In 2014, audiences—and the worldwide box office—fell for The LEGO Movie. The film was a surprise megahit, earning nearly half a billion dollars worldwide despite a previously-thought-verboten early February release. Almost four years to the day later, Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett)—plus a healthy assortment of new characters, including velociraptors, a talking banana, and a shapeshifting Queen (Tiffany Haddish) who may or may not be evil—are back in cinemas with The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.
“There are no rules for LEGO,” explains director Mike Mitchell. “That’s the theme of the first movie: Throw away the rulebook.” Mitchell and animation director Trisha Gum have taken this anything-goes attitude and crafted a fun, high-energy, song-filled sequel, where the journey of minifig heroes is paired with a live-action component about warring siblings Finn (Jason Sand) and Bianca (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Pierce). Mitchell and Gum took the time to speak with Boxoffice about controlling the chaos.
First, I loved the film, but it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen it and “Catchy Song” is still stuck inside my head. So I’m kind of mad at you.
Mike Mitchell: Trisha and I talked about how we have to get it surgically removed from our heads. Because we worked on this film, we had to listen to that song over and over again. It’s a curse.
Who wrote that? Who do I blame?
Trisha Gum: That was Jon Lajoie, who did a lot of the original music in this film. He definitely got our sense of humor, and he really helped us out with keeping the songs catchy and really fun.
How long was it stuck in your heads?
TG: Oh, it’s still stuck in our heads!
MM: Not going anywhere.
TG: My fiancé hears me sing it at home all the time. He’s never even actually heard the song, but I catch him singing it, too, just because of how often I sing it.
How did you both come to be involved with this movie?
MM: Chris [Lord] and Phil [Miller] came in to help me on the last film I directed, Trolls, to help punch it up and come up with gags. And while they were there, they told me how they wanted to make a sequel to The LEGO Movie. And I told them, “LEGO is one of my favorite films, and I don’t think you should make a sequel.” It’s a perfect film, beginning to end. And then they pitched me the story about how it evolves and how it incorporates the little sister. And I was like, “Oh man, that is a great idea.” And that’s when I said, “Trish and I have to be a part of making this film. It sounds so fun.”
TG: I had just come off of working on The LEGO Batman Movie when Mike and I met. I was excited about telling a continuation of [The LEGO Movie], but now from the little girl’s point of view. So I said, “Sign me up.”
It was so neat seeing Brooklynn Pierce after The Florida Project.
TG: From day one, she was the only person we wanted to play the role of Bianca.
MM: I was happy that she didn’t curse as much in this film as she did in The Florida Project.
One of the things that stands out about the two LEGO Movies is that you get to bring in so many different characters from different franchises, all mixed together with this Lisa Frank aesthetic.
MM: Not only do you get to the DC characters, you get Harry Potter. All the characters from The Wizard of Oz and make an appearance. Bruce Willis.
TG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And it’s funny that you say Lisa Frank. She was a huge inspiration for me as a kid when I was becoming an artist. I kept using her as an inspiration for this colorful, glittery, eclectic world that we created.
Of all the different characters in this film, both existing characters and the new ones, who were you most excited about bringing to life?
TG: For me, the most exciting thing was bringing the queen to life. She’s a shape-shifting character who is constantly changing, so who she is from scene-to-scene can get really confusing. Tiffany [Haddish] has such a charming energy to her, and the singing and dancing that she did was so inspirational for our animation team. She was my favorite to bring to life, just because she was such a challenge. But the payoff was really satisfying.
MM: They could only use the handful of LEGO bricks that the queen is made out of. For me, it was fascinating to see how many different characters that they can turn that queen into with the same handful of bricks.
How about you, Mike?
MM: I would say Sweet Mayhem [voiced by Stephanie Beatriz], because she’s the coolest character of all time. She’s this really sleek robot, and she’s got like a really cool ship and clever weapons, like stickers she could shoot.
You didn’t write the screenplay, but as a lot of these smaller, supporting characters are being created, do you have an idea of who you want to voice them? Were you thinking, “Yeah, I really want Ben Schwartz to voice this banana.”?
MM: For [parts in] this film, we were thinking, who can voice it, and while they’re voicing it, who can write in different gags?
TG: Ben came in to give us feedback on the film. And instantly I was like, “This guy loves bananas so much.” He’s amazing, and he’s got such a fun, playful voice. I was just like, “He’s got to voice Banarnar.” He really came in and was Bananar.
MM: Originally we had him come in to write for us, to come up with jokes—
TG: But he gravitated towards bananas!
MM: He really just liked bananas.
I love how you have The Mighty Boosh co-stars Richard Ayoade as Ice Cream Cone and Noel Fielding as Balthazar the sparkly vampire.
MM: That was a fantasy of mine, because I love The Mighty Boosh. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time. And we really did design those characters for them. There’s a little bit of a trick there, when it’s people we want it to be, so we just made it happen.
Mike, you have experience working with both live-action and animation. And obviously this film has both live-action and animation components. Can you talk about making the jump from one to the other?
MM: I like the combo platter. I love live-action, and I love animation.
TG: I love being able to do live action and animation. I love that movies are blending the two more and more. We really wanted there to be a live action component in this. Some of the LEGO movies don’t have that live action component, but it was important to us to advance the storytelling through seeing little girl and little boy in the live action world.
MM: It’s all storytelling, however you tell that story. Whether it’s animation or puppetry or live-action. As long as the story is strong.That’s all there is to it.
Animation tends to get thought of as its own genre, rather than a medium that you can use to tell all sorts of different stories.
MM: These stories are expansive. They’re not just for kids. They’re for everyone. I think that’s something that everyone has been coming around to, to see that animation is a really special form of filmmaking.
TG: I think this next dawn of animation is really going to be exciting for us as filmmakers. It’s being seen more as a medium, rather than as a genre.
There are so many things in animation that you can’t accomplish through live-action. Obviously, there’s the LEGO movies. But even with something like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. If that had been a live-action movie, it wouldn’t have looked nearly as good.
MM: You can bring so much more into animation than you can in live action. It really is a more expansive medium.
And it looks so much better on the big screen.
MM: When Trish and I made this film, we certainly don’t design it to be watched on your phone or on an iPad, or even a TV. We’re putting a lot of thought and care into how it’s going to sound and look on the big screen. Most of our job is sitting a giant theater and seeing what the movie is going to look like. So for us, it’s almost a shame that people would not experience it in a theater. I realize there are so many different ways to watch movies. But that’s really why we got into this business: We love going to the movies.
TG: Especially for this film, where we blast off into space and it’s so massive and exciting and epic, to see it on a big screen is really important.
MM: I keep calling the LEGO films the Where’s Waldo of filmmaking. There are so many characters on the screen, and there are so many layers, that it feels like you’re missing out if you’re not seeing it on the big screen.
With animation, you have control over every single pixel in the film.
MM: And every color, every texture. If you notice, every once in a while we even put little thumbprints from the brother and sister on the LEGO bricks. And that’s something that you can really see on the big screen.
What was the first movie you remember seeing in a theater?
TG:Mine was Back to the Future.
MM: I’m going to go way back. This was the revival of the film, and it has nothing to do with the film we just made. Rear Window. I went crazy for it. Thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
If any quote-unquote children’s movie were to do a Rear Window homage, it would be a LEGO movie.
MM: I can’t wait to do that. “Really, Hitchcock and Lisa Frank are the two people who inspired us.”
So movie three, then?
MM: LEGO Movie 3: The Rear Windowing.