'The Lego Movie 2' Team on Crafting a Sequel Worthy of the Lego Name

From left: Elizabeth Banks, Tiffany Haddish, Chris Pratt and Alison Brie

The block party-themed L.A. premiere was held on Saturday in Westwood Village.

Chris Pratt, a star who has enjoyed a luxury of film franchises in recent years, says that the Lego Movie series holds a special place in his heart.

“I love that it's got the most laughs per minute of any movie franchise that I've done,” Pratt, who voices both nice-guy hero Emmet and his new, edgier partner Rex Dangervest in the new film, told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part at Westwood Village Theater.

“There's a tint of comedy in Jurassic World and in Guardians of the Galaxy, but I would classify this one as a comedy, and that's so fun,” said Pratt.

He added of the original film's helmers, Chris Miller and Phil Lord: "I think they're exceptional voices, and [they] took something that's extremely limiting, which is stop-motion-style animation, and showed just what you can do within the realms of those limitations."

Still, the boundless imagination and high-octane joke factor that fueled the first film’s runaway success both commercially and critically also made it that much harder for the filmmakers to conceive of a sequel that would live up to the kind of movie magic the original delivered. “You've got raised expectations coming in making a sequel, and with that comes a little bit more pressure,” said Pratt. “And it feels really good to not only meet those expectations, but to actually surpass them.”

“Everything was daunting about it,” admitted Miller, who along with Lord returned to executive produce and provide the story and screenplay for the sequel. “We had a little retreat a couple weeks after the first movie came out and said, ‘How are we going to be even more ambitious and even more scary?’ Because we made a movie about originality and creativity, and the last thing you want to do is just retread the same thing you did before.”

“We backed ourselves into a corner by creating a brand that's supposed to be inventive, which meant we had to invent some new way to tell a Lego story,” added Lord, noting that the duo settled on the notion of exploring the Lego play-world of Finn’s younger sister Bianca, a notion hinted at in the first film’s closing moments, and the clash of the sibling’s fantasy landscapes. “We thought that the idea of joining two imaginations was about a hard a thing as we could think of to try.”

“When we figured out how to make that structure actually be engaging, that's when we knew we had something,” said Miller.

“When Chris and Phil came to me, I thought they shouldn't make a sequel because I love the first one. I'm such a huge fan of the first one,” said director Mike Mitchell. “And then we started talking about the story, it was such a great idea that I was like, ‘I have to be a part of this!’ It just took the first movie and it expanded everything that I loved about the movie into this one, so the biggest challenge became the most fun.”

The introduction of entire new fantasy vistas also offered an opportunity to introduce different Lego toys lines featuring aesthetically different designs marketed more specifically toward young girls (Lego Friends) and toddlers (Duplo).

“Girls play with Lego Friends and a different kind of color palette, and we brought in not only Lego but also Lego Friends and Duplo, so you see lots of different styles you don't get in the first movie,” said producer Dan Lin. “And it becomes a big dance party. We have lots of songs, but we have two songs that I think are really catchy — one is called ‘The Catchy Song’ and one is called ‘Super Cool.’ It just brings a whole new element to the movie.”

After introducing Wyldstyle (aka Lucy) in the first film as an empowering and relatable touchstone for girls in the audience, Elizabeth Banks was thrilled to see an expansion of that theme in the sequel. “One of the very first conversations we had about this second film was about bringing in the Systar System energy of Finn's sister, and I've had so much fun watching them integrate women's progress,” said Banks. “It takes really confident guys to throw in WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes and Ruth Bader Ginsburg [as cameos], and then all of the new characters that are really meaningful in the movie are all girls. I think that's just great.”

Among the new characters are the scene-stealing Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi, shape-shifting monarch of the Systar System, voiced by Tiffany Haddish. “This is not the most let-loose version of Tiffany that you've seen on the screen just yet, but it's definitely me enjoying life to the fullest and having the most fun ever in a booth,” Haddish told THR. “I decided, ‘Oh, I'm gonna be myself, but I'm gonna use my body and use every essence of me to pour into this character, because I know you can hear what's going on.”

Returning fan favorite Unikitty, voiced by Alison Brie, more deeply explores the dichotomy of sweetness and light and boiling-over rage — now on greater display in her more ferocious form, Ultrakatty — that made her a standout. “I think people really responded to the aggressive side of her much more apparently. People have issues that they would like to exercise as well, so I get that becomes an admirable quality.”

Another angsty favorite is also center stage: Will Arnett’s Batman, who has also headlined his own Lego spinoff film. Arnett admitted he never envisioned that what initially sounded like a fun lark would snowball into such a full-blown phenomenon. “When the guys first talked to me about doing the movie, I obviously couldn't predict that it would turn into this and, more importantly for me, become such a big part of my life,” he explained. “Because we work on these so long, from the moment I started recording the first Lego movie, I don't know if a month has gone by where I haven't been recording for some Lego movie the last six years. It's so crazy!”

Of course, the Lego characters have earned a special resonance among kid audiences — even if they don’t always recognize the celebrities who provide the voices of their favorites.

“It's always fun to surprise kids,” said Arnett. “The other day I met this family and their two little twin boys were 5 years old. I kneeled down and I said, ‘Do you guys like movies?’ They were like, ‘Yeah.’ I go, ‘Do you like the Lego movies?’ They were like, ‘Yeah.’ And I said,” Arnett then drops into his growly, low-octave Dark Knight vocal, "'Do you like Batman?’ They were like, ‘What?’”

“[Sometimes] especially little kids have a hard time putting it together, but what I have done is leave voicemail messages for kids as Lucy,” said Banks. “And that goes over really well, especially on birthdays.”

“I can leave voicemails and audio messages for kids and it freaks them out — they love it,” Pratt laughed. “I can get like, ‘Good morning, Melissa!’ And they're like, ‘How did you get Emmet on the phone, Dad? I thought he was a cartoon?’ It blows kids away when they hear my voice.”

Other stars in the film are just thrilled to have the street cred among their own families, like Charlie Day, who plays the astronaut Benny. “My son and my nephews were so enthusiastic about Lego that I was relieved when they asked me to be in the second one, because I think I couldn't face it if I said, ‘Hey, bad news — I didn't make the cut,’” said Day, “I'm very happy to be here — I'm still cool among my kids.”

“Here's the thing about Lego, and I'm very sincere about this,” explained Mitchell. “It doesn't require batteries. You don't need to plug it in and you're really using your hands in a tangible way, and I think it is such a great way to get the kids out of the screens. There's too many iPhones, there's too many iPads, and to get kids' faces out of the screen and really building something and being creative with their hands is super important for everyone. Not just the kids, but for us adults, too.”

"I like that the movies are good for you,” said Lord. “With the first movie we wanted you to feel more creative when you came out of the theater than you felt on the way in. This movie we want you to feel more empathetic. It's a movie based on a toy — the bar is low. But we want to deliver something that's worth the audience's time, and we know we're making a movie for families and kids, so we want to leave them with good values and good ideas, and we hope that we did that.”