‘The Amazing Maurice’ playfully pounces on Sundance audiences | ParkRecord.com

‘The Amazing Maurice’ playfully pounces on Sundance audiences

Film based on a Discworld book by Terry Pratchett

Toby Genkel’s ‘The Amazing Maurice’ at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

  • When and where: 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway 6 in Salt Lake City; 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas - 3 in Salt Lake City and online through Jan. 29.
  • The film also opens nationwide on Feb. 3.
  • Web: festival.sundance.org
Toby Genkel’s “The Amazing Maurice,” an animated work in the 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s Kids program, features Hugh Laurie, who voices the title character.
Courtesy of Ulysses Films and Cantilever Media

Filmmaker Toby Genkel couldn’t wait to make “The Amazing Maurice.”

The reason is because the animated film, which is part of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s Kids category, is based on the 2001 novel, “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents,” penned by award-winning fantasy author, Sir Terry Pratchett.

The book is set in Pratchett’s well-known Discworld universe, and it is the first he wrote for children. It’s about a cat named Maurice, who, along with his mischief of rats and a pied-piper named Keith, roams the countryside making money from villagers who are afraid of the plague.

“Pratchett is a very vivid writer, and when you read the book, every page you turn is so great,” the filmmaker said. “The story comes to life right in front of your eyes.”

Another reason Genkel wanted to make the film was his friendship with producer Emely Chritians, who worked for about a decade on getting the rights to the book.

“We go way back and we’ve done a few movies together before,” Genkel said. 

Then Genkel, who is from Germany, read the screenplay by Terry Rossio, known for his work on “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

“Things really exploded, and I just had to do it.” he said.

The challenge of making the film was keeping the spirit of Pratchett’s book.

“His writings have this mixture of wacky humor that is even silly at times, but there’s always this other side, a social commentary,” Genkel said. “There is this unique way that Pratchett marries these things together, because it’s always more than just the laughs.”

Being respectful to the book meant that Genkel and his crew had to find a balance between making a family-friendly film without taking off the sharp edges.

“The name of Pratchett puts weight on your shoulders, and no matter how excited you are, you can’t ignore it,” he said. “He doesn’t shy away when writing about the problems of the world, even when he writes for children. So, we worked hard to keep an upbeat undertone, but not shy away from the conflict. I mean, kids can take it, and you have to take them seriously at all times.”

The mouse Dangerous Beans, center, voiced by David Tennant, and Peache, right, voiced by Gemma Arterton come up against a danger in Toby Genkel’s “The Amazing Maurice,” which is an animated film at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film is based on Sir Terry Pratchett’s 2001 children’s book “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.”
Courtesy of Ulysses Films and Cantilever Media

Along with keeping the spirit of the book, Genkel wanted to bring the characters to life with a cast of talented actors who provided the voices.

The cast includes Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke, David Tennant, Himesh Patel and Gemma Arterton.

“They are superstars, but with an independent film, we couldn’t start right off with top-shelf talent,” Genkel said. 

He started with scratch voices, actors who would fill in to give the crew a sense of the animals’ characters. 

“As the characters started to shape up, we started thinking about who could voice what,” Genkel said. “As I look at animated animals, I would think of what the animal would sound like if it was human. And I can’t really take any credit for hiring these actors; It was our producers.”

Sundance Film Festival logo

Principle filming began three years ago, and as a director, Genkel had to keep an eye on all the moving parts.

“There are differences in making an animated film as opposed to a live-action film, but I want to point out that there shouldn’t be a difference in storytelling,” he said. “It all really comes down to the technical process. You make decisions in different ways, and take a different path. And the great thing about animation is that we are allowed to transport universal ideas in a clear way without making fools out of ourselves.” 

Getting a kid-friendly animated feature in Sundance has been a surreal experience for Genkel and his crew.

“It’s fantastic, and we are pleased and proud to have made it here,” he said. “I’m speaking on behalf of a great team, and I hope people enjoy watching the film as much as we enjoyed making it.”

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