Hoodwinked caught the movie world by surprise when it opened in January, almost taking the No. 1 spot at the box office. The low-budget cartoon—which releases to DVD today—went on to gross over $51 million—not exactly Pixar or DreamWorks numbers, but better than recent, and considerably more expensive, Disney films like Treasure Planet, Home on the Range and The Wild. And while the animation was a little on the crude side, some critics hailed the film as a breakthrough for the medium, and said it did for independent cartoons what Pulp Fiction had done for independent live-action films.
Hoodwinkedalso happened to be the work of Christians. Writer-director Cory Edwards had directed numerous Christian music videos, co-hosted the radio show Reasons to Believe, and worked as a Christian stand-up comic before he got his big-screen break. He and his brother Todd had also produced Chillicothe, a Gen-X comedy that got some good buzz at the Sundance festival in 1999, through their production company, Blue Yonder Films.
In anticipation of the film's DVD release today, Edwards spoke with us from his home—and car—in Los Angeles.
How old were you when you made your first film?
Cory Edwards: I was probably eight or nine years old when I started experimenting with our Super 8 camera. For Todd and I, it became this obsessive hobby. We would spend whole summers working on one film. We would storyboard every shot, and do special effects and stunts and all kinds of stuff, and then we had all the strips of film down in the basement that we were doing the edit with. So it became a very involved thing, and I think what it taught us as kids was how to stick with a long-term project and really have a lot of patience to see something all the way to the end.
Were you raised in a Christian home?
Edwards: Oh yeah. I was a pastor's kid, but I wasn't one of those hellraisers. I was one of those sickeningly good kids. We always had the Christian upbringing, and our church was so supportive of us. We were the creative Edwards kids that people were always wondering what they were going to do next. Our church family was like a captive audience, so whenever there was some kind of event, we would do a sketch or something.
Christianity became personal to me when I was at youth camp in seventh grade. I made some decisions at that time, where I realized, I've got to make this mine, I can't just follow this belief because it's been grafted onto me by my parents. And it's never really left me, and I gotta tell you, working in the entertainment business, it is a faith walk like no other. There have been many times where I have felt like God is seriously saying, "This is painful right now and you are failing right now, but I am toughening you for what you need to do."
How did you come to make Hoodwinked?
Edwards: We hooked up with a producer named Sue Bea Montgomery, and she introduced us to a guy named Maurice Kanbar. He's independently wealthy, and he's always had an interest in film, so we got up there in front of him with several live-action projects, and a computer-animated film that I had done called Wobots, which I made with Benjy Gaither [who later provided the voice of Japeth the Goat in Hoodwinked]. So [Kanbar] saw a clip of that and just flipped out and loved it, and he said, "I always wanted to invest in an animated movie." He had said that before, but five years ago, that was a ridiculous notion. Well, there is affordable, over-the-counter software you can buy now that is the same stuff that ILM and Pixar use—at least the basics. So the technology has only recently been in the possession of the little guys to do something like this.
We said we thought we could pull it off, and he said, "I would want to invest in a film that is based on a story that everybody knows—kind of the way Walt Disney started out—and then you guys put your own twist on it." We ran through every story we could think of from the Brothers Grimm to Hans Christian Andersen, and we came up with Red Riding Hood. I said, "Wow, I can't believe nobody has ever done this before." And the hook came when Todd said, "Hey, why don't we tell it as a crime story and use flashbacks. Let's re-tell the story four times," and that was when I just kind of felt like, "Wow, nobody's ever done this before in a kids' film, nobody's ever done this before in animation, so this could elevate this film beyond just a kiddie cartoon that we're just making to pay our bills."
As you made your way into "secular" films, was there any concern about your Christian background? Did you have to hide that, or skirt around that?
Edwards: I read some Internet chatter that maybe the reason Hoodwinked was No. 1 was because churches came out to support it like The Passion of The Christ. There's all these Christian conspiracy theories. I don't hide it, but I am uncomfortable being a poster child or banner waver. I don't want to play the Christian card the way that some minorities might play the minority card as a filmmaker. I don't want to lean on that or exploit that, and frankly I think it's dangerous because I don't want to put myself on a pedestal as a Christian filmmaker. I am a filmmaker who is a Christian, which I feel is different, the same way that Ralph Winter is a producer who is a Christian. It is incredibly freeing to not have to make every film with an evangelical message. When I realized that I might get to do any film I wanted, subject-wise, it was incredibly freeing—and I think my films will tell people where my beliefs lie. I don't trumpet it, but I'm not going to be ashamed of it.
