‘Lego Movie’ plays Aspen Film Academy Screenings; producer talks about sequels in the works
The Aspen Times
On paper, “The Lego Movie” had no reason to be good. Or to be any better than the cartoon DVDs you see in toy stores promoting the Danish brick-building system.
And yet, in the hands of a creative team including directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, animation director Chris McKay and producer Dan Lin, it became something genuinely awesome (also awesome: the movie’s theme song, “Everything is Awesome”). It blended a self-awareness of how junky it should have been with physical humor and the anarchic storytelling of a child’s imagination. The look of the film, though animated, is “photo real” and appears as if everything is made of actual Legos.
The movie, which was a huge hit with audiences and critics in early 2014, plays Saturday at Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings and is one of 20 movies being considered for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
The creative team behind “The Lego Movie” recently went on a retreat in Malibu, California, to discuss whether to make sequels, according to Lin. They will, he said, but in an unconventional way, in what he calls “the Lego family of movies.”
“We came out of [the retreat] saying, ‘OK, we’re really excited to tell more stories,’” Lin explained. “Not only because we want to make a sequel, it’s because there are more stories to tell with this art-form and we’re excited about that. … If painters use paint and sculptors use clay, we want to use Lego bricks as our medium in different genres.””
There are three new Lego movies in the offing, beginning with the martial arts saga “Ninjago” in 2016.
“The first movie is ‘What would happen if Michael Bay kidnapped [stop-motion innovator] Henry Selick.” Lin said. “The second movie is what would happen if Akira Kurosawa met Henry Selick.”
The following year will see the release of “Lego Batman,” featuring the memorably smug parody of the Dark Knight voiced by Will Arnett in “The Lego Movie” and directed by McKay. For 2018, they’re making “The Lego Movie 2,” which picks up where the original ends.
“The Lego Movie” took five years to make, with crews working in California and Australia. You could, in theory, make everything you see on the screen with real Legos, though it would take – by Lin’s estimation – 15 million bricks. For inspiration, the “Lego Movie Team” looked at groundbreaking films like “The Matrix,” “The Wizard of OZ” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” along with the trove of amateur stop-motion films that Lego fans have been making for years (and which were, in part, the subject of Daniel Junge’s fascinating documentary “Beyond the Brick,” which screened at Aspen Filmfest this fall).
Lin appropriately calls his movie “a love letter to creativity.”
But at first glance, “The Lego Movie” appears like a crass marketing ploy. It looked that way to Lin and friends and family he told about the project early on, too.
“People were like, ‘Ugh, The Lego Movie!?’” he recalled. “’We know exactly what it’s going to be. It’s going to be a cash grab. It’s going to be an advertisement for the toy.’”
For Lin, the vision for the film as something more than that began as he watched his five-year-old son play with a Lego set.
“I realized that here was a much bigger story going on in his mind than there was in front of him,” Lin explained. “So, for example, when he put two Lego bricks together and was running around the room with it like it was airplane, I realized ‘Wow, in my mind it just looks like two bricks in a cross-type shape, but in his mind there’s a much grander adventure going on.”
That became the creative ground on which the story was built. The story’s logic is like a child’s, swerving whimsically through a “chosen one” plotline, following Emmit (Chris Pratt) as he tries to save the day. Its aesthetic became that of an actual Lego set, with Frankensteinian creations like the pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman) who has a shark for an arm.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer to feel a frisson of giddy recognition when I saw mid-way through “The Lego Movie” that a staff wielded by the wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) was actually a chewed-up lollipop stick.
“We wanted it to look like a Lego play set that’s been played with and loved,” explained Lin. “And we wanted the Lego to look like real Lego moves – the arms and the legs and even when Emmit does jumping jacks, that’s true to form for Lego figures. … This is a child’s fantasy come to life.”
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.