Thursday, January 31, 2008

News - 01/31/08...

Up release date pushed forward

UpcomingPixar via BoxOfficeMojo and reports that the release date for Disney/Pixar’s Up appears to have been pushed forward by 14 days. Up was originally scheduled for a June 12, 2009 release but is now set to hit theatres on May 29, 2009.

Bam Margera’s Unaired MTV Pilot - Bamimation

Bam Margera, one of the infamous Jackass daredevils, has been animated many times in the past - but mainly as a video game character. But back in 2006, this star of MTV’s Viva La Bam was illustrated into his very own Flash-animated pilot - Bamimation. I found this canceled pilot floating around the web, and am fairly certain it was animated by Six Point Harness in Hollywood.

nockFORCE Revs Up a Presidential Go-Kart

nockFORCE, the weekly animated musings of Jim Gisriel and Ian Jones-Quartey, has spawned its first politically-minded episode. This Flash-animated series isn’t the most elaborately-animated project, but keep in mind that Jones-Quartey is animating on his own - weekly. It’s a loopy, open-topic series that’s now released the 26th episode titled Presidential Go-Kart Race, which nods to the Nintendo game Mario Kart.

LEGO Secures Speed Racer Rights

LEGO Group today announced an agreement with Warner Bros. Consumer Products (WBCP) to secure construction toy rights for the upcoming Speed Racer, the live action feature film adaptation of the classic TV series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida.

Under the agreement, LEGO Group will produce four constructible racing playsets under its LEGO Racers brand, scheduled to race onto store shelves in April 2008, and ranging in price from $19.99 to $59.99 USD. Builders and collectors alike will appreciate the inclusion of multiple authentic racers in each set for head-to-head racing and building fun. Many of the Speed Racer characters also will come to life in LEGO minifigure form, including Speed, Racer X, Trixie, Spritle, Chim-Chim, Mom and Pops Racer, Taejo Togokhan, Snake Oiler, Gray Ghost and Cruncher Block.

"Warner Bros. Consumer Products has partnered with LEGO on Batman and Harry Potter, and we are excited to expand our relationship to include products based on the upcoming 'Speed Racer' film," said Karen McTier, Executive Vice President, Domestic Licensing and Worldwide Marketing, for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. "LEGO has captured the racing excitement of the film in its own unique way."

"The popularity and universal appeal of 'Speed Racer' has engaged generations of loyal and enduring fans," said Jill Wilfert, Vice President, Partnership and Alliance Management for LEGO Group. "Combined with one of our most popular lines in LEGO Racers, 'Speed Racer' has become an awesome proposition for our business and consumers."

The green flag drops on May 9, 2008, when Speed Racer makes his feature film debut in the newest project from writer/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, the creators of the groundbreaking "The Matrix" trilogy, and producer Joel Silver. A live-action, high-octane family adventure based on the classic series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida, the big-screen Speed Racer will follow the adventures of the young race car driver Speed (Emile Hirsch) in his quest for glory in his thundering Mach 5. It will feature other characters that fans of the show will remember, including Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Pops Racer (John Goodman), girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox).

Watchmen Enters Final Weeks of Filming

Watchmen director Zack Snyder (300) has posted a new column at MTV that includes the following bit:

At the moment, I'm in the final weeks of shooting "Watchmen," in Vancouver, British Columbia. Since "Watchmen" is a dissection of the superhero genre and forces it to take a long, hard look into the pop-culture mirror, it only makes sense that it's where my head is at these days.

Opening March 6, 2009, the big screen adaptation stars Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Carla Gugino, Stephen McHattie and Matt Frewer.

Carla Gugino Talks Watchmen

MTV caught up with Carla Gugino at Sunday's SAG Awards, where she talked about her role in Zack Snyder's Watchmen:

"It was really one of the craziest, most fun roles I've ever gotten to play," marveled the "Sin City" star, cast as the burlesque dancer who proves to be the most PR-savvy of the complex superheroes. "I start at 25 years old in the 1940s, and I age to 67 years old with full prosthetics in the 1980s. [Sally] is a larger-than-life character. She's a costumed crime fighter, but her idea of a costume is very Bettie Page-meets-[Alberto] Vargas.

For more of the interview, hit the link above!

Visions of Frank dvd

Visions of Frank is a dvd that came out last year collecting eight animated shorts by Japanese animators, all based on Jim Woodring’s wondrous comic creation Frank. The 45-minute dvd, which sells for $25 on Woodring’s website, also comes with a 16-page booklet, and includes Woodring’s own animated short Whim-Grinder. More info from the website:

VISIONS OF FRANK collects 8 wild Frank animations made by some of Japan’s most innovative and idiosyncratic filmmakers: Taruto Fuyama, Eri Yoshimura, art unit COCOA, DROP INC., Masaki Naito, Kanako Kawaguchi, Naomi Nagata. Each piece is an interpretation of a classic Frank comic and is scored by musicians from Japan and the USA. The films run the gamut of animation techniques: 3D CG, paper craft, clay, iron sand and traditional cel 2D…For each animation, you are able to choose between the original music and the newly composed music by other musicians. Participating musicians include James McNew (from Yo La Tengo), The Coctails, Dame Darcy, Kicell, Milk Yabe, and others.

A number of the shorts, if not all, are viewable on YouTube including this fine one:

Ka-Ching Drops Their 3D Machine on Rotterdam

Last night at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Joost van den Bosch and Erik Verkerk, the Dutch artists behind Ka-Ching Cartoons, debuted their new 7-minute Flash-animated short The 3D-Machine. Inspired by 50s monster movies, this film is actually produced in traditional 3D format (glassed encouraged, but not required), and the team used Photoshop and After Effects for the backgrounds and Premiere for the editing. The film is about “a professor who invents a machine that can bring everything he draws to life.”

You can view a trailer over at the Ka-Ching website.

El Chavo: Univision’s Flash-Animated Prime Time Hit

According to a recent article in Animation Magazine, Univision’s first prime-time animated series, El Chavo: La Serie Animada debuted with strong ratings, scoring ahead of both The CW and the almighty NBC. This Flash-animated series was physically produced by Anima Estudios, which is based in Mexico City. El Chavo is based on the children’s show, El Chavo de Ocho.

Below is an episode titled Vacaciones en Acapulco.

Marcell Jankovic’s Fehérlófia

Every so often I find out about such an awesome piece of animation that I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never heard about it before. Tonight was such an instance when my friend Joshua Smith introduced me to the 1982 Hungarian animated feature Fehérlófia directed by the legendary Marcell Jankovics. (Note: Other websites peg the film’s release date as 1980 and ‘81. If anybody knows for sure, let us know.)

Admittedly I’ve never followed Jankovics’s work very closely. Like most indie animation fans I’m familiar with his award-winning short Sisyphus (warning: unintentionally NSFW soundtrack) and that’s about all. I had no idea that he’d also directed features, especially one as daringly experimental as this one. The first bit of Fehérlófia that I watched was this clip:

After watching this, I thought there’s no way there could be an entire film that maintains this visual intensity and innovation throughout. Then a search on YouTube revealed that the entire film is posted in eight parts and in fact it’s a pretty damn amazing piece of work. Visually, it’s rooted in a pastiche of late-’70s/early-’80s graphic styles yet it also manages to look remarkably fresh and contemporary. This ten-minute segment blew me away:

What the film lacks in the type of nuanced character animation that we demand from our US animated features, it more than makes up for with its experimental graphic animation and sweeping artistic vision. Joshua Smith tells me that he’s working to create an English fansub of the film. I hope he makes that available online so we can all learn if the story is as fascinating as the artwork.

