45-year-old animator and director Genndy Tartakovsky’s childhood was like something out of a Cold War thriller when his family defected to the US when he was seven.
An interest in comics and animation led him from his native Chicago to art school in Los Angeles and with the success of ”Hotel Transylvania 2” in the US he’s one of the most sought after animators and artists in the business – besides his own films he was a storyboard artist on ”Iron Man 2” and animation director on the ”Powerpuff Girls” movie. Coming up on his roster? A project your granddad might have heard of – ”Popeye”.
Moviehole spoke to Tartakovsky in Los Angeles.
There seems to be a theme of mixed couples in Hotel Transylvania 2. How intentional was that?
There’s a bigger theme of acceptance running through the movie. We’re careful not to get too topical but also not too preachy. We’re trying to show everybody’s point of view in a comedic way. It was balanced throughout the movie
I’d actually be interested to see how kids pick up on it. Will they see the obvious metaphors or will they just see that it’s ‘being married to a monster’?
How did the character of Mavis (Selena Gomez) change and how did you make sure she still had what audiences of the first movie loved, considering she’s now a mother?
One of the main things we struggled with in the beginning was that in the first movie Mavis was a very outgoing teenager and in this one she’s a helicopter mom – how do you not kill the core audience that likes her?
So in those California sequences we wanted to make sure she was having fun and we’d see the youthful side of her.
How about making sure the movie itself is it’s own thing even though it has source material to refer to?
Going into a sequel is hard. There are all sorts of expectations – you want it to be better, you want to bring new things in, why are people going to go and see it again? It’s very competitive out there.
We try to push everything from the first film and try to make it look better, but it really comes down to the story. What’s going to be new about it, what’s going to be exciting for the audience to buy into?
The success of the first one was because of the visual language, the extreme animation and the energy and tone of it. For sure we stay truthful and sincere to the first one, we just try to push it even further.
You didn’t develop it initially, what did you think of what had been done up until you came on board?
We’d started on Popeye and [former Sony chief] Amy Pascal, Adam Sander and Robert Smigel [writers] developed a sequel without us even knowing.
They started working on the idea of Jonathan [Andy Samberg] and Mavis having a baby. Initially I thought it sounded like an idea for movie number three and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do a sequel, but this was a little family we’d created and we missed it and we thought maybe there was a way of doing Popeye and Hotel Transylvania 2 at the same time.
What did you change?
We looked at what Robert and Adam had written and we had a lot of issues with it, but that’s the normal process. After that initial screening everyone started to agree on new ideas – maybe Drac [Sandler] should have a father that could be part of the whole family thing.
Where did the campground idea come from?
It was in one of the initial scripts. The idea was that the camp has changed and all of Drac’s world has changed. Not only are humans accepted now, monsters have accepted a lot of human ways, like how to be overly careful and overly safe and too politically correct.
Talk about directing Mel Brooks as Drac’s father.
It was great, Mel was 88, I was initially nervous. He walked in and he was a ball of energy, quick and funny and witty.
He’s such a big comedic hero for me. I was really nervous and I’ve worked with a lot if celebrities, it doesn’t usually matter, we’re all people. But because he has a legacy that’s affected me directly so much I was very hesitant to say anything. But he’s really quick and he knows the joke. Sometimes he’d ask me how to do the line and I’d start sweating right away and do the line for him. He knew I was a little nervous but he was great.
It’s really more being a student and watching him than directing him.