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Thursday, May 18, 2023

“Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” – Showrunner Tze Chun on Joe Dante’s Advice and Staying True to the ‘Gremlins’ Brand [Interview]

The upcoming “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” (read my review) puts an animated spin on the popular horror-comedy franchise, packed with unexpected folklore and mythology, and it’s coming to Max on May 23, 2023.

The half-hour animated series from WB Animation and Amblin TV is set in 1920s Shanghai and tells how 10-year-old Sam Wing (voiced by Izaac Wang) met the young Mogwai called Gizmo (AJ Locascio). Sam Wing, the youngest in the family, accepts the dangerous task of taking Gizmo home and embarks on a journey through the Chinese countryside. Sam and Gizmo are joined by a teenage street thief named Elle (Gabrielle Nevaeh), and together, they encounter—and sometimes battle—colorful monsters and spirits from Chinese folklore. Along their quest, they are pursued by a power-hungry industrialist and his growing army of evil Gremlins. 

The prequel series was created by showrunner/executive producer Tze Chun and executive produced by Brendan Hay, who spoke with Bloody Disgusting about expanding the world of Mogwai and the advice that consulting producer/original Gremlins director Joe Dante gave in the process.

When asked what kind of input or advice Dante gave them for Gizmo and the gremlins, Chun explained, “He had read a couple of the scripts, and it was amazing. He came into the Warner Brothers Ranch, and afterward, he said, ‘I’m going to go take a walk down memory lane,’ because I think the exterior of Billy’s house is at the Warner’s Ranch. So it was amazing that he has this long history at the studio where we were making the show.

“It was incredible to get his blessing, but he has incredible stories about shooting the original Gremlins, how janky the Gizmo puppet was, and how hard it was to deal with. But the thing that he told us that was most helpful, and we certainly passed it along to all the board artists and directors in the writers’ room, was people love Gizmo because he is just a little baby. He’s like an adorable little baby. If it’s boiled down to that, it was a great place to look for humor and to make him lovable.”

Gizmo and Sam Wing

Hay added, “And his one kind of comedy suggestion on Gremlins was that you can never go wrong by having a Gremlin try to act like a human, which is also true. His only other guideline was, don’t do puppets. Because he just kept us telling us all the puppet horror stories. That was Joe’s enthusiasm, like, ‘You guys are going to be in such better shape.’ He would just tell us, ‘We couldn’t show them walking. We couldn’t show them doing this. We couldn’t have Gizmo touch his face,’ all those things.”

Despite Dante’s horror stories, Chun does confirm this series was always intended to be animated.

He shares, “I was newer to animation. Brendan has worked for many years in animation. As we started talking about the show, I think we all knew what we wanted: to be able to move the camera in a really cinematic way. Things like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the opening of Goonies, and obviously Gremlins, the camera moves in such a, there’s no way to describe it except an Amblin-esque manner. And so we developed a process where the characters were CG and the backgrounds were more 2D, or it was textures draped on top of architecture. We also knew that we wanted a painterly quality to it. Something that we talked about a lot in the room were things like Spirited Away. Even on the textures of the characters, but especially the backgrounds, making sure that it felt organic. And painterly.”

“Our supervising producer, Dan Krall, had a cool idea as we started talking about that, still wanting that handmade quality that the original Gremlins has because of the puppets, anything like that. He had a cool idea of trying to emulate the look of an art of book, not of a finished CG film. That also became a guiding principle for us,” Hay adds.

The series captures the same tone and spirit of Joe Dante’s films, with that strange balance of irreverent humor and darker horror. Chun, Hay, and the writing team were conscientious about that in their approach, as they explained in our conversation. 

Gremlins animation

“I think that one of the things that Brendan and I and all the writers spoke about a lot in the writers’ room was the tone of the original Gremlins movies is so unique,” Chun explained. “I mean, I certainly had never seen a movie that was funny but also scary and so weird and so idiosyncratic. It actually marries really well with Chinese mythology, and creatures and spirits and monsters from Chinese mythology because they’re also very weird, but also very funny, but also incredibly scary. It’s something we definitely talked about a lot, about how the humor makes it easier to do things that are scarier, that you can actually push it further because you can always then adjust the dial and say, ‘Okay, but then there’s this really funny gag, but also it’s really scary.’ That back and forth was something that we were always trying to tease out in the writers’ room.”

Hay shares how they were given the freedom to explore that. The executive producer explains, “That was also another place where thankfully, Amblin, Warner Brothers, and Joe Dante all had our back. We’d be like, ‘Well, this may be something of a darker or more violent or gory moment.’ They’re like, ‘No, no, just do that. Go in that direction.’ We always had their encouragement.”

Chun continues, “I think at every stage of the show and the creative process, we want to make sure that it appealed to fans of the original Gremlins movies but also brought in new fans. So, part of that is if you’ve seen the original Gremlins movies, you think, ‘Okay. Well, there’s the unique weirdo Gremlins that end up rising to the surface visually.’ We knew we wanted to do that, and we just pitched out a bunch of funny names for them, like Noggin and Gap Tooth. And who else do we have? Claw. We knew that we wanted to do a lady Gremlin in the first season that was iconic and our big bad.”

Gremlins: SotM villains

Hay likens the writers’ room for this animated series to the “Key & Peele” sketch “Gremlins 2 Brainstorm.” For those unfamiliar, check out the video below.

I think our writers’ room at some point was like the Key & Peele sketch where it was trying to go through, ‘What do you want in the show? Okay, it’s in.’ But I remember at one point, one of our writers, Peter Chen, went off and researched 1920s Shanghai. It was basically filling a whiteboard with what are all the things that need to be funny for Gremlins to interact with or could inspire a specific type of Gremlin. So he brought the research back to the rest of the room, and then we just started pitching nonstop. Like, ‘Oh, what if we had a Gremlin who did this? What if we had a Gremlin who did that?’ Just because they’re using the technology, locations, and everything across China in that time.”

Chun jokes, “I hope Key and Peele will find out how many times we actually watched the Gremlins 2 sketch in the writers’ room because it was like dozens of times.”

“I think it was also one of the very first things we talked about with Joe Dante, who also loved the sketch, which was so nice to hear,” Hay adds.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” premieres Tuesday, May 23 on Max.

The post “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” – Showrunner Tze Chun on Joe Dante’s Advice and Staying True to the ‘Gremlins’ Brand [Interview] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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