To celebrate the release of SMALLFOOT in cinemas September 27th, actress Zendaya (The Greatest Showman, Spider-Man Homecoming) talks about working with Channing Tatum, the challenges of working on an animated film and about co-writing the song for the film, “A Wonderful Life”…
What drew you to Smallfoot and to the character of Meechee?
I’m a sucker for animated movies and I’ll watch my favorite ones over and over again. So, when I first met with the filmmakers, I was already excited about Smallfoot. The film has a great message about following your heart, your truth, and your destiny. I love Meechee because she’s very powerful and intelligent. She thinks about the world outside her village, which everyone tells her doesn’t exist. But she knows it does. Even though Meechee is the daughter of the village leader, the Stonekeeper, she’s more comfortable with the nerdy outcasts of the Yeti world, who believe that the Smallfoot exists. Meechee is the group’s leader, and together they go on an adventure to find the Smallfoot, no matter how crazy everyone thinks they are.
When you were cast in Smallfoot, who among your family or friends were most excited about you being in an animated movie?
My nieces and nephews were incredibly excited when I told them I was going to be in Smallfoot. But I was the most excited about being a part of this movie!
What are the challenges and opportunities of working on an animated film?
Well, it’s definitely cool that you don’t have to come in with having your hair and makeup done [laughs]. But most people don’t understand how hard and exhausting it can be to work on an animated feature. You have to convey emotion and feeling with only your voice. That’s really challenging. For most of our voice recording sessions, we don’t have an actor to work with, so you must rely heavily on the director. Luckily, our director on Smallfoot, Karey Kirkpatrick, is amazing and helped us find those emotions and that chemistry, even when we didn’t have a fellow actor to work with.
How does the song you perform in the film, “A Wonderful Life,” help tell the story and keep it moving?
Music is something I love, and it brings something really special to the film. “A Wonderful Life” comes at a time when the character Migo is a little hesitant about going after the truth because he’s always been told there’s only way to live. My character, Meechee, is trying to open his eyes to this idea that there’s another world out there to explore. So, Migo is wondering if he should take that risk with this group of Yetis, and he does. Meechee takes him on this musical journey, telling Migo that having questions is a good thing – and that it’s important to figure things out. And that’s what “A Wonderful Life” is really is about – the wonder of life.
The co-writer of that song, as well as the other songs and the film’s screenplay is also its director, Karey Kirkpatrick. Talk about working with Karey.
Karey is brilliant. I love working with directors with a clear vision of what they want, but who are also collaborative. Karey had a vision for the film and was always open to ideas from us. He let me try different things, but then he’d give me a note with a version to try that was, nine times out of ten, better and funnier than what I came up with.
I enjoyed working with Karey and observing the evolution of the film—from the sketches to the final, magically beautiful world of Smallfoot. There were many people who worked non-stop on the countless little details that make up this film. It’s pretty cool.
You did get the chance to work with Channing Tatum, who voices Migo, for one day. What was that like?
It was wonderful to have Channing there and bounce off each other’s energies. We adlibbed quite a bit that day, telling each other, “Hey, just go back and forth and see what comes out.” But with all that improv, it was hard not to step on each other’s lines – and in animation, the filmmakers need clean lines. Overall, it was a lot of fun and added another layer of energy.
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What do you hope audiences experience when they see Smallfoot in theaters beginning this September?
An animated movie has to tell a real story, have heart and a message, and be fun for the entire family. I saw a screening of Smallfoot with my family, and my nieces loved it. I brought my older sister and my parents to another screening, and they loved it. Smallfoot has humor and fun for everyone. I left the screenings feeling really positive about the film. Before that, I only knew about Meechee and her part in the story. It’s so magical to watch the entire movie and see how it all came together.
When I left the theater, I felt …happy. And that’s what animated movies really do for people – leave them with a smile and wanting to hug someone. They will feel warm and fuzzy inside, like, I guess, the Yetis [laughs].