Shot by Joe Dante, Presentation by Steven Spielberg, Gizmo Charisma, China Focus

HBO Max’s animated prequel series “Gremlins: Spirit of the Mogwai,” which had its world premiere June 16 at France’s Annecy Animation Festival, begins with a hint of “The Sound of Music.”

A young Gizmo stands in his grassy, ​​bucolic homeland, hidden in a huge hole in the snow-capped high Himalayas, singing from a circular stone dias, filled with mysterious carvings. As his fellow Mogwai chant back, positioned on grassy hills around him, suddenly the hills come alive with the sound of Mogwai.

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Then a shadow falls from the sky – a huge, obnoxious eagle swooping down towards the Mogwai. Most scarper. Plucky Gizmo, however, throws rocks at the eagle and, flipped onto its back, is carried out of its home, as the eagle retreats into the hole.

Falling into a boat on a young Yangtze River, Gizmo is discovered by a traveling circus and taken to 1920s Shanghai.

Joe Dante on Steven Spielberg’s game-changing decision

The opening is a literal origin story, partly explaining how Gizmo ends up in an antique shop in Chinatown at the start of 1984’s “Gremlins.”

It will also serve to woo a new generation of viewers for Gizmo, a spunky orange batskin-bodied Mogwai with a heart of gold – perhaps the cutest furball in movie history.

On Thursday, 38 years after introducing Gizmo to the world, ‘Gremlins’ director Joe Dante was greeted as a hero as he made his way to the stage at Annecy’s Bonlieu Grande Salle for a post-game Q&A. screening on the HBO series in 10 half-hour episodes, produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin and Warner Bros. Animation. He was accompanied on stage by Tze Chun and Brendan Hay, the show’s executive producers.

“No one is more surprised than we are that this franchise is still popular after 40 years,” Dante said. But credit should be given where it is due, he argued.

“In the original ‘Gremlins’ script, the Gizmo character turned into a bad Gremlin after about half an hour. We were planning to make the movie a bit darker,” Dante told a hushed audience, impressed by the presence of this cinema legend.

“But Steven Spielberg decided in his wisdom that Gizmo should stay and be the hero’s buddy. If we had made the film the other way round, no one would remember. Adding Gizmo made the difference. In his own way, he is the star of the film.

“Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai”: Editing

Gizmo is also one of the stars of “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.” The other, from an early episode seen in Annecy, appears to be snub-nosed 10-year-old Sam Wing, the future owner of the Mr. Wing shop in the 1984 film.

Season 1 is about how Sam and Gizmo finally meet and bond as they, along with street thief Elle, fight to return Gizmo to his family and uncover a legendary treasure, spanning much of China.

Upon receiving the first draft of the script, “What I responded to the most was the idea of ​​doing a prequel, especially after somehow making the sequel to ‘Gremlins’ inseparable. is an awesome way to get back into the show by going back to the roots,” Dante said.

If Episode 1 is any indication, “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” weighs in as very Amblin-esque, a great premium piece for the whole family – kids 8 and up, parent co-viewers and fans of adult original films, says Warner Bros. Animation – which frames a coming-of-age narrative in an epic adventure, exploring themes of family and friendship.

A particular attraction for Chun, the series writer and showrunner, was watching Sam and Gizmo’s friendship grow over the course of the season, he said. “It was really important to us that they didn’t become friends right away because they come from two different worlds.”

Amblin and Warner Bros. Animation were also very excited to explore the mythology of the Gremlins, Chun noted. The show adds a fourth rule on how to deal with Mogwai, Hay added.

Pitching Steven Spielberg, Producing in confinement with France

Making ‘Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai’ took four to five years,” Hay recalls.

An important step was to launch Steven Spielberg. “I was incredibly nervous. I knew I was nervous when I was stressing out in the parking lot,” Chun admitted, to laughter from the audience. “We pitched and it went well. And Steven’s first question Spielberg was, “Is Joe happy?

The first images started coming in when COVID-19 hit, Hay recalled. “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” was produced with French studios Blue Spirit, which provided the animation. Remarkably, working across two continents, the rest of the show was produced quite well in lockdown.

“One thing we always came back to throughout production in every department, from storyboards to animation, was to keep the feel of an Amblin movie,” Hay said. “So the scares have to be really scary, the laughs have to be really funny, and you have to really care about the characters.

There was a hint of scare at the end of Episode 1 as Elle meets the English industrialist whose eyes are blazing abnormally.

The look and the techniques

A visual reference for “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” was “Spirited Away” and other “pictorial” films, Chun said. CG can get old sometimes. We wanted to make a series that didn’t age so quickly: we wanted to make it look like if you actually stopped the footage, you could see brush strokes,” he added.

The backgrounds are painted, the characters, however, are CG: “We wanted to move the camera in a very cinematic way, like the original films and the Amblin movies,” Chun said.

Captured on a large screen, like Bonlieu’s, one of the main visual impacts of “Secrets of the Mogwai” is the kinetic power of long dolly-style shots, the camera hurtling down the backstage corridors of the circus or gliding along the Himalayan peaks. and walls of ice, adopting the point of view of the eagle.

Each episode has its own visual concept, delivering different kinds of scares, Chun anticipated.

The importance of the series to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community

“I remember the first day I was writing the pilot, and I had to write as the first line: ‘Note to reader. Unless otherwise specified, all characters are Chinese,'” Chun recalled.

“Honestly, I never thought I would live long enough for that to happen, that I could write this in a show script for a studio that was going to be distributed on a major network,” he said. added.

“Behind the camera, so many storyboard artists and directors [of departments] are Chinese Americans. We have an amazing cast of Chinese and Asian voices,” Chun continued.

The series is rooted in Chinese culture and mythology, with producers, writers, directors, and artists conducting extensive research to accurately portray 1920s China while introducing audiences to the spirits and monsters that pack Chinese mythology. Sam’s grandfather was originally imagined, for example, as having a bobbed tail – shaved with a long ponytail – but that was eventually ruled out as historically inaccurate. Mythological characters include fox spirits and denizens of a spirit market, based on ancient watercolors of underworld ghosts.

1984’s “Gremlins” was made with a dark comedy that pushes the envelope, tipping the scales toward ’50s B-movies. Numbers like these are an indication that the animated prequel series will indeed get darker.

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