Gremlins Star Zach Galligan Talks His Long-Awaited Reunion With Gizmo for Mountain Dew Zero Sugar

Whenever a new version of something beloved by millions of people is revived and reimagined, there's bound to be pushback from devout fanatics, regardless of whether this applies to a movie or to a soft drink. While there are plenty of disappointing instances of this happening, just because something's new doesn't mean it can't be as good, if not better, than its predecessor, an idea leaned into with a new Mountain Dew commercial for their MTN DEW Zero Sugar. The latest spot sees Gremlins star Zach Galligan reuniting with the beloved Mogwai Gizmo, who is once again voiced by Howie Mandel.

Mountain Dew describes the spot, "MTN DEW Zero Sugar, the sugar-free version of their classic beverage, is just as good as the original -- don't believe us? Billy and Gizmo can back us up. Even in Gizmo's old age, he can't help himself, MTN Dew Zero sugar is just that tasty. DEW Zero Sugar has the same refreshing taste that fans love – even without sugar – proving that some things can be just as good as the original. This marks the second iteration of MTN Dew Zero Sugar's 'As Good as the Original, Maybe Even Better' campaign. The original campaign kicked off in 2020 and we're at it again, bringing another classic film back, with a Zero Sugar twist -- the -80s horror classic -- Gremlins."

ComicBook.com recently caught up with Galligan to talk about the drink, his emotional reaction to the reunion, and what this could mean for a Gremlins follow-up.

gremlins mountain dew commercial gizmo
(Photo: MTN DEW Zero Sugar/Prettybird)

ComicBook.com: Gremlins was definitely a staple of many people's childhoods, so this new commercial evokes a lot of memories of people being younger, drinking Mountain Dew, and watching a movie like Gremlins on VHS. When you were younger, what was your go-to beverage of choice that you'd pop open, say on a Friday night, when you wanted to have a fun celebration?

Zach Galligan: I drank a lot of different things. Certainly Mountain Dew, actually, was one of them, I've always been kind of a Pepsi guy. So Diet Pepsi, probably Mountain Dew. Chocolate milk, maybe. I don't know, I was more of a popcorn [guy] really.

I have to admit, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, those both sound perfect for some popcorn, but I don't think I like the sound of drinking chocolate milk with a bowl of popcorn.

When you're [younger], you can eat and drink all sorts of pretty nasty combinations and get away with it. Because, at least when I was like 10 years old, I had a cast-iron stomach and I could have a bag of candy and all sorts of different drinks. And my mom would look at me like I was a crazy person and I would be completely fine.

Of course, as soon as Gremlins fans found out about this Mountain Dew Zero Sugar commercial, they were thrilled to check it out, but were you as thrilled to get involved? Did you immediately sign on when you heard you could play Billy again next to Gizmo or did it take some convincing?

Well, Mountain Dew approached me with an idea to do a commercial. I liked the idea of doing a reunion, but I wanted to see what the thrust was going to be. Because, obviously, you don't want to just say yes to something and then have it not be good. But then gradually, the Mountain Dew people were very good about keeping me in the loop, in the decision-making process, which is unusual because usually the actor just shows up to the set and it's all done. You say your lines and try not to bump into the furniture, to quote Spencer Tracy, he said that famously. But here it was, I'm not going to say that I had a writing credit because I didn't, but they were throwing out ideas and I would be like, "That's good."

Then they would throw out, for example, possible directors of the commercial, "Do you have any objections to this person or that person versus this person?" So there was a lot of, for an actor, I got a lot of inclusion in a little bit of the decision-making process. That made me feel more comfortable that the product, the final commercial, was going to be something that I would be happy with, as opposed to, there are plenty of times, as an actor, where you will do a project and you'll just, you won't be all that happy with it. You'll have to grit your teeth through the promotion process and just talk about how happy you are with it, how great it is when you have very mixed feelings. When I saw the final cut of the commercial, I was really, really thrilled with the level of professionalism and particularly with the one thing that I was the most concerned about, which was the technology of the puppets. I wanted the effects to look as good, if not better than the two films.

I read another interview where you talked about your emotional reaction to filming the commercial, about how after filming for a few hours, it reminded you of being younger and the time you spent making those original films. What was it like when you first saw Gizmo? Did it take you hours to connect with the puppet or did you feel like you were working with one of the countless Gizmo toys you've seen over the years?

Well, I would say this, there is a gigantic difference between staring at a stuffed Gizmo and then interacting with a super-professional, high-powered, animatronic version of Gizmo that is so incredibly lifelike. The puppeteers and animatronics people who worked on this commercial had clearly trained for weeks, if not months, with this particular puppet. When they were really doing their best, the creature, obviously intellectually you know that it's not a real thing and that it is a puppet, but, man, the illusion is so powerful that you really can ... it's very easy to lose yourself in the reality of that, the temporary reality of the creature. There were times when I would lean towards him, and the puppeteers would play along and I would talk to them in between breaks, in between takes and stuff like that.

And I'd be like, "Hey buddy, how are you doing?" And he'd reach out, he'd grab my finger and squeeze it. He could do that. He would look up at me and smile and blink his eyes at me. It was ridiculous. It's impossible to compare it to like, staring at a teddy bear that's just sitting on a bed, not moving. It's a completely, night-and-day different experience. I would say it didn't take a few hours, I would say within a couple of minutes, a minute of the puppeteers looking towards me, it was like ... it's funny because Mountain Dew picked the "Reunited and It Tastes So Good" song. I had been singing that Peaches & Herb song after I did the spot.

