Adam Sandler's new animated Netflix musical movie Leo, with a star-studded voice acting cast that includes Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Jason Alexander, Jo Koy and Sandler's daughters Sadie and Sunny, was his way of making a Grease-like movie for kids.
With Sandler working alongside previous collaborators, writer/director Robert Smigel, and directors Robert Marianetti and David Wachtenheim, Sandler's vision was quite clear from the beginning.
"Adam had shown us a few different scripts and this initial idea came from, Adam wanted to watch Grease with his daughters, but they were a little bit too young, he didn't think it was really appropriate," Wachtenheim explained to Yahoo Canada. "So then he decided he wanted to do a movie about kids in elementary school, for kids, and a musical."
"Robert Smigel came up with the idea of it being ... centred around the class pet, around the class lizard. So he crafted the story of the lizard observing and coming to the end of his life, and wanting to do something."
What is 'Leo' about?
Leo (Sandler) is a 74-year-old class pet lizard, spending his life in a classroom of a Florida elementary school.
With the belief that lizards only live up to age 75, Leo wants to escape, to see what life is like outside the classroom that he inhabits with his friend Squirtle (Burr).
Leo's plan involves teacher Ms. Malkin's (Strong) assignment for the students to take turns brining home the class pet, but when the students find out that Leo can talk, starting with Summer (Sunny Sandler), the kids start opening up to Leo about their problems, seeking his advice.
"I look back [at] elementary school as my favourite part of life," Sandler said during a virtual press conference for the film. "I just was so excited to get to talk about school and friends, and what it's like and the feelings you have while you're in school."
"I really do mean this, this movie's one of the most memorable and one of my favourite things I've ever had in my entire career. I just connect really hard with this, going to school, being with your friends, having private concerns that you don't let anyone else know and then finding somebody to say, this is what's making me upset, or nervous or scared. Having someone just kind of relax you and say, 'Everyone feels that, you're not alone.'"
'Fantastic work for the Canadian group'
For a Canadian connection to the fun, funny and charming animated musical, the crew worked with a Canadian animation team to have this story come to life.
"The animation team was in Vancouver, we worked with Animal Logic out of Vancouver, and it was an amazing, great experience," Marianetti stressed to Yahoo Canada. "We loved going to Vancouver. Fantastic work for the Canadian crew."
As Wachtenheim and Marianetti explained, Smigel in particular wanted Leo to be a story that was fun for kids, but could bring in an adult audience as well.
"Robert really was able to make it enjoyable for adults too, by having just the element of the parents in there," Wachtenheim said. "It was really important for us to have a film that the whole family could watch together, where you have the lizard who's towards the end of his life, kids at the beginning of their life, and there's something for everybody to relate to and to latch on to."
That also comes down to the music used in the film, a favourite inclusion in Sandler's work.
"What's great about the songs is that a lot of them are very sweet and very heartfelt, but yet a lot of them have a comedic bend to it," Wachtenheim said. "They're a little bit of a spoof of movie musicals, it's not just a straight traditional song."
"Adam loves to sing," Marianetti added. "Music has been part of his comedic career from the very beginning and when you have people like Adam and Cecily Strong and Jason Alexander, how can you not have music?"
'It's like a marriage almost'
One thing that is likely a contributing factor to what makes Leo work is that the talent behind the story is used to working together. Wachtenheim and Marianetti have been directing partners for over 25 years, working with Smigel since the '90s as well.
"A lot of directing teams are kind of put together by the studio sometimes and so you get maybe more conflict here and there," Wachtenheim said. "We have some disagreements, but I think we've developed a relationship over so many years and a trust amongst each other that it was easy to work together."
"It's having the similar sensibilities," Marianetti added. "We play off of each other, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses. ... It's like a marriage almost."
When it comes to the comedic style, a lot of that can be attributed to Saturday Night Live as a "training ground."
"We were there also, doing animation for them, so it's like a family,"Marianetti said. "We all have our own strengths and weaknesses and I feel that they really complement each other well."
Where to watch 'Leo'
Leo is currently available to stream on Netflix