Warning: SPOILERS for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part are ahead!
The Toy Story movies and LEGO movies have a lot of common, mainly that they revolve around child playthings that come to life and go on crazy adventures. And naturally, these playthings are owned by humans, but when looking at these movies through these toys’ owners, that’s where a big difference is noticeable. Because while the main human characters in the Toy Story movies are primarily on the sidelines and usually come out of these storiesunchanged, the main human characters in the LEGO movies are actually important to the story, as well as grow and develop. In that regard, that makes the latter franchise more interesting than the former.
Just to be clear, I’m only talking about the main LEGO movies with the particular topic. No humans appeared in The LEGO Batman Movie, and The LEGO Ninjago Movie only used that kid and the old man as bookends to the main narrative. The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, on the other hand, used humans within the main stories, although that wasn’t immediately clear in the first movie. It wasn’t until approximately three-fourths into The LEGO Movie that we learned that Emmet Brickowski and the gang’s adventure was coming from the imagination of a young boy named Finn, who’s been playing with his father’s LEGO collection, but is chastised by his dad, a.k.a. “The Man Upstairs,” for “ruining” the playlets and ignoring the instructions.
Okay, maybe the LEGO events aren’t entirely fictional given that Emmet eventually became aware of Finn’s existence and the real world (and this becomes an even more curious subject through Rex Dangervest in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part), but the point is that not only is The LEGO Movie an allegory about Finn’s father’s perfectionism and how LEGOs should be played with, but by the end of the movie, Finn’s father realized the error of his ways, unglued the LEGO sets and allowed his son to play with the toys as he saw fit. Lord Business’ redemption and the LEGO characters succeeding represented Finn and Finn Sr. (whatever his name is) improving their relationship.
Thankfully, this human element was retained for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, which built off the Duplo LEGO characters owned by Finn’s sister invading Bricksburg at the end of The LEGO Movie. This time around, the references to the real world were more on the nose, such as Queen Watevra Wa’Nab hailing from the “Systar System” and Emmet having dreams of “Our-Mom-ageddon.” And once again, the events in the LEGO story corresponded with the events of the real world, with Finn’s sister, Bianca, trying to play with her brother, but him not having any of it, eventually resulting in a big fight and their mother stepping in and forcing them to pack up their LEGOs. Ultimately, though, the siblings reconcile and learn to play together. Once again, the humans grow and develop from their small, but important life experiences, and that translates to what happens within the LEGO-verse.
Then there are the three Toy Story movies that have come out so far, with Toy Story 4 arriving this summer. These toys definitely exist in the real world, with the playthings pretending to be lifeless whenever humans are around. There are some exceptions to this rule, like when Woody, Buzz and the mutant toys belonging to Sid scare the teenager straight in Toy Story. But for the most part, humans are oblivious to the shenanigans these toys get into, and as a result, they’re basically the same person at the start of the movie as they were at the end. As key as Andy is to the first three Toy Story movies, he’s not a major player in these tales. It was emotional watching him go off to college in Toy Story 3 and having him give his prized toys to Bonnie, but we really don’t know that much about him. We didn’t need to.
None of this is to say that the LEGO movies are better than the Toy Story movies overall. In fact, in the grand scheme of animation history, the Toy Story series is likely to held in higher esteem, from how Toy Story was the first feature-length computer animated to how Toy Story 3 raked in numerous accolades and over $1 billion worldwide. Nevertheless, because The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part opted to take a different approach with the relationship between toys and their human owners, the result is that what goes down in the LEGO-verse echoes what happens in real life, which is the point. We’re watching the way these Finn play with these toys reflect how he’s growing and changing. If The LEGO Movie 3 happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a Toy Story 3-like approach and showed Finn either packing up his LEGO upon reaching adulthood or, if they wanted to go even further into the future, show him playing with his and his dad’s LEGO collection with his own child.
Toy Story, on the other hand, is about what toys are up to when humans aren’t around or watching. It’s fun to see Woody, Buzz, Hamm, Slinky Dog and the rest of the main characters navigate the real world without being caught. But consequently, the humans just aren’t fleshed out because they’re on the sidelines, which makes sense given the direction Pixar wanted to go. After all, this isn’t the Human Story film series. That being said, it would be interesting to see what would happen if a human were to actually learn that toys are living entities and fully absorb this new concept, as opposed to thinking they were hallucinating or imagining things, like Sid probably ended up doing as he got older.
In any case, the LEGO movie franchise and the Toy Story franchises are each unique in their own ways, but as far as using humans goes, LEGO has the distinct advantage. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is now playing in theaters, and Toy Story 4 will come out on June 21. Those of you interested in learning what other movies there are to look forward to this year can browse through our 2019 release schedule.