How Phil Wright’s Dance Moves Helped Him Play a 4000-Year-Old Mummy in “Under Wraps”
Mummies may be part of the Halloween class, but when the Disney Channel steps in, the undead creatures take on a life of their own. Just in time for the holidays comes “Under Wraps,” a film about a 4,000-year-old mummy named Harold (Phil Wright) who is brought back to life by three friends.
As Harold only speaks through a series of grunts, Wright’s expertise as a dancer and choreographer was essential as he uses physicality to help define character. Writer and director Alex Zamm provided Wright with a personal reference when he described how he envisioned the role, saying his son was “a constipated toddler who walked this way, trudging forward, still wobbling in imbalance.”
Beyond Zamm’s son, physical comedians like Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball became touchstones in Harold’s development.
Along with the inspirational outline of physical comedy, Harold’s look was created by makeup effects designer Joel Echallier in a way that allowed Wright as much adaptability as possible. Echallier augmented Wright’s face with thin silicone where parts peeked through the costume’s mummy wraps. It was chosen, over a thicker latex prosthesis, to allow for greater movement and expression while Wright acted. He also wore special teeth and colored contacts for the role. All of them have become essential elements in humanizing Hiccup.
The body of the costume was designed to provide Wright with a full range of motion, a necessity during a large dance sequence. Participating in a skill as common as dancing also helped to humanize Hiccup. It involved “music, dancing and joy,” says Wright. “So we had a great time developing this scene. “
While Harold dances to a famous song – “Calling All the Monsters” by China Anne McCain – there were several remixed versions in the works during filming. The artist has agreed to keep the same tempo, which is essential to ensure that the background actors can all engage at the same pace. “The worst part,” Zamm says, “and I’ve been there, is that suddenly you don’t have the music anymore” and you find yourself with everyone dancing incongruously in the back of the same party. He notes that this can lead to a whole host of editing difficulties in post-production.
Wright loved to use his own expertise to bring dance to the film. “This scene was very special to me because I’m a dancer, I’m a choreographer,” says Wright, “and it was so fun to collaborate on that moment.”
“Under Wraps” premieres October 1 on the Disney Channel.
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