‘Crossing Swords’ – Stop-motion animation, adult content
Imagine, if you will, a kingdom where corruption, libidiny and avarice are admired, where cheaters always prosper and the virtuous are laughed at and derided.
It is in this medieval world of peg people in “Crossing Swords,” a decidedly adult stop-motion animated comedy from “Robot Chicken” executive producers Tom Root and John Harvatine IV that begins streaming Friday June 12, on Hulu, where a goodhearted young peasant named Patrick (voice of Nicholas Hoult, “X-Men: Dark Phoenix”) harbors lofty dreams of landing a squire position at the royal castle, much to the disdainful amusement of his father (voice of Breckin Meyer, “Robot Chicken”) and mother (voice of Wendi McLendon-Covey, “The Goldbergs”), who regard him as the black sheep of the family.
Mom and Dad would like Patrick to be more like his siblings: Reuben (Adam Ray, “Spy”), a member of a gang of forest bandits; Coral (Tara Strong), a pirate queen; and Barney (Tony Hale, “Veep”), an alcoholic birthday clown. Clearly, landing a position at the castle and getting out of that household would be welcome salvation.
Except the royal couple is no better. The king (Luke Evans, “Clash of the Ttians”) is a spoiled brat who won’t do anything for himself while the queen (Alanna Ubach, “See Dad Run”) will try to bed anything that moves. Patrick, obviously, has a tough row to hoe.
The series is full of irrevent humor as well as profanity, stop-motion violence and sex between peg people. None of the characters have arms or legs, so expressing those actions in stop-motion required a little imagination.
“Even though they’re just peg people with no arms and legs,” Harvatine explains, “we pretend like they can hold objects. And the way that we kind of do it is … basically the object kind of floats nearby like an elbow’s width away at most from the character. So we think about if they’re jousting, that they hold the little jousting thing and a lot of the acting comes through the positions of the body, like the center of gravity of the peg says a lot. And on the face, we can emote a lot with the expression, the eyebrows and eyes.
“And then … picture taking like a little object and just kind of moving it back and forth mimicking,” he continues, “as if you’re like a little kid telling a story, so you think about that, too. And then when you get to the stage, you take your experiences as a kid thinking about playing with these toys and then as an animator how can you express this in a clear way with purpose? And then as a result on camera, you get a performance that hopefully is communicating simple things like jousting or other acting things.”
For the voices, Harvatine and Root had actors already in mind for some characters but others required a search. Putting what they think they should sound like on tape, they then matched those with audition tapes. One stood out.
“Alanna Ubach is fantastic, of course, but she wasn’t like at the top of our minds,” Root says. “And then she put herself on tape as essentially doing her … very heightened version of (Queen Elizabeth II) and it was so funny. And just out of nowhere, we were like, ‘Well, that’s just perfect. We’ve got to do that.’ … And just the attitude she brought to the character, it kind of didn’t matter what she was doing, it’s just really fun.”