A look at Irish animation The Ugly Duckling me

Opening in Northern Ireland this weekend,

The animation is just as sharp as the major animated movies coming out of Hollywood and has already proven its worth in the industry by winning the award for ‘best directed animated feature film’ at the industry ‘Cartoon Movie’ festival.
It’s not until you hear the Irish accents on some of the animals or experience the razor-sharp wit woven throughout the script that you recognise the Irish roots of the project. Dublin born Mark Hodkinson is the man behind the award winning script, as with ‘Shrek’ and ‘Hoodwinked’, he took a familiar fairy tale and gave it an irreverent twist for a new generation with hilarious results as Jarlath Greory discovered…

Q: How did you begin to make changes to the original ‘Ugly Duckling’ story in order to modernise it?
A: I’d read Hans Christian Anderson, and The Ugly Duckling is a very short story, you’d have a hard time dragging it out for an hour and a half.  It needed a lot of other characters to give it meat.  A-Film, a Danish company, had been knocking the idea around for a time, they approached me through Magma Film. They had rough designs for the characters of Ratso and Ugly, but they just couldn’t find the story. I went over to them in Copenhagen and we started throwing around ideas for the story, we finally settled on one, and I went home to work on it.  Ratso was certainly their character – they wanted a buddy movie.  It was my job to take them on the road and see where it took them.

Q: Do you think movies like Shrek and Hoodwinked have paved the way for tongue-in-cheek adaptations of fairy-tales?
A: I think so, yeah.  I suppose when they first started coming up with the idea, it would’ve been around the time of  the original ‘Shrek’ movie.  It would’ve been that year when they really started pushing forward with it and decided to get their skates on.  They were afraid to miss the boat!  

Q: You’ve previously worked on TV shows, so how did you make the leap into writing your first movie script?
A: It was scary.  The longest thing I’d written before was 22-minute episodes of Saturday morning TV, which tends to get churned out, you know?  It was pretty daunting.  But you find writing for half-hour TV slots that there’s lots of stuff you want to fit in and they keep making you cut back so I was nice to know you had a hundred blank pages to fill.  You could let your imagination run wild or indulge yourself.

Q: What are the main differences between writing an animated feature, and writing a traditional script?
A: I think the biggest difference is there’s just no limit with animation.  In terms of budget, you can be pulled back with characters, but you can set it under the sea or on Mars if you like.  The more characters there are the more expensive it is, but set pieces aren’t a problem.

Q: How many people did it take to make ‘The Ugly Duckling and me’?
A: From start to finish?  I don’t know, but the credits are seven minutes long!  I haven’t met anyone who stayed for the whole thing.

Q: Did you know from the start that you wanted a 3D than a 2D cartoon?
A: Originally they were thinking in terms of ‘Babe’, with a mix of live action and CGI.  They experimented with that but went against it, they even thought about doing 2D animation.  It was really that, at that time, 3D was coming into its own and it felt like they could do it as well as they wanted to do it.  I suppose ‘Monsters Inc’ set the bar.  I liked the fact this was 3D.  I don’t know how much difference it made to the script, but it was more exciting to see it come to life.  

Q: There are moments for kids to enjoy and also some humour geared towards adults.  Was it fun trying to write for as broad an audience as possible?
A: Absolutely.  It’s the parents who have to sit through it, and they have to pay for it – it’s only fair!  When ‘Aladdin’ came along, suddenly animation was for adults as well as kids.  Ever since Robin Williams played the Genie, they’re family movies and date movies, and you can cater to kids and have something for the grown-ups as well.

Q: The movie has won ‘Best Directed Animated Feature Film’ at this year’s Cartoon Movie Awards – what does this mean for the potential success of the movie?
A: It helps the directors a lot.  I’m really not sure.  It’s already been out in Europe, and it’s done very well, particularly in France.  It’s been selected for Toronto, and I think it just helps awareness and publicity-wise.  It gets the word out there.

Q: Are there any animators or writers you particularly admire, or trying to emulate?
A: (Laughing) Trying to rip off?  Not particularly.  I have heroes, but I’d be afraid to mention them in case we’d get compared.  I’m not trying to write as an animator, I suppose it’s more about the craftsmanship of writing in general.

Q: Any plans for more animations in the future?

A: I’m still working on some animation at the moment, with a French company, called ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’ and Magma Films are doing a Grimm series coming up soon.

‘The Ugly Duckling & Me’ opens in Northern Ireland this weekend.