Nickelodeon is premiering its first ever hour long animated Christmas special this Friday and we talked to the movie’s stars. Judah Friedlander, Sasheer Zamata, and Bobby Moynihan star in Albert, the story of a tiny fir tree named Albert (voiced by Moynihan) who dreams of being a famous Christmas tree in the big city. Zamata and Friedlander are the voices of his best friends- a palm tree named Maisie and a weed named Gene, who hit the road with Albert as he follows his calling. In true Christmas movie fashion, Albert will learn the true meaning of Christmas along the way. We talked with Judah, Sasheer and Bobby about the special, and found out that all three stars have very different favorite kids specials. Judah and Bobby had favorite holiday specials, and Sasheer had another animated movie that was a year round obsession for her.
Moynihan, who has provided voice work for some major animated movies and of course is one of the current stars of Saturday Night Live said his favorite was, and still is Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. First released in 1978 and later re-released on VHS in the late 80’s, the special was packed with songs and favorite characters. “For me- that was the movie,” Bobby said. “I believe the plot of it was, Big Bird gets locked on the roof by accident for Christmas so he thinks he’s going to miss Christmas. They all are doing their Christmas things like going to get the tree. There’s a weird scene where they’re all ice skating together. It was huge at the time because it was like the Muppets ice skating. They had people in costumes and it was ‘oh my gosh they’re ice skating!’ And Oscar got accidentally thrown through a wall and down a flight of stairs.” Bobby remembered freaking out and spending an afternoon crying because he was worried Oscar was hurt. “I waited till Monday morning until I saw him on regular Sesame Street to think ‘great, he’s okay.’ I was super into that movie.” And it must still hold up because he admits to still watching it around the holidays. “My sister has kids now so I’m forcing it on them.”
Judah admitted he never heard of the Sesame Street Christmas special, but is planning to check it out, and said he had a love for the traditional specials that ran every year when he was growing up. “We used to watch a lot of them,” he said. “I’m older, so we didn’t have VHS or anything, so you watched it when it came on TV, and you got ready for it and that was it. And you really paid attention.” His favorites? Charlie Brown, and the original Rudolph. “Love that one. Love those,” he said. So when the opportunity to be in a Christmas special that could become a new tradition for kids, he loved it. “I was like this is pretty cool.” Friedlander who is perhaps best known as 30 Rock’s Frank Rossitano is also an illustrator, and put out his own book of illustrations, says he used to make his own animated short movies in high school, so he has a real appreciation for animation.
Sasheer, who is also an SNL cast member, didn’t choose a Christmas special as her favorite, but said as a kid she was obsessed with The Brave Little Toaster. “I watched it over and over and over again and this movie reminds me of that,” she said. “Just a bunch of inanimate objects bouncing around all of the time, and going on wild adventures. I think there were multiple versions- they may have done a Christmas movie. But it’s just a fun story of triumph and trying to band together as a team.”
All three stars have done voicework before, and talked about finding the personalities of their characters. Bobby and Sasheer found the voices for their characters mostly from drawings. “Just that huge smile, I found myself doing this- always arms outstretched cause it just always looked like he’s really psyched to be alive,” Moynihan said, gesturing towards the movie poster. Bobby is voicing a few different cartoons right now and confessed that the most difficult part of voicework, is trying to remember all the different voices- especially when the characters are active. “‘Okay, so now we just need you running?’ So I try my hardest to make every character sound different, but all of them either fall or run and sound..they’re all exactly the same.”
Sasheer gave her character, “Maisie” a sunny disposition and a cheery attitude. “Palm trees are always in sunny places,” she said. “Just looking at the facial expression that was already drawn on this tree, I tried to imagine what this being would sound like. I feel like she has wild eyes so, I tried to incorporate that in the voice.” Zamata has done voice work before, but this is her first animated movie. “It’s very exciting to play a character and fleshing out a story.”
Judah said he was able to put himself into the mindset of a weed to come up with Gene’s personality. “Weeds are survivors,” he said.”They’re unappreciated and they’re always under attack. The gardeners are trying to get rid of weeds, so weeds have to use a lot of ingenuity to move around for safety.”
Additional cast members include: Rob Riggle as a prickly cactus, Cheri Oteri as the TV news correspondent, and John DiMaggio (Adventure Time) as Donny. Albert is directed by Max Lang (The Gruffalo), executive produced by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi (The Adventures of Pete & Pete) and written by Will and Aaron Eisenberg (The Massively Mixed-Up Middle School Mystery) and Joe Stillman (Shrek).
Albert premieres on Nickelodeon this Friday, December 9, at 7:00pm.