The Special

The_Lego_Movie_posterAs long as we’re talking about enjoying kids moviesThe Lego Movie. This was a movie I really had no interest in seeing. I love kids movies—Disney movies, good Dreamworks movies, The Sandlot. But those movies are entertaining for adults. They have good stories, great punch lines, and catchy songs. Based on previews and other advertising, The Lego Movie seemed to be one of those films that really is only for kids, like Disney’s Planes or the Tinker Bell movies. Not funny if you don’t have the sense of humor of a five year old, nothing creative or original, just a generic film to keep your kid occupied for an hour and a half. But over the Fourth of July weekend, my brothers kept insisting that it was actually was entertaining for adults too, so we watched it. And it wasn’t the first time I had to eat my words. It was actually pretty good.

If you’re a completely serious, no-fun intellectual snob, then you aren’t going to like this movie. But if you appreciate a corny joke, a variety of characters, and a deep metaphorical theme form out of nowhere, then you will enjoy The Lego Movie.

The movie is about Emmet, a regular construction worker Lego. There’s nothing special about Emmet. He tries very hard to fit in, following all of the instructions and leading a normal life. Then his life gets turned upside down when a red object—the piece of resistance—gets stuck to his back. Now he’s supposed to be ‘the special’, the Lego who is supposed to save the world. Caught up with an edgy Lego chick named Wyldstyle, wise old Vitruvius, a unicorn/cat, Batman, and a 1980’s astronaut Lego, he must try to prevent President Business form destroying the world with the Kraggle.

The movie is well balanced with jokes aimed at nine year olds and jokes aimed at adults. It also has a song that will not leave your head for days, “Everything is Awesome.” But underneath the childishness of the film lies a deeper, and very important, message.

Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) speaks a prophecy about ‘the special’ at the beginning of the film, but at the end you find out that he made it up. Destiny has not chosen Emmet as the special, but rather, he must decide for himself that he is special and he can save the world. Like many kids movies, The Lego Movie is about finding what makes you special, being true to yourself, and succeeding with the help of your friends.

Emmet and the piece of resistance.

Emmet and the piece of resistance.

But the surprise ending is that the Legos aren’t actually alive doing their thing. Well, they are, but only through the imagination of a child. A boy is playing with the Legos, and that is what is creating the movie. And while the Legos are fighting against President business to prevent him from using the Kraggle to destroy the world, the fight is much more realistic for the boy. President Business is his dad, and the Kraggle is the super glue his dad uses to glue all of the Legos in place so that they are a display and no longer a toy. The climax of the movie comes when Emmet confronts President Business and the boy confronts his father, and both conflicts resolve with the idea that everyone can be special, because being special is being yourself.

Much like Rise of the Guardians, The Lego Movie is about discovering who you are. Jack Frost needed to find his center, and Emmet needed to find out what made him special. But on top of that, both films are about the importance of childhood. Legos are toys. They’re meant to be played with, not set up as a display with “do not touch” signs posted everywhere. Playing is important, and it isn’t just for kids. The boy needs to play and create and grow, but so does his dad. The imagination of a child is an incredible thing. It can create the elaborate and creative story of The Lego Movie. As we grow older, we can’t let this imagination die. We have to keep playing and creating and seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

 

 

The Importance of Childhood

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

“To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

I throw this C.S. Lewis quotation at any adult who questions my love of Young Adult fiction or Disney movies. Lewis recognized the value of childhood, a child’s wonder and joy. He understood that many people lose this quality—the ability to see the joy and wonder in the world around them—as they grow up. Too often people forget what it’s like to be a child as they grow older, and their thoughts are filled with bills and deadlines instead of wonder and hope. But childhood is precious and needs to be protected. That is the premise of the Dreamworks animated film Rise of the Guardians.

rise-of-the-guardians-poster3Rise of the Guardians follows the story of Jack Frost, a boy with ice powers who wakes up with no memory of who he is or what he’s supposed to do. All he knows is that the moon called him. So for 300 years he wanders around creating snow days and snowball fights for kids. But when a new threat arises, the Guardians call on Jack to join their ranks to fight Pitch Black and his plan to destroy the hopes and dreams of every child in the world.

Jack joins the team of guardians—a pirate Santa Claus, an Australian Easter Bunny, a feathered Tooth Fairy, and a miming Sandman. Together, they set out to stop pitch as he tries to destroy hope and create fear.

rise-of-the-guardians-pitch-poster-191x300One of the reasons I love this movie is the animation. It’s spectacular. Each of the guardians is unique, and the script is funny and deep at the same time. It’s a story about Jack discovering who he is and finding purpose in his existence. It’s a story about friendship and teamwork.

But at its heart, it’s a story about the preciousness of childhood. The Guardians exist to protect the children—to protect their hopes and dreams, to protect the joy and wonder they see in the world. And in return, the children protect them. Because the wonder of childhood is a strong force for good in the world, and we can’t forget that as we grow older. After all, eventually, inevitably, children become adults. But they become better adults if they don’t lose the things that made childhood so magical in the first place. If grown ups can put aside the fear of childishness, they can find joy in Disney movies, in Young Adult literature, in summer, in Christmas, and in all the world around them.

