Allison Thomas: Power Producer
The Tale of Despereaux lands on DVD April 7 and the woman behind the magic took a few moments to share secrets. Executive producer Allison Thomas immediately fell in love with the little mouse that could.
Thomas and her partner Gary Ross immediately bought the option on the beloved children's book by Kate DiCamillo and set out to make their first animated film.
Narrated by Sigourney Weaver and starring a voice cast any director, live or animated, would die to possess. Matthew Broderick plays Despereaux, Dustin Hoffman is Roscuro and the cast of stars includes Kevin Kline, Emma Watson, William H. Macy and recent Academy Award nominees Frank Langella and Richard Jenkins.The Tale of Despereaux is on DVD and Blu-ray and follows the story of Broderick's mouse who knows no fear. Only problem is, his parents are worried. Mice are always scared. What's wrong with my child, his parents ask, absolutely nothing. He's about to rise to the challenge and save a kingdom.
A Tale worth telling
SheKnows: I noticed as someone who has produced live action and animation, does it come down to the story for you as for something you would get behind?Allison Thomas: Absolutely. I think we are very story driven. That's probably because our company is run by a writer-director, Gary Ross. We don't feel like we have to fill a slate or produce 'X' number of movies a year. That's what the studios have to worry about, we can just make stories we love.SheKnows: What was it about The Tale of Despereaux that touched your heart?Allison Thomas: We loved the book when it came out before it won the Newberry. I think part of it is it's such an unusual story. It's a great story of forgiveness and redemption. We loved that none of the characters were purely evil. They were misguided. How, especially how they Roscuro (Hoffman) can go down into the depths of evil and find his way back and be a hero at the end. Of course, Despereaux is such a great character for moms. It's what everybody wants their child to be like — be true to themselves, stand up to the crowd, be unconventional and love to read (laughs). What could be better (laughs).
SheKnows: It's a parental gift in the form of a little mouse (laughs).
Allison Thomas: It's perfect. We fell in love with the book and were new to animation. We ended up on this Odyssey that took us five years.SheKnows: The animation process is a multi-year endeavor.Allison Thomas: It's incredibly long. I frankly, don't know why people animated movies (laughs) compared to a live action.SheKnows: If it's any consolation at the years of work, I walked out of the theater completely marveled at the art I was looking at.Allison Thomas: Thank you very much.
SheKnows: That truly is what it is in The Tale of Despereaux, almost a French painting on screen. When you first sat down with the animators, was there a specific look that you had or was that something that came from them because it is exquisite.
Allison Thomas: It came out of the process of knowing that we wanted that it was based on a fairy tale. Even though it is set in fairy tale time, we wanted to honor that fairy tale quality. And also, the fact that it's so centered around reading, we wanted kids to feel they had gone into a book. I think when you read fairy tales as a child and read them to your kids as an adult, you enter into this other world. We really wanted that feeling. We had very high demands of the animation team. We wanted it to look painterly and not feel it was computer generated, even though it was a CGI movie. We were very focused on making the feel like brush strokes almost — no hard edges and smooth curves in the movie. You have a color palette that is very unusual. It's very restrained. We used Flemish painters as our model. We hired a lot of painters on the crew and let them learn the CG things. We wanted this to feel like an illustrated, beautiful book.
SheKnows: For you casting an animated movie, voices can't be more important. To get Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick who don't do a lot of animated films, how did that come about and secondly, when you got them, did you pinch yourself?Allison Thomas: (Laughs) It was an incredible experience. Gary Ross used a lot of his connections and a lot of these folks have been in other movies with him. Sigourney Weaver, William H. Macy, Kevin Kline — so we got those folks first. Dustin Hoffman was at the top of our list from the beginning. Animation is easy for actors to do because it's quick. There's no hair and makeup.
An actors' animated film
SheKnows: Now, did Gary direct them together or individually in studio?Allison Thomas: He put them all together to see what would happen. He said, â€˜let's bring the story to life, ad-lib things.SheKnows: To me, you're painting a picture that actors adore. It sounds like Gary almost had an acting workshop.Allison Thomas: Yes, and we had one actor who had been in a number of other animated movies — I won't use his name — and he said he almost quit one of them because he was acting by himself for two and a half days. I need someone to act with! I also think when these folks together, all the mice together and the rats together, when you group people from the scenes they are doing. It really brought it all to life. It was fantastic.SheKnows: One last thing that I also have to say is in Despereaux, you have the cutest animated mouse of all time. No offense to Disney, but my goodness. Was the author involved in the caricature of the mouse?Allison Thomas: No, actually. She wrote a treatment for the story and talked to us about how she put it together and her motivations. We sent her things periodically for her to react to in order to check in. She always reacted with huge enthusiasm, which is really great.
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