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‘The Lego Batman Movie’: How They Built a Better Gotham, Brick by Brick

Batman gets the perfect Lego deconstruction in this sharp-witted spinoff.

“The Lego Batman Movie”

Animation

“The Lego Movie” was no fluke.

Batman, Gotham, and the DC universe are in good hands, thanks to director Chris McKay, Will Arnett as Batman, Zach Galifianakis as Joker, a witty script co-written by Seth Grahame-Smith, and the fine animation by Animal Logic. (Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller produced.)

And even though it’s a spoof, “Lego Batman” is even more engaging than the recent live-action DC movies. That’s because it actually digs deeper: it’s unafraid of exploring the Dark Knight’s fear of intimacy and exposing his symbiotic relationship with Joker.

Thus, when Batman tells Joker that he means nothing to him, setting off an existential crisis, the super baddie has nothing left to do but destroy Gotham and humiliate his foe.

“I wanted to do an emotional story and really try to commit to that arc and do it with jokes,” McKay told IndieWire. And since Batman’s his favorite superhero and he previously directed “Robot Chicken” and served as animation co-director of “The Lego Movie,” McKay certainly knows his way around this universe and mini-fig (as he calls Lego).

And what a rogue’s gallery they’ve assembled: Not only the usual Gotham suspects (including the likes of Crazy Quilt, Polka-Dot Man, and Condiment King), but also such Lego nasties as the Gremlins, Lord Voldermort (Eddie Izzard rather than Ralph Fiennes, who was busy enough voicing Alfred), Sauron (Jemaine Clement), King Kong (Seth Green), and the “Dr. Who” Daleks.

Even Mariah Carey found her way into the cast as Mayor McCaskill because she has such a commanding voice, according to the director.

“I wanted to say that our Batman had been around in Gotham City for 78 years and that, somehow, our Batman was the entire history of Batman,”added McKay. “And so by bringing in all of the rogue’s gallery, we really upped the Joker’s game.”

The best part was getting Arnett and Galifianakis together so they could up their own wacky improvisations. “I put Zach and Will in a room together, mic’d them with [hands-free] lavs, got a boom operator, gave them a loose script,  and let them play off each other,” McKay said.

“They ran around the room, and we were all listening (including the writers), and one of the things that came out of that session was this big brother/little brother, bromance, boyfriend/girlfriend antagonism between them. That immediately set the tone.”

McKay upped Sydney-based Animal Logic’s game as well, keeping the stop-motion aesthetic but making us think we’re really in Gotham by adding atmospherics (fire and rain), or loosening up the Lego rules so we stop thinking about them as mini-figs.

“The Lego Batman Movie”

“I think we probably sat on the animators less on this movie,” McKay said. “I allowed them to have more freedom to express themselves and try and find new ways to use the mini-fig. We never squash-and-stretch but, from a stop-motion standpoint, we didn’t shave down the plastic and stick on an arm in order to get it to bend and move across the body. I allowed the animators to crash things and push things through the body or rebuild things using different Lego pieces.

“Like Joker’s doing a tree pose, I’ve got built bricks being inserted in there where his leg would be. I wanted the action to be elevated with more expressive gesturing. And I wanted the animators to observe the actors’ behavior more to ‘juice up’ the brick animation.”

But then there are other moments when we’re keenly aware of the Lego figures, such as when they literally pull themselves together in a display of Gotham unity.

“I wanted to look for ways of taking the words out because I think we can still be accused of being too wordy. More show and less tell, and so I looked for ways of making this more of a visual experience whenever possible,” McKay said.

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