It's not often that someone truly understands the importance and power of toys. New York Times movie reviewer, Manohla Dargis, certainly does. Her review, "In ‘The Lego Batman Movie,’ Toys and Heroes, What’s Not to Like?", is as much a paean to the joy of toys as it is an assessment of the movie.
Here is how she describes one of the reasons that viewers will react so strongly to the movie:
It conveys part of what’s enjoyable about Legos, including their smooth-to-the-touch plastic surfaces and knobby bits (studs in Lego lingo), which you can almost feel in your hands as you watch. One of the satisfactions of Legos is their touch sensation, a sense memory that’s imprinted on brains, too…Basing movies on kiddie playthings is ingenious: It turns every Lego brick into a Rosebud sled, a portal into childhood.
As I read this, I thought of moments in my life where a smell, a taste or a touch brought back an unbidden memory. I remember once walking into my old junior high school and suddenly being thrust back to my school years. It wasn't a great memory but it was powerful none-the-less.
This ability of an object to bring back memories is part and parcel of what is considered by many the world's greatest novel, In Search of Lost Time. Written by Marcel Proust, the novel's main character speaks of eating a Madeline (a small cake) and how its taste and smell evoked unbidden, powerful memories of childhood. I think that toys like Lego, with their distinct smell and feel, have the power to do the same thing.
In the same sense, Ms. Dargis makes her point by comparing a Lego brick to Citizen Kane's sled, "Rosebud". Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the finest movie made in the 20th century. It was produced by and starred Orson Welles in the role of a press baron whose last words are a repetition of the word "Rosebud". What or who was Rosebud? What the other characters do not know but we, the audience do, is that it was Kane's childhood sled. At the moment of his death, it was not a lost love, a child or his parents that he recalls, it is a toy.
Maybe one takeaway from Ms. Dargis' review is that when movies are based on toys, they need to evoke the physical experience. By doing so, they can usher the viewer into a memory track that embraces the individual and enhances the movie. A movie plus the core values of what makes a great, physical toy can expand and enhance the movie experience.
Good for the movies. Good for Toys. Good for Manohla Dargis.