As a immigrant from Mexico City, director Leopoldo Gout says he moved to New York City in 2000 with no money in his pockets and only imagination and love in his soul.
“New York has given me incredible opportunity and success,” Gout says. “As a filmmaker, I wanted to make an intimate, handmade film – a love letter to New York and my son.”
Flash-forward eight years and Gout is a partner and executive producer of Curious Pictures, “the largest independent animation studio on the East Coast.” The company’s most recent animation, “Little Spirit: Christmas in New York,” which features the voices of Danny DeVito, Lucy Liu, and Freddy Rodriguez, follows the story of a boy named Leo who loses his dog Ramona when his family moves to Manhattan. Leo gets help to find his canine companion from a magical creature named Little Spirit, who arrives through Leo’s Christmas tree.
“Little Spirit: Christmas in New York,” which Gout wrote and co-directed, airs on NBC Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. (Central time).
Where did you get the inspiration for this story?
The main character is named Leo, the same as my son and Ramona is my dog. The ideas were flowing in the back of my mind. When I was a kid I always fantasized a lot. There is always an electricity around Christmastime. It was always very powerful for me. Walking in Central Park one day I started to use all these fantasies that I had as a kid. One of them was the Christmas tree being a portal to another dimension. As a kid, I imagined there was this other world inside the Christmas tree. They’re stories I always carried around with me.
Sounds like you are really a kid at heart.
I think I’m still looking for my inner adult. I’m not just a child at heart, I’m all child. I play with my son. We share toys together. We read stories and play adventures. The one thing I can always say that I have is an imagination. I’ve never lost that.
Tell me about New York from your Latino experience and how this influenced the film.
I feel we Latinos are very open and curious about other cultures. I grew up in a home with a lot of culture and a lot of passion. There was a lot of fun and glamour. I feel that you bring that with you to the states as a Latino. I’m always curious about people and what they do. That’s why I love New York City. There is so much diversity.
I grew up watching classic holiday specials like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as I’m sure many children still do today. Since classics like these are still popular, do you think there’s a need for a new generation of Christmas specials?
Absolutely. That’s why we did “Little Spirit.” It’s from a child’s perspective. It’s action-packed and full of comedy. I made it with my heart and how I think a Christmas special should be today. I wanted to reflect the current state of the city and certain aspects of the world we live in and still maintain the culture of those classic ideas of Christmas specials. I wanted to embrace all religions and spirituality. It’s an important evolution on the Christmas special.
Something that has definitely changed about Christmas specials over the years is how accessible they are today. I mean, it used to be we would only see the classics once a year in December. But now, you can get on YouTube and watch clips or go buy the DVD and watch them whenever you want. Do you think Christmas specials are still as special as they were 15-20 years ago?
That’s a bigger question than just for the Christmas special. People are TiVoing everything. I only have to concentrate my force and energy on the positive side of it. I think it’s great people can see shows whenever they want. I feel that if you make a very good movie, some people will chose to see it a certain time of the year because that’s when it makes the most sense to them. I love the idea of people having the decision to do what they want with their time. In my case, I put my heart and soul into the project and hope that people will like it yearlong.
I know you’re also working on a project with director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) called “Megalomania.” While directors like him, Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze have dabbled with some animation in their prior films, it seems as if they’d like to do more since they’re focusing on bigger animated projects now. Wes Anderson is, of course, making “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and Spike Jonze is finishing up “Where the Wild Things Are.” Why do you think we’re seeing this interest from big-name directors that haven’t been a major part of this specific industry until now?
Well, for Michel Gondry, animation has been an extremely powerful vehicle for him; not animation in the classic Disney sense but any motion media and stop motion and a mixture of all these mediums. When we decided to discuss this project it was because I loved the paintings he had done of his son and the relationship he had with him. He was willing to do a movie that reflected that energy. He loved the idea. We would love to get more directors at Curious Pictures. Animation is just a lot of fun. It’s the freedom that is fantastic.