After a long and arduous journey to find a distributor, the independent animated film Animal Crackers is finally debuting on Netflix on July 24th. We had the chance to talk to creators Tony Bancroft and Scott Christian Sava and hear more about the experience making the film and how they feel about the finished product.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved in animated films?
SCOTT: Sure thing. I studied illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco (before they had computers and animation classes) and during my junior year (around 1990) I got an internship at Sega of America working on 16-bit games. That was my first taste of animation.
That turned into a full-time job at Atari Games after college and eventually moved to LA where I got into 3D animation (working on the Casper sequels and Power Rangers and other fun stuff).
As it was the 90’s, there was a high demand for 3D animators and I was busy enough that I started my own studio… Blue Dream Studios.
TONY: Scott and I had become friends years before he created the story for Animal Crackers. We knew each other first as artists with a mutual respect for each other’s skills. Fast forward to after he did come up with the graphic novel and decided to make it into a movie, he came to me and asked if I would direct. I turned him down because I was already on another project but I really liked the story he had come up with. It was personal and heartwarming with a good amount of humor. Just what I was looking to do. Months later, the project I was on collapsed and dissolved for various unforeseen reasons and I found myself without a directing job. I called Scott back and asked about if he still needed a director for his project, Animal Crackers. Thankfully for me, he was happy I came back around.
Where did the idea for Animal Crackers come from?
SCOTT: Thirteen years ago, my wife and our twin boys Brendan and Logan moved to Franklin, TN. It was here in our backyard (around 2009) that we were eating animal crackers and I had a fun idea. “What if, when you eat this lion cookie… POOF… you become a lion?”
The kids loved it and we played around pretending we were different animals.
I liked the idea so much, I wrote a book about a brother and sister who go to the circus and use a magical box of animal crackers to save the captive animals there.
How did you decide on the visual style for the film? Particularly the movement as the animals change?
SCOTT: A lot of the visual style started from Carter Goodrich and his amazing character designs. Everything flowed from that.
As far as the animal transformations, honestly, the constraints of our tiny budget necessitated some creativity. I’d like to think I was instrumental in this decision… but I know it was most likely Jaime Maestro and his team who developed this look. Jaime is my great friend in Valencia, Spain, who was our overseas director. Without him, this film would have never happened. His talent and direction carried this it.
TONY: We worked with our overseas animation team headed by Jaime Maestro on the animation style for the film. Since Jaime and I were both animators first, we could speak the same language about timing and movement. I give Jaime the credit for coming up with the transformation style but its based largely on things like Looney Tunes timing from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. We didn’t want to articulate things in any amount of details but chose instead a more staccato quick timing that really matched well with the simplistic shapes and designs of the characters by Carter Goodrich.
The voice cast is strong. How did you decide who should voice what character and as a small animated film was that challenging?
SCOTT: Look. I’m not gonna lie here. I had NO idea this was going to happen. NO CLUE!
This was my first film. We had a TINY budget (compared to studio films) and we weren’t LOOKING for big name actors. It just kind of… happened.
Jamie Thomason, my good friend and voice/casting director, submitted my script to the agents back in 2014 once we got our funding. Just to see what interest there was. He had asked me if there were any particular voices I had in mind while writing the script and I told him of two in particular… Ian McKellen as Horatio P. Huntington and Patrick Warburton as Brock.
Weeks and weeks went by and then one day… I got a call from Jamie. Ian McKellen signed on. He was going to voice Horatio. I was Gobsmacked. Bamboozled. Dumbfounded.
Also, Patrick Warburton was cool playing Brock! Two for two!
Then, something REALLY strange happened… Sylvester Stallone, Danny DeVito, Raven-Symone’, Harvey Fierstein, Gilbert Gottfried, Tara Strong, James Arnold Taylor and Wallace Shawn all signed on.
Our film got much MUCH bigger. But, we still needed Owen and Zoe. Our leads:
Funny story. When Jamie suggested John Krasinski… I said “who?”
It was 2014 and I’d never seen the Office. So please don’t mock me too much. Jamie assured me he was perfect for the part and I trusted him.
By early 2015, we were in the studio with John and… Jamie was right. John was PERFECT: Funny, charming, sincere. Perfect.
One day, though, we’re hanging out in the sound booth and John’s telling me how much his wife liked the script. Flattered, I said “thank you” and then went on with my business. Because, of course, why would I know who John Krasinski was married to? Right?
Fortunately, Tony and Jamie were in the monitor room and overheard our conversation over the mic and Jamie came running in and asked “Would, um, would your wife be interested in playing Zoe?”
A quick text from John and suddenly, Emily Blunt was in the film.
So, you see… neither Tony nor I had ANYTHING to do with this amazing cast. It was providence, dumb luck, and a bit of magic, if you ask me.
TONY: The voice casting for this film is one of the most amazing things that happened to us and is largely credited to Jamie Thomson who had worked in voice casting with Disney for many years. He had extraordinary connections with some of the top talent agencies that represented our dream cast. We literally discussed our wish list for each character and got all of them! That just never happens. By far, this is the best cast of any film I have ever worked on.
To secure an actor for a role it usually comes down to money and the project (read: script). We had little money but people liked the script. That’s what we had going for us.
