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. Animation film veteran Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge, Chicken Run, James and the Giant Peach) directs the Warner Bros. comedy adventure and talks about it in the following interview.
Question: What drew you to the yeti world of “Smallfoot”?
Karey Kirkpatrick: The idea came from Sergio Pablos, who wrote a book, Yeti Tracks, which put the Bigfoot legend in reverse – exploring the idea that they perceive us humans as mythical monsters that they don’t believe exist. That was a fun place to start.
When we created the yeti village, where all the yetis live, we determined that on the evolutionary scale, the yetis were a little behind humans – by about a thousand years. So, their village and belief system are somewhat primitive, which allowed us to create a social allegory like how people in the Middle Ages viewed the Earth and our solar system. It provided a good source of comedy.
For me, a good animated feature must work on two levels – there’s the basic plot and story, but it also needs to be about something bigger. It needs to have another layer. Animated movies are the Aesop’s Fables of our day. They are social allegories that use anthropomorphized animals to tell a human story in a way that can be satirical, using comedy to make a point. So, I was drawn to Smallfoot’s approach to the idea of the “Other” – our distrust or fear of someone or something because they’re different from us. Comedy and poignancy can be mined from that.
Question: Is it difficult to balance that humor and poignancy with the fun and physical comedy?
Karey Kirkpatrick: If a film lacks a substantial emotional core, you’ll find yourself not really caring about how it ends. Of course, we want these movies to be funny and entertaining, but they’ll run out of gas after an hour if there’s no heart behind it all. It’s always a balancing act with the tone, and we have really pushed some tonal elements in “Smallfoot” because we wanted to pay homage to Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes legacy, especially with our physical comedy. When you have a character that can fall thousands of feet from a cliff and land in the snow and leave an outline of his shape, you have to figure out how to let the audiences know that there are also real emotional stakes involved.
Question: It feels like you had a lot of fun creating those big Looney Tunes / action-comedy moments.
Karey Kirkpatrick: Everyone who worked on this movie and lives in the world of animation films was inspired by the Looney Tunes films. I spent my childhood watching Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Coyote, and all the great characters in those films. They were a huge part of my early development as a filmmaker.
Question: What do you hope audiences experience with “Smallfoot” when they see it in theaters?
Karey Kirkpatrick: I think there’s really something in this for all audiences. Kids will love the physical humor, but I think they’ll also recognize the unfairness that some of the characters experience. Kids are sensitive to things that aren’t fair. [Central character] Migo sees something at the beginning of the story, and when he tells everyone the truth about what he has seen, he gets punished for it. We all remember that feeling of being a kid and feeling powerless, even though we’ve done the right thing. Sometimes telling the truth can be difficult, and the film subtly says, “We get it. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s not always the easy thing to do.”
I think adults will see a little bit of the social relevance of the movie, especially in the notion of the “Other.” Everyone will really enjoy the big, broad physical comedy, how appealing and likable the characters are, and the music. There are a lot of laughs, but also a thematic depth that feels timely and will surprise many.
In Philippine cinemas Thursday, September 27, “Smallfoot” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.