Fandango spoke to Lord and Miller when tickets first went on sale for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, and now, as the film prepares to hit theaters (grab your tickets here), here is our chat with director Mike Mitchell, who talks about the origins of the songs, how they evolved the family and all of those great cameos.
Fandango: You've done a lot of very well-known animated movies over the years, from Trolls, to Penguins of Madagascar, to Shrek Forever After. What brought you to the Lego-verse?
Mike Mitchell: Oh, well, obviously, I was a huge, huge fan. I really used that first movie as a template when I directed the Trolls movie. Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord] had come in to help me [with that film]. It's a very small community, the animation community. Chris and Phil were kind enough to help me come up with gags and some story fixes for Trolls way back when. They got into a big discussion about the production design, and that led to a conversation about what they were thinking for the next Lego film. I thought that movie was impossible to make a sequel to, but [when they revealed their idea], I thought it was the greatest idea of all time. From then, I just kept talking to them, and I got interested in it. Then they asked me to direct it. I felt very fortunate, because I loved the idea.
Fandango: What was the most important thing for you to bring into the sequel?
Mike Mitchell: Well, I loved the idea that it picks up exactly where the last movie left off. That rarely happens where, literally, the last gag of that movie, which is a terrific gag, is the beginning of our film. I got really excited about that. I think you should only make a sequel if it's going to expand on what was originally there, and really remind everyone about the original - why we loved the original so much. It feels like that's what this one did. I also thought it was interesting how it was such a surprise in the first movie that [it was really] Will Ferrell and this little kid down in the basement playing. That was the emotional connection. I thought it was really neat to expand the family, and learn more about that family and their dynamic.
As a side note, I think it's really cool that it's that same little kid in the first movie, and he'll be cast in this movie. He's grown up perfectly. He's a perfect age for what we want to explore here, with an older sibling kind of over it. He's turning into a teen. He's too cool for school, and I thought that was a really interesting thing to explore, as well as this sibling rivalry kind of thing.
Fandango: Now, as someone who has a lot of experience directing different kinds of animated movies, how is a Lego movie different from anything else that you've done?
Mike Mitchell: The way that they go about telling stories. Chris and Phil are super unique, where, usually, I'm starting the story and character with some of the other films that I've worked on, and Chris and Phil come about it in a really unique way. They almost start with the irreverency and the jokes and design. They start with design. For me, it's a completely different and super creative way of making a film.
This is a really cheesy comparison, but when Hitchcock came up with North by Northwest, he just knew that he wanted people racing over the face of Mount Rushmore. The writers were like, 'That's the most ridiculous idea of all time.' Why would anyone be running across the nose, and shooting guns around all those faces on Mount Rushmore? But when you really work it out, and you motivate all the story to get your characters out there, it equals something really memorable. That's how Chris and Phil go about writing. That was super unique for me.
Fandango: One thing about the first movie is the introduction of the song, "Everything is Awesome." I love how it goes from being a catchy song, to being a character in this film, because in this film it sort of goes through multiple evolutions of the song. What was your approach to the music, and to that song in particular, and what is its journey throughout this movie?
Mike Mitchell: When I came to town, I inherited the filmmaking team that had been working on all the Lego films and they were sick of ["Everything Is Awesome"]. I was like, we have to have this song in the film, we just have to. You guys are sick of it, but the world isn't. I love it. I hate to put music in for no reason, so it had to tell a story.
The first time we redid it was with Garfunkel and Oates. These two hilarious women did a version of it that was so bright and cheerful, and it really summed up where we were -- in the middle of this apocalyptic wasteland. Then it evolved even more, where we're like, what if everything's not awesome? We thought, well, let's do that song. Let's do "Everything is Not Awesome." Let's do a twist on the song. Then beyond that, we had an incredible songwriter named Jon Lajoie, who was was such a partner in this thing, and really got into story with us. He was listening to everyone complain about "Everything is Awesome," so he goes, "What's the worst thing about that song?" We all agreed, it's like you can not get it out of your head once you hear it. He's like, "Then let's do a song like that. Let's try to top it, and make a song that's even more annoying." It's such a great question you asked. Now that I'm going through it, it really was an evolution, and a lot of discussion in the writer's room, and really bringing in every musician to help us. It was really weird.
Fandango: There are so many characters in this movie, including the Justice League, who return. This time you have Jason Momoa, who plays Aquaman. How did that come about?
Mike Mitchell: Well, Jason, who plays Aquaman - who knew that guy was hilarious? That guy was ready to make fun of himself, and have a great time. He almost went for it, even stronger than we did. That kicked it off. Then, of course, we inherited Green Lantern and Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum, who already played Superman from the first movie. We brought those guys over. Then it was just, since the first Lego Movie, and this one, there's been a lot of characters added to the Justice League. We brought over as many as we thought were necessary to tell the story. We got three Wonder Women in this! There's even a big, giant Duplo Wonder Woman.
That was interesting, too, because I thought a big part of this movie is that there's a different hand at play. There's a younger sister. It's really interesting because the first movie is about the little boy not playing by the father's rules. This movie is about the little sister not playing by her older brother's rules, meaning she doesn't know who these characters are. She doesn't know the story, so she's unaware that Superman isn't best friends with Lex Luthor.
That's something that blows his mind, when he sees that, but the little girl's just playing however she wants to. Three Wonder Women isn't a big deal for her. Why not have three Wonder Women? That spilled into the design as well, where if you notice, she mixes a whole bunch of different Lego characters, but she also incorporates glitter, and fabric, and carpet into her play. There's pipe cleaners. Queen Watevra sums that up as, there's no one way to play. There's no set way to play. That was a fun expansion of that idea, I guess.
Fandango: Another fun cameo is Bruce Willis. You have a couple of jokes with Bruce Willis in there. Was he game to do anything?
Mike Mitchell: How cool is it that Bruce Willis makes fun of himself from Die Hard? He was so fun. He was ready to go. He was just like Jason [Momoa], from Aquaman - he was super. Bruce Willis was ready to make fun of himself. It was really fun to do that sequence. I believe he shows up a couple times, too, because we had so much fun. I think we brought Bruce back. Yeah, that's another thing that I'd never experienced in any other film I've directed is how you can pull characters from other films. It's so unique and irreverent that way. For example, the Batman in this film, unlike every other Batman, he's aware of all the other Batmen, because he knows all the other films. He could reference them. Unless I do another Lego film, I don't think I'll ever have an opportunity to live in that world. It was really fun.
Fandango: Do you think that there's still a journey to tell with these characters? Does it rely on this family?
Mike Mitchell: Yeah. You're asking me at the very end of an exhausting two-and-a-half year process of working on one of these. But I have to say, you know, before I made this film, I was like, there's no way to top that first Lego. The surprise of the live action is gone. You guys did such a tidy story, where you went through, and it went through this incredible arc. I didn't think it was possible to make another one. Yet, I think this is one of my favorite sequels I've ever worked on. This is a fantastic send-up.
I hesitate to say no to anything, because maybe it doesn't have to involve this family. But I will say this: I know that Emmet is such a strong character, and such a beloved character, and so charming, and so naïve. I can't imagine not wanting to watch him in another adventure.