When adapting “The Snail and the Whale” into a short film, Max Lang and Daniel Snaddon had to find ways of stretching out the very short story into a nearly 30 minute short film. Both of them found different ways of bringing more to the story. For Lang, he added a scene where the snail initially tries to hitch a ride with on a boat but nearly gets eaten by seagulls. “What that helped us to establish was that she was trying, she had the drive to go out there. But it’s a dangerous world and this establishes stakes as well. She’s a little snail but she’s also brave,” he tells us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). Snaddon echoes these thoughts and adds that he wanted to help accentuate the beauty of the story as well as the characters. “It’s not really a comedy. It’s much more of a poetic film. A lot of the stuff that Max and Suzanne added really build up the characters and their relationships. I think that was much more important.”
“The Snail and the Whale” is adapted from the children’s book by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. A small snail (Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) dreams of seeing the world and puts out a message seeking someone to take her on that journey. A humpback whale (Rob Brydon) offers to let her hitch a ride on his tail and he proceeds to take her on an incredible adventure. The film recently made the Oscar shortlist for the Best Animated Short category. While this is Snaddon’s first experience with this, Lang has been down this road before as he’s been nominated in the category twice before: “The Gruffalo” in 2010 and “Room on the Broom” in 2013.
Casting Hawkins was special for Lang, as she had voiced the bird in “Room on the Broom,” but since she had so few lines in that film, he made sure that she would be center stage for this one. He particularly loved what she brought to the snail when the snail didn’t have any lines. “If there’s a moment when the character doesn’t talk, there’s a lot of breathing and presence that has to go into characters like this and she’s just amazing at that.” The film also marks one of the last performances from Dame Diana Rigg, who narrates the short. Snaddon says that in selecting who would narrate the project, “We knew we wanted someone who had a combination of authority and warmth and who also had a bit of an edge and a twinkle in the eye because you want the audience to really believe that things can go wrong.” He adds that she was absolutely wonderful to work with.
In making the Oscar shortlist, Snaddon called it a wonderful surprise, especially considering the competition that they’re up against. At the same time, though, he and his team in South Africa are trying to keep their expectations in check. “We’re very happy, grateful, excited and not trying to count our chickens before they hatch but we are enjoying the moment while it lasts.” Lang also feels a huge sense of gratitude because of the uniqueness of the short film categories. “I don’t think you have that in any other category where the competitors are so different and so hard to compare. I genuinely love all the films that are on the list. It’s really like comparing apples and oranges and whoever makes it is deserved, I think.”
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