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The LEGO Movie 2 Interview

Phil Lord and Chris Miller


Now it’s Academy Award nominees Phil Lord and Chris Miller, since the movie they produced, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is nominated for Best Animated Film. Lord and Miller are back for a sequel to The LEGO Movie, which they wrote and directed. Mike Mitchell directs the sequel but Lord and Miller still wrote and produced.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part picks up right where the first left off, with real kid Finn (Jadon Sand)’s little sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) playing LEGO with him. Her childish toys create chaos in Finn’s big kid world, and this creates a rift between brother and sister in the real world. In the animated world, the audience sees Emmet (Chris Pratt), Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett) meet new characters like Whatevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) and Rex Dangervest (also Pratt).

Dream Alliance attended a screening of The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part followed by a Q&A with Lord and Miller in Los Angeles. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part opens this weekend.

Q: The first movie was so much about the stories we tell. Since that worked, were you able to pus the meta reflexive levels of telling a story about story within story in Lego 2?

CM: We started this movie knowing that there was a human world and the world of LEGO was sort of the world of Finn’s imagination. So going into the movie, you were armed with that information. So we wanted to try and tell a more complicated, sophisticated version of that story where we had two different imaginations coming together and part of the fun of the movie is trying to figure out what’s happening in the real world and how that is represented in the world of the LEGO.

PL: You hope that if you’re making a sequel, it should be more ambitious and not less. That’s the hill you want to die on is trying to up the ante. We definitely felt like it didn’t feel right until we were doing something really hard, or trying to do something really hard. I think when we struck on the idea of maybe we can tell the story from the brother’s point of view and the sister’s point of view at the same time and they would both work. This is the best we could do at that.

Q: How do Finn’s characters act in Bianca’s world?

CM: We have a whole storyline that made sense to us as to who’s playing with who at which point.

PL: There needs to be a chart. We could pass it out with the popcorn.

CM: But we like that people can interpret it their own way. Even people on the crew interpreted differently. The general idea is that when Bianca, who is played by Brooklynn Prince who is an absolute delight of a human being.

PL: Multi-hyphenate.

CM: Yes, now not just an actor but also a director apparently. Very exciting. When she takes the characters upstairs, she’s playing with them and telling a story of her own that is sort of analogous to a story that Finn was telling in the first movie when he was playing both sides of a war that was happening with President Business who represented his dad.

PL: She’s kind of imagining how they are experiencing it. One interpretation is that it’s not that they are retaining their personalities across two imaginations, but rather…

CM: It’s her version of what his point of view would be.

PL: Right, she’s imagining his point of view of them and they represent that and that she knows that it’s going to take a while to convert them over. This is real corny film school stuff but the idea is that ideas are free floating things, like a virus or something. You can pass it from one person to another and do, in our experience, have an existence outside of one person’s mind. Because they can be shared and that’s kind of what we’re saying about these characters in this movie is they’re being shared between two storytellers.

Q: How did you get several different animation styles to work together?

PL: She seems less rigid to me. I think that’s a hallmark of being younger. I have these younger cousins who don’t see a distinction between different brands of toys and they don’t see a distinction between a drawing and a puppet show. They’re all sort of one thing.

CM: One of the cool things about this movie is that we did cell animation, in some of the live action sequences we just puppeted characters on rods, little LEGO figures bouncing around the basement on rods. We used stop motion. We used CG. We used every possible animation technique that I can think of.

PL: I love the rod puppetry part of it. That’s the coolest thing.

PL: The plan was to animate it but then instead we just removed the green rod. Then you guys had to animate to match the rod puppetry.

Q: Why did you want more music in this one? Do you write in the script “awesome city song here?”

PL: It’s kind of mixed up. There is some of that and there’s various songs that stayed in the movie and left the movie. At one point, the whole sisterverse was an opera, which became a bit cumbersome.

CM: The catchy song was sort of like we need to have a thing here that’s supposed to turn the characters towards the way of thinking. We wanted to have a song as a Queen intro. Then Gotham City Guys was an area where we were having trouble figuring out a way for the Queen to trick Batman into falling for her. It was a pitch from John Lajoie who’s the songwriter of all those songs. We thought it was really clever and then we worked back and forth with him on making that piece work. For the end credit song, we have a Beck song that he wrote with The Lonely Island. Robyn was just trying to get together with people that we thought were awesome to make something cool. Luckily, you tell Beck to make something cool and he can do it.

Q: Did you go through a phase where maturity meant liking dark and gritty things, and have you come back from that?