Spotlight on Chinese Animation

“They already make most of the toys, holiday decorations, and household items sold in America, in addition to holding most of our debt. Think China is just content to be regarded as the place you go for cheap animation outsourcing? Think again!” o-meon covers almost 2000 years of Chinese animation and aims to show the rich quality of animation coming from the most populous country in the world.

Fly Me Gets Launch Date

Fly Me to the Moon, a CG-animated family feature developed specifically for stereoscopic 3-D exhibition, will be released in IMAX venues and other theaters equipped for digital 3-D projection on Aug. 22. A co-production of Illuminata and nWave Pictures, the film will be distributed nationwide by Summit Ent.

In the movie, three tween-aged flies decide they want to become part of the space program and hatch a plan to stow away on the 1969 Apollo II mission. Against the wishes of their mothers and with encouragement from a grandfather who missed his shot at becoming the first fly in space, the intrepid insects manage to get into the rocket and embark on an exhilarating and harrowing space adventure. The voice cast features Kelly Rippa, Christopher Lloyd, Nicollette Sheridan and Adrianne Barbeau, as well as real-life Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin in a special cameo role.

The G-rated, independently produced film is directed by Ben Stassen of Brussels-based nWave Pictures. The company has been have been producing 3-D films for more than a decade, creating specialty titles such as 3D Mania, Alien Adventure, Misadventures in 3D and Wild Safari for IMAX theaters and theme-park attractions. To handle its first animated feature for the mass market, nWave augmented its core group of animators in Belgium with hires from throughout Europe, the U.S and Canada.

While other animated movies have been converted to 3-D as an afterthought, Fly Me to the Moon is a pioneer when it comes to animated films built from the ground up with stereoscopic projection in mind. Major studios have since adopted the model. DreamWorks Animation will make all of its CG features in 3-D, starting with 2009’s Monsters Vs. Aliens, and Disney/Pixar will bring an extra dimension to Toy Story 3. The first two Toy Story films will be converted for 3-D exhibition and re-released.

Leonardo in The Box for France

Gruppo Alcuni, a production company based in Treviso, Italy, has signed The Box Distribution to handle its animated series, Leonardo, in French-speaking territories. Co-produced by Rai Fiction with the support of the European community’s MEDIA program, the series consists of 26 13-minute episodes that blend traditional 2D animation and CG techniques. Installments will be ready for air by the end of April.

Set in the 1400s, Leonardo follows the exploits of a group of Tuscan youngsters who are lucky to have a resourceful friend in Leonardo da Vinci. At the age of 13, the young inventor is not yet aware of the role he will play in history. He’s content to dream up new gadgets and get into thrilling adventures with loyal pal Lorenzo and the beautiful Gioconda, while foiling the plots of rivals Laura and Gottardo. Each episode will reveal one of da Vinci’s new inventions from its conception to its creation. These include a flying machine, a special catapult and an elastic bicycle.

Newport Beach Fest Adds Chuck Jones Award

The Newport Beach Film Festival and the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity will present the first ever Chuck Jones Award for Excellence in Animation this year. Created in honor of the legendary animation director, the award will be given each year to an individual or group best exemplifying artistic achievement and innovation in the field of animation.

Winners of the Chuck Jones Award will receive a special animation cel from Jones' body of work, a cash award and recognition at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Filmmakers from around the globe with feature-length or short-form original animated works can submit their films for consideration.

“Chuck Jones lived in Newport Beach as a child and always held it close to his heart,” comments Linda Jones Clough, daughter of the Oscar-winning animator. “His last 22 years were spent as a resident of Newport Beach/Corona del Mar, and it is with great pleasure and delight that the Jones family and Trustees of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity participate in this wonderful festival.”

The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity is a nonprofit organization with a mission to foster and encourage creativity, especially in young people, using Jones' films, drawings and writings as artistic resource and inspiration. Jones made more than 300 animated films over the course of his 60-year career, and was a driving creative force behind such enduring Warner Bros. characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.

The Newport Beach Film Festival runs April 24 through May 1, and will highlight more than 300 films from around the world. Filmmakers can download an entry form at, or submit through The final deadline for entries is Feb. 11.

M-I-C-K-E-Y B-U-S-T-E-D: Mouse's tail sent to jail

Forget Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan: Mickey Mouse -- or someone borrowing the celebrity Disney character's name -- has been arrested for DUI in Sacramento, California.

Arrest records indicate that within an hour last Thursday, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department arrested one "Mickey Mouse" twice on charges of driving under the influence and once for driving on a revoked license.

Department spokesman Sgt. Tim Curran expressed surprise to hear that Mickey had been placed in custody.

"I don't know how that got in there," Wednesday's Sacramento Bee quoted Curran as saying. "When trainees learn to use our system, they put that (name) in.... It's one of the names we can use without getting in trouble."

Arrest records describe the rodent as an Anaheim, California resident who works as a bartender.

The arrest log further describes Mouse as a 47-year-old African-American male who's 5'9" tall and weighs 190 pounds.

Mouse has used the aliases "Buzz Lightyear" and "Donnie Duck," jail records state. He's known to police, having been arrested in 2005 on felony drunk driving charges.

ADV Films Breaks Silence on Anime Titles Vanishing from Their Website

ADV Films has issued a brief statement to Anime News Network about many different anime titles that have vanished from their website recently, and unpublished news reports about licensing issues:

"We know there are a lot of rumors swirling about, and that fans are looking for assurances that ADV will continue to distribute the anime series they know and love.

While we can't go into any detail at this time, please know that ADV is working through a few short-term challenges and fully intends to continue our releases.

We thank you for your patience."

Finally New Superhero Movie Details

It's been a while since we talked about Dimension Films and MGM's Superhero Movie, a spoof comedy from writer/director Craig Mazin and producer David Zucker. The movie, opening March 28, stars Sara Paxton, Leslie Nielsen, Drake Bell, Christopher McDonald, Kevin Hart, Marion Ross, Ryan Hansen, Jeffrey Tambor and Brent Spiner

We can tell you that the trailer is coming very soon--either this weekend or next weekend--and that has posted the plot, which goes like this:

Finally, the guys behind the outrageously silly "Scary Movie" franchise have used their own 'special powers' to spoof superhero movies. After being bitten by a genetically altered dragonfly, high school loser Rick Riker develop superhuman abilities like incredible strength and armored skin. Rick decides to use his new powers for good and becomes a costumed crime fighter known as "The Dragonfly." However, standing in the way of his destiny is the villainous Lou Landers. After an experiment gone wrong, Lou develops the power to steal a person's life force and in a dastardly quest for immortality becomes the supervillain, "The Hourglass." With unimaginable strength, unbelievable speed and deeply uncomfortable tights, will the Dragonfly be able to stop the sands of The Hourglass and save the world? More importantly, will we stop laughing long enough to notice?

Reeves Scares Up Cloverfield Sequel

Matt Reeves is in early talks with Paramount to direct a sequel to his recent monster movie Cloverfield, Variety reported. If the studio can complete discussions with Reeves, producer J.J. Abrams and scribe Drew Goddard, there is a chance that the Cloverfield sequel will be his next film.

