Last month I got to attend the world premiere of the new LEGO direct-to-video film, “LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite”. It’s a CG animated feature from TT Animation; an offshoot of Traveller’s Tales, creators of the LEGO video games.
The “LEGO Batman” screening was held at The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, and featured a panel of guests including voice actors Troy Baker (Batman), Travis Willingham (Superman), and Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), as well as director/producer Jon Burton and director of photography Jeremy Pardon.
Yes, you still need a DP on a production with no real cameras.
When this film was first announced, I heard many LEGO fans cry foul; wondering, “are they just going to edit the cut-scenes from the LEGO Batman 2 video game together and call it a ‘film’?” You can all rest easy; “LEGO Batman” is more than that. The TT Animation team has put together a solid film that ranks up there with TLG’s previous home video releases, even surpassing them in some cases (I’m looking at you, Clutch Powers).
Which is not to say it’s a perfect film. “LEGO Batman” is TT Animation’s first venture into film-making, and there are some artifacts from that crossover. You might think I’m referring to the visuals — the entire film was made using TT’s game engine, making it essentially a feature-length machinima piece. But “LEGO Batman” was rendered as a film and not as a real-time video game, so there are noticeable improvements in lighting, staging, animation, and picture quality. The director also called out a few set pieces that had been upgraded to CG LEGO brick-built status, having been simpler CG backgrounds in the game.
(One detail I found particularly amusing was that the production team added dust and scratches to the character textures, to make them seem more like real LEGO minifigs. While we’re constantly working at Paganomation to remove imperfections from real minifigs, the CG artists on this film spent time putting them in.)
In fact, it was actually the pacing of the film that felt the most like a video game. The story is entertaining and well-told, but it’s laid out in a strange, level-based way: action scene, story scene, action scene, story scene. This would work well in a video game, but it was a bit distracting at times to feel like I had to “complete” the action scenes in order to continue following the story. When the creators brought up the fact that they started working on this film before the LEGO Batman 2 video game, I was not terribly surprised.
Another thing that stuck out as a video game holdover was an unusual amount of violence in the film. Of course, it’s “LEGO Batman”, so it’s all very cartoony violence between super-powered heroes and villains, but it still struck me as odd. Nothing you’d need to shield your kids from, but kind of unnecessary at the same time.
All of this said, I really did enjoy “LEGO Batman”. It has a solid, funny, attention-keeping story, and some great voice acting. I think the voice actors were my favorite part of the film; probably helped in part by the Q&A panel after the film (which also confirmed my belief that Clancy Brown is awesome).
The film had a nice balance between familiar voices, like Clancy Brown and Rob Paulsen, and folks I’d never heard of, like Troy Baker and Travis Willingham (although they both have super-long IMDb credits lists, so what do I know).
Stealing the show in the voice department, though, was Charlie Schlatter as Robin. The Robin subplot got a bit uncomfortable at times; he’s not treated very well by some of the characters. But his performance was really funny, and his story has a satisfying arc that has him holding his own with the other heroes by the end of the film.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend checking out “LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite”. It’s one of the better entries in the LEGO home video pantheon — probably helped by the decades of development all of these DC characters have had. The Blu-ray/DVD drops May 21st, and you get a nifty Clark Kent minifigure with your purchase, so it’s win-win.