There is nothing more important than reconnecting with the people who matter most during the holiday season. That sentiment is even more vital if the true Christmas spirit has become harder to recapture amongst relatives as they grow older. That drive to reconnect with family is seen in the new action adventure comedy, Candy Cane Lane.
Eddie Murphy, who plays the patriarchal protagonist in, and serves as one of the producers on, the fantasy film, hopes the project brings families together. The movie, which blends live-action and animation sequences, was penned by Kelly Younger. While penning the script, the screenwriter was inspired by his own family holiday experiences on the titular Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, California, where the comedy is set.
Candy Cane Lane was directed by Reginald Hudlin. The film reunites the helmer and Murphy for the first time since their hit 1992 comedy, Boomerang. Their latest collaboration features an ensemble cast that also includes Tracee Ellis Ross, Jillian Bell, Genneya Walton, Thaddeus J. Mixson, Madison Thomas, Nick Offerman, Chris Redd, Robin Thede and Stephen Tobolowsky.
Candy Cane Lane follows Chris (Murphy), a man on a mission to win his neighborhood’s annual Christmas home decoration contest. After being laid off from his job, he inadvertently makes a deal with a mischievous elf, Pepper (Bell), to better his chances of winning the contest and improving his family’s financial situation.
However, instead of helping Chris, Pepper instead casts a magic spell that brings the 12 Days of Christmas to life, and wreaks havoc on the whole town. In a race against time, Chris, his wife Carol (Ross) and their three children – Joy (Walton), Nick (Mixson as Carver) and Holly (Thomas) – must race against the clock to break Pepper’s spell and save Christmas for everyone.
Hudlin, Murphy, Ross, Walton, Mixson and Thomas generously took the time last week to talk about directing and starring in Candy Cane Lane during a press conference over Zoom. The filmmaker and actors spoke about making the feature to help promote its release on Prime Video this weekend.
@Photo by Claudette Barius/Claudette Barius/Prime Video – © Amazon Content Services LLC
Q: You truly created a winter wonderland while making this film. Reginald, it must have been a massive undertaking to make this movie?
Reginald Hudlin: We shot a big chunk of the film on the Universal lot. Even though I’ve been making movies for a long time, when you drive onto the Universal lot, and you turn onto Steven Spielberg Drive, it’s still amazing.
We had a great time filming together. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the funniest people in entertainment. I was the butt of jokes!
Q: Eddie, what was it like reuniting with Reginald after you worked together on Boomerang, especially on a film like Candy Cane Lane? You were interested in, and looking for, a Christmas movie to work on, correct?
Eddie Murphy: Yes, that basically sums it up; that’s exactly what happened.
Reginald Hudlin: Yes, we had been talking. We connected and were throwing ideas back and forth.
Then I was meeting with Amazon and really wanted to do a Christmas movie. They said: “We had a Christmas movie, and Eddie Murphy wants to do it. So let’s start Monday.” So it wasn’t complicated.
Eddie Murphy: He put together this great presentation. It was the best I’ve ever seen someone put together. It was about how we would make the movie. He oversaw the whole thing from the beginning, so it was a no-brainer that we would do it.
Q: Eddie, what is it about Christmas films that you love so much? What was it about your character of Chris Carver that made you say, “Okay, I want to play him and jump into this world?”
Eddie Murphy: I thought the script was unique, and it had all the elements you’re supposed to have in a Christmas movie, which make you want to watch it over and over again. The Christmas movies I watch, we watch every year. I thought this could be one of those movies that families can revisit.
Q: What do you all think makes a Christmas movie so iconic that families want to watch them over and over again? Tracee, what defines an iconic Christmas film for you?
Tracee Ellis Ross: I think love, family and a message at the center of it, which we have in this movie. The Carver family comes together to conquer a bad, rogue elf.
The thing that I think is special about this movie is that it’s an adventure comedy Christmas movie. So it’s funny and there’s action and adventure. There are also a lot of lights and decorations, specials effects and Eddie Murphy. The movie also has a good story. So we hope that it becomes a holiday classic.
Reginald Hudlin: There’s also a little dollop of fear. When I was a kid and saw Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Abominable Snowman came, I was terrified.
Tracee Ellis Ross: Jillian Bell is amazing. That moment when she appears, you’re like, “What is happening?!? Why does that twinkle in her eye look like evil in her eye?
Reginald Hudlin: Yes, it is in fact evil.
@Photo by Claudette Barius/Claudette Barius/Prime – © Amazon Content Services LLC
Q: For the younger members of the cast, what was it like working with iconic actors like Eddie and Tracee, and building that family bond?
Genneya Walton: My first scene with everyone was the track scene with everyone. I look up to you guys so much, and I’m inspired by all of your work. So getting to work with all of you guys is wonderful. I truly learned so much from watching you do what you do.
Thaddeus J. Mixson: I’ll tell you right now, I was nervous. I was like, “I was just watching you on TV, and now I’m about to share the screen with y’all.” It’s truly an honor, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work with you.
Madison Thomas: I was very nervous because I didn’t know what was happening or anyone. But then we started working together more on set, and I started to feel more comfortable. That’s how we started building our relationships.
