A Simple Wish: About The Production

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Anabel Greening (Mara Wilson) is desperate. It's bad enough that her older brother (Francis Capra) treats her like a baby. Now her widowed father (Robert Pastorelli), a singer-actor who supports the family by driving a hansom cab in Central Park, is about to audition for the lead role in a big Broadway musical, and if he doesn't get the part, he's moving the family to Nebraska. Nebraska! What could be worse for a seven-year-old New Yorker?

In the great tradition of heroines, Anabel is a girl who needs a little help from the outside and who better than a fairy godmother? However, the fairy godmother she ends up getting is a guy named Murray (Martin Short) not exactly what Anabel had in mind.

Although well-intentioned, Murray's wish-fulfilling skills leave a lot to be desired. After accidentally turning Anabel's father into a statue in Central Park, Anabel and Murray are transported to the middle of nowhere, where a spell intended to conjure up a rabbit instead leads to the creation of an 80-foot tall Rabbi. Making matters worse is the evil Claudia (Kathleen Turner) an ex-communicated fairy godmother gone bad who now seeks total domination of the field. Infiltrating the annual meeting of the North American Fairy Godmother's Association, she makes off with all their magic wands, and with them, all of their power. It is now up to Anabel and the blundering Murray to recover the wands, rescue Anabel's dad from a life of stone and restore the world to a place where a simple wish can come true.

Universal Pictures and The Bubble Factory present A Simple Wish , starring Martin Short, Mara Wilson, Kathleen Turner and Robert Pastorelli. Directed by Michael Ritchie from a screenplay by Jeff Rothberg, the film was produced by Sid, Bill and Jon Sheinberg, with Michael Glick and Rothberg serving as co-producers. Co-starring in A Simple Wish are Amanda Plummer, Teri Garr and Ruby Dee.

When screenwriter/co-producer Jeff Rothberg became a father, he took a second look at the old folk tales and fairy tales he read as a child. Reading them aloud to his own children, he saw how the old tales might easily translate to a modern idiom.

"I was always fascinated by the universality of fairy tales and mythology. Even though they take on different characteristics and meaning with each generation, the legends and heroes of folklore have endured over the years," explains Rothberg. "For instance, looking at the story of Cinderella, it seemed that the notion of a fairy godmother was a timeless idea and a character that might lend itself to a more contemporary interpretation of the age-old wish fulfillment fantasy."

"I began to question why a fairy godmother had to be a woman. It just made sense to turn the whole thing on its ear for fun. Besides, its funnier and more unexpected to see a man waving a magic wand."

Rothberg's script was a natural for The Bubble Factory, given their mandate for family-oriented entertainment. "At The Bubble Factory, we're not going after violent movies," says producer and partner of The Bubble Factory, Sid Sheinberg. "We're going after movies that can be shown to families. But you've got to be careful because the term family entertainment can be viewed as limiting or pejorative and, by our definition, films like Jurassic Park are great family entertainment." Fortunately, The Bubble Factory liked Rothberg's idea of a male fairy godmother.

Director Michael Ritchie was attracted to the project for similar reasons. "As the father of seven children, the idea of working on a family film with a level of wit and sophistication that attracts adults without confusing the younger audience was very appealing," explains Ritchie.

Martin Short says he considers it a great honor to be chosen as Murray, the worlds first male fairy godmother. "This really is a terrific role. It's a totally free, original creation and something that allowed me to be really loose and playful. Murray is very endearing and that's a quality I find very attractive in a character," comments Short.

"Marty's just a magical guy. He's got that great blend of childish innocence. He's part kid with a lot of characters in him, and he's just wonderful working with the kids," says Rothberg.

Well known for her ability to play outlandish characters, Kathleen Turner was drawn to the role of Claudia, a character she describes as a fairy godmother gone wrong. "She's tired of all the whining children, so she begins using her powers for herself and subsequently gets kicked out of the fairy godmothers union," explains Turner. "Claudia enjoys how bad she is. She is quite methodical about becoming truly effective and monstrously evil." To achieve the right effect, Turner drew on characters from fairy tales. Claudia is the wicked stepmother in Snow White and the evil witch in Sleeping Beauty put together.

According to Ritchie, "Kathleen Turner has an incredible ability to say the line exactly the way the author and director intended. Her delivery is like a piece of music. Her timing and pauses - very few directions come from my lips to Kathleen Turners ears. I just trust her to do it perfectly and she does."

Everyone involved with the production agrees that Mara Wilson was perfect for the role of Anabel Greening, the young girl who wishes for a fairy godmother. "Mara was our first choice and the first to be cast. We had all seen her in Miracle on 34th Street and Mrs. Doubtfire . It was clear that this girl was the right age and had the talent and experience, given an eight year old, necessary for the part," states Ritchie.

"She just knows how to be very natural which is the hardest thing an actor can do" agrees Rothberg.

Admiration for Mara's talent increased as the production got underway. "Mara has that innate talent that goes with famous child actors. It can't be trained, it isn't taught in acting schools and it isn't necessarily genetic. She just sparkles. She comes to life and her instincts are remarkable," observes Ritchie.

"Mara was totally unfazed by the idea of working with her fellow actors, Martin Short and Kathleen Turner." The only stars are in the sky," Wilson offers. "All the actors were great. Martin was really funny and Kathleen was cool."

