It's no coincidence that Jan Rahbek's first feature "Marco Macaco" has a monkey in the lead. Or that monkeys were also a big part of his student films at the National Film School of Denmark, including "The Mambo Grill" and "Space Monkeys". Rahbek is bananas for monkeys!
"I hope that the film captures some of the warmth and charm that we associate with cartoons from our childhood – that it's a bit old school but also has something very modern about it."
"Monkeys are the coolest animals. There's a long tradition of monkeys in film. Just look at King Kong. They are such great characters," Rahbek says.
But what is it exactly that monkeys can do?
"The cool thing about monkeys is they are like these little caricatures of people. We see ourselves in them, and I think that's why they are used so often in films," Rahbek says, adding, "I don't think I'll ever get tired of monkeys in movies!"
But monkeys aren't Rahbek's only inspiration. He was also consumed with creating a universe inspired by exotica music like Martin Denny and Les Baxter, '60s kitsch and B-movies with giant robots. The outcome is Rahbek's first feature, the musical action-comedy "Marco Macaco".
"I hope that the film captures some of the warmth and charm that we associate with cartoons from our childhood – that it's a bit old school but also has something very modern about it," Rahbek says.
Letting the animation tell the story
"Marco Macaco" introduces us to Marco the monkey who works as a beach officer on a tropical island. When his childhood sweetheart Lulu returns to the island, he immediately tries to woo her back. But soon a mysterious entrepreneur, Carlo, arrives and builds a gigantic monkey-shaped casino right on Marco's beach. What's worse, Lulu is falling for the charming casino magnate. Green-eyed with jealousy, Marco starts an undercover investigation of Carlo's strange casino and soon discovers that things aren't what they seem to be.
Despite a relatively low budget, all the animation was done in Denmark, which seems to be more the exception than the rule these days. The director put a premium on solid storytelling animation. As a case in point, all the backgrounds were "hand painted" in Photoshop rather than rendered in 3D.
"I think computer-animated films tend to look a little clinical. ‘Hand-painting' the backgrounds is a way to make it more personal. It was more work, of course, but I'm happy about that decision because it was really important to the whole expression of the film," Rahbek says.
It's all in the timing
Like a lot of other animated films today, "Marco Macaco" appeals to both younger and older kids. But Rahbek and his co-creators wanted to find a new way of talking to older kids.
"We wanted to reach an older audience without having to resort to lewdness and laddishness. So we worked with things like the timing instead. After all, the fun is in the timing – in the voices, but even more so in the animation and editing," Rahbek says.
Nearly four years in the making, "Marco Macaco" is now ready to conquer the market at Cannes. For his part, Rahbek looks forward to giving people a good experience.
"At the end of the day, I just want to people to be entertained. I just want to give people a fun, fast-paced thrill ride that's worth the price of admission," the director says.