Jared Stern Interview: DC League Of Super-Pets

The world of superheroes is getting an adorable makeover with DC League of Super-Pets. The upcoming animated film centers on the titular group of super-powered animals as they work with Krypto, Superman's pet Labrador, to save the Justice League from Lulu and Lex Luthor.

Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart lead the ensemble cast of DC League of Super-Pets alongside Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonee, Diego Luna, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz and Keanu Reeves.

Related: All 19 DC Movies Releasing After The Batman

In anticipation of the film's release, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with co-writer and director Jared Stern to discuss DC League of Super-Pets, his experience working in animal shelters, building his ensemble cast and more.

Jared Stern
Photo credit: Kevin Scanlon

Screen Rant: I'm very excited for League of Super-Pets. It's such a deep cut of DC Comics to explore. You've of course worked with The Lego Batman Movie, and you pulled some deep cuts there, but how did the idea to explore the Legion of Super-Pets come about?

Jared Stern: It's a good question, I was volunteering at a pet shelter for one day, I'm not that good of a person, my wife volunteers there all the time and I came along one time. While I was there, there was a front room of the shelter that had some adorable kittens, and it's a miracle anytime any pet is adopted, but I had a feeling those kittens had a good shot. Then there was this back room in the shelter with some older pets or pets with disabilities and it just felt like they were less likely to get adopted and may be there forever, like that's kind of where they lived. They were taken care of by the employees of the shelter, which is really sweet, but also kind of sad.

I don't know why, maybe it's because of all of the superhero-ness in the air, growing up loving comic books and watching comic book movies, like the original Richard Donner Superman and the Tim Burton Batman. But anyway, I just thought, "What if they had superpowers and they could get out of here?" So that was the initial origin story of the movie and then, at the same time as you noted, I was working on Lego Batman, so I was at Warner Bros. with all the DC properties, and I knew about, but not a ton about, Krypto the Superdog and the other Super-Pets, so those two things got smushed together and that became our movie.

What was it then like, trying to find a way to build this world for audiences? Because, as you well know, the superhero genre right now is saturated with so many different universes.

Jared Stern: Yeah, it was fun and it was difficult, especially thinking about introducing younger audiences to superhero stuff that a lot of us take for granted. Some of us might just go, "Oh, we have Superman, an alien from another planet, everyone knows that and he gets his powers from our yellow Sun," but a little kid might not know that. So it was a challenge, but a fun challenge to try to introduce a lot of stuff that people know to a completely new audience as if they were an alien who just landed on this planet, which little kids are, yet also make it satisfying and great for people who were very familiar with it.

So that was a fun challenge, but I think we pulled it off, and we tried to create a universe that was unique to our film, that had a lot of characters that you're familiar with, like Justice League and Lex Luthor, but in a new way. So you're seeing Superman, which a lot of people might know, but you've never seen Superman as a pet owner, to this degree certainly, so we're just really leaning into that and what he's like dealing with his dog and how his life gets affected by that.

What would you say was the biggest challenge for you finding a way to balance both the human character development along with the animal character development?

Jared Stern: Yeah, that was tough. It's one of the nice things about animated movies, they take four years which can be tedious, but it can also be amazing, because you get to refine and play [around]. We had so many characters and I think we were able to over time find the right balance. Ultimately, the movie is about Krypto and he's dealing with what it is to be a friend, what it is to be a dog, what is to be a hero. So a lot of other stuff had to feed into that, so we could tell a great story about the Justice League and they're in our movie and they're wonderful, but it's just the right amount, it's perfect for how it leads into our pet characters.

Since you mentioned the production timeline casting can always come at any random point in that cycle. The biggest name for most people in this film is Dwayne Johnson, when exactly did he come aboard the project and how would you say he influenced it when he did come aboard?

Jared Stern: I'd have to check to get you the exact time, but I want to say somewhere right around the halfway point. The nice thing is you iterate, we have scripts and then we storyboard and we can see the whole movie up on reels. We definitely saw it a few times before Dwayne came on, so you're trying to create the character of Krypto and we kind of knew what we were going for. But once you get an amazing actor who brings their own thing to it, it's always going to change, you're always going to write to their strengths and the character will morph a little bit. So it didn't change a ton. He and his whole team came on as producers in the movie, they really know what they do well, and so they were great and helpful in writing and then in him performing. So it just plussed it, really.

We went for Dwayne, because we knew that he was going to be a great fit for what we already had, and then it just got better and more interesting as we went. I think Krypto is a tricky character, because he's cocky, he's this guy that's very confident because he's got all these superpowers and he's got the super-est owner in the world, he's Superman's best friend, so he kind of flies above the other pets when we first meet him. But there's a vulnerability, too, and a little bit of fear and sadness to him, because he doesn't want to lose his best friend. That's his only friend, he doesn't have any other friends. So Dwayne was the perfect combo of that, you could hear in his voice when we were listening to samples, and then obviously, he crushed it once he got it in there.

Was he the first cast member that you brought on board for this film, or was somebody else in there before him?

Jared Stern: Pretty sure he was first, yeah, we started with Krypto and then went from there. Then you go, "Okay, well, who's a good pairing with him?" Obviously, Kevin Hart and Dwayne are great together, but we didn't just want that because we knew they were funny, Kevin had to be right for our version of Ace the Bat-Hound. So we'd listen to them together for that. I think people will be a little bit surprised, I think Kevin is still Kevin and super funny and those two guys are great together, but I think he brings this sort of world weary soulfulness to Ace, this guy that's been in the shelter for his whole life. He did really, I think, beautiful work, so I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Batman DC League of Super-Pets Keanu Reeves

This is also going to be one of Keanu Reeves' few comic book movies as Batman. How did that casting come about?

