It was a wild ride for Phil Lord and Chris Miller, simultaneously producing the animated Oscar favorite, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and “LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.” Each movie fed off their penchant for irreverent, movie worshiping, meta hero journeys. It almost became symbiotic. For instance, when hitting a brick wall on “Spider-Verse,” they found creative inspiration in the joyful, brick-filled universe of LEGO.
“It’s exhausting and refreshing to be able to spend a week in edit suites on ‘Spider-Man’ and then go to a preview for ‘LEGO’ that’s so buoyant and everybody’s having a good time,” Lord said. “The movies are so different yet equally interesting to us, and, hopefully, equally sophisticated.”
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Coming five years after the first “LEGO Movie,” the sequel offers multiple brick-verses as a result of the live-action sibling rivalry between Finn (Jaden Sand) and Bianca (Brooklynn Prince of “The Florida Project”).
“We hit upon the idea of two different imaginations telling two different styles of storytelling,” said Miller. “A 13-year-old’s sci-fi, dystopian view, full of crazy intricacies of time travel and outer space. And an eight-year-old girl and her type of glitter, crafty, dance party version of outer space. We liked the idea of them being in conflict and then having their imaginations intersect into one super imagination.”
In other words, you build it, you break it, and rebuild it again. And, true to form, Lord and Miller broke the rules of storytelling and animation to achieve unity through inclusion and change. “And now we could play with the audience trying to figure out whose point of view is being told, what’s happening in the human world and what’s happening in the LEGO world,” added Miller.
Within the LEGO world, the Duplo alien invasion turns Bricksburg into a “Mad Max”-like dystopia, and the kidnapping of Master Builder Emmet’s (Chris Pratt) pals. He mounts a rescue by journeying to the Systar System of shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish).
“It’s a bit metaphysical but there are more original characters, and we thought about what the sister’s imagination was like,” added Lord. “We thought: Let’s make it weirder, with arts and crafts and more fabric and puppetry.”
It’s the most mixed media project the duo has ever made, and Lord and Miller tagged Mike Mitchell to direct because he was so well-versed in handling fabric and glitter on “Trolls” from DreamWorks. Trouble was, he didn’t think a “LEGO” sequel was necessary after the total success of the original.
“But the idea of going into this little girl’s room and seeing this entire galaxy that she’s created was great,” Mitchell said. “Those guys are so irreverent. I’ve never worked on a project where you can pull in characters from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and the DC comic world and Harry Potter, Bruce Willis, Sheryl Swoopes from the WNBA, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It’s crazy.”
Meanwhile, Trisha Gum was recruited from “The LEGO Batman Movie” to serve as animation director, working with the animation team at Animal Logic in Australia to deliver more advanced, stop-motion-style work that was dirtier, grimier, and more elaborate in its articulation of poses.
“The queen was the biggest challenge,” Gum said. “How many poses could we have her be in and have her still be recognizable as the same character? We came up with 40 to 50, and in the opening number [‘Totally Not Evil’], where she’s singing and dancing and welcoming them to her world, the animators made her look just like a Broadway star.”
Miller said the greatest satisfaction was upping the level of subtlety and imperfection. “The movie is all about replacement animation, popping out one arm and replacing it with another, to convey a George Pal, stop-motion vibe. Also, she’s an empowering character that has this [ability] inside all of us to change appearances.”
The queen certainly changes Batman (Will Arnett) by seducing him into a marriage proposal. “He’s a lonely guy,” said Lord, “and you’ve got to put him in positions that he can’t be in in other movies. That’s the pleasure of it, especially when he falls into the hands of your sister. He’s in a scenario that he doesn’t know what to do.”
“To us, he’s still true to Batman at his core, and putting him in a sparkly, Elvis-like suit with a furry cape is pushing it to its logical extreme,” added Miller.