Gremlins was almost a completely different movie with Gizmo set as the villain. The cult favorite Christmas movie would have been more of a horror movie as opposed to the kid-friendly cut of the movie that everybody knows and loves. During a recent Q&A session with Entertainment Weekly, Gremlins director Joe Dante revealed that Gizmo was supposed to turn into Stripe, the leader of the evil batch of gremlins in the 1984 horror-comedy. It was until a certain big-name director convened and fell in love with the adorable Mogwai, that Dante and writer Chris Columbus changed the movie.
During the Q&A session, Joe Dante revealed that it was Steven Spielberg who stepped in and said that they shouldn't get rid of Gizmo. In the early versions of the script Gizmo was only the cute little Mogwai for the first 20 minutes of the movie. Dante explains.
"Gizmo was supposed to, in the original script, turn into Stripe, the bad Gremlin, after about 20 minutes. But Steven Spielberg got it into his head, after seeing all of our tests with Gizmo, that he liked Gizmo so much that he said, 'You know, we really shouldn't get rid of him. He should stick around and be the hero's pal for the entire picture.'"
If anyone knows anything about cute and weird creatures, it's Steven Spielberg and so his critique was taken seriously, even if the team hadn't yet figured out a way to animate Gizmo. Apparently, the decision to keep Gizmo came just 4 short weeks before filming was to begin.
The crew had less than a month to figure out a way to make the Gizmo puppet into a reality and something that would last throughout the entire movie. The crew stepped up to the challenge, but Joe Dante reveals that it was a particularly scary time for the production. Dante had this to say.
"[It] was terrifying for us. We were about four weeks away from shooting, and we had no idea how to make this puppet, which was really small, carry a movie, and be a character, basically."
Since Gizmo wasn't originally intended to make it through the entire Gremlins movie, the crew had to get creative. It turns out that the creativity to animate the puppet led to some of the most famous parts of the movie and the Gremlins franchise.
One of the creative solutions was to have Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) carry Gizmo in a backpack through much of the movie since the crew didn't have enough time to figure out a way to make the animatronic Mogwai walk. Most famously, Gizmo also got around in a stylish pink Barbie toy corvette in the iconic toy store scene. The limitations added to the allure and the production was better for it, rather than just find a cheap way to make Gizmo appear to walk. The movie still has a great realistic quality because of the wise, last-minute choices made by the crew.
Joe Dante's Gremlins is one of the best Christmas movies of all time and even after all of these years, it still holds up and has a distinct quality thanks to the puppeteers and the short notice that they had to change the course of the movie. Stripe is a legendary villain who coaxes Billy into feeding the Gremlins after midnight and the homicidal bastard who brandishes a gun, and it would not have been the same without the protagonist intact throughout the duration of the movie. You can check out the rest of what Joe Dante had to say about Gremlins via Entertainment Weekly.