'Lego Movie'

The character Good Cop/Bad Cop, voiced by Liam Neeson, appears in a scene from "The Lego Movie."

Filmgoers who’ve seen “The Lego Movie” since it came out last weekend have no doubt been tickled by the movie’s pop-culture shout-outs. Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shaquille O’Neal and Gandalf are among those getting loving (and not-so-loving) homages in the new animated movie.

In fact, there are so many outside references in the Warner Bros. film that one can’t imagine that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller wanted any other charcaters. But they did, and it’s a doozy.

“We went after ‘Prince of Persia’ pretty hard,” Lord, alluding to the 2010 wizards-and-magic swords video game adaptation that flopped at the box office, said in an interview shortly before their film came out. “Warner Bros. went after it, the Lego folks went after it.” 

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The pair thought including a character of such flop-itude--it presumably would have been the hero played by Jake Gyllenhaal--would offer a wry undertone and complement nicely the superheroes and other icons elsewhere in the film.

But Disney, which owns the property, wouldn’t agree to a licensing deal, the filmmakers said. It wasn’t clear why -- wouldn’t a little moment in the sun for a forgotten character be welcome? -- but Miller speculated that some failure-is-an-orphan-logic played a role.

“I think nobody wanted to be reminded that it ever existed,” he said of the film, which was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. (Interestingly, there was already a Lego set for “Prince of Persia,” released in 2010, just before the movie came out.) 

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While the filmmakers might be thought hesitant to include too many branded characters in a movie of such playful subversiveness, Lord and Miller said they actually thought the brand barrage would go down easier if they went as broad as possible.

“Our dream was to get everything,” Miller said. “The more [intellectual property] you could collect, the more stuff that didn’t go together, the more it would all seem OK. Especially if they’re not Warner Bros. characters.”

He acknowledged that he and other filmmakers may have overestimated some brands’ willingness to particulate. “We were probably more optimistic than we should have been about how many studios and corporate partners were going to be willing to share their [intellectual property],” Miller said.

He added in the pre-release interview: “Our dream is the movie is so successful that anyone who didn’t want characters in will want them in after it comes out.” Looks like he got his wish.

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Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT