Monday, February 18, 2013

The Croods at Berlinale pt. 4:
An Interview with Chris Sanders & Kirk De Micco

These Italian websites are great! Not only did provide me with my favorite review of The Croods thus far, today it dropped an interview with Sanders and De Micco in my lap. Here it is, awkwardly translated by Google, then clumsily reassembled by me.

A Talk with Chris Sanders & Kirk DeMicco, directors of The Croods by Adriano Ercolani 

Q: How did you decide to make the film?

Kirk De Micco: It all began in 2004, when DreamWorks decided to make a film about cavemen. I started writing the story with John Cleese -- I hope that the film acknowledges him on the screenplay credit with us. Then, in 2007, when Chris went from Disney to DreamWorks, he became interested in the project, which in the meantime I was continuing to write. In 2009, however, we had to stop production for about eighteen months because Chris had shifted to How To Train Your Dragon. I cried a lot. When he came back on board we totally revised the script. The biggest change is that in the beginning it was a village of prehistoric people who had never been far from the place where they lived. Chris had the idea to tighten it down to a single family. It was at that time that the story really began to take shape. [...] By focusing on a family, we understood our priorities. The plot centers on their journey and the ways that it changes them.

Q: Why have you created a special prehistoric time [the "Croodacious Period"] to set the film in?

Chris Sanders: To have as much freedom as possible. We analyzed many photos of unspoiled places on our planet, and then we made the decision. At first we thought about including aliens, then we realized that they were already too exploited and that they would not have seemed dangerous. We wanted to create a prehistoric world, not copy an existing one like The Flintstones that is so well built and settled in the minds of all. We wanted to do a little of what [Danny Boyle] did with zombies in 28 Days Later -- make them more lively, athletic, run them. This would help both the action and the comedy. 

Q: But the Croods seem to be a modern family... 

KDM: Once we finished removing everything that had been distracting us, we knew we had to decide what makes a family. Eep is the curious girl, the one that has an adventurous spirit, the one who asks the others in their cave: "What are we doing here?" And this is the biggest question of all. What counts most in The Croods is the discourse on the family, the ties that hold it together, the changes it faces. The one who ultimately has to answer this question is Grug, the father that wants to keep everyone safe in the dark cave. Grug -- more than any other character -- does not want things to change. But in the end, he will undergo the metamorphosis that is the most important. If you do not take risks in life, you may survive, but it is a far cry from truly living. 

Q: The great strength of [How To Train Your Dragon] was the fullness of the characters and the emotional power of the story. Can we expect this from The Croods

CS: Emotion is the basis of every memorable film. In The Croods there are many emotional truths that relate to the characters. What has always inspired me are the antics of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. They are so much fun, but they also containe some moments of deep humanity, often even pain. I remember when I was six or seven years old, I'd often burst into tears as I watched them on TV because they were so human in what they were doing and feeling. What I learned from them is that you have to be able to love the characters you write, to make them as real as we did with Dragon and hopefully with The Croods

Q: How did you choose the cast of actors for the voices of the characters? 

CS: We were lucky. Each of the actors we had was our first choice, especially Nicolas Cage. He brought so much warmth to this father figure who is lazy, who would sit in his hiding place and do nothing else. Emma Stone was also perfect. She gave Eep a very strong personality and great humanity, especially when confronting her father. [...] We always keep a camcorder pointed at the actors when they are dubbed. That way, if they do something that may be useful to their character, we can immediately show it to the animators. After every recording session with Emma we had new material. 

Q: The Croods is set in prehistoric times, just like the Ice Age films. That world seems to have greater successes than other animated worlds. Why do you think this is?

KDM: The secret for us is that there is nothing tying it exclusively to the United States. The Croods is totally universal. The same goes for Ice Age. There is no cultural gap to fill. It's also a family story. 

Q: What were the main difficulties in the animation of this film? 

CS: Humans are always difficult to animate. You must make them simple, but still full of appeal. Humans' facial expressions are difficult to animate, as there are many. The animals have less. The greatest difficulty is that making an animated film takes several years and you have to maintain the enthusiasm and the will to continue. Fortunately, today's technology makes animation easier and more realistic. There are no limits to what you can do with computer animation, even the live action movies are totally changing because of it. The problem is what kind of stories you can tell. You have to focus more than before on their consistency and their ability to connect with the audience.

Wow, this interview had A LOT of new quotes and anecdotes. Did you know about Sanders' affinity for Laurel & Hardy before this? I sure didn't. But when you think back to the relationship between Jumba and Pleakley in Lilo & Stitch, it seems so OBVIOUS! I'd also never heard the 28 Days Later comparison before. I wonder if that's something they shared with the Mommy Bloggers? I also liked De Micco's theory as to why the Ice Age films do so well around the world. His answer seems so simple, yet I'd never heard it expressed that way before. Good stuff. Great interview, Adriano!


  1. Pardon my ignorance, but was the John Cleese connection mentioned before now? This is the first I've heard of it.

    1. It was mentioned a looong time ago. Right around the time that Chris Sanders joined the picture, though, it stopped being mentioned in DW's official press releases.

      Wikipedia sums it all up nicelt, saying:

      "[The Croods] was originally being made by Aardman Animations as a part of a five-film deal with DreamWorks Animation. Announced in 2005 under the working title Crood Awakening, and as a stop motion film, John Cleese and Kirk DeMicco wrote the first few drafts of the script. With the departure of Aardman in beginning of 2007, the rights for the film reverted to DreamWorks."

      The Aardman/DreamWorks deal tanked after the disappointing returns on Flushed Away. Cleese apparently left with Aardman. It's nice to see him being mentioned again. It certainly won't hurt the film's promotion. Everyone loves John Cleese!