The Naughty Nine director Alberto Belli discusses his new Disney holiday film and reveals this was his dream come true, wish on a star, moment.
The Naughty Nine is a holiday film with a twist! This new Disney movie features a group of kids who feel slighted on Christmas morning when they realize Santa left them coal, instead of presents. Instead of working hard to get off the naughty list, they opt to head to the North Pole and plan a heist — taking the presents they feel they are owed.
Alberto Belli is a computer science engineer whose love for storytelling turned him into a director. He moved from Mexico to LA to get his MFA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he received the prestigious John Huston directing merit scholarship. The Naughty Nine premieres on The Disney Channel November 22nd, and comes to Disney+ the next day.
We caught up with Alberto Belli to discuss his new movie, The Naughty Nine. He reveals that this was his wish on a star, dream come true, moment and that working with Disney was incredible. Alberto also gushes about the wonderful cast and how they gave their all to make this film what it is.
Alberto Belli Talks The Naughty Nine
Mama’s Geeky: What was it about The Naughty Nine that made you want to be a part of it?
Alberto Belli: Growing up in Mexico, I used to go to Disneyland when we could, during Christmas. So Christmas, for me, has always been about Disney. So it was funny. It was literally a dream to work with Disney for a Christmas movie. And the whole premise of Disney is that when you wish upon a star, dreams come true, and that was this kind of moment. Literally, when I read the script, I called my manager and was like, I have to do this. If there was ever a movie for me, this is it. At the end of the day, the movie has this core about the siblings, the brother and sister, which is not super featured in the trailer, but I have an interesting relationship with my sister. So I was like, Oh, this is the movie that has everything, literally everything, for me.
Mama’s Geeky: I was going to ask you how it feels to be working with Disney, but it sounds like it was a dream!
Alberto Belli: It’s super fun. When I was approaching to story I was telling everyone that the movies that I saw growing up, usually they were very traditional, with traditional American things, but I was like, I think we can create a Christmas Village we have never seen before. It has all the traditions from around the world. So you’re gonna see Christmas carols in Spanish, in German, you’re gonna see food from the Philippines, you’re gonna see stuff from Italy, then you’re going to see architecture inspired by all these different places in the world. The traditional lightnings and all that. It was very exciting to create. We had to create so many elements, from the sleigh, to the village, to how does it look in Santa’s workshop? It was amazing. Truly.
Mama’s Geeky: What is like stepping into the North Pole?
Alberto Belli: It’s so cold. I’ll tell you that. Because as we were shooting, we created a backlot to be the North Pole in Montreal. And it was like minus twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit or something. It was insane. And it was night, because the North Pole is always night. So it was freezing cold. A lot of the interior sets were cozy because we were on a real set, but the outside was so cold. And everything was crazy, we had so many set pieces. I’m so excited about these too. I think it’s a very entertaining you movie not only because of the trouble their in, but every three minutes, we’re gonna get into a new set – and big sets! Like Santa’s workshop and an ice cave, and there’s where the reindeer sleep, and, while I guess it’s in the trailer, but spoiler, there’s a party, and it’s in a hangar for an airplane. Like literally every two, three minutes, you get to a new very cool set, which I think is going to be very exciting for everyone.
Mama’s Geeky: Just from The Naughty Nine trailer it looked like there were going to be a lot of major set pieces. You mention reindeer, did you have real reindeer on set?
Alberto Belli: Well, that’s a really good question. I thought, like you said, we were going to get real reindeer, but apparently in winter is when they shed their antlers. And you cannot train them. So it’s CGI. But amazing CGI. The first time I saw it, I was super impressed. I was like, oh my god, it actually looks real. So that one is also exciting. And the kids do an amazing job to sell it. They were acting with green animals and plushes. And they make them look real. So that was that was very exciting to see.
Mama’s Geeky: These kids seem like a great group of kids. I loved Winslow Fegley in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. Can you talk about working with this group of kids?
