Disney's College Road Trip
College Road Trip In Theaters
"College Road Trip" - Choosing which college to attend can be the most exciting and thrilling time of a young woman's life...unless your overprotective father isn't quite ready to let you go. In the Disney family comedy, "College Road Trip," Melanie (Raven Symone) is eagerly looking forward to her first big step towards independence when she plans a "girls only" road trip to check out prospective universities. But when her overbearing police chief father (Martin Lawrence) insists on escorting her instead, she soon finds her dream trip has turned into a hilarious nightmare adventure full of comical misfortune and turmoil. "College Road Trip" looks and sounds a lot like
STARRING: , Raven Symone, Will Sasso, Donny Osmond
DIRECTOR: Roger Kumble
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
Wild About Movies Grade: C- (Tween & Under)
Wild About Movies Grade: F (Over Tween)
"College Road Trip"
Behind The Scenes
THE ROAD TRIP BEGINS…
It is a family tradition underlying the roots of the American Dream—the “college road trip”—when high school seniors tour the nation trying to figure out where they are going to spend the most formative years of their lives. For 17-year-old Melanie Porter, it’s an exhilarating moment of rocking her independence…except for one thing: her dear old dad—who also happens to be the no-nonsense local police chief, the man who says he puts “the S in safety”—wants to be her chaperone in his police cruiser.
Now, her COLLEGE ROAD TRIP is about to veer off into uproarious comedy, as her father’s accident-prone plans to protect and serve his daughter go awry at every turn, causing them to careen down ravines, literally crash a wedding, and even jump out of a plane, not to mention carpool with an impossibly cheerful father-and-daughter team (featuring one-time teen heartthrob Donny Osmond in his first film role in decades). Yet, somewhere between Dad trying to hold on for dear life and Melanie hoping to break away from his embarrassing maneuvers, they start to trust each other and realize they’re speeding headlong into a new family future.
At the heart of the film’s mix of slapstick hijinks and downright real family relations are its two talented co-stars: popular comedy veteran and real-life father Martin Lawrence and vivacious young comic star Raven-Symoné, who’s been honing her comedy skills since early childhood and knows what it’s like to break out on your own at 18. It is Martin and Raven’s hilarious rapport—whether they’re driving each other crazy, driving right off the road, or revealing their love for one another between the mayhem—that makes the film a true Disney comedy, as filled with hilarity as with an underlying sense of heart.
With this kind of talent at his disposal, director Roger Kumble’s unique approach was to meld the softer tones of your typical family comedy with the more daring spirit of today’s outrageous physical comedies. He explains: “I’ve made some broad comedies but never with a G rating. So when it came to COLLEGE ROAD TRIP, I was thinking: ‘There has to be a way to put really hard belly laughs into a family film.’ That’s what I wanted to do. When I take my kids to the movies, I don’t want to be bored, so I set out to make a movie that kids and adults can enjoy just as much.”
Producer Andrew Gunn notes that COLLEGE ROAD TRIP also put him in mind of a popular comedy genre. “I always saw COLLEGE ROAD TRIP as a kind of buddy picture,” he says. “It’s about two people who think they have little in common, but in the course of this very funny and wild journey, they figure out that they are deeply connected. In this case, the two buddies happen to be a father who does not want to let go and a daughter who is ready to go off on her own to college.”
Gunn was drawn to the project because it had all the hallmarks of classic family comedy—relatable characters nearly everyone can recognize from their own families, yet who find themselves in surprising, side-splitting situations. The producer already knew how hungry audiences can be for comedies drawn from the real situations families face, having found huge popular and critical success with the runaway hit remake of “Freaky Friday.”
Similarly, with COLLEGE ROAD TRIP, Gunn saw a story that was full of potential laughs—pairing a control-freak cop dad who cannot relax and cannot stop meddling with a feisty, savvy daughter ready to break out and start her own life—but one that also pondered the universal question: Why do parents start to act like nervous kids when their children start to grow up?
“As with ‘Freaky Friday,’ I think at the end of the day, it’s a very funny story in which kids get a chance to understand their parents better and parents get a chance to see their kids better,” sums up Gunn.
The story of COLLEGE ROAD TRIP began where it ended: at Disney, emerging from the Disney Writers Program, the studio’s unique mentoring system that helps to bring talented young screenwriters to the fore. The program is managed by COLLEGE ROAD TRIP’s Gunn and executive producer Ann Marie Sanderlin, who first brought two of the film’s screenwriters, Carrie Evans and Emi Mochizuki, into the Writers’ Program.
From the first time Sanderlin heard their idea to pen a comedy about a family’s careening-out-of-control college trip, she loved its freshness and knew it had the potential to go the distance.
