Oscar Special: ‘Lego Movie’ team looks ahead to more Lego movies
As he stepped to the microphone to accept the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Animated Film last month, “The Lego Movie” producer Dan Lin let out a sigh and said, “What a roller coaster of emotions today has been. Yeah. Crazy day.”
The same day he won the critics award, his film had been snubbed in the animated film category for the Academy Awards, prompting much Internet outrage from Lego maniacs around the world.
The movie’s lone nomination is in the Best Original Song category, for the indeed awesome “Everything Is Awesome,” which will be performed by Tegan and Sara with The Lonely Island at the Oscars.
People were let down by not seeing “The Lego Movie” nonimated because it was so improbably good. On paper, “The Lego Movie” had no reason to be anything but awful, no reason 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 Lin, it became something genuinely, yeah, 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.
There are more Lego movies to come, Lin said in December, following a retreat in Malibu, California with the creative team, where they discussed whether to make sequels. They will, according to Lin, 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.”
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