Grammy-nominated filmmaker Matt Stawski, who has created iconic music videos for artists like CeeLo Green, Snoop Dogg, Paramore, De La Soul and many more, has ventured into the Blue’s Clues universe with Blue's Big City Adventure (streaming on Paramount).
“Nickelodeon had me at musical, I'm obsessed with musicals,” Stawski told Yahoo Canada.
“So many adults grew up with Steve [Burns] and the kids now are growing up with Josh [Dela Cruz], and it's this awesome co-viewing situation. So we were able to make a movie that had some jokes that the adults get and had some musicals that weren't traditional in the kid space, that kind of leaned into some references from the old MGM musicals, and leaned into references from Broadway.”
In Blue's Big City Adventure, Josh gets the opportunity to audition for a Broadway musical, with much of the film combining the animated Blue’s Clues characters, and some new friends, with the New York City landscape.
“The first thing I discussed with [Alexander Marc Calle], our production designer, was making a candy-coated version of New York City,” Stawski explained. “If you drive through the city there are so many beautiful things to look at but we wanted to make sure we boosted the saturation, so it has that Nickelodeon, Blue's Clues feel.”
“We wanted people jumping off taxi cabs and running around to the Bethesda Fountain and dancing on the steps. The choreographers and I had a couple of days where we just took the subway around the city, and looked at all the different locations and figured out, how do we make this musical a little more interesting, because obviously there have been so many musicals and so many films shot in New York.”
'It has to be aspirational'
The big highlight of Blue's Big City Adventure is that Blue’s Clues host Josh Dela Cruz is joined by past hosts Donovan Patton and Steve Burns, which is not only an incredibly nostalgic moment in the film, but really plays well with the “co-viewing” experience for many age groups, as Matt Stawski identified.
“With Steve, the property is so important to him and he realizes the impact that he made on so many kids,” Stawski said. “It's a really big responsibility for him and I realized that right before we started shooting, how big of a responsibility it was for me too.”
“Our audience are young, impressionable kids and this movie has to be educational. It has to be aspirational. It has to teach them to chase their dreams and all three hosts have done that in so many different ways. Putting them all together, I mean it's such a unique thing to see and they all have their own personality, and how they talk to the kids and how they talk to the audience, and how they interact with each other.”
In recent years, Blue’s Clues has received praise for taking steps to have more inclusive, representative content for children, including releasing a “Blue's Clues Pride Parade Sing-Along” and an episode with Josh’s Lola (grandmother) that features Filipino traditions.
“They came out so strongly in support of the LGBTQIA community and so many shows in the kid space have never even touched it as much as they have,” Stawski highlighted. “Representing so many different ethnicities and cultures in the film itself,...that's very important to Nickelodeon, but it's just a no brainer.”
“Josh is also so important to so many Filipino kids and he represents the culture and the community beautifully… It's genuinely important for him.”
From 'Blue's Clues' to 'Monster Mash'
Coming from the music video world, Matt Stawski can identify a few things from that space that carried over into making Blue's Big City Adventure.
“With music videos, you're given one day to shoot the video because the artist normally is in LA to do press and they have one day to shoot a video, then they're off on tour,” Stawski explained. “So I learned how to stretch a dollar and get the shots in the can quickly, so a lot of that experience helped me.”
“I found my footing in music videos creating really saturated, graphically enhanced videos. Like the CeeLo [F*** You] video, for example, that video exists because of my passion for Motown. We just leaned into the doo-wop of it all.”
This doesn’t mark the end of Stawski working on something with an iconic, generational following. The filmmaker is in the process of developing a feature film on Monster Mash. While he can't say much about it at this point, the filmmaker confirmed that it's in development and they're working on the script.
“It's a very important property and we're really trying to do something unique, unusual and new with the brand, with people's expectations of how we portray [the monsters],” Stawski said about the project. “So it's taking a while to dial the script in but I'm really hoping we get it there, and we're able to shoot it soon.”
“But we're going to try to make a fun, scary as hell movie for all audiences and it's such a pleasure to be working with Universal on that one. But I’ve got to keep the treasure chest locked.”
What’s clear in Blue's Big City Adventure and Stawski’s music videos is that he is an absolute expert in combining music and visuals in a way that’s enticing and engaging. Moving forward in his work, the filmmaker says that music will always be a core element for him.
“Either I want to do musicals, or…it's going to have a pulse and a rhythm to it,” Stawski said. “A big inspiration of mine is Edgar Wright because even though he doesn't make traditional musicals, he has this pacing and this flow, and even action sequences are to the rhythm and to the beat.”
“I want people to be on the edge of their seat and feeling like they're on a rollercoaster. So when you have a fast-paced rhythm to it and you have music adding to that, I feel like it's really a great theatre experience. Even if you have to watch at home, it just adds a style to something. Music-driven films are my favourite type, even if they're not musicals. Absolutely, that's part of my style for the rest of my life.”