‘Love Actually’ Director Richard Curtis Unveils First Six Minutes Of New Animated Christmas Movie; Talks Charlie Brown Inspiration – Annecy

Richard Curtis brought Christmas cheer to an unseasonably drizzly day at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival on Tuesday as he presented his first animated feature That Christmas in a Work in Progress session.

“I really adore Christmas. Whenever I’m kind of thinking of stories, that’s the first place that my mind goes to,” the screenwriter and director told the audience of animation professionals and students.

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Having made one of the definitive Christmas movies of all time with live action hit Love Actually, the Bridget Jones Diary and Notting Hill rom-com king has his sights on realizing a similar achievement in animation.

His Netflix-backed animation debut is directed by How To Train Your Dragon animator Simon Otto (whose directing credits include Love, Death & Robots) and produced by Nicole P. Hearon (MoanaFrozen) and Adam Tandy (The Thick of ItDetectorists) For Locksmith Animation.

“It’s the best time of the year,” said Curtis of the Christmas season. “I love all the questions. It says to you: ‘Have you been naughty? Have you been nice? Is your family functional?… There’s the disastrous family meal; where I come from, there’s a big, freezing Christmas swim in the North Sea, and there’s the dreadful walk you have to go on with people you don’t like.”

“Then there’s Christmas movies, that were always such a huge thing when I was young… It’s a Wonderful Life, I’ve seen it 40 times. I love the Charlie Brown movie. That’s my biggest inspiration for this. There’s the other greatest ever Christmas movie Elf. There’s White Christmas, which I used to watch with my dad every single year.”

Curtis’ screenplay is adapted from his trilogy of Christmas-themed children’s books – The Empty Stocking, Snow Day, and That Christmas.

“We’ve taking these three books and woven them together to tell one interconnected story and brought Netflix on board with the idea of making a Richard Curtis movie for the family,” said Otto.

“When we first talked about turning these books into an animated feature, the big questions that popped up in my head were how do you turn a film about small events in these charming children’s books into a big, sweeping cinematic film for the whole family?

“In animation, we tend to tell stories with a single protagonist, big journeys and fantastical ideas. For me personally, being a big admirer of Richard’s films, what makes a Richard Curtis movie? I really wanted this film to fit into his canon of movies and live up to them.”

Set against the backdrop of an imaginary seaside town called Wellington-on-Sea, the tale unfolds in the run up to Christmas Day, which is nearly derailed when a monster blizzard hits the region, hampering the return of the parents from a social event in the next town and leaving their children to fend for themselves.

That Christmas
That Christmas, Locksmith Animation/Netflix

In the backdrop, Father Christmas (voiced by Brian Cox) is doing the rounds.

“It’s a unique backdrop that will make our audience feel like they’re sitting in the middle of the snow globe you take home from a winter holiday,” said Otto.

The blueprint for Wellington is the seaside town in Suffolk, where Curtis has a home, and a bigger town next door.

“I’ve had a very cowardly movie career” he said. “I went to America when I was young, and I set a movie in Boston and then I realised I didn’t know anything about it. So, I came home. My first film The Tall Guy was originally called Camden Town Boy, because I actually lived in Camden Town. The next film was Notting Hill, because I lived in Notting Hill and I’ve just done a film called Yesterday, which is set in Suffolk and the Latitude Festival, because I live in Suffolk and go to the Latitude Festival.”

Otto explained that he and his team started creating storyboards and drawing outlines from the books as Curtis was writing the screenplay.

“We started drawing and then as the pages came in, we were kind of refining,” he said.

Curtis said working on feature animation had been “an intriguing process” and worlds away from his experiences on live action productions.

“When you’re making real life movies, as it were, it’s all just print, and you don’t see anything until suddenly you turn up on the day, and there’s the set. To see what I’ve written meant in real terms and in visual terms, was so exciting, because then you can write jokes into stuff you’re already seeing.”

Alongside A-list cast members Cox, Fiona Shaw, Jodie Whittacker and Bill Nighy, the voice cast features a host of child actors.

Curtis said working with them in the recording studio rather than on a set had been a more rewarding process.

“One of the most exciting things was to have real time to work with kids not under pressure. I think the performances by the kids in this movie are so sort of rich, and humane,” he said.

“My experience of working with kids on movie sets is that it’s very scary for them. It’s hard for them to calm down… I’ve been lucky. The boy in Love Actually was amazing but there have been a couple of other films I’ve done where we’ve had to cut the kids in the end.”

That’s Christmas launches on Netflix in December 2024.

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