A pet project that started off as an independent short film is now an animated primetime network holiday special airing Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. on NBC. We chatted with writer/director/producer/animator Leopoldo Gout to learn a bit about the making of Little Spirit: Christmas in New York, his love letter to the Big Apple featuring the voices of Danny DeVito, Lucy Liu, Freddy Rodriguez, Brian Williams and Brenda Song. Animation was produced at Curious Pictures (Little Einsteins, Codename: Kids Next Door), of which Gout is a partner.
DeVito is heard as a wisecracking cab driver who picks up two grouchy teens and tries to fill them with the holiday spirit by telling them the story of a boy who reluctantly moved to New York City with his parents. As young Leo tries to get along in his new surroundings, his small dog, Ramona, gets lost in the big city and has a series of misadventures involving flocks of pigeons and packs of squirrels. When he realizes his pet is missing, Leo is visited by a little, yellow spirit who helps him find Ramona and realize that New York can be a magical place to be during the holidays.
Gout, who says he came to the U.S. from Mexico City with nothing but a few paint brushes, tells us he was feeling a lot of positive energy in New York and wanted to capture the spirit of the city in a heartwarming tale for his son. ‘Coming from Mexico, I still see snow through the eyes of a child’it’s still magical to me,’ he says. ‘Walking through the city in the winter, I wondered why nobody had made an animated holiday special that takes place here.’
To authentically capture the essence of New York City and make it a character in the story, Gout shot a lot of photos and video on the city streets. Accompanied by music and original songs by Grammy- and Tony-award winning composer Duncan Sheik, the rich backgrounds are remarkable considering the special was made under tight time and budgetary constraints.
‘We feel pretty good about what we’ve accomplished with the time we had and the budget,’ Gout notes. ‘Of course, as an animator and filmmaker, I could be working on this film for five years if they would let me. But the positive side is that you really have to be creative, and I believe very strongly that the future of animation will explore this type of situation because otherwise it would be very unfair that only three studios can make animated films that make an international splash by spending $150 million to do them. For the fact that computers are getting cheaper and cheaper, I hope that there’s going to be a huge explosion of companies and animators like the ones at Curious Pictures.’
Gout just published his first novel, Ghost Radio, through Harper Collins and recently collaborated with bestselling author James Patterson on the upcoming graphic novel The Dangerous Days of Daniel X. The story is also being published as a novel and has been sold to New Regency, which plans to adapt it for the big screen. In addition, Gout and Patterson are producing a live-action feature film titled Maximum Ride with former Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad.
Animated Ghost Radio Promo
Animated Dangerous Days of Daniel X Promo
With Curious Pictures, Gout and brother Everardo Gout are producing Michel Gondry’s first animated feature, Megalomania, a punk rock movie they say will likely use traditional animation to depict an alternative future in which a rebel takes on a dictator. Gondry, whose credits include Be Kind Rewind, The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is co-directing Megalomania with his son, Paul Gondry, from a script by famed graphic novelist Dan Clowes.
The brothers Gout also founded Casa Bu’uel, a production company and animation studio in Mexico, and are attached to co-direct Godiva, a Lakeshore Ent. feature to be filmed in New Zealand. Another animated project they’re doing with Curious Picutres is a comedy TV series called J-Stache, which revolves around musician John Oates of Hall and Oates fame and his mustache, voiced by comedian Dave Attell. Oates will play himself. The project is being developed with Primary Wave Music Publishing, which owns the majority of the Hall & Oates music catalog.