“Leaving the nest, struggling to find your own voice and grow up—that’s a universal rite of passage. And road-trip films are their own genre for a reason. But when I ran the idea by my dad, it all really started to jell. He’s still a little stressed out from a similar trip we took in ’89. For a long time, we thought this movie was ultimately about letting go—it definitely is, but it’s also ‘getting to know you’ and the contrast is bittersweet but funny, too.”
Mochizuki and Evans along with Paul and Daurio came up with the idea when they started talking about some of the most humorous yet important moments in their lives—and began spilling the secret details of their individual college road trips.
They had a blast imagining how James, played by Martin Lawrence, handles watching his daughter inch ever closer to total independence and must resist his haywire paternal urge to keep her on lifelong lockdown. From the minute James pops in an ancient disco-era CD, Melanie knows she’s in trouble. But things just keep going downhill from there—quite literally as Dad’s police SUV rolls into a deep ditch, sparking one madcap adventure after another. Throughout, James just can’t help but try to meddle in Melanie’s college decision, hoping to keep her close to home—and it’s in those moments that you start to see what’s really pushing him over the edge: his heartbreak over seeing his precious daughter growing up.
As a father, executive producer Anthony Katagas sums up the appeal. “James Porter is neurotic, crazy and overprotective—but we all are a little like that,” he laughs. “When you get to that point where your kids are growing up fast, you definitely start to panic. This is a story families all over America have experienced time and time again, although maybe without quite as many complications as James and Melanie!”
Director Roger Kumble, whose films include the youthful thriller “Cruel Intentions” and the romantic comedy “The Sweetest Thing,” kicked the road trip’s hijinks into high gear. “Roger’s a very smart, funny guy who was able to really understand both the comedy and the family connection of this story,” says Anthony Katagas. “He was a great match with this material because he’s the kind of guy who, every day, puts a smile on your face and, at least once a day, is talking with you about family.”
Kumble called his agent the second he finished the script. “I loved the idea of this film, especially the theme,” he says. “I’m the father of two little girls, and though I have years before they start looking into colleges, the idea of letting them go is very powerful. When my oldest daughter went into preschool, that was a dramatic thing for me, so I could really see where James is coming from.”
Kumble was especially excited about working with Martin Lawrence and Raven-Symoné. “I love the broad comedy genre, and there is no one better than these two,” he says.
LOADING UP THE CAR:
RAVEN-SYMONÉ AND MARTIN LAWRENCE COME ON BOARD
From the start, the filmmakers knew that a father-daughter road comedy was going to require a great comic pairing between a vibrant, playfully funny young star and a skilled veteran who could be at once a lovable and utterly irascible dad. Even while the screenplay was in development, there had arisen a “perfect world” vision: that of putting the runaway Disney Channel phenom Raven-Symoné together with hugely popular funny-man Martin Lawrence—but by the time the script was finished, that wild dream began to look like an exciting reality.
“Kristin Burr at Disney had a genius casting lightbulb moment,” recalls Ann Marie Sanderlin. “Whenever you would mention the idea of Martin and Raven together as father and daughter on a road trip, people would just break into a huge grin. Their dynamic became really exciting to watch unfold when they filmed the car scenes because they were actually stuck in a car together for days on end, cracking each other up.”
“There was instant chemistry between them,” continues Andrew Gunn. “They’re both geniuses at comic timing and they slipped right into these roles. Martin, being the father of three, was really able to bring his own thing to the role of James, and Raven is at the age when she herself is ready to go off into her own new world, much like Melanie.”
It also turned out that Raven had long been a huge fan of Martin Lawrence’s comedy routines—to the point that she had studied his long-running, hit television show scene-by-scene—and that Martin Lawrence’s kids were massive “That’s So Raven” fans. It seemed that destiny was at work.
Raven might be youthful, but she’s already a wily veteran who has been working in entertainment since the age of 5. The only thing she hasn’t done—until COLLEGE ROAD TRIP—is take the lead in a feature film. She began her career as Olivia Kendall on “The Cosby Show” and went on to star on the Disney Channel in such movies as “The Cheetah Girls” and as the lead character of the hugely successful series “That’s So Raven.” Along the way, she has drawn a huge international fan base as an actress, singer and songwriter, known for her high-energy personality and unusual maturity for someone who found fame so young. Having just hit young adulthood herself, she was in the perfect position to relate to Melanie’s itch to fly from her parents’ nest without breaking their hearts.
After all, COLLEGE ROAD TRIP itself presents a major breakout for Raven as she takes her first leading role in a comedy feature and even takes on a behind-the-scenes role as one of the film’s producers.
