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Lego Brings the Silly to Superheroes

18 Feb, 2015 By: John Latchem

(L-R): Voice actors Khary Payton, Troy Baker, Diedrich Bader, Kari Wahlgren, Nolan North and screenwriter Michael Jelenic.

For writer Michael Jelenic, building the latest animated Lego DC Comics adventure around Bizarro was a natural fit.

“We wanted to do a pretty big story that’s sort of a little more serious than some other Lego movies, but to counteract that we wanted to make sure it was sillier and more fun,” Jelenic said.

Bizarro, of course, is the twisted mirror version of Superman who interprets everything backwards and doesn’t understand why his attempts to help always go wrong.

In Lego DC Comics Superheroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League — available now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment — Bizarro steals the duplication ray that created him, then turns it against the other members of the Justice League to create Bizarro versions of them as well. The Justice League follows this new Bizarro League to a strange planet where nothing works as it should, setting up an explosive final battle when the villainous Darkseid shows up.

The cast and crew were in attendance for the film's premiere Feb. 7 at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Jelenic, who has written for numerous superhero cartoon series, such as “Teen Titans Go!” and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” said the intrinsic nature of the movie’s humor also offered an opportunity for a throwback to other superhero shows that might not have taken the genre as seriously, either.

“Whenever you put certain characters into that Lego format it ages things down in a fun way,” Jelenic said. “Like, Batman’s in this, but it’s not the Batman you read in the comics. He’s a Lego Batman, and it definitely brings you closer to that ‘Super Friends’ feel than maybe the comics or that older animated series will give you.”

Troy Baker, who voiced Batman, agreed.

“The best thing about Lego Batman is we have the ability to pull from all the universes of Batman, so we’ve got nods to even the ’66 ‘Batman,’ we’ve got nods to Nolan’s Batman, Tim Burton, and we had the opportunity to really create what Lego Batman would sound like,” Baker said.

An added benefit, Jelenic said, was seeing the voice actors perform their characters’ Bizarro counterparts.

“It’s fun to see actors play off themselves, to do two performances, one a character we know and then a broad version of the character,” Jelenic said. “So a lot of it was what would a backwards version of Batman or Wonder Woman be like, and what’s the comedy we could get out of that?”

The cast members didn’t mind the challenge, taking their cues from Nolan North, who voiced both Superman and Bizarro.

“The thing about Superman is that he’s just so excited, and so optimistic,” North said. “He’s goody-goody to the point of throwing up. So you get to kind of do that ‘animated’ version of what he is, what he embodies, and play it up a little bit.”

“But the real fun was also getting to do Bizarro, getting to play the other side of that coin, who’s technically not really a villain, but he’s misguided because of where he’s from,” North said. “He and Superman share a similar heart.”

Kari Wahlgren, who voiced Wonder Woman, said the humorous nature of the piece gave the cast a lot of leeway.

“I’m a huge Wonder Woman fan, and it took a little more pressure off me to know that we can put a little bit more comedy into it. You can make her a strong female character but also funny and relatable,” she said. “But Bizarra has my heart in this movie. As much as I love Wonder Woman, Bizarra was so much more fun to play, so I love her.”

Khary Payton, who voices Cyborg, said he was unfazed by the zaniness.

“Just expect the unexpected,” said Payton, who has voiced Cyborg in several previous animated series. “Expect weirdness, and just roll with it.”

North said it was easy to translate the humor from the script to his performance.

“When material like this is written so well, there’s very little you have to do,” North said. “Sometimes you just have to say it, and the visuals make it very silly too, very fun. When somebody gets hurt, they don’t really get damaged; their arm could fall off but they just pop it back on, and I think that’s what’s so great for kids in this.”

The fact that the movie is based on Legos really sets the tone, North said.

“This is a level of violence that pushes the limits of silly,” North said. “Someone can get blown up, and if that’s on film and it’s a real person, that’s an ‘R’ rating, but here they put themselves back together, because it’s just Lego. Nobody dies in Legos. And I think that’s an important part.”

The cast agreed that the combination of Lego and superheroes helps make this a movie for all ages.

“I have two boys, they grew up with Legos,” North said. “I grew up with Legos. And that’s the great thing about this movie. It’s ageless. This is the kind of movie that parents can sit down with their kids and watch and enjoy because the humor spans generations, just like Legos do. Any parent who can’t resist getting down on the floor with his kid to play Legos is not even human.”

Diedrich Bader, who has appeared in Office Space and “The Drew Carey Show,” said he enjoys acting in animated projects as well.

“The thing that people don’t know about the voiceover world is how nice everybody is, it’s very different from the on-camera world,” Bader said. “In the on-camera world, people are very competitive and harder edged, and some people are there when they’re not really that talented. But in the voiceover world you have to be talented. You just have to be. It’s not about casting a big star because it’s all about your voice and what you can do, and if you can do three characters that sound totally different so they don’t have to hire three different actors. And because it’s talent based it’s just more pleasant.”

Bader voices Green Lantern Guy Gardner in the movie, and has voiced the character before. But he also played Batman on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” and said letting go of such an iconic character for a different project can be tricky.

“Once you play Batman, everything else is pretty much downhill,” Bader joked. “It’s great to play Batman, it’s difficult to not play Batman after you played Batman, and then you hear another guy play Batman. I thought Troy did a really good job, actually. Troy’s got a wonderful voice, and a great sense of humor.”

The movie also has fun with the dynamics of the team members, such as the traditional rivalry between Batman and Superman.

“What I think is so great about this show is the way Batman and Superman actually interact because one seems to be the cynic and one seems to be the optimist.” North said. “They’ve taken a real-life Batman you can plug into a feature film with real actors, and put him in an animated show. And I love that juxtaposition of him playing it so serious and so straight and paranoid and everybody else is running around in Lego world. It’s like everybody else is in a comedy and he’s in a drama, and I love that.”

But for all the silliness, Baker said the film does offer a worthwhile message.

“There’s some real moments of heart here,” Baker said. “Bizarro trying to find his place and his purpose I think speaks to all of us, that sometimes we don’t fit in and we just kind of need something to do. I like that it shows, especially between Bizarro and Superman, that the thing you don’t like about yourself actually ends up being something that can really serve you well.”

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