Genneya Walton: The main thing I learned from them was mainly getting out of my own head. There was a lot that was going on on set, but they’re such pros at improvising and being on top of things. So I had to be on my toes, as I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I’m so grateful to have been granted that opportunity to have that creative freedom. It was a great learning experience.
Thaddeus J. Mixson: Seeing them all get into character so fast, I wanted to quickly learn how I could do everything they do on every single other project I do. I learned that if I could learn that trait and perfect it, I could definitely become very successful in this industry.
Madison Thomas: When I first arrived onto set, I thought, this is my first movie, and it’s really big. I didn’t know anything, but once I saw Eddie and Tracee, I felt comfortable around them. I thought, I can do this.
Q: The movie’s writer, Kelly Younger, was on set every day. What was it like collaborating with him? Did the cast improvise at all while filming?
Reginald Hudlin: These young people here are extraordinary. I said, “I’m working with two of the best with Eddie and Tracee, so the kids have to play at that level.”
It’s not just knowing their lines; it’s also about being able to freestyle. Comedy on this level is about improvisation.
TJ (Thaddeus) and I previously worked together on a film called Safety, and that was his first movie. He was extraordinary in it.
Thaddeus J. Mixson: Yes, I was blessed to work with Regi on my first film.
Reginald Hudlin: As Kelly and I were shaping the script, I kept saying, “We’re going to have a musical number because he can dance.”
Tracee Ellis Ross: He can dance.
Reginald Hudlin: So I thought, we better cast him. So he came on board and was great.
With Genneya , she had an explosive energy in her reads. So I was like, “Wow, this is exactly right. This is a bright young lady who has a high energy. She’s also getting ready for the next chapter in her life”
When Madison came in, she was so funny. We were like, “Look, you’re going to be doing tons of scenes with Eddie Murphy, so you have to carry your weight,” and she did. So we were like, “We’ve the dream team here, so we’re good.”
We worked really fast, so there was a tremendous amount of improvisation. I like to surround Eddie with the best, and we got the best.
Tracee Ellis Ross: The thing about Eddie is that he’s hilarious. But what makes everyone else around him hilarious is that he’s also a really generous actor.
It’s not just about Eddie being the funny person in a scene; it’s also the groundedness. The reason why I’ve loved his comedy for so long is that it’s not about being funny – it’s about being real. So there’s a connection that has to be there to come across in the right way, and that’s what he does; he’s not sitting there, waiting for you to set up his jokes – he’s in a scene, playing with you. That’s what makes it fun and makes it work.
What a treat it is to work with somebody whose work I’ve long admired at this point in my career. Working with him was better than I expected, and not something I would have dreamed up. I never thought, oh, I’m going to work with Eddie Murphy one day.
Reginald Hudlin: That’s what happened to me! While I was working on my first movie, House Party, we got a call from Eddie, saying that he wants to have a meeting. We were like, “What?!?”
Then we got on the phone and he was like, “You got the joke”…which is the highest level of compliment. It’s like he’s asking, “Are you funny?”
Eddie Murphy: Not just “Are you funny?,” but do you know when it’s not funny? That’s even more important than “Are you funny?”
Reginald Hudlin (RM): Right. I remember after you left, Tracee, on the first day or so. We were talking about you and how great and funny you are. We felt that was important for this story.
Eddie Murphy: She’s funny and game – she’ll jump right in. She likes to improvise, and is always trying to make the scene better and real.
Q: This is a real fantastical film, and that means that some characters become smaller. Reginald, how did all of that technology work?
Eddie Murphy: All of the special effects and technological shots are time consuming. It’s a lot of work doing a sequence like that.
It’s not like the actors feel what’s like to become small, so it’s like putting the jigsaw pieces together when you’re doing those sequences. So they’re long and frustrating. (Murphy laughs.)
Tracee Ellis Ross: You’re acting with an imaginary thing, so it requires a different kind of acting.
Reginald Hudlin: People are like, “It’s just for laughs, so it’s not incredibly hard.” But it is hard.
Tracee Ellis Ross: I also think that people underestimate what comedy takes, in the timing, editing and the entire process, particularly when you’re doing it in a film with special effects.
We took the voice work of all the village people, like Robin Thede, Nick Offerman and Chris Redd, and came up with all of this fantastic physical comedy, on top of the great verbal comedy. That was amazing.
Tracee Ellis Ross: Acting is about reacting and responding, and with the animation, you’re hearing something over here, and looking at a light cue over there. So it can be confusing.
Reginald Hudlin: I didn’t intend for us to have to invent a new technology, but we did. We had a system so that the live-action actors and the actors playing the villagers in the animated sequences could act in the same scene at the same time, so that they could all improvise together.
Eddie Murphy: Yes, we had an ear piece in so that we could have everyone’s voice come in, as the (actors voicing the villagers) were in the back, on another part of the stage. You had to imagine you’re talking to these little people while you’re improvising.
It was a mad house, but it came together incredibly. We were able to do all of that because we had a great director stirring us all the way.
Here’s the trailer of the film.