Raven says that the screenplay had her in stitches—but even more than that, she found herself really relating to Melanie’s savvy, slyly funny personality. “I liked that Melanie’s a really smart character and that she has this free spirit she can turn on when her friends are around, but she also knows when to turn it off,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun to watch her trying to step outside her dad’s boundaries while still respecting who he is.”
She continues: “For me, Melanie was a real departure as an actress—and a great chance to kind of let people know I’ve come of age now.”
As a kid who grew up in the often perilous entertainment spotlight, Raven admits that she knows a thing or two about protective parents. “My parents definitely gave me a protected childhood because they wanted to make sure I wouldn’t grow up to be scatterbrained,” she laughs. “Now I respect them even more as parents because if they hadn’t done that, I don’t know what I would have done or who I would be.”
When it came to working with Martin Lawrence, Raven could not have been more excited to go toe-to-toe, not to mention parachute-to-parachute, with one of her absolute comedy favorites. “When I first heard it was going to be Martin, I was like ‘Yes! Woohoo!’ He’s such a funny comedian, and I knew it was going to be amazing,” she says. “On the set, even simple scenes would morph into something unexpected because there would be all these facial reactions and pauses and stuff between us that was completely unpredictable. It was so much fun.”
If Raven is one of the most promising new faces on the scene, Martin Lawrence has a long-standing reputation as one of today’s most beloved and versatile comic leading men, sliding in and out of myriad characters, each one funnier than the next. His film work has ranged from his debut role in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” to starring roles in such mega-hits as “Bad Boys” and “Bad Boys II,” “Big Momma’s House” and “Big Momma’s House II,” “Blue Streak” and “National Security.” His innovative television show, “Martin,” in which he played hundreds of wide-ranging characters, became a huge success and won both major accolades and audiences in its five seasons.
While Lawrence has been seen in all kinds of incarnations on screen, producer Andrew Gunn notes that this time audiences will see something completely different still—a slapstick portrait of a tightly wound cop that turns laugh-out-loud mayhem into an emotionally poignant climax.
“Martin is as hilarious as ever in COLLEGE ROAD TRIP, but what’s really going to shock people is that he also brings a lump to your throat at the end of this movie,” says Gunn. “You go through this whole uproarious experience with James and you watch him struggling with this dilemma of his daughter, and then when he finally says goodbye, it really breaks your heart, and it’s something we haven’t seen before from Martin.”
As a dad himself, Lawrence has an insider’s view of the kind of angst and horror that James faces as his daughter prepares to go to college. He had a blast trying to reveal both the good intentions behind, and the folly within, James’ desire to maintain complete control over his teenage daughter. As it so happens, control is the last thing James seems to have, whether it’s over Melanie, his SUV or a runaway golf cart.
“James is a good dad, but he’s having a very, very hard time letting go,” explains Lawrence. “Most people do. I mean, you worry about your kids. I have three daughters, and when it comes time for them to go off to college, I’m sure it’ll be really hard. You want them to be comfortable, you want everything to be all right. So, I hope they’ll see this movie and maybe they’ll understand that, no matter how crazy things get, dad just wants the best!”
Lawrence found himself in comedy heaven working with Raven, who he notes has the slapstick skills of people he’s worked with who are more than twice her age. He also liked that Raven’s character almost always has the upper hand on his befuddled father. “Melanie, as played by Raven, is a very smart young lady,” he notes. “It’s just that she’s inquisitive and has thoughts and ideas that make her father extremely nervous.”
Adds Lawrence: “I also got ‘cool points’ from my daughters for doing a movie with Raven, so that was great. Most of all, we had a lot of fun together. I already knew she was funny, but getting to see all her gestures up close showed how talented she is.”
THE SUPPORTING CAST
Joining the fun of the COLLEGE ROAD TRIP is a supporting cast that ranges from some of today’s hottest young teen stars—including Brenda Song (“The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”) and Margo Harshman (“Even Stevens”) as well as newcomer Eshaya Draper (making his debut)—to former teen star Donny Osmond (Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast”) and such veterans as Kym E. Whitley (“Martin”) and Arnetia Walker (“For the Love of the Game”), as well as a particularly cute and round star of the porcine kind: Albert the Potbelly pig.
Perhaps the film’s most inspired bit of casting arose when director Roger Kumble began to envision Donny Osmond—once America’s biggest teen idol, known for his sweet, boyish voice and blinding smile, and today a recording artist and Broadway star—in the role of Doug Greenhut, who heads the maniacally cheerful father-and-daughter team who follow on the heels of James and Melanie throughout their trip, breaking out into glee and song wherever they go.
