The Lego Movie – an Anabaptist (ish) Review

Spoilers ahead….

Everything is awesome! If the song is not stuck in your head after seeing Lego Movie then you probably watched it on mute and in closed captioning. Seriously though, the song plays over and over and over again – until you start believing that everything really is awesome. It’s a really clever trick though, play a song with a very simple message that reinforces the main message of the movie.

Everything is awesome – Everybody is awesome!

It’s a really simple message if you think about it. Everybody, even normal people have the capability to radically affect the world. However the key to actually affecting the world around us is “believing” (as a stupid cat poster once told us) that we really are awesome.

Name it and claim it! I am awesome! I can do awesome things!

I’m not going to pooh-pooh the movie though. I loved it, the humor was sophisticated – the “honey where is my pants” tv show was genius. The jokes about $30 cups of coffee, Lego cars stuck in traffic, popular songs, etc. are brilliant social commentary – kids won’t get it but who cares, this movie isn’t just for kids! And then to top it off (another spoiler alert) Will Ferrell showed up! Yes I loved it!

The movie was also filled with some great messages: creativity as opposed to conformity for the sake of conformity is something to be valued, working together as a team is better than working as an individual, we shouldn’t overlook “normal” people because “normal” people are often at the root of social change. I loved these messages. There is plenty of fodder for sermon illustrations in this movie, there were also plenty of clips that I would love to show in a sermon too!

Of course I had some issues with the movie. Maybe its me being too philosophical, but I noticed a lot of existential themes running through the film. Not that this is a bad thing (necessarily) but children are so easily swayed and indoctrinated that I am not sure I want them to draw from this movie in order to form their worldview.

(Sidenote: It goes without saying, but we need to be careful what we teach our children. We Christians are so quick to jump on objectionable material – sex, cussing, violence – and are willing to accept anything as long as it doesn’t have those three sinful things as a part of it. For instance, I know many Christians object to things like Harry Potter, yet they have no qualm with The Secret Garden because the secret Garden doesn’t contain evil things like witchcraft. Yet the Secret Garden espouses a pantheistic worldview; why don’t Christians ban stuff like that?)

There was another kids movie released recently that was chock full of existentialist messages. That movie was so over the top with existentialism that it was laughable. The Lego movie isn’t that blatantly existentialist, yet its still there. For instance – Vitruvius makes up the prophecy, yet if one chooses to live by the prophecy then the prophecy is true. This is basically the existentialist position on religion, there is no metaphysical backing for religion, yet if one chooses to live as though it were true, then that makes it meaningful and hence true. Then, and this is way more subtle, Emmet has to stare into the abyss before he can make the leap of faith…. Okay Kierkegaard!

Now onto the “Anabaptist” part of this review; I am no Anabaptist, I am reformed, yet I find something strangely attractive about Anabaptist political theology… So let may lay down some Anabaptist foundations before we examine The Lego movie,.

Howard Yoder distinguishes between three different forms of church: 1) activist, 2) conversionist, and 3) confessing. The Activist church’s primary concern is the building of a better society. The Conversionist church’s primary concern is inward change. Its primary concern is the individual soul, it isn’t concerned with social change or social ethics. The Confessing church however rejects the individualism of conversions and the secularism of the activists (as Yoder would say), its concern is primarily to be a faithful witness to Christ. For this reason the confessing church sees itself as an alternative polis. According to Stanley Hauerwas, the confessing church “knows that its most credible form of witness (and the most effective thing it can do for the world) is the actual creation of a living breathing community of faith.

Bare with me! We are getting to the Lego part!

The primary symbol of the confessing church is the cross. Hauerwas says that “the cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers that be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. Anabaptists call this “revolutionary subordination.”

The Anabaptist position of “revolutionary subordination” is the position of taking a similar stance towards the world as Jesus did on the cross. On the cross the powers and authorities used their power for evil, Jesus “revolutionary subordination” is Jesus commitment not to play according to the power games of the powers and principalities. Rather than fight back, or try to convince them of his innocence, Jesus willingly takes on the cross and in turn shows them their weakness and lack of power.

Revolutionary subordination suggests that one need not play according to the rules of the “power game” with the oppressive powers and principalities. It suggests that one ought not “play” according to their rules and their ways, rather one should let them “defeat” us because in our defeat they will be shown impotent.

Now on to the Lego Movie!

Think back to Lord Business’ goal in life; he wants everything to be perfect. He wants perfect towns, perfect workers, perfect models, etc. He wants awesomeness to rule the world! Now think of the Master Builders. How do the Master builders want to defeat Lord Business? They want to build the perfect model, they want the perfect spaceship, they want the perfect plan. They want something that is awesome.

Everybody’s world revolves around perfection/awesomeness – even though they (Lord Business and the Master Builders) are on the opposite team, they are playing the same game.

It’s the game that says “only some things are awesome – and we know what those things are.” Enter Emmet – the guy who doesn’t look so awesome on the outside (or on the inside for that matter). Here is a guy who doesn’t know how to play the perfection/awesomeness game. He is normal, he has nothing to offer. His plans aren’t awesome. The things he builds aren’t awesome. He is as boring and simple as you can get. He is a Lego man who cannot play the “awesome game,” if it were up to everybody else he would be on the sideline watching. Yet in the end, it is Emmet who defeats (of better yet reforms) Lord Business. How does he do that? Emmet refuses to play the awesome game. In a world that says that “some things are awesome” Emmet says “everything is awesome.” Now this is not strictly true, not everything is worthy of awe, yet everything is awesome in the way that Emmet redefines awesome. Emmet defeats the threat by redefining terms and by refusing to play the game that the “powers and principalities” are playing. One might call this an act of revolutionary subordination.

This movie shows us that one does not defeat the threat by playing according to the threat’s rules. One doesn’t need to “play” according to their rules and their ways, rather one should let them “defeat” us. Once they accepted the fact that they weren’t going to build “awesome” (at least by Lord Business and Master Builder’s definition) things, they were capable of disarming the treat that they faced.

All this to say….

The Lego movie is funnier, more complex, more philosophical, and more theological than any animated movie that I have ever seen. Yes there are some messages that I don’t agree with, but this kids movie is so thought provoking, that you cannot help but pass it up. Go watch this movie!



Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

2 thoughts on “The Lego Movie – an Anabaptist (ish) Review

  1. Definitely agree! I was absolutely shocked how good it was, and how subtle the humor was. It’s definitely philosophically interesting too… Great post!

  2. I thought there were a lot of threads all converging- and although I get to be part of the “real” prophecy- this highlighted for me the continuing paradox of faith. My new resolve is to sway a little further away from debating with science and facts- for the most part- and stick to changed lives, personal testimony, and complete faith in His Power- which still results in empirical evidence.

    I was in tears when they mashed up reality and the Lego world- the moment a villain is told they are needed and worthy and capable of contributing to the team. The hole that can only be filled with acceptance, love and fellowship. It was very touching for me- because each human has turning points like that when they have a chance to change the course of their lives.

    Your notes on anabaptist theology were helpful… movie could be criticized like Horton Hears A Who- a person is a person no matter how small. All truth is God’s truth as a wise man says.

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