CS Interview: Kris Pearn on Netflix animated adventure The Willoughbys
Just in time for its debut on Netflix, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Kris Pearn (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) to discuss his adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 2008 children’s novel The Willoughbys, which debuted on the streaming service today!
In looking at the source material, Pearn notes that one of the reasons he fell in love with it and found a desire to adapt it into a film was the Roald Dahl vibe that permeated throughout it, but that the biggest challenge he found was keeping the novel’s tone intact.
“There’s a number of things that are challenging, you’re going from a novel that is long-form to film in terms of consumption and how people read a book and how they watch a movie,” Pearn explained. “I think the biggest challenge is to maintain the tone that Lois Lowry offered us and find a way to pivot that from the subversiveness she was using against children’s literature to children’s film. So a lot of choices that came into our adaptation rippled out of that and the mechanics of that. There’s a whole tangent in the book where you go off and follow the Commander’s life and we had animated a whole stop-motion part talking about his story and the reason why he’s alone in the factory, but we just ended up having to cut it for time because it felt long for the direction whereas in the book it didn’t feel long.”
Though he and co-writer Mark Stanleigh didn’t get the chance to work with author Lowry during the scripting of the film, Pearn recalled that they would host test screenings for the film every few months to show off the animation and story at various intervals and that they were able to screen the film just prior to its completion for her and her reaction was highly positive.
“After every screening I would re-read the book and that would sort of make it fresh in my head for whatever we would be revising in the filmmaking at the time,” Pearn said. “We shared the movie with Lois before it was finished and she was really complimentary, it was a great relief. She was getting really excited talking about getting to do a sequel to the book and I think it was a healthy thing.”
After working with composer Mark Mothersbaugh on Pearn’s directorial debut, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, he brought him back to score The Willoughbys, noting that another major choice in his hiring of the Devo co-founder came from his work on Wes Anderson’s 2001 dramedy The Royal Tenenbaums.
“I think his superpower is he knows exactly where the joke is in a scene, he knows where to put the music so you don’t even realize how much it’s helping lift up the comedy,” Pearn described. “When I first pitched the movie to him, one of the ideas was that the story was in fact two films, there’s a sitcom happening when the kids are stuck in the house and when they get out of the house it turns into a new movie.”
In The Willoughbys, convinced they’d be better off raising themselves, the Willoughby children hatch a sneaky plan to send their selfish parents on vacation. The four siblings then embark on their own high-flying adventure to learn how to adapt their old-fashioned values to the contemporary world as they try to find the true meaning of family.
The film will feature the voices of Grammy nominee Alessia Cara as Jane, Will Forte (Scoob!) as Tim, Vincent Tong (Sausage Party) as the Barnabys, Ricky Gervais (The Little Prince) as Cat, Maya Rudolph (Big Hero 6, Connected) as Nanny, Terry Crews (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2) as Commander Melanoff, Martin Short (Frankenweenie) as Father and Jane Krakowski (Open Season) as Mother.
The Willoughbys is written and directed by Kris Pearn (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2). It is produced by Luke Carroll, Aaron L. Gilbert and Brenda Gilbert. The movie is a highly stylized CG animated feature film created by BRON Animation.