So go play. Go dream. Remember what it’s like to be a child.

The Piano Guys

Jon Schmidt on the piano and Steven Nelson on the cello.

Jon Schmidt on the piano and Steven Nelson on the cello.

Lately, I’ve noticed a very divisive line in culture, from books to movies to music. It’s a line between the old (or classic) and the new (modern or contemporary). This line is an all or nothing division. You can’t like Charlotte Bronte and Stephenie Meyer, Casablanca and The Lego Movie, Beethoven and Katy Perry. This one or the other mentality creates two groups of people: the classicists (or snobs) and the pop culturists (or uneducated). But most people, like me, enjoy both the classic and the contemporary. I’ve read Jane Eyre and Twilight. I’ve seen Casablanca and The Lego Movie. I listen to Beethoven and Katy Perry. Most people prefer to enjoy a healthy balance of classic and contemporary culture. But something even more rare, and desirable, than a balance of these two things is the seamless integration of them.

A week ago my mom and I went to see The Piano Guys for a mother/daughter date. For those not familiar with them, they are a group of five guys from Utah. Some of the five are videographers and sound engineers, spending most of their time behind the scenes while the two frontrunners, pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson. Schmidt and Neslon, with the help of the three other Piano Guys, became a You Tube sensation after creating videos where they performed classical music and pop songs integrated into their own arrangement.

Schmidt and Neslon are both classically trained musicians of incredible talent, as evidenced by their impressive knowledge and performance of classical music—from Beethoven to Vivaldi. But rather than film another performance of Faure’s Pavane or Pachelbel’s Canon, The Piano Guys update their arrangements either through combining the classical piece with a popular song or arranging the song in a more contemporary way. The result is beautiful, catchy, and moving.

The unique style of The Piano Guys serves two important purposes, on top of the given purpose of being entertaining and good music. On one hand, their music introduces fans of One Direction, Taylor Swift, and Coldplay to the great composers. It is a great way to introduce young people to classical music in an engaging way. On the other hand, this music is also a great advocate for contemporary music. The Piano Guys’ arrangements reveal the musical beauty of pop music, from One Direction’s “The Story of My Life” to the theme from Star Wars. The music of The Piano Guys is a bridge between the classic and contemporary, and I think we need more of those bridges in the world.

Sinner

sinnerA couple of months ago, I wrote about my top 3 OTPs, fictional couples that I ship so, so hard. Coming in at third place was ex-drug addict/rockstar/werewolf Cole St. Clair and L.A. no nonsense/you can kiss her a–/L.A. doll Isabel Culpepper from Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. In these original books, Shiver, Linger, and Forever, Cole and Isabel were supporting—albeit awesome and incredibly interesting—characters. Now, they take center stage in Stiefvater’s newest book entitled Sinner.

When readers left Cole and Isabel at the end of Forever, Cole was werewolfing it up in Minnesota while Isabel was moving back to Los Angeles with her falling apart family. When Sinner picks up, Isabel is working in a Sunset Boulevard-esque boutique clothing store while attending classes to prep for medical school. She’s flying under the radar, doing her best to navigate her parents’ messy relationship and avoid any complications on her road to med school. Cole, on the other hand, is back in the spotlight. Returning to L.A. to film a reality television series while he records a new album, he is all the complications Isabel is trying to avoid. He is also determined to win her heart, but nothing is more guarded than Isabel Culpepper’s heart.

The entire book is a series of theatrical events as Cole and Isabel navigate through their own issues. L.A. is the perfect backdrop for the relationship drama and the music, and Stiefvater uses the setting to its full potential. Side characters fill out the story and provide the calm in the middle of the Colesabel hurricane. But while all the excitement and drama of the setting and characters is entertaining, the heart of the story is in the title, “Sinner.”

maggie

Maggie Stiefvater

Cole and Isabel both have sins to spare. Cole carries the sins of his past: drugs, the death of his friend and band member Victor, the hundreds of girls he’s slept with. Isabel is dealing with the sins of the present, the scars her parents’ messy relationship has left on her, her fear of emotional vulnerability, and major trust issues. But, as Isabel points out in the novel, their sins are what make them who they are, and throughout the book Cole and Isabel learn to work past their many issues in order to be together.

Sinner is an excellent book, and I’m not just saying that because I love Cole and Isabel, though I do. It’s an excellent book because of Maggie Stiefvater’s amazing portrayal of people with all their flaws, all their hopes and fears, and all their complexities. A reader can’t help but love Cole and Isabel, not just despite, but because of, their flaws. Sinner is a character masterpiece, a dream setting, and a great story. With all the flair one would expect from a Maggie Stiefvater novel.

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Sinner Released Today!!!

Sinner Released Today!!!

Maggie Stiefvater’s new book, Sinner, is released today! A stand alone novel from the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (Shiver, Linger, and Forever). The book follows the story of Cole St. Clair, rock star and werewolf extraordinaire, and Isabel Culpepper, the girl who got away, as they navigate the streets of L.A. and their own emotions. Review to come.