Cloverfield, which tells the story of a monster attack on New York City through hand-held video footage, broke the box-office record for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend when it opened on Jan. 18 with $46 million in ticket sales. It fell sharply the following weekend, but not significantly enough to deter the studio from moving forward with a deal for a follow-up film. A likely factor was the film's modest $25 million budget, which it made back in its first two days of release.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

News - 01/30/08...

Lili Chin and Eddie Mort Abandon Flash

Everybody has been jumping on the Flash bandwagon these past few years, but could 2008 be the year that animators begin abandoning the infamously buggy software for a more stable and artist-friendly program? Lili Chin and Eddie Mort, the creators of one of the earliest Flash-animated TV series ¡Mucha Lucha!, have announced on their blog that they’re through with Flash. The creative duo is currently wrapping up a feature in Flash called Los Campeones de La Lucha Libre, but they say that beginning with their next project, a short for Cartoon Network Asia, they’ll be switching to Toon Boom’s Harmony. The statement on their blog reads:

“Goodbye Macromedia Flash. After 8 years we are truly over you. Those buggy filters you tantalisingly tempted us with in Flash 8 were the last straw. And you got an ANNIE AWARD for your inadequate software? We’re looking forward to working in some new kind of HARMONY for Rocquita.”

Is this an isolated incident or has the exodus begun?

Confirmed! Del Toro directing Hobbit

Confirmed? Del Toro doing "The Hobbit"?

seems so!

Check this

(Hope you know Spanish!)

Warren Ellis on 'Transmetropolitan'

It seems Warren Ellis has made a rare appearance on the forums which require a 10 dollar charge for an account (keeps the riff raff out… sometimes). During the Q&A Ellis said some interesting things about the oft-rumored but never-happening 'Transmetropolitan' movie.

Here are the highlights from the Q&A, as the were presented in the forum:

Q: Which of your creations would you be least happy to lose control over?

A: Darick [Robertson] and I have turned down countless approaches to do 'Transmetropolitan' in TV and film, for the simple reason that we are going to exercise control and see it done right or it will not be done at all. I would not be happy to lose control over that book.

Q: Any comments on Patrick Stewart doing Spider Jerusalem for TV/film? [Editor's Note: it had been rumored many years ago that Stewart was interested in doing a web-animation based on 'Transmet'.]

A: It'll never happen.

Q: More generally, who do you have in mind doing Spider so that it gets "done right"?

A: Darick and I both favour the idea of Tim Roth playing Spider.

Q: if you had to (as in gun to the head style "had to") have one of your characters made into a movie, which would it be?

A: HAD to? Jesus. Um... 'Atmospherics'.

'Atmospherics' is one of the numerous Ellis titles available through Avatar Press.

There you have it. For the complete thread visit and check under the "Batman’s Shameful Secret" sub-forum for the “Warren Ellis Q&A” thread. He discusses his opinion on things in the news, the presidential primaries, and status of his books! Exciting for sure.

'Marvel Zombies' Animated Feature Rumored

According to, a Direct To DVD animated feature based upon the popular Marvel Zombies mini series may be in the works.

The series, which follows the events of an alternate Marvel universe becoming infected with a virus that turns the characters into flesh hungry zombies, has been both a critical and commmercial hit for the publisher.

Marvel has yet to officially announce which characters will be featured in future Marvel/Lions Gate DVDs beyond this years Avengers Reborn, Hulk Smash! and next year's Thor features, so the story must be considered strictly rumor at this stage.

Nickelodeon Universe Opens in March

Mall of America, the country's largest shopping and entertainment center, will hold the grand opening of a new theme park dubbed Nickelodeon Universe on Saturday, March 15. Construction is underway on several Nick-themed rides that will be added to the seven-acre indoor park in Bloomington, Minn. Attractions will include two roller coasters dubbed SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge and Avatar Airbender, and a thrill ride named Splat-O-Sphere.

SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge and Avatar Airbender are the first roller coasters of their kind to be built inside a mall. The SpongeBob ride will offer vertical lifts, spirals and 90-degree turns before screeching to a halt at the Bikini Bottom Bus Stop. The Avatar Airbender will reach heights of 70 feet, and the Splat-O-Sphere will launch riders nearly 60 feet high before sending them down again at breathtaking speeds. Construction of the rides requires 45-tons of reinforcement steel, eight tons of structural steel and 4,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Nickelodeon Universe will also feature live shows, shops, games and other entertainment based on such top animated shows as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go!, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Danny Phantom, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and The Backyardigans. In addition, young fans will get to meet Nick characters in the park, which will host the network’s largest retail presence in the world. The Nick store will occupy more than 4,000 square feet with such items as branded tee-shirts, souvenirs and novelties.

Located minutes from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Mall of America is a 4.2 million-square-foot complex that opened in August of 1992. Home to more than 520 shops, the tourist destination houses the nation's largest indoor family amusement park, a 1.2 million-gallon walk-though aquarium, a 14-screen movie theater and other attractions. For more information on Nickelodeon Universe, go to

Nick Airing Valentine's Day Romance Marathon

Nickelodeon will air romance-themed episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants, The Fairly OddParents, Go, Diego, Go and other series on Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14, as part of its Crush Week programming schedule, the network says.

The Valentine's Day marathon will run from 6:30am to 9:00pm (EST/PST).

Johnson Heads Animation at Nick, MTVN Kids

Brown Johnson, a 20-year Nickelodoen veteran, has been promoted to the newly created position of president of animation for Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group. Previously exec VP and creative director of Nickelodeon preschool, and general manager of NOGGIN, Johnson was the driving force behind such Nick Jr. hits as Blue's Clues, Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go!, The Wonder Pets! and The Backyardigans. In her new role, she will report to Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group president Cyma Zarghami as she spearheads development and production for all animated programming across Nickelodeon, while continuing to oversee development and production for all preschool programming.

Johnson joined Nickelodeon in 1988 as exec in charge of production and, in 1989, was promoted to VP of production for Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, where she oversaw all Nickelodeon production and talent, as well as Nickelodeon Studios’ production staff in Florida. In 1993, she became VP/exec producer of Nick Jr. production and development. She was promoted to exec VP of Nick Jr. in 2001 before taking on the role of creative director of preschool television and general manager of NOGGIN in 2007.

A president of animation, Johnson will oversee the development and production of more than 225 new episodes of Nicktoon series in 2008. In addition to supervising the creative direction of such established favorites as SpongeBob Squarepants, The Fairly OddParents and Back At The Barnyard, she will shepherd the upcoming Amy Poehler Nicktoon series The Mighty B and The Penguins of Madagascar in partnership with DreamWorks SKG.

Based in both Nickelodeon's New York City headquarters and the Nick Animation Studio in Burbank, Calif., Johnson will supervise creative executive teams on both coasts, managing the creative direction and coordination efforts between series production, on-air promotions, marketing and consumer products. Nickelodeon's live action series and TV movie development and production will continue to be led by exec VP Marjorie Cohn.

Adult Swim Picks Up More Bleach

VIZ Media, LLC has announced that the 52-episode second season of the hit supernatural action animated series BLEACH is expected to begin airing on Saturday, March 1 on Adult Swim.

