“The Lego Movie” is accused of insulting New Zealand. A line in the blockbuster film describing “Middle Zealand” as land of illiterate and poverty has sparked outrage, prompting filmmakers to explain the reference.
The film, which was released in New Zealand earlier in April, tells the story of a Lego worker minifigure who is prophesied to save the Lego universe.
One of the characters is a Gandalf-looking wizard named Vitruvius, voiced by Morgan Freeman, who describes a place called Middle Zealand as a “wondrous land full of knights, castles, mutton, torture weapons, poverty, leeches, illiteracy, and, um, dragons.”
That’s the line that has some Kiwis scratching their heads.
According to moviegoer Stu Fleming, who watched the film with his partner and their seven-year-old son on Thursday, there were members of the audience in the theatre who laughed, but there were also those who appeared to be baffled by the film’s description of the country.
“It was like when soemone’s made a bit of an odd joke and you are not sure how to react, which was how we felt,” he was quoted by the APNZ as saying.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller defended the line, saying that they were not making fun of the country, but a fictional place based on Middle Earth, the setting of the novels and films “Lord of the Rings.”
“We called it Middle Zealand because that is where Lord of the Rings was shot, and Peter Jackson [director of LOTR] hangs out there,” they told the Herald on Sunday.
“We are, incidentally, huge fans of New Zealand, LOTR, Weta, island nations, and the film Eagle vs Shark.”
The film is distributed by Warner Bros, which also produced “The Hobbit” trilogy, which was granted $67 million tax breaks in 2010 for the production of the trilogy in New Zealand,
Prime Minister John Key was confident that most people would take the allegedly offensive line in “The Lego Movie” “for what it is – a light-hearted line in a children’s fantasy film.”
However, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants harsher punishment for the supposed insult. He has asked Warner Bros to give back the $67 million subsidy that the studio got for “The Hobbit.”
He said that he assumed “The Lego Movie” line was referring to the country’s “financial illiteracy.”
Opposition tourism spokeswoman Darien Fenton also said that Key should use his contracts to tell the film studio that the “Middle Zealand” references were not on.
“The Lego Movie” has grossed USD1.97 billion in the box office so far.