'Neighbors 2' Director Nicholas Stoller on Finding Inspiration in 'Toy Story 2'


Seth Rogen on the run in ‘Neighbors 2′

“Good comedy sequels are rare — there just aren’t that many of them.” So confessed director Nicholas Stoller earlier this week from the Hollywood edit bay of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, the upcoming sequel to the hilarious 2014 hit comedy.

Stoller, 40 — who helmed a spin-off (the Forgetting Sarah Marshall follow-up Get Him to the Greek) and co-written a sequel (Muppets Most Wanted) — knows the odds are stacked against him for his second go-around with the developmentally arrested couple Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) and a house full of rowdy college kids — this time a wild-child sorority.

“As Seth and I said, ‘We just didn’t want it to suck.’” Stoller said. “Because I think a lot of people are like, 'I’m just going to take the movie and let it suck.’”

In preparation, Stoller, who co-wrote the script with Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Andrew Jay Cohen, and Brendan O’Brien, looked at those rare comedy sequels that have succeeded. There’s the most obvious candidate, 2014’s 22 Jump Street, but “it’s a totally different kind of movie,” he said. “It’s a parody of the genre, it’s a buddy-cop movie. It has very little in common with Neighbors, weirdly, even though it’s the same genre: R-rated comedy.”

Ultimately, Stoller settled on following the blueprint of an unlikely source of inspiration: Pixar’s heartwarming 1999 sequel Toy Story 2. “I looked at the Toy Story movies as inspiration,” he said. “If the first Neighbors is a dumb, gross, R-rated Toy Story, this is like a dumb, gross, R-rated Toy Story 2.”

Watch the new Neighbors red-band trailer:

Though the closest thing we see to animated toys in the raunchy new Neighbors 2 red-band trailer is the couple’s young daughter Stella finding creative ways to play with her mother’s sex toy, Stoller nonetheless spent hours deconstructing the influential Pixar films to see what made them tick. “Each of the Toy Storys are telling an emotional story, but they’re comedic. They’re so successful creatively in terms of the stories they’re telling. And they’re pretty grounded,” he said.

Related: ‘Neighbors’ Director Nicholas Stoller on How Raunchy Is Too Raunchy — and the ‘Revolting’ Scene He Had to Cut

The Harvard-educated Stoller said he spent so much time laboring over the dilemma of crafting a worthy successor that he could give a TED talk on why comedy sequels are hard to make. Among the keys: It can’t be the same premise. Instead, it has to evolve from the original premise in a natural way (Stoller cited Meet the Fockers, where the audience meets the second set of parents, as a successful example of this.) So here you get a sorority replacing a fraternity: It’s organic (obvious, even), and it brings a new dynamic.

Timeliness is also key — especially since we’ve so recently watched long-in-the-works sequels to comedy favorites like Zoolander 2 (which Stoller co-wrote), Anchorman 2, and Dumb and Dumber To fall far short of fan expectations. Stoller admitted that he was relieved when another project he was working on in 2014, the Seth Rogen-Kevin Hart cop comedy Black and White, was put on the backburner so he could move immediately on to Neighbors 2. “I was like, 'If we’re going to do a Neighbors sequel, we better do it quickly,’” he said.

Related: 'Zoolander 2’ And the Curse of the Comedy Sequel

“And the other thing that’s really hard with comedy sequels is people want some of the same stuff, but they don’t want the same movie again,” he said. Neighbors 2 stays true to the theme of the original Neighbors, which is about the fear of life’s next stage. In Neighbors, Mac and Kelly feared becoming responsible adults, while frat leader Teddy (Zac Efron) feared graduation. In Neighbors 2, Mac and Kelly are about to have a second child and worry they’re not good parents, while the sorority freshmen (lead by Chloë Grace Moretz’s Shelby) fret that they won’t fit in at college. Meanwhile, Teddy is having a “quarter-life crisis” as he watches all of his friends better adjust to the real world.


‘Toy Story 2′ (Disney/Pixar)

Stoller pointed to the fact that early versions of the Neighbors 2 script once again had Mac and Kelly yearning to stay youthful and party it up with their raucous neighbors. “It would be like in Toy Story 2, if Buzz and Woody were fighting again. It’s like, 'No, they already fought, they figured their stuff out. They don’t need to fight anymore.’ So it’s figuring out the evolution of everyone’s relationships.”

We’ll see if Neighbors 2 lives up to Toy Story 2 when it hits theaters May 20. But please: Leave the kids at home for this one.