Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler in The Smeds and The Smoos

Set to premiere on the BBC on Christmas Day in the UK, The Smeds and The Smoos is the tenth in a series of screen adaptations based on books by popular children’s publishing duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Starring the voices of Bridgerton’s Adjoa Andoh and comedian Bill Bailey, the film was produced by longtime Donaldson/Scheffler collaborators Magic Light Pictures.

The 30-minute film tells the story of two adorable aliens, Bill and Janet, who come from warring clans. When they fall in love and run away together, their families reluctantly team up to find them and bring them home–unexpectedly becoming friends in the process.

Donaldson writes (usually in stanzas) while Scheffler illustrates (although he has also written his own picture books). Together, they struck gold more than 25 years ago with “The Gruffalo,” which spawned an Academy Award-nominated film starring Helena Bonham Carter, a carefully curated collection of merchandise, an amusement park ride and a sequel, “The Gruffalo’s Child” (which has also been adapted). with screen by Magic Light.)

Despite their success, the duo remains completely humble about their work. “I mean, really, it’s a straight pinch of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but with a happy ending,” Donaldson says of The Smeds and the Smoos.

As for the clan names – Smeds and Smoos – Donaldson says there are no more good rhymes. “A lot of things that go blue,” she said pragmatically at a press event during the film’s screening. “Blue is a great word for rhyme. And red isn’t so bad. They can’t actually be yellow and purple.”

Courtesy of Magic Light

The interaction between Donaldson and the eccentric Totonic Scheffler, who have now worked together for nearly thirty years, is often as fun as that between their characters, as the duo comically snipe at each other during their joint appearances. “I enjoy [drawing] Artificial creatures because I have more freedom, Scheffler says of drawing many of the aliens that live in “The Smeds and the Smoos.”

“Although I’ve never had complete freedom because Julia always tries to retain some control,” he adds quietly. So I knew those [aliens] He had to have hair and shoes and hop around like a kangaroo and things like that. But Gruffalos and aliens clearly give me a little more freedom than foxes and squirrels, for example. So I enjoyed drawing and making them.”

Since adapting The Gruffalo in 2009, Donaldson and Scheffler have also forged a long-term partnership with Magic Light. And the resulting films, starring some of Britain’s top talent from Olivia Colman to James Corden, are now a staple of the BBC’s annual Christmas fare.

While “The Gruffalo” was a mixture of stop-motion sets and CGI characters, the later films were entirely CGI. “But we worked hard to maintain the aesthetic so that all the stories feel like they’re part of the same universe, so you can watch any two together and it doesn’t feel like there’s a disconnect,” explains Barney Goodland, producer at Magic Light.

To this end, those who look closely at Smeds and Smoos will notice that their skin retains a Claymation feel, with thumbprints and irregularities in the surface. “We work really hard to get that kind of aesthetic feel,” says Goodland. “It feels tangible and can be real. It’s the books that come to life.”

Every Donaldson/Scheffler book inevitably presents some technical challenges in bringing it to the screen, of course, whether it’s water, poetry, or, in the latest adaptation, slime. “Glchurch, Sticky Planet was the most challenging of each section I think,” admits Goodland. The team started by living out every 5-year-old’s imagination: buying tons of slime from stores and playing with it using mini figures. “[The slime] He has a slight life of his own,” he explains.

Surprisingly, Donaldson and Scheffler don’t get involved when it comes to adaptations, even though everything is passed over for approval, starting with the script. “When we go from the script, we show them the animation, and then we show them the parts of the animation. So they’re involved, but first we work on the story ourselves, and then we discuss with them,” Goodman says of the process.

With Donaldson’s stories often told by an omniscient third-person narrator, lines sometimes have to be animated and, where possible, says Goodman, put into the characters’ mouths. Does tampering with Donaldson’s original text seem sacrilegious? “I don’t know of any other company that’s so faithful to text,” says Michael Rose, co-founder of Magic Light. “We actually treat it like the Bible. So any modifications to the text or things we discuss in depth with Julia in advance.”

With the prolific Donaldson and Scheffler (their latest effort, The Baddies, published this year) one of Magic Light’s biggest difficulties is choosing which comic book to adapt next. Goodland says the team landed on “The Smeds and The Smoos” as the 10th Amendment because “it’s… [set] In such a really cool world, with unique characters.”

But since the story also touches on prejudice and intolerance — the Smoos judging the Smeds for their color red and eating brown bread while the Smeds hating the Smoos for their blue coloring and fondness for green tea — “The Smeds and The Smoos” is also timely. (It was completed shortly after the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016, prompting Scheffler to dedicate the book to “All Europe’s Children”).

“Obviously there is a theme of one person from one tribe and another person from another tribe,” says Andoh, who voices Grandma Hmou in the film. “But I think there is beyond that the ignorant prejudice that people can harbor about each other until they come together. In fact, love and survival and kinship are the things that bind us all.”


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