Seth Green Talks 'Yellowbird', Animation, & Pop Culture Nostalgia

Seth Green is an industry veteran of roughly three decades, and the sort of actor who needs no introduction, but we’ll give him one anyways. You've seen him in movies and TV shows ranging from Idle Hands and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to the Austin Powers films and Party Monster; you've heard his voice in Family GuyRobot Chicken, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Put lightly, he’s a busy man, most recently lending his vocal talents to Christian De Vita’s film Yellowbird, which hits DVD April 7th, 2015.

A warm family movie made with a lovely clipart animation style, Yellowbird is about, well, Yellowbird (Green), an orphaned bird without a flock of his own who convinces a migrating flock to follow him to Africa. He’s a sheltered fellow without much actual life experience to his name, which unsurprisingly leads to measures of friction and hijinx as he tries to lead Delf (Dakota Fanning), Janet (Christine Baranski), Michka (Richard Kind), and Karl (Jim Rash), among others, around the globe.

We got the chance to catch up with Seth about his work in Yellowbird, what draws him to animation and voice work, and why it’s an exciting time to be a fan of pop culture and comic books.

Yellowbird Movie Poster

Screen Rant: How did Yellowbird wind up on your radar? Being a French-Belgian production, how did you wind up getting involved in its voice cast?

Seth Green: The woman who cast this movie also cast Family Guy, and some other shows that we make in our studio. So she called on me and approached me about it, and I liked it!

My French is pretty pedestrian, but the studio that produced this film is highly competent. This movie is beautiful. So if there was an opportunity to make something else with this company, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Is there a particular style of animation that you’re drawn too? I actually agree, this is a very lovely film - it’s kind of like watching a child’s drawing come to life, which maybe sounds not complimentary but for me is totally a positive.

Seth Green: Well, this is a really unique aesthetic. They took what amounts to paper clip art and made it 3D, so they get this very graphic style in three dimensions. I’m drawn to all kinds of animation. I really love animation as a storytelling medium, whether it’s traditional, cel animation, or CG, or stop motion, which is more our studio’s area of focus. But I find that the creatives behind any kind of animation are typically very similar, and so regardless of what aesthetic they use to realize their vision, I’m usually pretty into it.

So how would Yellowbird compare to something like Family Guy or Robot Chicken? Obviously not in terms of animation style, because they’re very different, but in terms of vision and content how did this experience compare for you?

Seth Green: That’s kind of a wide question. From an experience standpoint, the production, my actual contribution is very similar to the other animated stuff that I do, any other voiceover work, wherein it’s me coming into a booth and recording all of the necessary sound effects and things like that. But as far as the content and how it would relate to an audience, I feel like this is a categorically different idea than any of the comedy animated stuff that I produce or act in. This is a family movie, this is a really sweet and heartfelt story that lacks cynicism and negative comments. It’s really about the journey of this stunted and sheltered character making his way out of his literal nest for the first time.

Do you think there’s a lot of cynicism in a lot of our pop culture today? Because I agree, this is a lot more genuine versus other content. I don’t know if you feel like that cynicism is the prevailing tone for a lot of this stuff these days.

Seth Green: You know, I think it’s very easy for us to get culturally doomsday about any light or dark holding a stronger place in the balance. That’s kind of a permanent conundrum! You’re constantly, in human culture, trying to balance between uplifting, heartfelt, sincere, earnestness that empowers and enlightens people, and the sarcastic cynicism that comes from just people’s acquired bitterness over experiences.

That’s an inspiring way to put it. I like that a lot.

Seth Green: Thanks man!

So, what to you is the real draw behind being involved in animation? Why do you gravitate toward voice work? What about that grabs you?

Seth Green: I’ll give it to you this way: I knew really early on that I was meant to be in entertainment, that I was meant to be an entertainer of one kind or another. So I treasure the relationship between, you know, the person on stage and the audience, and I love being a part of creating an experience or an emotional point of view through the audience, whether it’s a family film or a dark comedy, or whatever the entertainment is. I like being a part of that experience, and so this is all positive messaging. It’s a beautifully animated, connective piece. I think if you watch it, you’re going to feel what the filmmakers want you to feel. That to me was really interesting.

So it sounds like this is really personal for you. I get the sense that whether you’re working on a film like Yellowbird or something like Family Guy, it sounds like this comes from a personal place for you.

Seth Green: Well, I consider myself really lucky because I knew what I wanted to do young, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get to do that as a job and a career. I take everything I do very seriously. Whatever role I’m playing, I throw myself into it 100%, because I think that’s what it really takes to connect to the audience. I think the audience can tell when you’re not 100%.

Stepping off to the side a bit, I see a lot of positive nostalgia in a lot of the work that you do - I know I keep referencing Family Guy and Robot Chicken but those are the ones that come to my mind - a lot of love for comic books, Star Wars, and all of these different pop culture things. All that nostalgia seems to be paying off in the last few years; Transformers is always huge at the box office, we have a new Star Wars movie coming out, Batman will fight Superman in a big movie sometime soon... how exciting is that you as a fan and what are you looking forward to out of this crop of movies?

Seth Green: It’s awesome as a fan, because all of those things that inspired me as a kid, all the comics that I read...I kind of had to fight for the cultural respect of those mythologies, those icons. I feel like that battle’s been fought on behalf of all the nerds who took the hits because they loved this stuff when they were younger, and now it’s become massive pop. So I really like that. I like that we, the most passionate about these myths and icons, get to be the keepers of them, the ones that pass them on generationally. And I like the seriousness with which they’re all taken in their film form, because I think that pays respect to the great storytelling and character work that came from the comics initially.

There are two things there are going on: there’s the nostalgic throwback for old pop, which is basically us, like, Seth MacFarlane and all of the writers on Family Guy, and our writers, that’s us sort of looking back on the stuff that shaped us. But I don’t feel like the throwbacks are the sum total definition of those shows. I do think that they’re most about pop, about pop culture, and about what is happening and what has happened, but you root it in some kind of emotional thing so that the audience gets your point.

You’re talking about being the gatekeeper of sorts, I think... how seriously a responsibility do you take that as? I know that’s talking it up a bit!

Seth Green: No, no, I don’t have any illusions about the actual importance of…[laughs]

No, of course not!

Seth Green: We’re not curing cancer, we’re not building rockets to colonize other planets. Entertainment is all about helping people feel things that they might not have access to normally. They watch something and it makes them feel something, and that makes them reflective about their own life, you know? But as far as the responsibility of it, you just have to be good. I don’t have a problem with remakes as long as they actually feel like the thing that they’re remaking. The reason that something works is because it had heart or did something, and if the remake doesn’t capture that, then it’s not worth remaking.

I agree. And thanks for bringing me down back to earth. I realize that the way I posed that question was a little lofty. But I like that, and that’s where we come back to a movie like Yellowbird, which is a good movie for a young child who feels like they don’t belong. So they can watch that, and they can have that story that they identify with on a personal level.

Seth Green: Exactly!

So, what’s next for you? Anything you can talk about that you’ve got coming down the line?

SG: We’re working on a new season of Robot Chicken, and...I’ll say this, we have a bunch of stuff in development at the studio, and I’m considering a couple things. We’re going to be focused on the stuff that we’re making, and considering other projects!

Yellowbird releases on DVD April 7th, 2015.

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