Your first feature film, Chillicothe, has a few bad words . . .
Edwards: Yes it does.
… so it's rated R. How was your church when they saw that?
Edwards: We were a little concerned with it, and it was Todd's story to tell, and I think how he would put it is, "I have to be honest with these characters, and this character is jaded and lives in this world where he's angry; he would say these words." So it was a decision he made that I supported, and I have a couple of scripts where characters use profanity, but I'm really careful about how I do it.
But having said all that, I've worked in the Christian television and media industry for a long time, and I frankly just got tired of walking on eggshells. There was a project we were putting together that some Christian investors were interested in, but we wanted to make a film that involved some rough characters, and certain Christian investors couldn't even get on board because the characters were smoking, or a couple of characters were at a bar. And I got to a point where I was like, I don't have time for this.
One of the most Christian films I've ever seen in my life is Dead Man Walking, and I know some Christian people who will never see it because they have a blanket statement of "I don't see rated R films," but that film could not be made without rated-R content. Of course families with children make different decisions about what they go to, and they should. But I can't always promise I'm always going to make rated-G films, because I want to tell all kinds of stories.
Hoodwinked was actually rated PG, wasn't it?
Edwards: I know, and I was very surprised by that!
What was that about?
Edwards: I think it was the rolling pin across the head! We never got a specific. There was that, and there was the talk that the [villain] was going to put addictive ingredients into the cookies. And there were a couple of explosions, too, so I think maybe that was it.
It was funny to me because the Wallace & Gromit feature film had quite a bit of sexual innuendo, and it somehow got away with a G rating.
Edwards: Yeah, well, after all this talk of content, I'm pretty proud that we have a family film that doesn't have any innuendo, doesn't have anybody getting kicked in the crotch, doesn't have any fart jokes, because I see those as the easiest kind of jokes to do, and I think they're inappropriate if you're going to make a film that kids can go see. It's the same as with an R-rated film. Who's your audience? So if my audience is a family audience, why put that stuff in there? And I've had even secular parents say to me, "Thank you for not putting anything in this film, like in the Shrek movies, that I've got to explain to my kids on the way home." So I'm pretty proud of that.
Some of the not-so-positive reviews of Hoodwinked focused on the animation quality and said it's not at Pixar's level. How do you respond to that?
Edwards: The critics were hard to take at first. We knew the animation was not good, and we knew it was not Pixar. Going into it, Todd said, "Let's not try to do 'diet Pixar'. Let's not try to do something technically grand, and fail at it. Let's do something very specific and small." So we picked a look. I've always loved the look of stop-motion animation back in the days of Rankin-Bass holiday specials, like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy, so we made a very specific choice to make the film look like that, because we knew the animation was going to be a little herky-jerky. We were going to pick a style that would merit the resources that we had. And I think we were very successful at that.
But I'll be real honest, there are many, many shots that I wince at when I see them, because it's not my standard of excellence. I know they could be better, but there comes a time at the end of the day where we just have to give up on some things. So to hear critics ranting about it, we want to yell back, "We know it's bad! But this is what we could do!" And the fact that the film is successful in spite of that is really cool, because it basically says to the industry, "Look at what the story and the charming characters did; they were able to surpass the bad animation and the technical problems."
All through production, I gave our crew a speech I like to call "Kermit the Frog vs. Howard the Duck." If you remember the painfully horrible Howard the Duck, it had one of the most realistic animatronic characters ever put on the screen at that time, and the movie failed; and then you've got Kermit the Frog, where you can literally see the strings and the wires and the stitches on his head—he is the fakiest-looking frog you've ever seen, clearly a puppet with ping-pong-ball eyes—and yet he is one of the most beloved characters in TV and movies. Why is that? It's not because he is the most technically innovative character. It is because he is a charming character. He's funny, he's well-written, he's endearing. And so that is what I focused on in Hoodwinked. And to see the film do so well is a great testament to that, I guess. I feel very vindicated.
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