BLEACH follows Ichigo Kurosaki, an ordinary 15-year-old boy who also happens to be able to see ghosts. His fate takes an extraordinary turn when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper who shows up at Ichigo's house on the trail of a Hollow, a malevolent lost soul.

Drawn to Ichigo's high level of spirit energy, the Hollow attacks him and his family, and as a last resort, Rukia decides to transfer part of her Soul Reaper powers to Ichigo. As a result of Rukia’s actions, she is sent back to the Soul Society, where she is condemned to die. In Season 2, a stronger and more powerful Ichigo demonstrates a new resolve to save Rukia from certain death. This culminates in an explosive confrontation with Byakuya Kuchiki, Rukia’s by-the-book brother and his most intense opponent yet! Soon, Ichigo’s journey takes him back to the World of the Living where he must deal with a new assortment of supernatural enemies as well as the rigors of high-school life.

Why We Love Kazuo Umezu

Via Same Hat! Same Hat!, horror manga great Kazuo Umezu..

David Murray Joins G.I. Joe, Too is reporting that theatre actor David Murray has joined the big screen G.I. Joe adaptation to play villain Destro:

David Murray, mainly an actor of theatre, has been described as a cross between Alan Rickman and Clive Owen. A strong, good-looking dark haired actor, it is said he has a bit of an aristocratic snob quality about him.

And although Destro had a minor role in the original animated "G.I. Joe: The Movie," he is the main baddie this time around.

For more on this, hit the link above!

Whedon: Weird Science Is Offensive

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon participated in the weekly Geeks On podcast on Jan. 24 and discussed his upcoming projects, as well as his disgust for the concept at the heart of the '80s fantasy film Weird Science, according to science-fiction blog io9.

"I hate Weird Science not a little," Whedon said during the podcast, which was devoted to the theme of artificial intelligence. "I find it offensive, the boy fantasy of building a girl. Obviously, we were doing the nasty version of it [in Buffy the Vampire Slayer], because I find it grotesque."

He added that his new upcoming series Dollhouse, starring Buffy veteran Eliza Dushku, is "very much about humanity and how much of it is programmed."

Whedon is also working on a film script with former Buffy writer Drew Goddard--whose monster movie Cloverfield is currently in theaters--and a new project involving Internet content. In the print realm, Whedon is finishing up his runs on the comic-book series Astonishing X-Men and Runaways. Finally, he confirmed that his Wonder Woman film is officially dead at Warner Brothers.

The full podcast can be heard in streaming format here.

Wire Has Exclusive Knight Video

SCI FI Wire visited the set of NBC's upcoming Knight Rider and spoke exclusively with the cast and crew about the making of the TV movie. Two new videos (part one and part two), featuring footage from the behind-the-scenes interviews, are now live.

Knight Rider airs as a two-hour movie on Feb. 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Three cartoons up for television diversity awards

A trio of television series have been nominated by the National Association for Multi-ethnicity In Communications for the animation category of the 14th Annual NAMIC Vision Awards.

Nominated are Cartoon Network's The Boondocks; "A Very Happy Holiday," an episode of Disney Channel's Handy Manny; and "Moustache Kid" and "Puma Licito," two episodes of Nickelodeon's El Tigre.

In the children's category, the four nominees include the animated Nickelodeon shows Dora The Explorer: Dora's World Adventure and Go, Diego, Go! - Diego Saves Christmas.

Presented by NAMIC-Southern California, the NAMIC Vision Awards is the only competition recognizing outstanding achievements in original, multi-ethnic cable programming.

The 14th annual awards presentation, which honors programming diversity, will take place April 16 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California.

This year's NAMIC Vision Awards will be presented at a special luncheon held in conjunction with the NAMIC West Coast Creative Summit, which is part of the trade organization's signature conference series focused on the content development aspects of the television industry.

Over 200 entries were submitted by 29 networks competing for top honors in 15 award categories.

HBO dominated the voting by garnering 10 nominations in five categories. Disney Channel received five nominations, and TV One garnered four. TV One's impressive showing marks the largest number of NAMIC Vision Awards nominations earned by the network to date.

"The Vision Awards exemplifies the best of what the cable television industry produces annually in multi-ethnic and cross-cultural original programming that positively reflects the diverse interest of its viewers," said NAMIC president Kathy Johnson.

Oscar-nominated "Tutli-Putli" nominated for Genie

Nominated a week ago for an Academy Award, the National Film Board of Canada cartoon Madame Tutli-Putli is one of three candidates announced Monday for the Genie Award for best animated short.

The winner of two awards at Cannes, the wordless Madame Tutli-Putli is the first film from Montreal filmmakers Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski.

Also nominated for a Genie in the category are two other NFB releases: Diane Obamsawin's Here And There and George Schwizgebel's wordless Jeu -- a co-production with Switzerland's Studio GDS and Télévision Suisse Romande.

The Genie Awards are organized each year by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Canada's top film honors, they're the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars.

The 28th annual Genie Awards will be presented March 3 in Toronto.

Leading the Genie nominations with 12 each are David Cronenberg's Mafia thriller Eastern Promises and Shake Hands With the Devil, a dramatic adaptation of retired Canadian general Roméo Dallaire's experiences in Rwanda.

Eastern Promises stars Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. Shake Hands With the Devil stars Quebec actor Roy Dupuis. Both films have been nominated for best motion picture.

Also nominated for the top award are L'Âge des ténèbres (Days of Darkness), Away From Her and Continental, un film sans fusil.

Future Film Festival: We Have Seen the Future, and We is Schizophrenic

Russell Bekins chronicles the eclectic mix of films from the East and the West at the Future Film Festival.

Animation World Magazine

Paramount's Spiderwick, Beowulf Coming to Habbo

Habbo and Paramount Pictures Digital Ent. today announced a licensing agreement to create virtual goods based on titles including THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, BEOWULF and MEAN GIRLS. The deal will provide Habbo merchandising rights throughout the U.S. and Canada for all three properties. The partnership marks one of the first of its kind between a major motion picture studio and a virtual world commodity.

Starting in February with the upcoming fantasy-adventure title THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, Habbo will introduce items that include themed apparel to accessorize avatars, virtual furniture and accessories, as well as other virtual goods based on the movie. Habbo will follow up by producing themed virtual merchandise for the popular previously released titles BEOWULF and MEAN GIRLS in the upcoming months.

"The Habbo audience demands that their community reflect today's real world pop culture entertainment landscape," said Teemu Huuhtanen, EVP, Habbo business and President, North America. "By establishing a licensing deal with a leading studio like Paramount Pictures Digital Ent., we are able to produce themed virtual goods relevant to the movies our teen audience is watching, while simultaneously implementing impactful promotional campaigns for the studio."

"Many of our movie properties naturally lend themselves to unique and innovative opportunities in the traditional, digital and virtual worlds," said Alex Carloss, EVP/GM of Worldwide Digital Distribution for Paramount Pictures Digital Ent. "This agreement allows us to access Habbo's exceptional virtual community and built-in audience base where users can extend and enhance the film experience with a suite of themed-virtual goods."

