Writer-directors Jan Lachauer and Jakob Schuh faced a daunting task when they adapted “Revolting Rhymes,” Roald Dahl’s collection of poems with his twist on classic fairy tales. But their hard work paid off with an Oscar nomination for animated short.
Not only were they taking on the beloved author’s unique prose, but they had to weave the separate poems into one cohesive story.
“We cut the book up and started switching rhymes around and tried to conjoin the separate stories into one story without adding rhymes and without changing rhymes,” explains Schuh. “You want to have these characters that don’t know each other in the book to have a conjoined story with a conjoined ending, so the process was lengthy and tough, I have to say.”
What they ended up with is a funny and touching story about a childhood friendship between Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White and what happens to them as they grow up. Oh, and throw in the Three Little Pigs and a very resourceful Big Bad Wolf or three to keep things interesting. The result actually says a lot about female empowerment.
Schuh notes that the book, written in 1981, is full of strong female characters, both nice and not so nice. “There are some incredibly complex, strong women there. And so you get the feeling that the book doesn’t use female characters as a sort of constant uplift for male characters, but they’re people that do very surprising things and try to make sense of the hardships they face,” he says. “I wouldn’t say we did that. It’s in the book. But we sort of made that the core theme that carries through.”
While there’s a surrounding story that ties the elements together, the main focus is on Red Riding Hood and Snow White, who have separate stories in the book.
“They are basically two young girls and in this book they kind of decide to take their lives into their own hands,” says Lachauer. “But that’s the connection we found in these two stories and in the two characters. And we saw that these two girls basically have very similar approaches to their lives.”
So they brought the two together.
“We almost felt like they belonged together, these two stories, but once you decide you want them to be in one story, then it becomes tricky to actually make that work,” adds Schuh. “You want there to be a relationship between these two characters, but in the core moments between them, they never talk. There is no dialogue that they actually have in the book.”
Lachauer and Schuh found a way to bring them together when they began storyboarding. “There was a moment where one of our storyboarders boarded a sequence where they first meet at the grave of Snow White’s mother and he had this idea that one of them takes a deep breath and takes the hand of the other,” says Schuh. “For some reason, every time I clicked through the storyboard, it brought tears to my eyes. It was very strong. And so this motif of the two of them holding hands and being pulled apart sort of carried through the film. From the reactions we get, we have a feeling the people see that as a strong relationship.”
Schuh and Lachauer are no strangers to the Oscars. Each have been nominated in the animated short category before: Schuh along with Max Lang for 2009’s “The Gruffalo” and Lachauer alongside Lang for 2012’s “Room on the Broom.” All three films are from Magic Light Pictures. On March 4, “Revolting Rhymes” will face off against “Dear Basketball,” “Garden Party,” “Negative Space” and “Lou.” The film has already won a raft of awards including an Annie Award for special production, a BAFTA Children’s Award and Annecy’s Cristal Award.
But the thrill of getting an Oscar nomination remains. “I stood in my kitchen and was just screaming,” say Schuh of when he heard “Revolting Rhymes” had been nominated. “You don’t think of these things when you’re make a film.”
Lachauer is happy for the nomination because it means more people may see the film. “There’s a focus on it and without the nomination that might not happen. That’s the main thing I’m happy about, that more people are going to see this film and see the story we’re telling about these two girls and the wolf.”
For a behind-the-scenes look at their designs, drawings and storyboards, visit their Instagram page.