Allison Thomas Interview
Sindy:: What made you want to produce the Tale of Despereaux?
Allison:Despereaux does what he thinks is right and what’s true to him as opposed to following the crowd—and he loves to read. The story is about forgiveness and redemption and there are no purely evil characters. The characters are bullied so they become bullies—in key moments they’re forgiven for their misgivings and become good people again and I think it’s a great lesson. It’s a fairy tale come to life with some great messages in it. Most animated movies now are comedic or go for the contemporary gag, but for us this was a fresh take for an animated movie to do.
Sindy:: Would you like to work on more children’s movies?
Allison:Yes, we have a number of live action family movies in development at Universal based on children’s books for a little bit of an older age range.
Sindy:: How do you decide what movies become live action and which become animated?
Allison:: Making an animated movie is an incredibly difficult process—it took us five years to make Despereaux and it’s really a painstaking task. Live action is so easy in comparison! You use animation when you need to have creatures, effects and times that are hard to evoke in live action. Our story was populated by animals so it was a natural animated movie—it’d be hard to do it live action. You can cheat a lot of things in animation—when the rat and mouse are together they’re closer in size than they would be in the real world, for example.
Sindy:: Were you the one who found the book originally?
Allison:Yes, we were contacted by Kate Dicamillo (the writer)’s agent because she’d written the book and hadn’t won a Newbury yet, so they wanted producers to protect the book so it wouldn’t be transformed into something totally different. We’d just finished Sea Biscuit and we’d maintained such a close relationship with the author that Kate felt we could do the same for Despereux.
Sindy:: Were there any major changes from the book to the film?
Allison:The main difference is the book is even darker than the movie—Despereaux is cast into the dungeon by his father and brother. It’s tough to watch on screen so we softened some of the edges while being true to the themes of the book.
Sindy:: Tell me about the look of the film.
Allison:We wanted the movie to feel like a fairy tale come to life—we wanted it to look like an old illustrated book, so we used a different color palette. There were no neon colors—these are all colors found in nature. We also have very different worlds—the castle, the world the mice live in (which is very neat), and then the rat world is stinky and rotten—they delight in being gross and disgusting so that was fun. It’s all torch-light down there with a very eerie, ominous feeling to it.
Sindy:: You got so many great actors to do voices!
Allison: Much of the cast had worked on other movies with Gary Ross (another producer)—he worked with Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline before and William H Macy was in Sea Biscuit. Gary also knew Dustin Hoffman for years and he’d done a re-write for Inspector Gadget so he knew Matthew Broderick too. And actors love doing voice work because they don’t have to go to hair and make-up! We recorded the mice and rats together and gave people props and mic’ed them so they could walk around to get some fantastic performances. You record the actors first and then you draw, so we were able to capture some unique things.
Sindy:: Any advice for young people trying to get into the movie industry?
Allison:: Read! Read a lot—learn how a story is put together. I think it’s almost more important than going to the movies because the style of movies that get made changes so much and technology is changing so fast. Have fun shooting movies—write screenplays, get together with your friends—video cameras are so easy to use now. Imitate your favorite movies and see if you can reenact your favorite scenes—see how it’s shot!
Sindy:: Great advice, Allison! Thanks for chatting.
Allison:: No problem!
The Tale of Despereaux comes out on DVD April 7th!