I was thinking that I was going to use that. I thought I was all clever. I thought I was going to use that song on my social media. And then they suggested it and I was like, "Wow, that is strange," because that really is what it felt like. It really just felt like a beautiful reunion. It really did. You look at him and he looks up at you and looks pretty much the same. And I look close to the same, maybe a few gray hairs and wrinkles here and there and stuff like that. You just get thrown back, close to 40 years. All of those thoughts and feelings that you experienced back in 1983, it comes back with a vividness that is very difficult to describe to someone who has not been through the experience.

gremlins mountain dew commercial gizmo drink
(Photo: MTN DEW Zero Sugar/Prettybird)

For the past 31 years, since Gremlins 2: The New Batch came out, you've been asked about a third film, so I won't pester you with details or teases about that happening, but did filming this commercial make you even more excited to possibly make a third film or was it satisfying enough that you feel more fulfilled about even briefly getting to work with Gizmo again?

Oh, much, much more interested, because one of the things about doing the Gremlins movies is you would watch, even the difference between 1983 and 1989, effects, technology-wise was really a quantum leap. One of the reasons was that Chris Walas, who did a fantastic job in the first movie, he really didn't have a whole lot of technology to work with. In fairness to him, he would admit, it was his first major gig. So he was under a lot of pressure and he didn't have as much experience as, probably in retrospect, he would have liked to have had.

Then, flash-forward to 1989, six years of technological growth, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it can in technology, the six years can be gargantuan, and the technology was a lot better. And, obviously, we hired Rick Baker, who's the greatest special effects guy of all time, with seven Oscars and 12 nominations to show for it. They tell you the effects on that, given the technology of the time, were absolutely jaw-dropping.

They also figured out that they shouldn't really have me holding and carrying Gizmo very much because that was infinitely more complicated. So, instead, if you watch Gremlins 2, they do all sorts of clever workarounds where they have Gizmo in a toolbox or I put Gizmo in a file cabinet or Gizmo gets put in this place or another place, but as long as I'm not holding him in my hands, it's exponentially easier. You can just see the cables and wires into whatever it is that Gizmo is sitting or contained in, whether he's in it, and can do the wires at the back of the file cabinets, you can do the wires down. I put the red toolbox in Gremlins 2 on the sink. They cut a hole in the bottom of the toolbox, and then they run all the cables and wires out through the hole in this thing, because it's a set and it's not really a bathroom. It's just infinitely, infinitely easier.

So now, fast forward to this commercial, and it's 30 -- you're talking three decades later and it's a completely different technological world. And you have the dialogue pre-synced with the mouth movements, with the animatronics having 37 different cables for parts of his face. This thing and that thing, if someone sees the cable, it doesn't matter. There's this new thing called "CGI" where you can just erase the cable. It's just exponentially easier to do stuff with this technology. It just makes me feel like, if it's Gremlins 3 and there were a whole bunch of sequences with me and Gizmo, whereas the first one took us two months to shoot, I think this time it would take us about 10 days. It just would be so much faster.

Hopefully you'll humor me with some pedantic questions I've had about the rules of Gremlins for quite a few years, but if I could get official, unofficial answers, I'd appreciate it. How do time zones work in relation to a Mogwai, like if they eat on a flight that travels through time zones? Also, how does "eating after midnight" factor in if something gets caught in your teeth before midnight and you swallow it after midnight?

Well, of course, both of those jokes you just made are featured in Gremlins 2, in the control room, and the guy says, "What if the caraway seed gets stuck in his teeth at 11? And then you swallow a bit later." Or if he crosses the International Date Line and stuff like that, he's in a plane.

The thing is, as I've said for decades, it's a movie and you want to make a rule as easy to remember as possible. So "don't get them wet" is easy, "keep them out of bright light" is easy, but if the rule was "don't feed him between 12:01 a.m. and 3:59 a.m. Eastern Standard Time," I don't think that would be considered a particularly easy rule to remember. So [writer] Chris Columbus, in his wisdom, and [Steven] Spielberg probably helped him along the way, helping him craft the script and improve it, came up with "don't feed him after midnight" because it gets the idea that late at night is a bad time for this creature to eat. So it was a very big rule that lacks finite parameters and is subject to a lot of deviation. That's all I can tell you.

Well we are "ComicBook.com" so it's only fitting to be nitpicky and embarrassing. I appreciate you humoring me.

I would say this, though, I would be fairly convinced that the midnight is referred to as the midnight in the time zone. So if you were East coast time and it was 11:45 p.m., you would be safe here in Atlanta where I am, to feed Gizmo. Now, if you were in Los Angeles and it was 11:45 p.m., even though it was then 2:45 a.m. in Atlanta, if Gizmo was in Los Angeles and it was 11:45, it would be safe to feed him in that respective time zone. So I would say it's probably time-dependent.

I look forward to a Gremlins 3 where Gizmo has to fly from L.A. to Atlanta and has to deal with the "eating after midnight" jet-lag rule-breaking and there you go.

You could do that. You could feed him at 11:45 and put him on the plane. And then when you get off, they go, "Oh, my God, it's now after midnight, and the food gets digested." And when I pick him up on the conveyor belt, after he is stored in this luggage compartment, because you can't take pets on the plane, there's nine of them.

I've got some free time, I don't think we need Joe Dante or Christopher Columbus, we can make this happen.

Yeah, there you go.

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Stay tuned for details on the possible future of the Gremlins franchise.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.