There are currently Habbo communities in 31 countries on five continents. To date, over 86 million Habbo characters have been created and more than 8 million unique users worldwide visit Habbo each month. For more information, visit

Fifth of Aqua Teen on DVD

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 5 arrives on home video today, offering ten more episodes of the absurd Adult Swim animated comedy from creators Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis. Also hitting retail today is the critically acclaimed video-game documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and episodes of the popular children’s shows SpongeBob SquarePants and Pingu.

Produced under the Williams Street banner, Aqua Teen Hunger Force follows the exploits of three super-sized fast food items that rent a house together in New Jersey. The fifth season episodes are packaged as a two-disc set that also includes four previously unreleased episodes and other bonus features. Featurettes include Aqua Teens Respond to the Critics, Learn to Shred Like the Master, Tera Patrick Eats a Hot Dog and Granny Takes Her Top Off. There’s also a music video an interactive game dubbed The Worst Game Ever, a full episode titled “Space Ghost Coast to Coast Chambraigne,” the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters premiere with Space Ghost, deleted scenes, favorite episode promos and a trailer for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro Am video game. The Warner Home Video releases lists for $29.98.

Released theatrically by New Line Cinema over the summer, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters focuses on Mark Alpiger and Billy Mitchell, two video game fanatics who compete to break world records on classic arcade games. Bonus features include commentary by director Seth Gordon, producer Ed Cunningham, associate producers Clay Tweel and Luis Lopez, an animated short titled A Really, Really Brief History of Donkey Kong and other featurettes.

SpongeBob Squarepants: To Love a Patty is a collection of eight episodes. In addition to the title installment, the episodes include “Le Big Switch,” “Goo Goo Gas,” “A Flea in Her Dome,” “The Donut of Shame,” “The Krusty Plate,” “Pat No Pay” and “Blackjack.” The disc form Paramount Home Entertainment carries a suggested retail price of $16.99.

Pingu: On Thin Ice features eight episodes of the Hit Ent. animated series about a charming and mischievous young penguin who lives at the South Pole with his family. These are the later installments produced by Hot Animation. The property started as a clay-animated show made by Trickfilmstudio in Switzerland in the late 1980s. The disc lists for $14.98 and includes a DVD-Rom game.

Eric Coleman Named Disney SVP

Former Nickelodeon exec Eric Coleman has been named SVP, Development, for Walt Disney Television Animation, it was announced by Gary Marsh, President, Entertainment, Disney Channels Worldwide, to whom Coleman will report. Coleman joins Disney after 15 years at Nickelodeon, where he most recently was VP and Exec Producer, Animation Development and Production, and was the Exec in Charge of Production on the iconic series SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, among others.

Meredith Roberts, SVP, Creative Affairs, Walt Disney Television Animation, has been named to the new role of SVP and General Manager at DisneyToon Studios.

With a mandate to lead Disney's animated TV development into a new phase of growth, Coleman joins the company on Feb. 4 to spearhead development of animated short-form and long-form series for Disney Channel, Toon Disney and Jetix platforms, which are available to over 219 million homes worldwide. Coleman will also oversee Walt Disney Television Animation's Casting and Music departments.

In addition, he will provide development guidance and leadership for global partners of Disney Channel and Walt Disney Television Animation who are engaged in creation of original animation in the U.K., China, Japan and India, among others.

Coleman is credited throughout the industry as being the executive who championed the development and production of SPONGEBOB and AVATAR, two of Nickelodeon's most successful series.

Coleman began his career at Nickelodeon in New York where he worked on the first wave of original Nicktoons: RUGRATS, REN & STIMPY and DOUG. He then moved to Los Angeles and, as Manager of Development, he worked on numerous animated pilots including ROCKO'S MODERN LIFE, HEY ARNOLD! and ANGRY BEAVERS. In recent years, Coleman served as Exec Producer on AVATAR, CATSCRATCH, and EL TIGRE and was the Exec in Charge of Production on INVADER ZIM.

Coleman was raised in Scarsdale, New York, and graduated Cum Laude from Duke University with a bachelor's degree in English literature. He resides in Los Angeles.

Jerry Beck to be honored at this year's Annie Awards

Jim Hill pays tribute to this noted author & historian, who will receive the June Foray Award next week for the positive impact that he's had on the animation industry

Next Friday night, Toontown's top talents will put on their Sunday best and then motor on over to the Alex Theatre for the 35th annual Annie Awards.

Copyright 2008 ASIFA-Hollywood. All Rights Reserved

This is the night that the animation industry honors its own. When the very best work from 2007 in the fields of feature films, shorts, television and gaming finally gets the recognition that it so richly deserves.

And speaking of recognition ... Earlier this year, I was thrilled to learn that Jerry Beck had been selected to receive the 2008 June Foray award. Which is given annually to that individual who has ...

" ... made a significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation."

2008 June Foray Award winner
Author & historian Jerry Beck
Photo by Harvey Deneroff

Which describes Jerry Beck to a T.

Now I know that Jerry isn't exactly a household name. Unless -- of course -- you're a Hollywood history nut like myself. If that's the case, then your library already has at least one of the 12 well-written & researched tomes that Mr. Beck has produced over the years.

I mean, never mind about James Brown. To my way of thinking, Jerry Beck is the hardest working man in show business. Hell, just last year between October 25th and November 20th, three new books of his turned up on store shelves.

First up was "The Art of Bee Movie" (Chronicle Books, October 2007), which detailed the convoluted production history of Dreamworks Animation's latest CG feature.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

Given the decades that he's been covering the animation industry, Jerry knows story. Which is why he has a great eye for that truly ironic detail (EX: Like how DreamWorks design labored for months to come with a character design that looked just Jerry Seinfeld. Only to then have the acclaimed comedian reject this design because he thought it looked too much like himself) that just makes a show biz anecdote soar.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

But what Beck's also great at is explaining the actual process of animation. Breaking the various phases of production down, giving his readers a clear understanding of how an animated feature really comes together.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

He's also not afraid to tackle big projects. So when Nickelodeon decided that it wanted a book that chronicled its entire animation output, Jerry jumped in with both feet. Creating "Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons!" (DK Adult, November 2007) ...

Copyright 2007 Viacom International Inc. / DK Adult. All Rights Reserved

... this profusely illustrated coffee table book that's just loaded with great stories from the creators of such landmark Nickelodeon animated series as "Spongebob Squarepants" and "Rugrats."

Copyright 1996 Viacom International Inc. / DK Adult
All Rights Reserved

But you know what I like best about Beck? In spite of all the years that he's been writing about animation, all the high profile projects that he's worked on, all the movers and shakers that he's met & interviewed, Jerry has never become jaded. Deep in his heart of hearts, he's still a huge animation fan.

Copyright 2007 Insight Editions. All Rights Reserved

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Beck's third book for 2007, "The Hanna-Barbera Treasury" (Insight Editions, November 2007). Jerry's love for the sometimes schlocky Saturday morning shows that HB churned over the years is obvious, given all the model sheets, miniature comic books and other tchotchkes that he crams into this 56-page hardcover.

Copyright 2007 Insight Editions. All Rights Reserved

It's books like these three which entertain as they inform, not to mention the dozens of magazine articles that Beck's written over the years or the great work that he continues to do over at Cartoon Brew with Amid Amidi that explains why this writer / historian is so well respected by members of the animation community.

So congratulations on your June Foray award, Jerry. Enjoy your time in the spotlight next Friday night. You definitely earned it.

