruvius. His name is the same as a 1st century B.C. Roman philosopher named Vitruvius, best known for writing a 10-volume series of books about architecture—which is rather appropriate for a movie about LEGO.

The subtle dig at How I Met Your Mother

The most popular TV show in the LEGO-verse is a dumb, one-joke affair called Where Are My Pants? The premise: a pants-less character wonders aloud about the whereabouts of his pants. When she sees a bit of the show, Wyldstyle remarks, "After all these seasons, you'd think he'd find his pants by now." 

An older viewer could take that to be a jab about sitcoms that air for years and years, long after their once-fresh premises have grown stale and repetitive. Sitcoms like, say, How I Met Your Mother, which took eight seasons to finally lead Ted Mosby to the titular mother. It's also worth mentioning that The LEGO Movie directors and screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller wrote for How I Met Your Mother during its first season.

There are different versions of Everything is Awesome

The LEGO Movie's theme song is a deliriously happy and propulsive bit of dance pop called "Everything is Awesome." The Oscar-nominated, wryly subversive tune also describes Emmet's world at the beginning of the movie, specifically how everything in the world is just great and that nothing is to be questioned. A few different versions of "Everything is Awesome" play throughout The LEGO Movie. Viewers with a keen ear might notice that during the Old West sequence, for example, an old-fashioned piano version plays in a saloon.

There are some self-deprecating LEGO in-jokes

There's a scene where Wyldstyle names a bunch of the realms of the LEGO universe, and each gets a second or two on screen, such as "Pirate's Cove," "Clown Town," and "Viking's Landing." Then a bunch more areas flash across the screen, and Wyldstyle calls them "a bunch of others we don't need to mention." 

Savvy older viewers may realize that they don't deserve a mention because they're discontinued or less popular LEGO sets. Basically called out for being second-rate LEGO sets: the pink and purple (and thus "girl-oriented") LEGO Friends, the junior-size Fabuland line from the '80s, a set based on the flop big-screen version of Speed Racer, and the sci-fi Bionicle line, which disappeared from stores in 2010.

The food choices are comically repetitive

Whenever a character in The LEGO Movie is seen with food, it's almost always a croissant, a sausage, or a turkey leg. While these might not be the most commonly consumed foods in American homes, they are in the world of LEGO—over the past few decades, croissants and drumsticks have been two of the most frequently included food items in LEGO sets. 

Will Arnett's Batman is similar to his character on Arrested Development

Comic actor and voiceover artist Will Arnett (he's the voice of BoJack Horseman and GMC Trucks) was a great choice to portray Batman, particularly because The LEGO Movie presents the Dark Knight as a self-absorbed man-child. That's pretty such the same way one would characterize Arnett's most famous live-action role: Gob Bluth on Arrested Development. 

Adults familiar with the Fox comedy will pick up both subtle allusions and blatant references to the show in The LEGO Movie. For example, Gob and Batman are both so self-indulgent and narcissistic that they make terrible music they force those around them to listen to. For Gob, it's "Franklin Comes Alive!" an album he recorded with his puppet, Franklin Delano Bluth. For Batman, it's a techno-thrash song about how his parents are dead. And then at one point, Batman punctuates a moment of unrelenting frustration the same way Gob does on Arrested Development: with a well-placed "COME ON!"

None of it is real

At the end of the movie, it's suggested that most of the action up to that point took place within the imagination of a LEGO-loving little boy (played by Jadon Sand when the movie switches to live-action) who was playing with the forbidden LEGO of his father (Will Ferrell, also the voice of Lord Business). So all of that world building, world mixing, and searching for the "piece of resistance" didn't really happen. Emmet, Wyldstyle, hilarious Batman—figments of the mind of a child, just like The Wizard of Oz and St. Elsewhere.

What was the mom thinking?

So at the end of the movie, audiences are left with a happy ending of a little boy playing LEGO with his dad. That's all well and good, but the whole basis of the movie was that this child was banned from playing LEGO—because they were his father's, and they were expensive. And he had so many that they took up an entire basement. 

Because it takes both a mommy and a daddy to make a child, and because there's a younger child in the house, too, viewers can assume there's a mother/wife in the family dynamic. She'd also have to be very understanding of her husband's sometimes questionable behavior. For example, he clearly spent thousands of dollars on LEGO, and then needed an entire floor of their house for them to just sit, untouched. She was also apparently fine with the dad's strict rule about their child not being allowed to play with those LEGO. 

Real-life LEGO experts are also called Master Builders

There's a pivotal scene in The LEGO Movie in which Vitruvius meets in Cloud Cuckoo Land with a council of LEGO universe leaders: the Master Builders. It's a large group that encompasses representatives of many LEGO lands—for example, Aquaman, Abraham Lincoln, a Ninja Turtle, and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings are all members. "Master Builders" is a clever name for the assembly, because that also happens to be the job classification of the real-life LEGO architects who build major LEGO projects, such as massive brick sculptures, and installations for LEGOLAND theme parks.

The movie is very anti-business...or very pro-business

It's not every day that a cheery comedy movie made for kids is also a subversive satire. A critical read of The LEGO Movie shows that it's quite anti-corporate and anti-capitalist. The villain of the movie is a monster of pure evil named President Business, aka Lord Business—a money-and-power-driven tycoon. 

Shortly after The LEGO Movie's release in 2014, figures from the left, such as documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, praised the film's anti-business sentiment, while more conservative entities, such as the Fox Business Channel, decried it. Of course,  can a movie that also serves as a feature-length commercial for LEGO, really be all that anti-capitalism?

The plot is basically the same as The Dark Tower

Hardcore Stephen King fans are well-versed in the author's massive The Dark Tower multi-verse. The series of nine books, the first of which was published in 1982, is a landmark of genre fiction, and readers may notice that the series seems to have inspired the creators of The LEGO Movie. 

For example, The LEGO Movie is about characters from different realms that band together to stop Lord Business and find a powerful artifact, the Piece of Resistance, that could save existence as they know it. The Dark Tower is about the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (played in the 2017 film adaptation by Idris Elba), who travels through different realms in pursuit of the Man in Black, keen on destroying the Dark Tower, the powerful artifact that holds all of existence together.