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Leonardo DiCaprio and Mike Medavoy Produced ‘Ozi, Voice of the Forest’

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“Ozi, Voice of the Forest” premiered at the Annecy Festival on June 13, kicking off a series of films that seek to highlight dangers to the environment. 

The film tells the story of a young orangutan Ozi, voiced by Amandla Stenberg (“The Hunger Games”), who becomes separated from her parents when her rain forest home is devastated by a company producing palm oil. 

With the additional voice talents of Laura Dern, Djimon Hounsou and Donald Sutherland, the film also boasts a broad array of talent behind the camera including Keith Chapman, creator of “PAW Patrol” and Madrid-based Rodrigo Blaas, behind the “Sith” episode in “Star Wars Visions,” as part of the creative team. Leonardo DiCaprio and legendary producer and former studio head Mike Medavoy are credited as producers.

Blaas, who cuts his teeth as an animator on such Pixar classics as “The Incredibles” and  “Up,” tells Variety that he found his inspiration partly from his work on Andrew Stanton’s “Wall-ee.” “That was a very smart story about what our future possibilities with climate change are. And it was plausible. Humans are a walking paradox. At the same time that we take care of our families and take care of our environment, we actually also harm it.” 

The co-founder of Orion Pictures, CEO of Phoenix and former chairman of TriStar, Mike Medavoy brought his huge experience to bear. “This is my 325th film,” Medavoy said, speaking to Variety. “We screened the movie in L.A. to 250 people. We’re inviting young kids to the movie. The children wanted to see it again. My wife got calls from people saying: Hey, can the kids get to see the movie again? And the answer is ‘yes.’ At the theater.” The film, he tells Variety, reminded him of Disney’s “Bambi.” 

Blaas agrees: “Bambi was definitely an inspiration on this and how it cut down hunting by half at that time. A story can change your point of view. You’re gonna go into the theater with your kids, you’re gonna have fun in it. And at the same time, when you come out, you can actually have a smart conversation with your kid about the issues. It’s fun with a little bit of protein.”  

In developing the film, the producers and writers worked with real life conservationists like Dr. Karmele Llano Sánchez who runs an Orangutan orphanage similar to the one which appears in the film, and campaigns against deforestation. “She said something very profound,” Blaas says. “We are talking all about absorbing carbon, and she said the best technology to capture carbon already exists: It’s the tree. That observation actually kind of drove a lot of the narrative for this film.” 

Collaborating with charities such as International Animal Rescue and Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the filmmakers project that “Ozi” will be the first in a series of films, all aiming to develop the “voices” of various habitats and locales. Medavoy explained that the next project will be concentrating on the oceans and that the characters would be different, but that the character of Ozi might well return in some other iteration – a TV show or play – developed by Keith Chapman. 

As important as the message of the films will be, Medavoy is quick to assert the element of fun: “We don’t think of this as medicine that people have to have. We think of this as entertainment. But in the entertainment, there is obviously something that people can walk out and talk about the environment. Look at all the actors that we got. There wasn’t a person that we asked that didn’t say ‘yes.’” Those who said ‘yes,’ along with Sutherland and Dern, include RuPaul Charles, Dean-Charles Chapman (“Game of Thrones”, “Star Wars-The Acolyte”), and comedians Urzila Carlson and Kemah Bob. 



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