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The vivid colors of Lego bricks brightened up Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood Saturday with the premiere of Warner Bros.’ The Lego Movie.
Actors, agents and execs love weekend premieres to which they can bring their kids and the studio didn’t disappoint. Warners took over a block (no pun intended) of Broxton Avenue, creating an enclosed world with where young and old could play with Legos, get tattoos, and play video games, all while surrounded by Lego walls and giant-sized Lego statues of the characters from the movie. In-N-Out Burger was the food of choice and one of the dessert stations served up block of chocolate fudge with small Lego candy pieces as the topping.
Chris Pratt (with Anna Faris), Will Arnett, and Charlie Day were among the voice talent who hit the afterparty, though it was Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors and writers of the movie, that were receiving much of the attention.
And that’s because years of the duo’s hard work seems to be paying off. The movie is generating great buzz and tracking points to a big opening.
But that’s not how things began with the project. Lego, the Danish company, for years refused to entertain Hollywood’s overtures.
“We are not an entertainment company. And we were very much in doubt about what a Lego movie would look like so we said no many times,” said Lego chief marketing officer Mads Nipper at the afterparty, referring to the many pitches he heard.
Still, he and the other execs were eventually won over by producers Dan Lin and Roy Lee who talked of a movie paying tribute to creativity and imagination.
The script also took years to craft. Lord and Miller worked off a foundation by Dan and Kevin Hageman and began writing four years ago. They said they were still writing even weeks ago when trying to mix the movie. (We’re a little obsessive,” said Miller.)
The movie tells of an average Lego figure who is pegged to be the savior of the Lego universe from the forces of the evil Lego tyrant. But the movie is an abundance of silliness and color, of worlds spanning normal cities to the Old West to medieval castles, populated by new characters, historical characters and famous licensed ones such as Batman, Gandalf and yes, even Han Solo and Chewbacca.
“It was a disaster for years,” admitted Lord, “but, and this is not a sexy answer although it’s the truth: it’s about the story. If you focus on the story, and the emotional story of the character, then you can get away with everything that you want. As long as you nail that through-line, the rest of the world can be insane.”
Another obstacle was getting permission from various licensees.
“There was a lot of legal wrangling,” revealed Miller, with the prickliest perhaps being securing the approval of Lucasfilm for one hilarious Star Wars sequence and from Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling for an appearance from Dumbledore. And because the script kept on changing, which meant what characters said or did changed, rights holders had to be re-approached. Miller recalled the duo were more than once told “not to poke the bear.”
“We went to each rights holder and pitched our hearts out about how we would show a Lego version of their character so that it wouldn’t compete with their existing fan base but it would actually build a new fan base,” said Lin.
Batman, voiced by Arnett, is integral to the movie and the actor said he and the filmmakers tried to find the balance of being original yet still remaining faithful to his iconic nature.
“What we all agreed on what that Batman had gotten more and more serious through the years so we took that and went even further and made him more serious. That ended up being the funniest version.”
One of the charms of the movie is the low-tech feel it has as the movie combines stop motion and CGI animation. Heck, at one point, one character dangles from a string.
“We like things that aren’t so slick, and we try to have a homemade quality to everything that we do,” said Lord. “This whole movie is like that, that it feels like some guy made it in his basement.”
“We spent millions of dollars to get to that look,” admitted Lin. “We could have made it look clean and slick and it could have looked more ‘high tech,’ but we were inspired by the handmade Brick films that are online and made by Lego fans. We spent a lot of money dirtying our movie up, adding smudges, adding chips, and adding dirt in the plastic.”
And so in the end did the movie meet Lego’s expectations?
“This is exactly what we hoped it would be, plus a little bit more,” said Nipper.
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