Randall Duk Kim joins 'Dragon Ball' as Gohan

According to his website Korean actor Randall Duk Kim is playing the role of Grandpa Gohan in the live action adaptation of the popular Shônen JUMP Japanese comic Dragon Ball. Readers might remember Kim as being the Key Maker in the Matrix Reloaded, sequel to the popular action film The Matrix.

Dragon Ball is due out this summer, produced by Stephen Chow and directed and written by James Wong.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

News - 01/29/08...

New WALL•E images

UpcomingPixar has posted two new images from the upcoming Disney/Pixar film WALL•E. Direct links to these images, which appeared in Entertainment Weekly Magazine and Disney Reporter respectively, can be found here and here

Bee Movie DVD extras revealed

DVDTimes has posted the artwork and extras for the upcoming Bee Movie dvd which will hit the stores on 11th March 2008. Bee Movie will be made available as a Two-Disc Special Edition and standard single-disc versions. Extras on Two-Disc Special Edition will include Jerry Seinfeld & Filmmaker Commentary, TV Juniors - Hilarious “behind the scenes” segments with Jerry Seinfeld that aired on NBeeC, Live Action Trailers, Alternate Endings, Jerry’s Flight Over Cannes, Inside The Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie, Lost Scenes with Commentary, “We Got The Bee” Music Video, and more.

Slamdance Tells Blood It's the Best Animated Short

The 14th annual Slamdance Film Festival announced the winners in three categories who will share more than $200,000 in cash and prizes. The just-concluded Festival in Park City, Utah, received over 3,500 submissions from 25 countries for less than 100 programming slots. The winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Animated Short was Andrew McPhillips' BLOOD WILL TELL. McPhillips was awarded a $2,500 credit at Filmworks/FX. For a complete list of winners, log on to

Nelvana Content Arrives on, the video-on-demand Internet television network, announced at NATPE that it has entered into an agreement with Nelvana Enterprises for the VOD rights to episodes from its extensive kids content library.

Nelvana is known for its library of well-loved classics, such as RUPERT, BABAR, FRANKLIN, ROLIE POLIE OLIE, and THE BERENSTAIN BEARS. Its shows have won over 70 major international awards and have been broadcast in over 160 countries.


Marv Wolfman on "Raven" Mini-Series

Writer Marv Wolfman has been interviewed by's PULSE News about the upcoming Raven mini-series, based on the Teen Titan he co-created with artist George Perez. Wolfman discusses the recent changes to Raven's status quo and how the current comics character and the mini-series was influenced by her depiction on the Teen Titans animated show.

"Car Talk" Animated Series Announces Official Title: "As the Wrench Turns"

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the co-hosts of National Public Radio's Car Talk, have announced the name of their new prime-time animated series coming to PBS soon : Click and Clack's As the Wrench Turns. The name was selected from numerous entries submitted by their listeners, with the winning entry submitted by Geoff Groff. Groff was interviewed by the pair and will be appearing as a character on the show.

Announced last summer, the show was scheduled for a Summer 2008 release.

Oscar Nom, More Theaters Boost "Persepolis" at Box Office

Alvin and the Chipmunks grossed $4.5 million over the weekend, which was enough to snag the CG-animated hit 11th place at North American box offices and a cumulative gross of $204 million, according to data at Box Office Mojo.

Overseas, the Chipmunks took in another $6.5 million for an international cumulative of $105.6 million.

One week after being nominated for an Oscar, Persepolis expanded from 31 theaters to 58 and picked up $350,000, giving it a per-screen average of $6,035. To date, the film has grossed $1.4 million.

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything grossed $1.2 million for a cumulative of $10.3 million.

Enchanted and Bee Movie continue to make money overseas. Enchanted grossed $4.1 million over the weekend for a foreign cumulative of $167.2 million. Bee Movie grossed $3.1 million for an international gross of $152 million.

New Dark Knight Photos

Scooper 'Enache Tiberiu' has sent us some new photos from The Dark Knight, opening in theaters on July 18. The Christopher Nolan-directed film stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.

Chris Nolan Remembers Heath

Everyone is talking and remembering Heath including his last director Christopher Nolan - who directed him in the upcoming Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight. Nolan talked with Newsweek and laid down his thoughts on the actor:

One night, as I'm standing on LaSalle Street in Chicago, trying to line up a shot for "The Dark Knight," a production assistant skateboards into my line of sight. Silently, I curse the moment that Heath first skated onto our set in full character makeup. I'd fretted about the reaction of Batman fans to a skateboarding Joker, but the actual result was a proliferation of skateboards among the younger crew members. If you'd asked those kids why they had chosen to bring their boards to work, they would have answered honestly that they didn't know. That's real charisma—as invisible and natural as gravity. That's what Heath had.

Heath was bursting with creativity. It was in his every gesture. He once told me that he liked to wait between jobs until he was creatively hungry. Until he needed it again. He brought that attitude to our set every day. There aren't many actors who can make you feel ashamed of how often you complain about doing the best job in the world. Heath was one of them.

One time he and another actor were shooting a complex scene. We had two days to shoot it, and at the end of the first day, they'd really found something and Heath was worried that he might not have it if we stopped. He wanted to carry on and finish. It's tough to ask the crew to work late when we all know there's plenty of time to finish the next day. But everyone seemed to understand that Heath had something special and that we had to capture it before it disappeared. Months later, I learned that as Heath left the set that night, he quietly thanked each crew member for working late. Quietly. Not trying to make a point, just grateful for the chance to create that they'd given him.

Those nights on the streets of Chicago were filled with stunts. These can be boring times for an actor, but Heath was fascinated, eagerly accepting our invitation to ride in the camera car as we chased vehicles through movie traffic—not just for the thrill ride, but to be a part of it. Of everything. He'd brought his laptop along in the car, and we had a high-speed screening of two of his works-in-progress: short films he'd made that were exciting and haunting. Their exuberance made me feel jaded and leaden. I've never felt as old as I did watching Heath explore his talents. That night I made him an offer—knowing he wouldn't take me up on it—that he should feel free to come by the set when he had a night off so he could see what we were up to.

When you get into the edit suite after shooting a movie, you feel a responsibility to an actor who has trusted you, and Heath gave us everything. As we started my cut, I would wonder about each take we chose, each trim we made. I would visualize the screening where we'd have to show him the finished film—sitting three or four rows behind him, watching the movements of his head for clues to what he was thinking about what we'd done with all that he'd given us. Now that screening will never be real. I see him every day in my edit suite. I study his face, his voice. And I miss him terribly.

Back on LaSalle Street, I turn to my assistant director and I tell him to clear the skateboarding kid out of my line of sight when I realize—it's Heath, woolly hat pulled low over his eyes, here on his night off to take me up on my offer. I can't help but smile.

Mouseterpiece Theater creator Robert Cunniff dies

Robert Cunniff, the Emmy-winning TV writer and producer who created Disney's Mouseterpiece Theater, died January 20 in Brooklyn, New York after a long illness. He was 81.

In 1984, Cunniff created, produced and co-wrote the hit Disney Channel series, which featured vintage Disney cartoon shorts. The deadpan parody of Masterpiece Theater was hosted by George Plimpton, who introduced the cartoons in a hilarious spoof of Alistair Cooke. In a March 1984 article, Publisher's Weekly called the show "one of TV's finest hours."

