The first LEGO Movie ends on a world-shattering revelation: That this whole movie has taken place inside a kid's imagination and that the villain, Lord Business, voiced by Will Ferrell, was actually just a stand-in for the boy's stick-in-the-mud dad, also played by Will Ferrell. For just a moment, audiences got a look at Emmett (Chris Pratt), Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), and friends in all their frozen LEGO glory — they were but tiny mini figures in a massive display of static LEGO.
Emmett gets one valiant, hard-earned flop in the real world but, otherwise, the LEGO action is confined to the boy's imagination.
**SPOILER WARNING: This story contains spoilers for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.**
That changes in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, in which entire scenes are dedicated to the LEGO figures shuffling through the real world, getting trapped under washing machines, and, most importantly, leaving behind their own brick-exclusive space for broader horizons. The result is a LEGO Movie that goes way beyond LEGOs.
"One of my favorite things about the first movie was all the lands that Will Ferrell had built in the basement," The LEGO Movie 2 director Mike Mitchell told SYFY WIRE. "And in this movie, Emmett blasts off into space and then there's a whole universe. There's got to be planets... and each one of them has a whole population of different characters that live on each planet and each one looks different."
Trisha Gum, LEGO Movie 2 Animation Director (and the voice talent behind the film's Velma cameo), was responsible for designing this new universe and worked with Mitchell to figure out how to translate LEGO movement to the real world. The answer was simpler than they anticipated: puppets.
Mitchell says that on set they already had puppet stand-ins on rods "just for the editor to know what the hell's going on" before adding animation.
"And we just thought, that makes sense for this world of like Emmett going into the live-action world and moving around there," Gum says. "We wanted it to have a different look and feel. And so when we saw... what we call the puppet pack, we said why don't we just remove those rods and really just use that look and feel of it actually being puppeteered right there on the live action set?"
OK, so it wasn't that simple — moving the figures in different realities required a lot of approaches.
"When those characters are in the actual physical LEGO realm, they can move more freely and their facial expressions are more dynamic," Gum explains. "And then when they were moving around in the live action world, we wanted it to feel like a kid was puppeting those characters, like the play was continuing and the imagination was continuing so you could really feel like those characters are coming to life in the live action world."
Because of this, the characters' movements and facial expressions are limited in the real world despite being what Gum describes as "still alive within the imagination world."
"And I know it's like saying you're a mime or a magician, but yeah, I'm a puppeteer!" Mitchell says, laughing. "And I'm really into it!"
LEGO Movie 2 writers (and the first film's directors) Phil Lord and Chris Miller emphasize just how much went into bringing all these new worlds and styles together.
"Half of it's in camera and the other half is like 'well, now that we've committed to this weird rod puppetry, now we have to do CG animation to imitate in that style,'" Miller said, laughing.
"It's a lot of mixed techniques in this movie," Lord added. "There was stop-motion, there was CG, there's puppetry, there's hand-drawn and cel animation. There's fabrics and mixed media in the movie. We really tried to make it feel crafty and homemade."
Including so many new elements was important, Gum says, because they wanted to differentiate the brother's style in the first film from the darker, grittier tone he's taken on in the second one, as well as from his little sister's hodgepodge play.
"This little sister is not a stickler for the rules," Gum says. "It's like you could have a whole planet where it's just talking food and that's okay. And they sing and dance and they have fun. And then, y'know, there's a whole planet of just horses."
"And why not have a scene where three Wonder Women show up at the same time?" Mitchell says. "There's no rules!"
The sister's no-rules mantra — culminating in a universe made out of crayons, paper, glitter, fabric, and an abundance of mix-and-match toys from different LEGO-branded lines — is very much in conjunction with the LEGO Movie world itself. As characters from various franchises come together for the ultimate crossover, the rules for what's possible are thrown out the window of Emmett's LEGO house.
Gum sums it up best: "We just wanted it to feel like her imagination was endless."