Jared Stern: So when we did the voices ourselves, the temp voices, I did Batman and if you're gonna get replaced by somebody, you want it to be Keanu Reeves. Having worked, as you mentioned, on Lego Batman, that was a huge challenge for this film for me was how do you do a funny animated Batman when you've already done a funny animated Batman? But I think we just wanted to do something different and specific. The Lego Batman is the guy that is, when you're Emmett, the worst possible dude to be dating the girl that you have a crush on. He hangs out with the Star Wars guys, he's so confident and this kind of smarmy guy. So our Batman, we decided to lean in a bit more into his weirdness.

I would say our Batman is haunted by the past, he's seen some stuff in his life and I think we hopefully captured that in his really fun character design. Then Keanu Reeves' voice was just such a perfect match for that, I think he would have been a great live-action Batman, but he's wonderful as our animated haunted Batman and, most importantly, for our movie. I think he's a guy who could really use a pet. And he really had fun with it. I'm nervous to direct wonderful, amazing actors who I've loved my whole life and I think he was he was so excited to be Batman. When you work in an animated movie, it kind of makes you a kid again, and to be Batman, it was pretty fun.

I've already noticed from the League of Super-Pets trailers there are quite a few Easter eggs hidden throughout the world, like the Gingold Soda hinting at Elastic Man. Do you have a lot of other Easter eggs and callouts hidden throughout the whole film?

Jared Stern: Yes, there's a bunch. I won't spoil them, but they're there. There's stuff that part's of the story and then there's just little things just on a shelf in Superman's apartment, for example. It'll be fun for people to go back and pause and watch and DC were wonderful partners throughout. When we first started working on it, I was like, "Well, I'll put the Super-Pets in it" when I had to pitch it to them and I was like, "And I'd like to maybe use Superman too." Then they were like, "Sure. Have you considered using Lex Luthor?" That was very early on and I was like, "No, I hadn't, but that could be great."

They have really good ideas, it was a great collaboration throughout. I was worried that I was asking for too much, but instead they were like, "What about this? And what about that? And did you know this thing from this comic book?" that I wasn't aware of. I think we ended up just growing and growing the amount of stuff because of them, and then from our artists as they work, they were always just sneaking things in and having fun with it at every step.

While working with DC and continually growing this world, do you have ideas in mind for a potential sequel or spinoff?

Jared Stern: We never want to jinx it, but it's kind of hard not to, especially when you work on something for four years. And like I said, sometimes there was too much, so there's things that when we took it out, I was like, "But that will be good for a sequel if we ever were so lucky to have one." So yeah, there definitely is stuff and there's a ton of amazing, fun animal characters in the DC canon and we couldn't fit all of them into this movie. There's definitely a few that I know people love that are not in this one that I would love to have an appearance, again, if we're blessed to have another one.

Batman in The Lego Batman Movie

That would be exciting to see. Unfortunately, we did see the rights from LEGO move away from Warner Brothers and therefore derail the Lego Batman sequel. Was your feelings on that rights change, since you had such a big role in the Lego franchise for a while?

Jared Stern: My feelings on it moving to Universal from Warners? Yeah, I don't know. I loved working on those films, so many talented people worked on them, Lord and Miller and Chris McKay and I was really lucky to work on it with them. I remember there was one review that compared Lego Batman to Airplane!, which was one of my favorite movies, still is one of my favorite movies. Just that rapid-fire joke thing that those guys were able to pull of, I was honestly just a small part, it was amazing. They were really just great films, too, so to see them leave, it was sad, because obviously there was a lot more fun that could have happened there. But also, I think it's exciting to try something different. [WB] did a bunch of those, so I'm curious to see what with the new team does with it at Universal.

With what's going on still in the world right now, we've seen the release date for League of Super-Pets shift around a little bit. What has it been like for you seeing it move around the calendar?

Jared Stern: To be honest with you, the first time it moved was really just to give us a better release date. It wasn't because we needed more time or the movie needed more work. It was because its original release date was like two minutes before Space Jam 2, so Warner Bros. would have been all smushed together. Someone smart over there was like, "Hey, why are you smashing these together? This could, hopefully, be a big thing, so let's give it its own space." So they moved it a year for that and then I think when stuff got delayed due to COVID, there's a big effects backup, I believe Dwayne's other superhero movie moved off of the July date.

I think everybody was excited because in July, as we just saw this weekend [with Minions 2], is a fun time for kids to go to the movies. They're out of school all around the world, so I'm excited about this release date. I think it's for those reasons, and it gave us a little bit more time to keep making the movie better, so we were thrilled to have a little more time to make it better and more fun and and I hope this is a great time. Luckily, we're not completely past [the pandemic], but people are back into the theaters and I think families are back in theaters, as we saw with Minions this past weekend, so knock on wood, I'm hopeful that people this summer who want to just have a good time, not just families, people without kids, teenagers, it's just a big fun superhero movie.

That was our goal, to make a movie for everybody, not just for little kids, so I think if people want to go see another big fun comedy, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, that's also a real superhero movie with good action scenes and an emotional movie, because we care about our pets and our pets care about us, fingers crossed that July 29 is a great time for that.

DC League of Super-Pets Synopsis


In “DC League of Super-Pets,” 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.