A crazy idea from a Hollywood directing duo turned out to be a goldmine, with The Lego Movie winning audiences around the globe
Phil Lord and Chris Miller are cautiously sipping coffee in a pirate-themed room in the Legoland Hotel, adjacent to the Legoland theme park about 90 minutes drive south of Los Angeles.
The room is a child’s fantasy filled with skull and crossbones on a sail above the bed, a treasure chest in a corner and Lego creations adorning the walls, but the coffee isn’t good.
“We think about Australia a lot when we drink this American coffee,” Miami-born Lord, 36, says, wincing as he puts his mug down on a side table.
“I'm crazy for the coffee in Australia,” he says.
Lord and Miller, one of Hollywood's most successful directing duos, spent plenty of time in Sydney making their latest hit, The Lego Movie. The 3-D animated film was made at the Animal Logic studios in Sydney.
Lord and Miller flew in from their base in Los Angeles, spent weeks in the harbour city, before jetting back to the US to work on other projects, including the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum comedy sequel, 22 Jump Street.
The Lego Movie cost $US60 million ($A66.52 million) to make and had a bumper $US69 million opening weekend in the US.
Worldwide it has already accumulated $US379 million in box office. A sequel was quickly green lit for a 2017 release.
The film centres on the obedient, ordinary Lego construction worker character Emmet, voiced by Parks and Recreation TV sitcom star Chris Pratt, who is mistakenly identified as an extraordinary mini-figure known as The Special designated by a mystic to save the Lego world from a tyrant.
The film, thanks to Lego’s licensing arrangements with some of Hollywood’s most successful franchises, allowed the filmmakers to include a who’s who of mini-figures, with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings characters rubbing plastic shoulders with superheroes Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) and Green Lantern (Jonah Hill). The 107 minifigures used in the film include some new ones, headed by the tough Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman).
Lord and Miller, who codirected the hit 2009 animated family film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, were working on the script for 2012’s 21 Jump Street when they sent off a “halfbaked” email to producers Roy Lee and Dan Lin, who acquired the rights from Lego to develop a movie.
Lord and Miller were inspired by the imperfect, rough-looking YouTube videos children make with Lego blocks and mini-figures.
“The email said, ‘You probably won’t want to do it this way because the guys can’t bend their elbows and it’s going to be like a crazy eight-year-old took over the movie studio. It’s going to be too nuts’,” Miller says.
“They went down a couple of different roads with the Lego people and then, as a kind of last-ditched effort, said, ‘What about this thing?’, and they forwarded the email which we sent them.
“They said, ‘Guys, Lego liked your email. Can you write a treatment based on that?’.”
The basic, handmade brick and character concept they came up with was ironically the most complex way to make the film, which has computer animation and stop-motion.
“Computers do clean, shiny, perfect and smooth animation very easily,” Miller says.
“A lot of research went into putting scratches on them, the irregularity of how the bricks are put together and the imperfection you get when making a film by hand,” he says.
The Lego Movie opens today.
Lego characters Emmet, Vitruvius and Wyldstyle