Miles Morales, future Oscar winner?
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse became an Academy Award nominee Tuesday, earning a nomination in the Best Animated Film category. Ever since the film opened in December, fan and critical response has solidified it as not just one of the best animated films of the year, but one of the best-reviewed movies of 2018, period. A half-dozen other Spider-Man films have hit theaters in the last 20 years, but Spider-Verse is something new, centering on Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) as he learns to cope with his newfound web-slinging powers. Along the way, he teams up with a host of other Spideys from different dimensions, including Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), and a few other faces.
Spider-Verse’s messages of inclusivity and heroism have resonated with audiences of all ages, sparking new conversations about who gets to wear Spider-Man’s mask. EW caught up with directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman after the nominations were announced to talk about Miles’ cultural impact and get their reaction to the news. (“Bob was sleeping,” Rothman said with a laugh. “He’s so cool he slept through his own Oscar nomination.”)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The reaction to this movie has been so overwhelming, and so many people have fallen in love with Miles and his story. In the month since the movie came out, what has it been like to watch that reaction unfold?
PETER RAMSEY: It’s been overwhelming. I think one of the most gratifying and unexpected things is just the overwhelming emotion people have. They’re just exploding. It’s amazing. That experience of people identifying with Miles…. A lot of kids, especially kids of color, are identifying with Miles. A lot of African-American kids, a lot of Latino kids, but all kids, the vehemence that they feel! I think it’s something about the story being about connection and finding yourself. It’s so much about that, and I’m kind of staggered by it.
BOB PERSICHETTI: I think the part that’s even more staggering is it’s not just the kids having that kind of reaction. I’m literally getting text messages from parents at my kids’ school, and they’re having very similar, very passionate, very powerful reactions. It’s a total surprise.
RODNEY ROTHMAN: We made the movie from the very beginning with a conviction that animation is a medium, not a genre, and that’s how we approach it: It’s a medium for visual storytelling, and our goal was just to make a good movie for everyone, a movie that could stand alongside virtually any other movie. It could appeal to a kid or could appeal to someone who’s 40 or 50 or 80, and that’s what our goal was. So the movie is an expression of that, and it’s been overwhelming to see that born out, to see such a wide range of people moved by what we were doing or inspired by what we were doing creatively. There’s been a huge movement of people making art inspired by our movie.
PERSICHETTI: And with their own identity attached to it!
I love all the “Spidersonas” people have been creating online, imagining what they themselves would look like in this world.
PERSICHETTI: The Spidersonas, exactly!
RAMSEY: I think that people also react emotionally to the creative aspect of the movie. I’ve talked to many people who’ve been moved to tears because they’re like, “Wow, this thing actually seems to communicate the joy of creation.”I think that’s something all of us felt and something all of our 800-plus-person team really put into the movie.
PERSICHETTI: There’s a tangible kind of human hand and soul that you feel when you watch the movie. And I think over the course of doing all these interviews in the last two months, people are always surprised that three directors and a bunch of producers and the crew of hundreds of people [made this movie], and yet there’s this unified sense of purpose and commitment behind every frame, and it all fits together. That was something that I feel like we all locked arms on. It was a really weird creative experience where everybody builds on each other’s work and it becomes exponential. It felt like it belonged together in a way that is really unified and cohesive, which is kind of surprising. [Laughs]
Historically, the Oscars have tended to overlook superhero movies, but between Spider-Verse and Black Panther, it’s exciting to see movies like this lifted up this year. What does it mean to you guys to see a superhero movie get Academy Awards attention?
PERSICHETTI: For me, it’s just another chapter in what we’ve been feeling, which is that when people see the movie, it just defies their expectations. It doesn’t fall into one category. It’s not just a superhero film, it’s not just an animated film: It’s all of those things. At its core, it’s really trying to be just a touching story about a kid and his family. You put visuals on it and Spider-Man and all these other things, but that’s the thing that seems to resonate the most and cut through everything else. It just feels like it’s a time to recognize that. That’s such a part of our culture, the idea that superhero movies could be more than popcorn fare while still being popcorn fare — enjoyable but also meaningful.
There’s been a lot of talk about a Spider-Verse sequel and a potential spin-off movie. I know it’s super-early, but is there a corner of this universe that you haven’t explored yet that you’d like to explore further down the road?
ROTHMAN: I mean, it’s a multiverse, so…
PERSICHETTI: There are no corners. [Laughs]
ROTHMAN: Anything’s possible. There’s all kinds of things that you can do, but we genuinely finished this movie seven or eight weeks ago. And then the last seven or eight weeks have been pretty intense and overwhelming. [Laughs] So I would say we’re all just collecting the pieces of our brains from various rooms in our house.
I was talking to producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller a few weeks ago, and they talked about how risky this movie felt to them, especially when there have been so many other Spider-Man movies. How do you make one that feels fresh? Were there touchstones or guidelines that you focused on to make sure this movie felt unique?
RAMSEY: I think right away, for all of of us, the style of the movie was a huge one. But our instinct was, how do we get the audience to love Miles? How do we make Miles’ story as fresh and as relevant and involving as possible?
PERSICHETTI: Yeah, and in our medium, you’re building entire worlds. So it was like, how do we make the worlds of Brooklyn and Manhattan and Queens feel like characters in the film? [Characters] that amplify Miles or Peter or Spider-Man, for that matter. But I think that’s something that we, from day one, were trying to lean into because we had that kind of creative freedom.
ROTHMAN: It’s just a cool challenge. It might have felt risky or been scary in certain ways, but it also forced everyone on the movie to kind of step up and do the thing that they kind of came to this industry to do, which is to make interesting stuff that adds back into the well of things and doesn’t just pull out of it. Everyone came here to be part of something different and cool, and on a project like this, from the very beginning you know you’re not going to be able to go to your usual moves or do things the way you usually do because it would immediately be repetitive and boring. So you have to find a new way, which can be scary. But like I said, I don’t think anybody that does this for a living came here to do anything but be a part of something like that. There aren’t a lot of opportunities out there to do that, so we were lucky.
PERSICHETTI: And that became the liberating challenge, where you’re like, “Oh my gosh, we can be as creative as we can, and nobody’s saying no, so we’ll just keep going and trying and wait for someone to say no!”
ROTHMAN: Although some people said no. [Laughs]
People have had so much fun dissecting this movie and trying to find all the Easter eggs. Is there an Easter egg or reference that you’re really proud of that people might not have picked up on yet?
PERSICHETTI: You know what I’m going to say.
PERSICHETTI: No one will pick up on it, but I put my kids’ and my wife’s name in the movie. They’re in the graffiti scenes, every single one of them. So that’s an Easter egg that’s only for myself and my family. It’s sort of a visual apology for being absent. [Laughs]