How Jerry Seinfeld Made ‘Unfrosted’ Pop, Begrudgingly: ‘I Really Didn’t Want to Do It’

The comedian tells TheWrap why he made his directorial debut with a truly wild Netflix movie about Pop-Tarts

Unfrosted
Jerry Seinfeld and Melissa McCarthy in "Unfrosted" (Netflix)

“Unfrosted” is nearly ready for consumption, but while the Netflix movie marks Jerry Seinfeld’s directorial debut, the slightly absurdist and over-the-top comedy actually started as a joke.

Ostensibly based on the true story of how Kellogg’s and Post were in a race to see who could first introduce a breakfast toaster pastry (which did actually happen), “Unfrosted” zigs where you would think it might zag. Jerry Seinfeld co-wrote the movie, directed it, produced it and stars as Bob Cabana, a fictional Kellogg’s employee loosely based on William Post, who led the team that developed the Pop-Tart.

In his feature directorial debut, Seinfeld takes a much more fanciful approach to the subject matter. It’s like “First Man” meets “Austin Powers.” Or something. The point is that it’s the funniest, most joyful movie of the year, full of mafia milkmen, exploding toasters and irate mascots.

It must have been a longtime passion project for Seinfeld, who turned 70 last month and is just now making his feature directorial debut.

Right?

“No, never wanted to do it,” Seinfeld told TheWrap with his signature dry delivery. “This is not a dream come true that I’ve been working on for 10 years like most movies. Don’t they always say that? Well we had the idea 10 years ago.”

Spike Feresten, a legendary comedy writer and longtime collaborator (he wrote “The Soup Nazi” episode of “Seinfeld,” among many other things), talked Seinfeld into it. “Spike said to me. ‘Why don’t we make a Pop-Tart movie?’ We literally joked about it for four years. I thought he was kidding,” Seinfeld said.

Finally, they started working on it for real during COVID, beginning initially as “something to do to have fun” before becoming more serious. “If it wasn’t for COVID it just never would have happened,” Seinfeld said. And it still sounds like he had to be talked into it.

“I really didn’t want to do it,” said Seinfeld. Andy Robin, another “Unfrosted” writer whose work also dates back to the groundbreaking sitcom, presented a pitch – “Let’s remake ‘The Right Stuff’ as a cereal war.” “And that really trapped me,” Seinfeld said. “Comedically, I couldn’t deny it. That sounds fun.” (For the record, his favorite Pop-Tart flavor is brown sugar cinnamon.)

While he might not have dreamed of directing, it was the only way “Unfrosted” was going to get made.

“I like telling people what to do. Saying, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing.  You need to change what you’re wearing,’” Seinfeld said. “I like criticizing people’s facial expressions and hand gestures. And the directing enables you to do that for money.”

A feature directed by Seinfeld also attracted major talent like Melissa McCarthy, who plays one of the scientists Cabana recruits for the Pop-Tart project. It’s one of her funniest and most subtle performances, seemingly tailor-made for her. Although the role was originally quite different. “Stan was originally a male character and Melissa got interested and we were thrilled because she’s so amazing. I was going to change the name to female name and she said, ‘No, I liked Stan,’” Seinfeld said.

There’s also Hugh Grant, who plays Thurl Ravenscroft, a legendary voice actor and Disney legend (you can spot him as one of the singing busts in the Haunted Mansion). Ravenscroft was the voice of Tony the Tiger and, as imagined by “Unfrosted,” is very Hugh Grant-ian.

“I would never dream of getting Hugh Grant,” Seinfeld said. One of the producers got Grant the script and he sparked to it, on one condition. “He just said, ‘Do I have to do an accent?’ I said, ‘Hugh, you can do anything you want.’ Because American accents are a pain in the ass, you know?” Seinfeld said.

Watching “Unfrosted” feels like you are riding high on a particularly potent sugar rush. The movie is tonally off-the-wall, in a way that feels downright invigorating, especially given how bland most entertainment is these days. And that was something that Seinfeld and the team wrestled with. “Well, when we got to the ravioli coming to life, there was quite a bit of discussion of, Do you really want to do that?” Seinfeld said. “I still don’t know if we did the right thing. I feel like a fun movie has to have at least one thing in it that is completely bonkers. So we kept that.”

There is also a funeral sequence that is one of the funniest, most bizarre scenes that you’ll maybe ever see. I have thought about it at least once a day since I watched “Unfrosted.”

“That was a scene that was difficult and it was time consuming. And some people thought we shouldn’t do it. And I thought, you know, the whole reason of doing a comedy movie is you got to try for that crazy thing,” Seinfeld said. He points to “one of my favorite all-time scenes,” the scene in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” when the cowboys break through the wall and interrupt a Busby Berkeley dance sequence. “That has nothing to do with a Western story. Nothing. And that’s why you love it,” Seinfeld said. “That’s what this was – I’ve got this character dying and having this ridiculous funeral. It has nothing to do with inventing the Pop-Tart. But I feel like that’s what comedy should be. It should take you to that one crazy place. We tried.”

Not that every idea made it into “Unfrosted.” “I can’t even tell you the number of different things we didn’t do, because we just didn’t have time and money,” Seinfeld said. “I wanted to recreate the entire ‘Bullitt’ car chase from the Steve McQueen movie in San Francisco with kids driving in a Pop-Tart chase. We were going to do it. But then we couldn’t have done the funeral scene. You’ve got to pick which one you want to do.” He chose correctly.

The look of “Unfrosted” is just as arresting as the comedy – full of vibrant, ‘60s colors. It was photographed by Bill Pope, the legendary cinematographer behind “The Matrix,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “The Jungle Book.”

“My goal was always to make the movie feel like cereal makes you feel like when you decide, OK, that’s it. I’m having a bowl of cereal, I don’t care. I’m going to eat that,” Seinfeld explained. “And you go to the cupboard and you open the door. And you see those colors, the colors on the box, that’s where the fun starts before you even open the box. Just looking at it is part of the fun. I wanted the movie to have that same palette.”

In some ways “Unfrosted” feels like a response to movies like “Air,” “Blackberry” or “Tetris” – biographies not of a great historical figure but of a single product that changed the world. Seinfeld said they only found out about the trend after the fact, which he said was “disappointing.” “This was always what it was. We were already in production when we heard that they’re making a Barbie movie,” Seinfeld said. You could almost hear him shrug. “Things just happen.”

Now that Seinfeld has directed a movie, is he eager to do it again?

Well, no.

“I didn’t direct it because I wanted to be a director. I directed it because I thought, This is a funny idea. And I want to execute it a certain way. I only made it because I wanted to make a Pop-Tart movie. Not because I wanted to be a director. I never go for jobs. I’m interested in funny ideas.”

Seinfeld did concede that if there was something else he wanted to do, he wouldn’t be opposed to directing again. Sort of. “Seeing as though I’ve been in the business for over 40 years, and this is my first idea, I don’t know how much time there is,” he said.

At least enough time to wait for the Pop-Tart to spring out of the toaster.

“Unfrosted” debuts on Netflix on Friday.

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