Interviews Movies

Jared Stern & the Beauty, Hilarity and Warmth of DC League of Super-Pets

From director Jared Stern, DC League of Super-Pets is an all-new adaptation of superheroes of another kind. Krypto the Super-Dog and Superman are inseparable best friends, sharing the same superpowers and fighting crime in Metropolis side by side. When Superman and the rest of the Justice League are kidnapped, Krypto must convince a rag-tag shelter pack—Ace the hound, PB the potbellied pig, Merton the turtle and Chip the squirrel—to master their own newfound powers and help him rescue the Superheroes.

Stern, a veteran writer/consultant on the LEGO movies, makes his animated feature film directorial debut, directing from a screenplay he wrote with frequent collaborator John Whittington, based on characters from DC, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

In celebration of the release of DC League of Super-Pets, The Koalition spoke with director Jared Stern to learn about the inspiration behind the movie, how LEGO Batman played a role, that after-credit scene (no spoilers), voice casting, possible villains for a sequel, favorite characters and more.

“There have been so many superhero things, many of them awesome and we’re huge fans, so with this one we just tried to [ask ‘what] would it be like for a pet to be a superhero?’ Pets do care. Some just want to be wild; some want to have an owner, some want to feel loved, some are anxious. What happens if they lose their owner? So, we just tried to get into the minds of pets, what some of their concerns would be and what would happen if they got superpowers. Would they use them to help people? [Would they] be over people?”

Jared, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Whittington, reveals the idea for the story came to him at precisely the place one might hope. “This was kind of inspired by a trip to the pet shelter where my wife volunteers. I only went one time and there were some adorable kittens in the front room, likely to get adopted. You hope any adoption is great, but there were some older pets in the back room who felt like they lived in the shelter [and] were unlikely to get adopted. I felt bad for them, and I don’t know why, but I thought, ‘what if they got superpowers?’ I was working on LEGO Batman, so I knew about the DC Super Pets and thought maybe there’s somebody to marry these two ideas and that’s our origin story.”

The ensemble the filmmakers assembled to voice the four-legged reluctant heroes and delightfully villainous baddies featured in the film include Vanessa Bayer as potbellied pig PB, Diego Luna as scaredy squirrel Chip, Natasha Lyonne as vision-impaired turtle Merton, Kate McKinnon as evil genius guinea pig Lulu, with Lulu’s main mutant guinea pig recruits, Keith and Mark, voiced by Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz

“We always try to close our eyes and just listen because you’re not going to see that actor on screen and in animation. [When we have] the character designs, we put them up and we’ll take little samples of the actor. Our production team does a great job. They grab bits of that performer acting and talking on a talk show just to see what they’re like as themselves. We just listen.”

“For Krypto, that was an easy one because when I pitched the movie I said, ‘Superman’s dog, think Dwayne Johnson’ because he just sounds like Superman’s dog. He sounds like a hero, but he’s perfect because he’s a little bit cocky and Krypto flies above all the other pets in Metropolis and there’s a little bit of vulnerability to him too. There’s a little sadness and sweetness and Dwayne captures that so well.”

“For Ace the Bat-Hound, we wanted an older guy, a little grizzled, older dog. He’s been in the shelter his whole life and he kind of rolls his eyes at everybody. He’s surrounded by a bunch of idiots, but he loves them, and Kevin’s done some amazing voiceover before. He really did some great work in this film. I think he’s a really good voice actor, not just funny. You get the funny Kevin Hart but he’s playing in this warmer, deeper space, and you really care about him. He feels kind of damaged. You know, he’s been around and is worthy of becoming Batman’s dog.”

“For Merton, I originally thought this was probably an old guy, an old Jewish man, maybe an Alan Arkin. Then my wife and I were watching Russian Doll and her voice is so good. [My wife says] ‘why don’t you put her in something?’ but there’s really no part. So, Merton became a female turtle and it got even better and funnier and Natasha is just so amazing in the film.”

“Then we’ve got Vanessa Bayer as PB the pig, who is the heart of the group, so she has this real sweetness and warmth and giddiness. She’s a fan girl, she loves Wonder Woman but there’s also something a little bit unhinged about her. [She’s] just a little bit too off and Vanessa nails that. She’s always got that extra little bit of weirdness in addition to real sweetness.”

“Diego Luna plays Chip. We wanted him to be a guy who’s afraid of his own tail and Diego often plays kind of more roguish guy, so it was fun for him to do something like this, but we listened to his voice. He can be this scaredy cat and he’s really funny. He did great.”

“Finally, we got Lulu [played by] Kate McKinnon who we wanted to be this very haughty, full of herself [gerbil who] sees herself as a star. I love when Kate did SNL. She would do these old-timey movie star characters and that just seemed right. So, when we met with her, she found this particular voice for Lulu based on an Olivia Mary de Havilland character that just made us laugh every single time. We would just smile.”

For the film’s two-legged heroes, John Krasinski voices Krypto’s bestie and Metropolis’s own Clark Kent, aka Superman, and Olivia Wilde is the voice of his sweetheart, Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane. The Justice League members seen and heard in the film are Batman, voiced by Keanu Reeves; Wonder Woman, by Jameela Jamil; Aquaman, by Jemaine Clement; The Flash, by John Early; Green Lantern, by Dascha Polanco; and Cyborg, by Daveed Diggs.

The film also boasts a host of cameo voices by such well-known names as Alfred Molina, Lena Heady, Keith David, Busy Phillips and Dan Fogler. Stern himself provides a couple of voices as well, including a man who has more than one hilarious run-in with PB as she is working out her newly discovered abilities.”

Making DC League of Super-Pets a truly collaborative experience, the seasoned comedians were encouraged to bring not only their own take on the character to the recording sessions, but also their ideas for dialogue.

“We love improv. We always get it as it is scripted just in case but [we] always encourage it. There’s nothing better than working with an actor and you feel like you’ve nailed it and you go, ‘Alright cool, it’s time to move on to the next line,’ but they go, ‘Wait hold on one sec, I think I got another idea’ and they go back and have fun with it. Certain performers like Natasha would do a line and then go off into a 10-minute soliloquy. I know there’s no way we can use those 10 minutes, but there’s going to be the world’s greatest 15 seconds there. It’s going to be in the movie, and it often was.” 

To learn more about DC League of Super-Pets check out our full interview in the video above which includes an after-credits breakdown, balance humor with the movie’s emotional notes, and more.

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