Alberto Belli: It was really fun. I keep saying like, obviously Disney’s super strength is about finding the next big wave of talents. They always find amazing talent, I think they search everywhere around the world, thousands of people were auditioning, so when you get these kids who are so young and so good, you’re gonna really get top talent. It’s not like we’re trying to get A lister, who passed, so now we have to get this person. With kids, you can find the best of the best and I think we got really lucky to find the best of the best. Their kids right, so I have a three year old but this was like times nine. But I would rather have very energetic and fun kids. They were so involved in the movie. They loved it so much. They would spend time together because everyone was living in Montreal together in a hotel. So they really bonded and it was a real bond behind the scenes as well. And Winslow, he’s amazing. I feel very lucky. Something that is also interesting is they were all levels of different experience. Like Winslow has been doing this for a while, he was in that really bad, horrible, I can’t remember the title…
Mama’s Geeky: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Alberto Belli: Yeah, so he’s been doing this for a long time. But then, for example, Camila [Rodriguez] who plays Dulce, like the best friend, she’s never done that before. She’d never been on a set before. she was coming. She had been locked down for like two years, and stepping into these huge sets, she had to adapt. It was so fun. Again, it’s different people, from different backgrounds, that were all coming together to be the naughty nine. I feel very lucky to be there.
Mama’s Geeky: I was going to ask if it seemed like they formed a real life bond. Sounds like the answer is yes?
Alberto Belli: They were really, really fun. They were building ice caves between takes and they were throwing snowballs and we’re like, don’s ruin the costumes. It was a real friendship. Everyone just became friends.
Mama’s Geeky: How would you describe The Naughty Nine to people looking for a fun holiday movie to watch?
Alberto Belli: These is a Christmas movie like you’ve never seen before, because it has a lot of action, and it’s a heist movie, with a lot of heart. It’s gonna be a great movie to see with the whole family. The story is about the naughty kids, who can I guess everyone can relate to, who are on the naughty list, who’ve don’t get the presents they think they deserve. So they go to the North Pole and steal it from Santa. And that’s where the real adventure starts. So think about an Oceans 11 for kids. That’s the best way to describe it.
Mama’s Geeky: We’re on the naughty list, let’s go steal things. Sounds like a great way to get on the good list.
Alberto Belli: They’re very creative. The cool thing about it is every kid has a special power, and they have to figure out how to use that special power that they have for good, instead of naughty, basically. It’s what’s fun about this movie. There’s a lot of heart and a lot of lessons to learn about how to not get onto the naughty list. Every year the naughty list gets wiped out, and then you can be on the good list, which is obviously the right choice to be on.
Mama’s Geeky: You mention The Naughty Nine is like a heist movie. Were there any heist films you took inspiration from?
Alberto Belli: Oceans 11 was one of the big ones. And then I’m a big fan of action adventure, so I was inspired by The Goonies and Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. I was really trying to capture those fun movies that feel real. The amazing thing about Disney is they gave me an opportunity to build this village to be able to do the stunt because at the end of the film, there’s gonna be this big chase and I really wanted to go for it. So the team had three versions of the sleigh. One where we could be, you know, reading by like someone in that sentence back. One that could be ridden by someone and then Santa’s bag. One driven by a tow truck so we could have sliding movements. And one that was like put in front of a green screen for the kids’ safety. It’s a combination of the three, but I really wanted it to feel real. Putting the kids in, we didn’t build 360-degree ice cave, but we did build, let’s say, a 280-degree one. So just seeing the kids seeing that, or every set, most of it is real. I was very inspired by those kinds of movies, where it’s like, Hey, let’s try to create it as real as possible because that gets a more visceral and more real reaction from the kids. I was very blessed that Disney was like, yes, let’s do it. They were very supportive of the vision.
Mama’s Geeky: Speaking of stunts, were the kids able to do their own?
Alberto Belli: No, no. Safety, especially with Disney, they were like safety with the kids is a major priority. So like, we had stunt doubles, which was obviously challenging to cast, because they have to be the same size, but they have to be adults. So no stunts for the kids. Not to ruin the magic.
Mama’s Geeky: As a parent, that feels like the right choice. Well, congratulations and I can’t wait to tune in to The Naughty Nine on The Disney Channel on November 22nd!
About The Naughty Nine
The Naughty Nine is a holiday heist movie that follows fifth grader Andy, who has been a bit of a troublemaker this year. When Christmas morning rolls around and Andy gets stiffed by Santa, he realizes he’s on the “naughty list.”
Feeling unfairly maligned, Andy pulls together a crack team of fellow “naughty listers” to execute an elaborate heist to get the presents he and the others feel they deserve. However, in the process of finding their gifts, the gang discovers that the best way off the naughty list is to redirect their unique talents for good instead of mischief.
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Tessa Smith is a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved Film and TV Critic. She is also a Freelance Writer. Tessa has been in the Entertainment writing business for almost ten years and is a member of several Critics Associations including the Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, and the Greater Western New York Film Critics Association.