The entire time that I was watching the Lego Movie I was thinking about the Flynn Effect. Put simply, the Flynn Effect states that every generation has scored higher on I.Q. tests than the generation before it. There are a lot of theories as to why, but one that I find persuasive is that over the last hundred years the amount of information we are expected to process has gone up drastically, so people’s ability to process input has gone up as a coping mechanism. It’s not that we’re smarter, it’s that we have grown better and better filters because we’re being bombarded by ever more noises and images and advertisements.
The reason why I was thinking about the Flynn Effect was because it used to be that kids movies were like adult movies, just slower. They had more simplified plots, as was befitting their audience, who weren’t as capable of grasping nuance. But then a shift happened – when my dad was growing up parents would just kick their kids out of the house and they would walk to a local theater by themselves, but the birth of the suburbs and the growth of the multiplex meant that more and more parents started having to watch the movies with their kids. That meant that kids movies became more like regular adult movies, because they were going to be seen by adults, too.
The Lego Movie is the first ‘kids movie’ that I’ve ever seen that really felt like it was actually aimed at adults. For one, the ultimate moral is about how you can’t lock toys up and keep them pristine, you have to play with them – a message that most kids don’t have to be told. But more importantly, the style of humor is too meta for children, who haven’t had enough experience watching genre works to understand the cliches and tropes of the genres this movie is lampooning.
I had a debate with my friend Nick about this right after I saw the Lego Movie, and he correctly pointed out that kids movies have always made references that kids wouldn’t get. For example, I loved Spaceballs when I was a kid, and while I got the Star Wars references I didn’t realize that the final scene - where John Hurt re-enacts his death scene from Alien, but when the Alien comes out of his chest it sings an old vaudeville song – was referring to an R-rated movie I was too young to see. So, yes, the fact that a lot of what’s funny in the Lego Movie is going to go over kid’s heads isn’t the end of the world. But what bothered me was more than the fact that the kids weren’t going to get the jokes; it was that I just don’t think kids should be asked to process meta-jokes about how we tell stories before they’ve had a chance to experience those stories themselves. It just doesn’t seem right for the developmental age that they are at to me. Spoon feeding them such dense material is hurrying them along too fast.
I guess it was inevitable that something like the Lego Movie would come along – something that was going to usher children into a world of self-consciousness about creating, something that was going to point out how hacky a premise is even as it was deploying it. But it still made me sad to see it, because there’s going to be a point where all this nonstop stimulation and massive reference density isn’t going to be making people smarter, it’s going to be making them crazier. I can’t imagine any of the children that are growing up on a diet of ADD-addled movies like the Lego Movie will have any sort of attention span, or any sort of calm around the stone cold fact that there’s nothing new under the sun. There’s something really sad to me about the way this movie broadcast the neuroses of our adult world into their life, instead of letting them luxuriate in simple stories for when their life is simple.
Winner: The Cat