What rhymes with sperm in Norwegian?

“Quite a few, actually, we got lucky in that respect,” says Tommy Wirkola, whose new film, Spermageddon, is an animated musical about sex and conception, told from the perspective of the spermatozoa. “You’d be surprised how many words you can find that rhyme, and how many variations and puns you can come up with.”

Horror fans know Wirkola for his 2009 Scandinavian splatterfest Dead Snow, which introduced Nazi zombies on ski patrols into the world of cinema, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a campy, violent take on the Grimm’s fairy tale featuring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton.

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Spermageddon, as Monty Python would say, is something completely different. Co-directed with fellow Norwegian Rasmus A. Sivertsen, the movie follows the adventures of two awkward teens, Jens and Lisa, who decide to have sex for the first time, and the related quest of Simon the Semen, two of Jens’ sperm, on a fateful journey to find Lisa’s egg.

“The pitch was: Cannonball Run with sperm,” says Wirkola, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter via Zoom from Australia, where he is prepping his new, still-untitled, shark thriller for Sony, to star Bridgerton breakout Phoebe Dynevor. “I initially tried to get it set up in the U.S., and had a lot of fun meetings, with plenty of laughs, but every time it went up the ladder, there was an executive who said: ‘No, we’re not going to do that, we won’t go there.’ So I thought, let’s see if we can make it in Norway, where there are really no restrictions on what you can do, and nobody telling you that this is too much.”

Wirkola and Sivertsen definitely didn’t get the “too much” note on Spermageddon. Picture Inside Out as imagined by a horny 14-year-old, and you are some way to envisioning the raunchy comedy, which had its Midnight Screening premiere at the Annecy Film Festival on Monday going into Tuesday.

But this is no Norwegian Sausage Party. Sivertsen, best known in Norway for his Louis & Luca franchise of kids-friendly animated movies, adds a layer of sweetness to the story, particularly in its depiction of the inexperienced teens during their first sexual encounter. Instead of R-rated adult animation, Spermageddon is aiming for a PG crowd, at least in Scandinavia.

Spermageddon Qvisten Animation

“I believe kids 12 and up should go see it, in Norway and in Scandinavia in general, this will get a 12+ rating,” says Wirkola. “I know if I had seen a movie like this when I was that age, I would have loved it.”

“Tommy and his team had the idea that this movie should look a bit like a family movie, have that cuteness, to sort of contrast with the content,” says Sivertsen, speaking from Annecy. “A gritty, adult-animated version of this script would be a very different experience, and maybe not so funny. Tommy thought it was important that the film felt like a Pixar movie and we worked a lot to develop really appealing characters, who you’d want to follow on their adventure, cheering for them along the way.”

Or even breaking into song. Because alongside everything else, Spermageddon is also a musical.

“That wasn’t the original idea, but in the process of developing it with my writers [Geir Vegar Hoel and Jesper Sundnes] we came up with a few songs,” says Wirkola. “I never had any desire to make a musical, but as we started playing around with it, it became a huge thing and I embraced it. Now those are my favorite parts of the movie when they explode and sing and dance, the absurdity of the musical numbers and who’s doing the singing.”

Pixar, certainly, has never tried a song-and-dance number with a chorus of gametes, or an E.Coli bacteria extolling the virtues of eating crap. A catchy tune late in the film, involving a gynecologist singing the praises of family planning, would be enough to get Spermageddon banned across most of Red State America.

Rasmus A. Sivertsen and Tommy Wirkola Courtesy of the Annecy Film Festival (2)

Coming from the very different worlds of splatter horror and kids animation, Wirkola and Siversten bonded over their shared love of bad puns — “our favorite movie, both of us, is Airplane,” Siversten says — and cultural reference points, including a raunchy Norwegian comic book called Python.

“It was a comic in the late 80s and 90s directed towards kids, but had a lot of dirty jokes, really pushing the envelope,” says Wirklola. “It was some of my favorite stuff and really shaped my sense of humor.”

What the MPA will think of Spermageddon is another story. Charades is handling worldwide sales on the movie, which is still looking for a U.S. distributor.

“I’m very curious what rating this will get in the U.S.,” admits Wirkola. “Because I think it’s a cute story in many ways, but, at the same time, it goes places most films like this wouldn’t.”

One place, in particular, was a point of contention, even with Siversten’s animation team.

“If you notice, at the very end, after the credits, up comes up a text with a disclaimer,” says Siversten. “That says everything that you see in this movie is fictional and you can’t get pregnant from sperm traveling up through your body in this manner [after anal sex]. At the premiere in Annecy, that got one of the biggest laughs.”

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