CM: It’s been something we’ve been interested in for a long time, as far as what is it that makes you, when you’re a little kid you have all this positivity and you ask a classroom full of first graders, “Who here can sing and dance?” Everybody raises their hand. You can ask the same thing of high school seniors, “Who here can sing and dance?” The three drama kids raise their hand. There’s some point along the way that you learn shame and there’s this period when you think being a grown-up means having to be pessimistic and brooding and not like anything that you like when you were little. I used to have a Grover T-shirt and then there were some years that I wouldn’t wear the Grover T-shirt because I thought it was for babies. Then I remember a distinct point in high school as a senior where I was like, “No, I’m going to wear this Grover T-shirt and it’s going to be ironic because I’m so grown up that I’m okay with looking like I’m a baby?

PL: Was it a hit?

CM: No. So part of the idea of we don’t need to feel shame, we can grow up and like new things and cool things but we don’t have to give up our optimism and our empathy is a thing that really means a lot to us and something we’ve been trying to say in a lot of the movies we work on.

PL: My adolescence is ongoing. One of the things I think we all are thinking about as its culture is what do you do when things don’t go exactly well? And how do we help each other and interpret that and find a way that we deal with it without altering our worldview, without letting it change us?

Q: Was Furiosa ever a possibility in the Mad Max world?

CM: You thought that was inspired by Mad Max?

PL: That’s weird. I don’t know where you’re getting that,

CM: It’s completely original. It’s more Thunderdome than anything. It was more supposed to be Finn’s sci-fi dystopian pastiche world. We were already steering towards parody so we thought let’s just make it its own thing.

Q: How difficult was it to get licensing? Did the script ever change because someone didn’t approve?

PL: Well, Larry Poppins was an easy get. The Larry Poppins people were like, “Of course, we love you guys.” So that was easy. It’s always a noble effort.

CM: There’s always adjustments. We always start with, “Just write whatever” and then ultimately we come around to one thing or another. The great thing about animation is we can keep trying things and we keep changing things up to the very, very last minute.

PL: You never know what’s going to stay in the movie too. You write a joke for Sheryl Swoopes but you just don’t know if it’s going to land.

Q: Are we in another golden age of animation?

PL: I think we are definitely at the dawn of one. I think you look at the 25 movies up for Academy consideration this year. That’s a tremendous number. The movies that got nominated are all so different. They’re from all over the world, many different strategies. They’re from great filmmakers and that’s the tip of the iceberg. To me, what’s exciting about us having both of these two movies out right around the same time is they’re so different, they’re tonally different, their strategies are different, they’re looks are different.    It shows what the possibilities of the medium are. To me, we’re just starting to figure out what weird stuff we can do.

CM: I think audiences are slowly opening up to the idea that animation is a medium and not a genre. I think because there’s been a lot of successful animation, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I’m excited to see what comes next.

PL: And if you add television into the equation, the diversity of looks in TV. Just the sheer volume of work, but the quality of the work is so extraordinary. Just think when all of those people do their next project. All those TV creators have 40 years of work ahead of them.

Q: How do you draw the line between something for kids with adult humor?

CM: We never think about this is for kids or this is for adults ever. It just so happens that our sensibility is appropriate for children.

JL: We’re just childish enough.

CM: The only difference between doing one of these movies and doing a Jump Street movie is there’s a little more bad words in a few places. Honestly, that’s it. We try to crack each other up and we’re trying to do something that feels interesting and thematically cool and has something to say and just makes us all laugh. I figure if we laugh, kids are going to laugh as well. We want to make sure it stays visual and exciting and we literally never once think about will kids get this idea or will kids get this joke? Or this one’s for the moms?

JL: Like it’s been two minutes since an adult joke. There’s never talk about that.

CM: We’re just trying to make movies we find amusing.

Q: How many minutes are the end credits?

CM: The May Not End Credits when I even comment on how long the credits are?

PL:  What I remember about how that rap came to be was that we were like, we need to start this Beck song. It’s the only thing that makes this coda buoyant enough and friendly enough and exactly what we want it to be. This is the part when they’re in their sispocalypse, the resolution of the movie. We’re like we need to start this song here. It’s the only thing that works. The problem is we have this May Not End sequence that also carries that song. There’s not enough material there to hold our attention. So we invited our buddies to do an extra verse to their rap and that’s where that “so the credits, they’re still going on.” came from and I find it delightful.

CM: The May Not Ends, the part with the drum and the puppetry, I think that’s just under six minutes. The credits beyond that go on. There are hundreds and hundreds of people that worked on these movies. You know this.

PL: But we did give you the most fun four songs you’ve ever heard in your life. We put a lot of care into the sequencing of what order they come in and the amount of happiness that they deliver.

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