Animated version of ‘White Fang’ to debut at Sundance Film Festival
Director Alexandre Espigares wanted to offer audiences a new take on Jack London’s novel “White Fang” for his first feature film set to debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
In his animated adaption, Espigares shifts the storyline’s focus from the human characters in the novel to the dog, White Fang, to highlight the grittiness of the story. He said he had to tread carefully while depicting certain scenes from the novel to avoid frightening his younger audience.
“I know this gets thrown around a lot that ‘we’ve done something unique,’ but we are different because animation has allowed us to stay with our main character,” Espigares said in an interview from Paris. “Although there are humans in the film, we wanted them to take a back seat even when they are present in the scene. We always go back to White Fang.”
The tale of “White Fang” is set during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. It chronicles the life of a wolf dog who is abandoned after a dog fight at Fort Yukon, Alaska. Two people later befriend the injured dog and expose him to a different side of human nature. The film features the voice acting of Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Eddie Spears and Paul Giamatti.
Espigares, who worked on major films such as “Happy Feet Two” and “Iron Man 3,” said he was commissioned to work on the project by a producer in Luxembourg. After reading the script, he knew the film had potential and immediately formed a picture in his mind about what he wanted the film to become.
“I was given all the freedom I needed to make changes to the script to make it mine and take over the project,” he said. “The script was already pretty well written, but I made some artistic changes so I could tell the story in a different way. The end result and style is definitely mine.”
Espigares toned down the commentary, he said, to move away from the cliché of animals talking or singing in films. He said the movie includes “very long scenes” where there is not a significant amount of dialogue, even when people are featured.
“I didn’t want to pollute the film too much,” he said. “One difficulty I think with doing a film based on a novel is that, when you read it, there are a lot of things going on, a lot of characters and parallel story lines. We had to make a choice to cut characters and even invent some.”
Espigares said he tried to stay true to the tone of the novel, while also making it appealing to a family audience. He said the novel is “pretty hard on White Fang and I didn’t want to lose that.”
“We didn’t want to show the grittiness in a way that would scare people away, especially younger viewers,” he said. “We managed to show things without showing them, but still keep the intensity of the scene.”
Espigares described “White Fang” as a coming-of-age story, where “life doesn’t always treat you the way you want to be treated.” But, he added, there is an element of redemption.
“It’s about finding who you are in the world and where your place is,” he said. “White Fang needed to figure out if he belongs in the human world or with the wolves.”
Espigares said he wants the audience, particularly younger viewers, to walk away with questions about the morals that are displayed in the film. He said it may not be immediately clear why some characters behave the way they do, but he hopes it is by the end of the film.
“I hope it sparks discussion,” he said. “And I hope kids will ask the right question and the adults they are with will be able to answer them.”
“White Fang” is the director’s first film to appear at the Sundance Film Festival. It is being screened in the Sundance Film Festival’s Kids category. Espigares said the opportunity validates his work.
“It’s a great opportunity having a premiere at Sundance,” he said. “It is just like, ‘Wow.’ It gives the movie a certain credibility. Also, for me, it’s a big thing to be able to go there. I mean it’s Sundance, what else can I say?”
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