For me it was a treat to work with actors who I had worked with as an animator at Disney, especially Patrick Warburton and Gilbert Gottfried.
The music is an important element of the film. What does the music add to story?
SCOTT: Everything. Music moves people like nothing else. Bear McCreary’s score is playful, fun, dramatic, goofy, and the heartbeat of the film.
Huey Lewis and the News “While We’re Young” gives us a bit of the old Americana we needed to establish the film early on and Howard Jones’ “Stay with Me” was written to show the struggle between Owen and Zoe going in two different directions.
Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “One of Those Days” perfectly narrates Owen’s struggles with being stuck as an animal (or many animals as the case was) and Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” was the perfect JUMPSTART to Owen and Zoe’s new life at the circus.
Music is everything and we were completely blessed to have these incredibly talented artists perform for our film.
TONY: One of the things we wanted for the tone of this film was a reminiscent feeling.We wanted the nostalgic feeling of the circus in the visuals and looked at a lot of research from the circus’s heyday with acts and characters from our childhood experience. So, when it came to the music Scott secured bands that he and I grew up with in the 80’s because it reminded us of the same childhood. Plus we wanted the music to ROCK!
This film has been sitting trying to get a distributor for 3 years. Can you explain for our readers what that process is and why it was so difficult?
SCOTT: Oh boy.
Well, the long and short of it is… we got to make a movie on our own. Without any Hollywood studio or any real oversight at all. This was pure creative ‘bliss’ and it was amazing for 3 years.
But, when the film was done, we had to get it distributed and… Hollywood is a terrible place for independent films. Sharks abound.
We dealt with so many “bad” people that, honestly, Tony and I just about lost hope.
Fortunately, we got on Netflix’s radar and when I was able to wrangle the rights back… Netflix came in and saved our film.
You can’t imagine the relief Tony and I feel knowing our little film can finally be seen by the world.
TONY: It used to be a friendly climate for animated features in the independent market. That has changed over the years. Even though we had some strong creative team embers, an all star cast and the movie completed there were still many distributors who would say “Yeah, but who are you guys, what’s your brand?” Or offers would come to us and they were not enough to even break even with the investors who believed in us enough to put in their money. Some would blatantly say to us, “Well, you can’t expect to make money on your first film; its all about your NEXT film.” It was tough to know who to trust when so many did not seem to be on our side or even able to get the film out to the public like we wanted it to go out. Finally, several distributors we did make deals with, ended up sitting on the film and not releasing it. Lawsuits were issued and rights were legally fought over. Thankfully, Netflix came in and has been an incredible partner for us and love the film.
Do you have any advice for small animated films so they don’t have the same problems you had?
SCOTT: Other than “RUN AWAY”?
I’d tell them what Stallone said to me. (Yeah…how cool is that?)
“This is YOUR dream. This is YOUR story. Don’t let anyone try and take that away from you”
If you have a dream…pursue it. Make it happen. But know…Hollywood is filled with people who want to take that from you. You have to fight. You have to defend your art.
TONY: It would have served us well to have a trusted producer or entertainment attorney who knew the distribution market. Scott and I were creatives who knew how to make movies but were in over our heads in other areas. Do your due diligence beforehand into who you are looking to work with before you start to work with them. Trust and experience is important. Lastly, budget for advisors or agents who you may need to help you.
Finally the film is released on Netflix this month. Was that an exciting moment for you?
SCOTT: You betcha! Not even factoring in the 3 years of distribution hell we endured…Netflix is the perfect home for our film. They’re doing amazing things with animation and both Tony and I are looking forward to making lots of films with them in the future.
TONY: It has long been a dream of mine to have a movie on Netflix. I mean the number of audience eye-balls that will potentially see our film is staggering. What filmmaker doesn’t want that? When Netflix decided to pick up Animal Crackers, Scott and I nearly cried. I say nearly but we probably ugly cried.
What are you hoping people take away from the film?
SCOTT: That despite our budget and my inexperience…we told a good story. That’s all I want to do is tell good stories. To make people smile. To add a little light to this sometimes dark and scary world.
I don’t expect my first film to be anything groundbreaking. I know I can improve. But I hope there’s enough “heart” in it to make people smile. To give them an escape. Even just for 90 minutes.
If I can do that…I’d be so happy.
TONY: The story is about a family who will do anything in pursuit of two things: following their dreams and staying together through the hard parts of following those dreams. I hope families enjoy this movie together and are inspired to dream. Scott, myself, and the entire crew of Animal Crackers did this very thing.
Animal Crackers debuts on Netflix on July 24th.
Special thanks to Scott and Tony for taking the time to share their experiences with all of us at Rotoscopers!
Let us know what you think when you get a chance to see Animal Crackers and what you took away from Scott and Tony’s journey. Share in the comments below!
Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic that has loved animation since she was a little girl belting out songs from 'The Little Mermaid'. She reviews as many films as she can each year and loves interviewing actors, directors, and anyone with an interesting story to tell. Rachel is the founder of the popular Hallmarkies Podcast, and the Rachel's Reviews podcast/youtube channel, which covers all things animated including a monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation show.