“The idea of hiring Donny Osmond as Doug Greenhut is perhaps my favorite casting decision of my career,” recalls Kumble. “He hadn’t made a movie in thirty years, but he was awesome as Gaston in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on Broadway. We took a chance and hired him. From day one, he was amazing. When people see him in this movie, they’re going to see what a great comic actor he is.”
For Osmond, the chance to do a Disney family comedy was very special because, in a sense, it brought him full circle. “I was thrilled to do a Disney movie because it was really due to the Disney organization that I’m in show business,” he explains. “It was Walt Disney himself who discovered my brothers, and then a couple of years after that, I joined them. Disney recommended my brothers to the producer of “The Andy Williams Show” and that was how they got their first national television exposure. So, thanks to Walt, I’m in show business, and now here I am doing a Disney family comedy.”
Osmond started his first day of filming only about twelve hours after the curtain came down on his final performance on Broadway in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” but he was able to nimbly switch gears into the hilariously happy Doug Greenhut. “Doug is just very over the top,” laughs Osmond. “He loves life, but he’s just a bit too much! He sees a silver lining in every cloud—to the point that it gets on your nerves.” As the real-life father of five boys, Osmond also had a lot of fun playing dad to a daughter, Wendy, played by young Broadway star Molly Ephraim. “This is the first time in my life I’ve had a daughter, so that was pretty interesting,” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse, but we clicked right away. We were laughing our heads off with each other.”
Martin Lawrence was taken aback to meet the man whose adolescent voice he remembers from his own boyhood. “I couldn’t believe I was working with this guy all these years later, but it turns out he’s really cool, and I think people are really going to enjoy his role in this movie.”
Melanie’s two best friends, Nancy and Katie—the duo she thinks she’s going to make a super-fun college road trip with, only to find out her partner is her obsessively protective father—are played by Disney Channel stars Brenda Song and Margo Harshman.
Brenda and Margo are already pros, but another youngster makes an auspicious feature-film debut in COLLEGE ROAD TRIP: eight-year-old Eshaya Draper (aka E.J.) in the role of Melanie’s ingenious kid brother, Trey, who, while his parents are busy worrying about Melanie, is engaging in his own top-secret mission to train pigs for the government.
“We looked at hundreds of kids from all over the country, and at first, we just couldn’t find the right boy to really blend with Martin and Raven,” recalls Kumble. “Then E.J.’s audition tape popped up, and he reminded me of Rodney Allen Rippy from the Jack in the Box commercials of the 1970s. We flew him out to L.A. to read, and he was great. He has a natural ability and completely sold his relationship with Albert the Pig.”
Martin Lawrence was also impressed. “Eshaya’s a real cool little guy just starting to get his feet wet, and there’s no limit to what he can do,” he says.
Rounding out the main cast are Kym E. Whitley, who previously starred with both Martin Lawrence on “Martin” and Raven-Symoné on “That’s So Raven” and in this film plays James’ wife Michelle, who acts as family diplomat and referee in the battles between husband and daughter; and Arnetia Walker, longtime star of stage and screen, as James’ no-nonsense mother, who helps him to see the errors of his controlling ways.
Whitley loved the chemistry that developed on the set. “It was just a great dynamic, because Raven’s a ball of energy, Martin has that genius comic timing and I got to be the straight man. It was a really fun combination,” she muses. “Michelle is the one who is always saying, ‘Let’s work it out; let’s love each other,’ so I also enjoyed being the peacemaker in this crazy family.”
Arnetia Walker was drawn to the role of playing Grandma Porter because she isn’t anywhere near as frail as she might pretend to be—and has a thing or two to say to her son about letting go as a parent. Walker also loved having the chance to work with Raven-Symoné. “When all the little kids in my neighborhood heard I was going to be in a movie with Raven, they were so excited. They didn’t even want to hear about what it was like for me—they just wanted to know about Raven! She just has so much appeal to children, and adults love her, too,” she observes.
A PIG ON A COLLEGE ROAD TRIP?
James may try to keep a tight grip on his whole family, but the one Porter family member he definitely can’t control is his son’s pet—a little piglet named Albert who becomes a surprise squealing liability on the road trip. To play Albert, the filmmakers recruited a whole pack of Vietnamese potbelly piglets from Birds and Animals Unlimited, each readied for the comedic role under the tutelage of leading animal trainer Jim Warren, whose work with pigs includes one of the greatest pig roles of all time: Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web.”
