This Sunday night, Adult Swim fans will have the opportunity to check out JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales, a brand new animated series that turns all those classic stories that we grew up learning and loving on their proverbial heads. Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Villard about his approach to his brand new show that features a ton of twisted humor, some truly gorgeous animation and a proverbial Who’s Who of vocal talent, including Linda Blair, Robert Englund, Peter Weller, Keith David, Cassandra Peterson, Sheryl Lee, Finn Wolfhard, Warwick Davis, Jennifer Tilly, and so many more.
During our interview, Villard discussed how Fairy Tales came to be, what inspired the visuals for the series, his experiences collaborating with the talent involved for Fairy Tales and more.
Be sure to check out JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales when it premieres this Sunday, May 10th (technically the 11th) at 12:15am EST on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
I’m a big fan of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, and it seems like they really give a lot of freedom to the creators they work with. And it feels like for this show, you really took the ball and ran with it. What was the genesis for doing an updated take on all these classic stories?
JJ Villard: Well, that was a real big challenge for the writers. It was just how to make these cartoons fresh. The way it all started was Mike Lazzo, the creator of Adult Swim, he saw one of my zines, which was based off of my sketchbook and he saw a page in my sketchbook zine and he said that he wanted to base a cartoon off of this sketchbook page and it had the words "Snow White," an evil bunny rabbit, and some robot cats. So, I was like, “Holy shit, Mike Lazzo wants me to base a TV show off of a sketchbook page.” So I called him and asked if I could do fairy tales and he gave me the go-ahead. And I was like, “Mike, I don’t know if you know this about me, but I worked on Shrek 3 and 4 and I hated it.” He said, “Well, channel that anger into this cartoon,” and that’s what I did.
From your perspective, what do you think it is about fairy tales that have continued to capture our imagination and what makes them so ripe for reinvention?
JJ Villard: Well, I think from a show business standpoint, and I’m only talking money and dollars here, but they’re public domain, so anyone can use them for free. So, that’s a huge eye-opener for executives because, let's face it, no studio wants to spend unnecessary money. So, that already is a huge part of it. Then, when you get some demented artists like me and my writers and my other teammates involved to create this, they know that they’re going to get something that’s never been done before with these fairy tales.
And that’s part of the whole thing. I created King Star King in 2014 for Adult Swim and I think I went a little too hardcore for them. Although it won their first Emmy, they still cancelled the show because it was just too much. So, with this new show, they definitely had the standards and practices talk to me, and they said, “We don’t want religious jokes, stay away from the fart and puke jokes, and tone down all the sexual jokes.”
It definitely has this outlandish tone, but this series has some really beautiful animation. Can you talk about finding that balance of having gorgeous animation, but embracing this offbeat tone?
JJ Villard: Thank you. Well, if you draw something and you don’t expect some type of joke or anything like that to happen with that drawing, that makes it funnier. So, I thought, "What if we make these really cute characters, but the stories are going to be completely f---ed up?" And where have I seen some of the cutest characters around? There are those Little Golden Books that I grew up on, they’re still making them to this day. Mary Blair had a big part in creating a style to the Little Golden Books, where you had no outlines to the characters and just these beautiful visuals, so I kind of stole from her style and blended it with my style. That’s how we came up with this look. And if you look at the backgrounds, they have forensic evidence laying around, where there’s yellow tape, people in the shadows, a lot of homeless tents. We wanted to apply what you see in modern-day life with the backgrounds and we thought that would make it interesting as well.
I wanted to ask about the weird subliminal flash that popped up in these episodes. It was hard to catch it in the screeners, but I’m looking forward to watching it on TV so I can pause it properly.
JJ Villard: Yeah, so what happens is, I draw in my sketchbook almost every day and if I’m not drawing then I’m writing shit down, whether it’s a quote or an idea or someone saying something in Starbucks that I think is interesting. I don’t know why, but I like to remember this stuff and I just put it in my sketchbook all the time. So, even back in my student films, I had been drawing quotes in my animation and that got into my professional life. You can see my college film Son of Satan on YouTube and it’s overloaded with quotes. People think it’s a gimmick, but it’s something I’ve always done. I think it’s just interesting and funny, and I’m actually offering a reward to anyone that can catch all of the subliminal messages in the first season of Fairy Tales. I will personally hand draw them a drawing if they can get them all.
The voice cast for Fairy Tales is a murderers row of talent. Can you talk about approaching the talent and getting them onboard for this?
JJ Villard: Yeah, I mean honestly, when I send the IMDb list to media outlets they think it’s a joke, they think I’m lying with this cast because it’s an A-list horror cast of all time. For me, it’s the greatest cast ever assembled for cartoons, just because when you’re working on a cartoon you’re working 12-hour days, seven days a week and you need stuff to motivate you, to get you up in the morning, to work harder. So, my favorite genre is horror, and my favorite film is The Exorcist. The first person we hired was Linda Blair and she interviewed me for the part. I didn’t interview her and she asked, “Why me? Why do you want to hire me for this position?” And I told Linda that she was in one of the greatest films in film history and that I truly honestly believe she’s the greatest female actor around—ever. And I was not bullshitting her. It’s scary just how natural she is at acting. It’s just insane.
When she came in to record, she was the first actor to come in and I lost my shit. The performance I wanted out of her wasn’t good because of me because I was not directing like I should have been. She still did an unbelievable job, but we had her back in again for more roles and to fix some of the other stuff that I messed up personally, because I was such a geek. It was a huge learning lesson and there wasn’t a single actor I was not nervous around during the recording.
So, you were pretty hands on then during the actual vocal recording sessions?
JJ Villard: I would say half the cast came in to record, because the other half were remote and they were in different parts of the country. But when the actors did come in, I was usually in the booth with them because it creates an energy when you’re in the booth. You’re either reading lines with these people or you’re helping them understand what you’re looking for. Peter Weller straight up told me after I read one of his lines before he read it, “Don’t you ever read one of my lines before I read it again.” He was extremely serious and I was like, “Oh, shit! I’m so sorry RoboCop!” [Laughs] But I really felt bad because some actors get insulted by that and there’s no way I want to insult any of these people. I just want to help them to do the best performance they can.
Well, I’m glad Peter Weller is living up to his reputation of being really intense.
JJ Villard: [Laughs] Oh yeah, he was. Look, I mean this as no insult to the actors, but some of them just don’t read the script before they come in. And why should they when they’ve worked on these great horror films and this is just a little 15-minute cartoon? So, Peter Weller, halfway through the script went, “Who the hell wrote this shit?” The writers and I all looked at each other nervously and we laughed. He was like, ”You know, I’m a scholar in English and this is some pretty good goddamn writing,” so he really embraced it and we had him back for a second episode. He was so cool.