Cunniff shared an Emmy Award with Jon Stone in 1973 for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming - Entertainment/Fictional. It was for his work as a writer-producer of PBS' Sesame Street. He came up with the idea for the character of "The Count."

Sesame Street's head writer from 1972 to 1975, Cunniff came up with the idea for the character of "The Count" for Muppeteer Jerry Nelson. He wrote many sketches for the show.

Cunniff appeared in a cartoon himself in The New Yorker. The weekly magazine published a cartoon portraying him using a bulletin board to plot the elements of a daily TV talk show. Unlike nearly all of the magazine's cartoons, no caption was needed.

Born Robert Rody Cunniff in Chicago on September 13, 1926, he was the eighth of nine children born to Elizabeth and Luke Cunniff, a longtime Chicago Democratic Party associate.

During the Second World War, he served in the United States Navy in the Pacific Theater. Cunniff was one of five brothers who returned from overseas military service.

He earned a master's degree in literature from the University of Chicago on the G.I. bill, then wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times and TV Guide. He was compelled to quit the latter job due to a perceived conflict of interest: he won $4,750 on the TV quiz show Break the Bank.

In 1954, Cunniff and fellow Chicagoan Tom O'Malley came out with Cunniff and O'Malley, a syndicated newspaper column about TV. The column was a success until 1957 -- when it was shut down after O'Malley reported that What's My Line panelist Dorothy Kilgallen could see through her face mask.

Cunniff came to New York in 1953 -- because, he said, he was a fan of the work of choreographer George Balanchine.

As a young writer for The Today Show, Cunniff was one of the first to bring live jazz to national television in the United States. From 1963 to 1965, he created a multi-part concert series with his idol, Duke Ellington.

From 1963 to 1969, The Today Show's head writer. He worked closely with Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters, then the first female TV anchor in the U.S.

During his tenure, The Today Show offered what was then seen as especially strong coverage for a morning show. Issues included American drug and music culture, the Vietnam war, the violent 1968 Chicago Convention and U.S. political assassinations. He also helped broad news and satellites together with the first Early Bird Satellite Broadcast. It came out from Rome, where Cunniff also wrote a speech for Pope Paul VI -- thus giving him the nickname "The Holy Ghost Writer."

Cunniff was head writer for the late-night version of The Dick Cavett Show on ABC from 1969 to 1972. In 1971, he decided to book Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal on the same show. Realizing that there'd be a battle of words, he brought in elderly, mild-mannered New Yorker writer as "referee." He also booked Salvador Dali, Lillian Gish and Satchel Paige on the same show in 1970.

While he wrote for the show, one guest died on the air (publisher J. I. Rodale, 1971) and one walked off the set in a huff (former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, 1970). He also brought what was then a huge helping of live rock music, including Woodstock performers Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Joni Mitchell. Cunniff's love of film led to Ingmar Bergman and Laurence Olivier having their first appearances on an American TV talk show.

Cunniff even chose what would become known as the Cavett theme song, "Glitter & Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. When Cavett returned to public TV in the early 1980s and went to CNBC in the 1990s, Cunniff was an editorial force behind the scenes.

In 1976, Cunniff became the producer of Good Morning, America. He became friends with a then-obscure writer that he had hired, Broadway author Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers), and with actress Barbara Feldon, who sometimes hosted the show.

Cunniff was a major creative force behind dozens of late 1970s symphonic and solo productions for PBS TV's Live From Lincoln Center.

In the 1990s, he produced live TV theater for The Groundlings, a youth-oriented breakthrough comedy troupe based in Los Angeles.

Cunniff's work as a writer-producer for "magazine television" included such ABC shows as Calendar, with Harry Reasoner, in the early 1960s, and the brief 1980 revival of Omnibus.

A lifelong jazz and classical music aficionado, Cunniff served on the board of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Robert Cunniff's survivors include daughter Jill Cunniff Gregoire, lead singer of all-female rock group Luscious Jackson. She guested as herself in "Surprise," a 1996 episode of the cartoon show Space Ghost Coast to Coast.

He is also survived by son Stephen Cunniff of New York, longtime companion Kate Resek, granddaughters Chloe and Piper Gregoire and Madeline Cunniff, and brother Joseph of Chicago.

A memorial will be held Saturday, February 9 at The Unitarian Church of All Souls, 1157 Lexington Ave at 80th Street, Manhattan.

Toon Tuesday : How Pixar fixed "Finding Nemo"

Been hearing disappointing things about those "WALL*E" test screenings? Jim Hill reminds us what happened when Michael Eisner predicted that Andrew Stanton's last film would flop

It's the story that won't go away. How back in 2001, Michael Eisner reportedly told Disney's board of directors that he'd be postponing any further contract talks with Pixar Animation Studios.

"And why would the then-Chairman & CEO of the Walt Disney Company do that?," you ask. Because Eisner had just come back from a work-in-progress screening of "Finding Nemo." And he supposedly told the board that this Andrew Stanton movie was the weakest thing that Pixar had produced to date. Which is why Michael wanted to wait 'til this fish film flopped before he then re-opened negotiations with that Emeryville-based animation studio.

You see, Eisner believed that it would be far easier for Disney's attorneys to get Steve Jobs to agree to much more favorable terms if Pixar were coming off of its first "reality check." Which is why he wanted to put off any talk of an extension of their co-production deal for a year or so.

But then when "Finding Nemo" opened in theaters nationwide on May 30, 2003, it became this huge critical & financial success. For a time, that Academy Award-winning film was even the top grossing animated feature of all time ... At least until "Shrek 2" came along and knocked off that clownfish's crown.

Copyright 2002 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And as for Eisner ... Many people (Roy Disney included) used Michael's "Finding Nemo" box office prediction as an indication of how truly out-of-touch Disney's Big Cheese had become. Which helped speed Eisner's fall from power.

But here's the thing: Michael Eisner wasn't actually wrong about "Finding Nemo." At least not when it comes to the shape that this Pixar production was in back in the Fall of 2001.

Back then, this Andrew Stanton film was in awful shape. It was saddled with at least one too many plotlines, one lead character that had a rather unappealing secret as well as another character who was desperately in need of a new voice.

As for "Nemo" 's extraneous plotline ... Early on, Stanton wanted to keep moviegoers in the dark for long as possible about why Marlin was so over-protective, why Nemo had this damaged fin. Which is why he initially tried to handle this father & son's tragic backstory through a series of flashbacks.

As Andrew explained on the visual commentary track of the "Finding Nemo" DVD:

Andrew Stanton with the Oscar that "Finding Nemo" won
for Best Animated Feature. Copyright 2004 Academy
of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Earlier (on), we had flashbacks. And we were going to dole them out, this whole backstory. We were just going to tell a little bit at a time ... And you'd get these little windows of the past ... And it was all leading up to this tragic event with the barracuda.

So why did Stanton eventually decide to discard this rather stylistic way of revealing of how exactly Coral died, how all of Nemo's brothers & sisters got eaten?

Ultimately what made it fall apart was there was nothing big to reveal at the end. There was no "Ah Ha!" or surprise slant to it ... By the time you were getting near the end of the movie, you kind of suspected what the tragedy was. (Which is why we decided to) remove the flashbacks and just (reveal the barracuda attack) right up front. Which is what almost every Film 101 book tells you to do.