Warren ultimately trained eleven pigs—3 different teams of 3 to 4 individual pigs who each played Albert at various times during COLLEGE ROAD TRIP. “We had to have eleven pigs because baby pigs grow at a such a fast rate—about 2 pounds a week—we needed a lot of pigs to make sure Albert was always the same size throughout the 3-month shooting period,” explains the trainer.
Warren notes that pigs have a naturally high intelligence level and adore working, so long as there are treats involved! His pack of piglets worked for months, learning their moves to perfection, while packing on the pounds. In the end, even the film’s most seasoned stars were amazed at their ability to perform. “Those pigs were so smart, they blew me away. They knew their lines before I knew mine,” laughs Kym E. Whitley.
Throughout the filming, home for the piggies was a local farm. “People always ask us where they go at night,” says Warren. “We made sure before we came to the location that there would be a facility for them where they could come home from work and actually run around and be piggies. Because after the filming was over, we knew we wanted to find good homes for each of them.”
Some of the pigs were bitten by the show biz bug and are now doing a live animal show at Universal Studios Florida. The rest were all sent off to blissful new lives as beloved family pets. “One example is a couple who took 3 of our pigs and built a custom indoor enclosure, complete with a pond and palm trees for them,” notes Warren. “They even have a ‘piggy door’ so the pigs can go inside the house and hang out with their family and other pets. All of the homes have a similar story and commitment from their new owners, and there are lots of happy pigs.”
It was in the big wedding-tent scene that Warren’s trained piglets really got their chance to shine, or snort as the case may be. Skittering over tables, chairs, and laps, while wreaking absolute havoc, they clearly had a ball. “Every one of these pigs is a real character, and this was their big moment,” sums up Warren.
Another larger-than-life character who comes to the fore in the pig-ravaged wedding tent (and later in the middle of a putting green) sequence is Joseph Gannascoli—familiar to many as Vito from “The Sopranos”—as Mr. Arcara, who suffers a series of slapstick indignities throughout the film with unimaginable grace and forbearance. For the wedding scene, Gannascoli spent five straight days with most of his face and body drenched in a concoction of food starch and paint, blended to resemble melted chocolate. “It’s all part of the job,” Gannascoli laughs.” That chocolate stuff really didn’t feel as bad on me as I thought it would. In fact, it kind of cooled me off a bit. But if I ever have to be covered in chocolate again, I should take a shower at night instead of in the morning. Because when I woke up, there was chocolate all over my bedding.”
HITTING THE ASPHALT:
THE ROAD TRIP KICKS OFF IN STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT
When Melanie Porter heads out with her father on their COLLEGE ROAD TRIP, she has her heart set on Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., far from the family’s Illinois home, but just the perfect place for a young woman with dreams of one day becoming a powerful lawyer. But first, she makes stops at Georgetown rivals such as Northwestern University outside of Chicago—the closer-to-home college James hopes to convince her, by hook or by crook, to choose—and the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
While Melanie and James cross the country, the production stayed largely inside just one state: Connecticut, which is so rife with picturesque private academies, prep schools and colleges it was able to provide all the backdrops needed for a varied college trip to myriad campuses, as well as the lovely country roads on which James Porter makes many a wrong and troublesome turn.
No matter where they went in Connecticut, Roger Kumble worked closely with his behind-the-scenes team—including director of photography Theo Van de Sande (who first worked with Kumble on “Cruel Intentions”), production designer Ben Barraud and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck—to keep the look of the film light and fun.
Though the trip mostly stayed on the roads and campuses, it also involved a number of carefully choreographed comic set pieces—including one in which James’ police vehicle rolls itself out of commission down a precarious hill; one in which a pig sloshes his way through a wedding buffet; and one in which a golf cart plows through Georgetown’s Greek Week Games.
Perhaps the most adrenaline-pumping of them all was the uproarious scene in which James and Melanie find themselves unexpectedly airborne—forced to jump their way into Washington, D.C., with a gung-ho skydiving team. “The skydiving sequence was a super-fun set piece,” says Ann Marie Sanderlin. “From the first time someone mentioned the word skydiving, we could all see Raven and Martin flying through the air. Then, our costume designer, Francine, did a wonderful job designing outfits that were really eye-catching and funny. Finally, we brought in an aerial coordinator who helped us to pull off actually shooting in the air.”
Raven admits she got a personal thrill from filming the skydiving scene, but adds: “Hopefully, audiences will learn the lessons that Melanie and James have to learn the hard way—and maybe they won’t have to jump out of plane to see that everyone needs to have the room to grow up!”
Roger Kumble echoes that sentiment, summarizing: “No matter how many wild, comic situations Martin and Raven face in this movie, we always kept the focus on telling a father-and-daughter story.”