Thomas Harris chats with Karey Kirkpatrick about Smallfoot…
Zendaya is Meechee; so says comedian Gabriel Gundacker, who inadvertently brought Smallfoot into the global zeitgeist. I spoke to director Karey Kirkpatrick – who had just introduced the film in Leicester Square – about his love of slapstick, Looney Tunes and as to whether Zendaya was indeed Meechee.
I was surprised how current the film felt.
I came onto the film quite late, about 2016 and the film always had an idea in the middle of the movie that their world was built on a lie to protect them from man basically. I always liked that beat in the movie, it created some problems though. Just great animated films; a key component of them are how good the villain is. What made this tricky is that you get to that scene in the animatic, and think, here’s this leader, who’s very conniving and you’d watch it and go, he’s kind of right, and that’s probably what we’d do. What it did was create a real challenge for what our happy ending was going to be. How do we prove him wrong?
What we had to do was prove him wrong. It’s a fable, some people are like that but most aren’t. And that, even if it’s idealised, this is a fable, we’re telling them the idealised happy ending. Anywhere you generalize a group, whatever name you put on them. I was at a Chelsea-Liverpool game last week and just watching it as a great example. Those fans in that away section, they’re all terrible.
I’m an Arsenal fan.
So you get it. The story here is that you’ve met one of them and they seem okay, but can you trust them as a group. So we tried to give that group a face and at the end when the human does something nice for them, the whole thing becomes a case for joining together and destroying the border wall.
We did look at what was going on in the world. In the time I started making the film, an election happened, Brexit, Trump and it seemed like a common theme was isolating more people instead of including. Putting up more walls and those parallels – we really weren’t trying to be socio-political, it was more an, “oh” this is suddenly more relevant than we realised. Even truth was becoming something different, alternative facts, fake news and the truth was being manipulated online through social media and that was exactly what the absolutes in the films are. Playing about with the idea that the truth is relative. There’s a line in the song that Common does that we came up with which was, “let me share a secret that you learn as you grow older, what’s true or not true is in the eye of the beholder.” We didn’t set out with an agenda, it kind of emerged around us and we certainly leaned into it.
One of the things I’m happiest with is that people go to the film presuming it’s one thing because of the marketing material and it is that one thing for half of the movie, but the second half is innately separate.
Was it always a musical?
Animated films take a long time, and go through a lot of iterations and regime changes, and honestly the studio changed leadership right as I came on board, so they made a lot of changes. WAG [Warner Animation Group] had seen the musical that I had put on Broadway – and it’s actually real difficult if you’re not Pixar, Dreamworks, Disney and at this point Illumination to release an original idea. It’s very tough. Warner had huge success with The LEGO Movie, but what kid doesn’t have LEGOs? But it’s harder with an original idea, you’re forever looking for a way to make the world look at your idea and have it rise above the fray.
And they had Storks – which I loved…
We talk a lot about irreverency. My career started at Disney and obviously they’re a huge brand but the Disney Mickey Mouse is born from very soft gentle roots. And I realised that when I was growing up I was watching Looney Tunes, that’s what spoke to me. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Chuck Jones, all of that, even the score as commentary, was all pioneered by Warners in those Looney Tunes. And I think they’re realizing that we have some amazing roots in animation that influenced generations of animators.
They’re actually redoing some of those Looney Tunes, something like a thousand of those shorts they’re working on, I’ve seen the storyboards, and they’re hilarious. So we wanted to pay homage to the roots. We made conscience decisions, when they fall off the mountain, the land in the snow and leave a body impression of their shape. We’ve got a whole sequence that is effectively a Looney Tunes short.
Final question, and I’m sure this has dogged you since its release, but have you seen Zendaya is Meechee?
It’s a gift to the movie. It’s somewhat humbling that it has more views than any of the actual songs from the movie and you know, it’s a guy poking gentle fun at the marketing strategy. I just love stuff like that, somehow you’ve entered the zeitgeist through fan ideas and it’s a really clever tune.
SEE ALSO: Read our review of Smallfoot here
Many thanks to Karey Kirkpatrick for taking the time for this interview. Smallfoot is set for release in the UK on October 12th.
An animated adventure for all ages, with original music and an all-star cast, “Smallfoot” turns the Bigfoot legend upside down when a bright young Yeti finds something he thought didn’t exist—a human.
News of this “smallfoot” brings him fame and a chance with the girl of his dreams. It also throws the simple Yeti community into an uproar over what else might be out there in the big world beyond their snowy village, in a rollicking story about friendship, courage and the joy of discovery.