The lovable, huggable Mogwai star of Gremlins was almost its main villain. That’s right: The heroic co-protagonist Gizmo (voiced by none other than Howie Mandel) was written as the leader of the nastily transformed gremlins up until the last minute.
At a recent Q&A via Entertainment Weekly, director Joe Dante discussed his film with 1000 Ways to Die director Mike Williamson -- specifically the planned fate of his leading fuzzball. “Gizmo was supposed to, in the original script, turn into Stripe, the bad Gremlin, after about 20 minutes," and that was how they "planned to do the movie,” Dante said. The reverser of this heel-turn, changing the movie’s fate and that of its cultish fans, was executive producer Steven Spielberg.
According to Dante, “after seeing all of our tests with Gizmo, [Spielberg] liked Gizmo so much that he said, ‘You know, we really shouldn’t get rid of him, he should stick around and be the hero’s pal for the entire picture.’” This threw a wrench in production (which was about a month away), because the entire special effects team had planned on this little puppet being discarded after 20 minutes, and now it had to help lead a film as a hero.
After experimenting with marionettes and other puppet techniques, Dante and crew finally solved their Mogwai problem (besides the one you get from feeding it after midnight). Otherwise, yikes, what a movie that would have been. Thank god for backpacks, quick thinking, and the caring heart of Mr. Spielberg.