Mind you, it took a couple of passes before Stanton finally came up with an opening for "Finding Nemo" that hit all of the right emotional beats. One that made Coral being eaten by the barracuda, the destruction of most of the eggs in the nest " ... powerful and yet not overly brutal." After all, Andrew's initial intent was to have the audience bond as quickly as possible with Marlin & Nemo.

Which is why -- for a time anyway -- "Finding Nemo" opened with the Father clownfish telling his son a bedtime story. And as Coral's death, that was explained away in a single poignant exchange between Marlin & Nemo.

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

NEMO : And then the ocean took Mommy away?

MARLIN : (Rueful) That's right. It did.

But in the end, the quickest way to get moviegoers to care about the two clownfish was to actually show the tragedy that bonded these characters together. Which is why "Finding Nemo" eventually opened with that barracuda attack on Marlin & Coral's anemone.

FYI: That opening sequence was not in the work-in-progress film that Michael Eisner saw back in 2001. He saw a version of "Finding Nemo" which opened with Nemo's first day of school. Where Marlin was already twitchy and over-protective, but you didn't initially understand why the Father clownfish constantly hovered over his son. Which made that character rather difficult to like.

And Marlin wasn't the only "Finding Nemo" character that audiences initially had trouble warming up to. Early on, Gill (i.e. The leader of the Tank Gang) was also a very unlikable character.

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But that was only because Stanton wanted to reveal that this angelfish (Which the young clownfish had begun looking up to as a possible replacement for his father) was no angel. In a now-deleted scene from "Finding Nemo," Nemo was supposed to discover that Gill's colorful backstory (i.e. That Gill grew up in Bad Luck Bay and had four brothers -- Marco, Polo, Lester & Linus -- & one sister -- Lulu) had actually been cribbed from a children's storybook that P. Sherman made available to patients waiting in his lobby.

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And while making Gill a liar was an interesting story choice for the leader of the Tank Gang, it also confused "Finding Nemo" 's test audiences. They couldn't decide whether they should still root for this angelfish's escape plan. More importantly, they wondered if they could really trust Gill to keep Nemo safe during his time in the dentist's office.

Realizing that they unintentionally complicated the middle portion of their movie, Stanton and his story team eventually dropped the whole Gill-stole-his-backstory-from-a-children's-book idea and just made this angelfish a determined loner who would do whatever he had to in order to escape from P. Sherman's seawater aquarium. Which then brought an emotional clarity to Act 2 of "Finding Nemo."

But -- again -- that's not what Michael Eisner saw. He saw a version of "Finding Nemo" where Gill was this charismatic but delusional character. Where Nemo didn't know who to trust while he was stuck in that aquarium, waiting for his father to come rescue him.

Speaking of Marlin ... One of the other reasons that Disney's then-Chairman & CEO wasn't all that enthusiastic about "Finding Nemo" was the actor that Andrew initially hired to provide the voice of the Father clownfish. William H. Macy's vocal performance in this role just lacked ... something. Though this award-winning performer tried his damnest, he just couldn't make Marlin a character that you cared about. Which is why Stanton was eventually forced to recast this role.

And as for the actor that Andrew eventually did hire to play the Father clownfish, the "Finding Nemo" director had this to say about that performer:

Albert Brooks. He absolutely saved this picture. He is exactly what I needed this father character to be. You needed someone who was neurotic, over-protective but still appealing throughout. And that is one of Albert's gifts. That he can sort of play both. Usually it's such an off-putting thing. But he just makes it so winning.

(L to R) Ellen Degeneres, Alexander Gould and Albert Brooks at
the premiere of "Finding Nemo." Photo by Dan Steinberg.
Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But -- again -- the version of "Finding Nemo" that Michael Eisner saw didn't have Albert Brooks performing the voice of Marlin. But rather William H. Macy. Who's a very talented man but not the right guy if you're looking for the proper performer to voice an over-protective clownfish.

You getting where I'm going yet? That the version of "Finding Nemo" that Michael Eisner saw back in 2001 was pretty bad. Which is why the then-Chairman & CEO of the Walt Disney Company was right to feel the way that he did. Michael genuinely believed that he was looking at Pixar's first flop. Which is why Eisner felt justified in telling Disney's board of directors what he told them.

But Pixar Animation Studios ... They had the time (More importantly, the talent in-house) to make all of the changes necessary to turn "Finding Nemo" into a hit. Which is why that Andrew Stanton film was such a huge success when it finally rolled into theaters in May of 2003.

"So why bring this up now?," you query ... Well, "WALL-E" has had several test screenings over the past six months. And while audiences have supposedly fallen in love with the movie's title character, they have also reportedly raised some concerns about this new Andrew Stanton film. Which allegedly has been described " ... as the darkest motion picture that Pixar has ever produced."

Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Among the issues that these test audiences have supposedly cited are "WALL-E" 's depressing settings (i.e. The first act of this film is set on Earth 700 years from now, where -- thanks to humanity's wasteful ways -- our planet is now basically one big trash heap floating in space) as well as the picture's depiction of people (i.e. In the future, mankind has grown so slothful that everyone weighs 500 pounds and has lost the ability to walk on their own. Which is why we all make use of these devices that look like floating barcaloungers).

So should we be at all concerned about the somewhat negative comments that have been coming out of these early "WALL-E" test screenings? Is this new Andrew Stanton film -- which obviously pokes fun at today's consumeristic society -- really going to have a tough time finding an audience during summer blockbuster season?

I say ... That we should probably pay attention to the hard lesson that Michael Eisner learned back in 2001. Which is that it's really not wise to predict how a new Pixar film will do based on the work-in-progress version of that particular picture. Which is why you may want to discount any rumors that you may have heard about disappointing "WALL*E" test screenings.

Don't worry. They've got time. They can fix it.

Iron Man Super Bowl Spot to be Everywhere

Looks like you won't have trouble finding the Iron Man Super Bowl TV spot online after it airs during the big game. Check out this bit from the Wall Street Journal:

Paramount Pictures is using its ad spending to promote the May release of superhero film "Iron Man." People who watch the game on TV will see a commercial for the movie. People who visit any of the major online Super Bowl ad polls will also see the spot. Visitors to MySpace can see an Iron Man profile on the site. And if people search for terms related to Iron Man on Google, it will turn up there as well. On, ads will show the TV spot and prompt visitors to go to the "Iron Man" Web site to register for downloads and giveaways.

Quaid, Vosloo Board G.I. Joe

Dennis Quaid and Arnold Vosloo have joined director Stephen Sommers' G.I. Joe cast, according to Variety and

Quaid will play General Hawk, the grizzled team leader, and Arnold Vosloo will play Zartan, a mercenary who works with Destro and Cobra. The action-adventure, coming to theaters on August 7, 2009, is scheduled to shoot next month in Los Angeles.

The two join the previously-announced Channing Tatum (Duke), Ray Park (Snake Eyes), Marlon Wayans (Ripcord), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Rex), Rachel Nichols (Scarlett), Sienna Miller (The Baroness), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Heavy Duty), Said Taghmaoui (Breaker) abd Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) in the live-action feature.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who is coming off Transformers, is producing with Brian Goldner. Latter is the point person for Hasbro's venerable action figure line. Sommers and partner Bob Ducsay are also involved in producing capacities. Stuart Beattie wrote the most recent script draft.