For Robert Pastorelli, the idea of playing the role of a single parent was particularly appealing. "This project really interested me," relates Pastorelli. "The part itself is about a single parent, a widower, who is raising two small children. I found it to be a unique situation for a man - his relationship with his children."

Pastorelli has worked with children before, but the experience of working with Mara Wilson and Francis Capra struck the right note. "We really felt like a family. I felt like they were my kids."

Francis Capra plays the role of Charlie, Anabel's older brother. He describes their movie relationship as fairly typical of real-life brother-sister relationships. "Charlie really torments his sister throughout the film," explains Capra. "But at the end, he shows a little brotherly love to her. He's a typical brother but somewhere in between the teasing and sarcasm he really does like her."

While a belief in fairy tales, godmothers and magic was not a prerequisite for working on the project, most of the actors have wonderful memories of their favorite tales and had often wished for a fairy godmother as children.

Turner admits to treating fairy tales differently when she started to read them to her daughter. "It was actually important to me to change these in some way," explains Turner. "So when the prince kissed Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, they would say 'thank you, as soon as I get my university degree, I'll let you know.' My daughter didn't know until she was five years old that Sleeping Beauty and Snow White didn't have a university degree."

Unlike her character, Anabel, Wilson does not believe in fairy godmothers. However, Wilson does allow that she has a few simple wishes up her sleeve. Similarly, Short isn't a true believer but he does have some advice for aspiring fairy godmothers. "Keep your wand clean. When people say 'hey fairy' on the street, don't take it personally - treat it as a love letter and don't waste your fairy dust."

With great attention to detail, and an indulgence of their creative fantasies, production designer Stephen Hendrickson and his crew designed sets befitting the defrocked fairy godmother, the headquarters of the North American Fairy Godmothers Association and the magical environment in the film. It took months to create and construct the sets which eventually became the interior of Claudia's mansion. A palatial home, complete with towering staircases and elaborate furnishings which illustrate Claudia's taste through the ages. Yet the crumbling walls, leaking roof and frayed drapery add to the overall effect of decay and decline - both physical and moral.

To complete the effect, Ritchie and Hendrickson decided it would be fun if the mansion was hidden under the Brooklyn Bridge. Since no such building exists under the Brooklyn Bridge, the filmmakers relied on the magic of matte painting and computer graphics to bring Claudia's mansion into existence.

To complement the faux Broadway production of The Tale of Two Cities , Hendrickson constructed a tongue-in-cheek Andrew Lloyd Webber-like extravaganza with enormous sets.

Director Michael Ritchie, who admits to "a secret passion of a lyricist," used the occasion of the satirical musical production to indulge his love for song writing. Ritchie, together with longtime collaborator Lucy Simon, who composed the music for the Broadway classic The Secret Garden , created the songs "Its A Far Better Thing I Do" and "Its the Best of Times, The Worst of Times" which was actually sung by Peter Samuels for the film. Ritchie and Simon most recently collaborated on songs for Ritchie's Academy Award®-winning HBO film The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader Murdering Mom .

The magic which allows Claudia's mansion to appear beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, Boots to be turned back into a dog and Murray, Anabel and Claudia to fly is actually done through the magic of CGI-computer generated images. As the visual effects producer, Tim Healey is responsible for the almost one hundred effects in the movie. Healey relies on 3-D animation, mattes and animatronic techniques to add that magical dimension.

To create these cinematic illusions, Ritchie and Healey recruited some of the top people in the field: Matte World Digital, Blue Sky and Greg Cannom Creations. Matte World Digital, whose credits include recreating the 1960's skyline of Las Vegas in Martin Scorsese's Casino , created all the matte paintings. Blue Sky, whose most recent creations include the dancing cockroaches in Joe's Apartment , provided the digital film animation. Greg Cannom Creations, whose Academy Award®-winning work has been featured in the films Mrs. Doubtfire and Bram Stokers Dracula , supplied the make-up effects and animatronics.

The task of creating five hundred costumes was left to designer Luke Reichle, who saw it as a great opportunity to create both period and contemporary costumes.

In the film, Murray's costumes are inspired by Edwardian shapes. To create costumes for Claudia, Reichle started from the assumption that Claudia had been living for over two hundred years. He then drew inspiration from the different periods in which she had lived. The result is a combination of extravagantly brocaded costumes, six inch heels and four inch platforms. The costumes are very heavy so I couldn't just scamper around, explains Turner. And the shoes! When I go out on the street, I have costumes which are 1950's haute couture. Its a great deal of fun, except for the shoes which add a whole new meaning to walking through a scene.

A Simple Wish is not the first time Reichle has worked with Ritchie. In fact, they have worked on several previous projects together including, The Fantasticks, The Scout, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom and Diggstown.

A Simple Wish was shot on location in both Toronto and New York City.

New York was a natural setting for the film, "it is an ideal place for this story because it is teeming with people," admits Rothberg. "It is very believable that there could be fairy godmothers mixed in among all the other millions of people there." A native New Yorker, Rothberg adds he "always finds New York to be an incredibly magical place and whenever I'm there, I always see it in fairy tale terms."

Now with the completion of A Simple Wish, so may everyone else.

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