Friday, July 18, 2008

News - 07/18/08...

2008 Emmy nominees announced

The nominees for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards have been announced. Here are the animated entries:

Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming Less Than One Hour)
Creature Comforts America
• King Of The Hill
• Robot Chicken
• SpongeBob SquarePants
• The Simpsons


Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming One Hour Or More)
• Blue Harvest (Family Guy)
• Imaginationland (South Park)

• Justice League: The New Frontier

Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music
• Phineas And Ferb

Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics
• Phineas And Ferb, for I Ain’t Got No Rhythm

Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (original Dramatic Score)
Family Guy, for Lois Kills Stewie
The Simpsons, for Treehouse of Horror XVIII

Outstanding Nonfiction Special
• The Pixar Story


Outstanding Special Class - Short-format Animated Programs
Camp Lazlo, for Lazlo’s First Crush
Chowder, for Burple Nurples





Space Chimps box office predictions

With the release date of Space Chimps quickly approaching, several web sites have begun to speculate what the film’s opening weekend earnings will total up to. Coming Soon predicts that the animated comedy will open at number seven at the box office with an intake of $6.7 million. Lee’s Movie Info also puts Chimps at seven on the top ten list, but with a slightly higher gross of about $7 million. However, Box Office Guru predicts only a $5 million opening weekend for the sci-fi flick, stating that most of the movie’s potential audience will instead opt for Wall•E or Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Space Chimps opens this Friday in about 2,400 theaters.





Is Batgirl in 'The Dark Knight'?

In 'The Dark Knight' we meet detective Jim Gordon's daughter? Is her name Barbara perhaps? MTV puts the question to Christopher Nolan.







The Terminator Salvation Teaser!

Warner Bros. Pictures has revealed the teaser trailer for Terminator Salvation, hitting theaters on May 22, 2009. The sci-fi action-thriller stars Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood, Common, Jadagrace and Helena Bonham Carter.

In the film, set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Bale stars as John Connor, the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet's operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.

You can watch the trailer in various formats here!

In addition, the Canadian Clinton News-Record quoted Austrian bodybuilder Roland Kickinger saying that he will take on the iconic role of the T-800 Terminator, originally played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in McG's upcoming Terminator Salvation film: “There's a very strong scene in the film where John Connor [Christian Bale] for the first time meets the Terminator, and he doesn't know if he's a good guy or a bad guy. It's Arnold's character in the first Terminator. That's basically my role, but 20 years before, so it establishes how the Terminator [came] about."





Official Details on "DC Universe Animated Original Movies" Comic-Con Panel

The official details for the popular DC Universe Animation Original Movie panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2008 has been released.

The official details are as follows.

A Look Back and Forward at DC Universe Animated Original Movies

From the heralded premiere of Superman Doomsday through the unparalleled launch of Justice League: The New Frontier and the blockbuster release of Batman: Gotham Knight, the DC Universe animated original movies have ignited a new passion for comic book fare within the made-for-DVD realm. DC Comics, Warner Premiere, Warner Home Video, and Warner Bros. Animation presents the creative forces behind these acclaimed films for a glance back at their resounding success, and the inside scoop on future DCU releases—including a Comic-Con exclusive first look at the next film in this exciting series! DC Comics senior VP—creative affairs Gregory Noveck moderates a panel that includes DC Comics president and publisher Paul Levitz, DCU films executive producer Bruce Timm, director Lauren Montgomery (Superman Doomsday), voice director Andrea Romano and, quite possibly, members of the voice talent behind the next superhero to grace the animated screen—in full color (well, at least red, white, and blue)! Saturday, July 26th, from 2:15-3:15 in Room 6CDEF.

Comic-Con International will be held in San Diego, Calif., Friday, July 25 - Sunday, July 27, 2008. All times, dates and locations subject to change.





From the Animation Guild Blog:

A Story of Story Revisions

Across the white-capped pond, The Independent tells a tale of story revisions:

[The Princess and the Frog], a musical set in 1920s New Orleans ... was supposed to feature Maddy, a black chambermaid working for a spoilt, white Southern debutante. Maddy was to be helped by a voodoo priestess fairy godmother to win the heart of a white prince, after he rescued her from the clutches of a voodoo magician.

Disney's original storyboard is believed to have been torn up after criticism that the lead character was a clich├ęd subservient role with echoes of slavery, and whose name sounded too much like "Mammy" – a unwelcome reminder of America's Deep South before the civil rights movement swept away segregation.

The heroine has been recast as Tiana, a 19-year-old in a country that has never had a monarchy. She is now slated to live "happily ever after" with a handsome fellow who is not black – with leaks suggesting that he will be of Middle Eastern heritage and called Naveen. The race of the villain in the cartoon is reported to have also been revised.

The film studio began making changes a year ago, first to its title, The Frog Princess, which some had interpreted as a slur. Amendments to the plot followed.

Now, I've got zero knowledge of what changes have taken place with TPATF and what's remained the same. I talk to the board artists every few weeks, but our conversations never dwell on the continuity of the film on which they're working. We generally dwell on studio gossip (that's what is important, after all).

So maybe the Independent's reporting is dead on, and maybe it's fabrication, I've no idea what the ratio could be. But I do know that almost every animated film made has gone through changes ... sometimes BIG changes ... during the course of production. And I also know that studio execs are sensitive to having offensive things in one of their pictures. And when the main characters are black and most or all of the story and production crew is white, the sensitivity becomes hyper. (And probably should be).

Studios are not in the habit of offending wide swaths of the ticket-buying and DVD-purchasing public. They're game is to earn money, not make self-defeating philosophical statements. Ralph Bakshi caught hell in various quarters for Coonskin, Disney is not likely to invite similar controversy.

There might be others, but the only three animated films I recall having African Americans as the central characters are the Bakshi film, Bebe's Kids, and the upcoming Princess and the Frog. Of the three, only Bebe's Kids had an African American director.

The one thing I know the British paper is right about are the Aladdin changes. Lyrics were changed, and the city in the film -- unmistakably Baghdad -- was changed to Agrabah. See, there was this war in Iraq (the first edition) gathering on the horizon at the time, and Disney execs were a little anxious about box office prospects if they didn't change the original title The Thief of Baghdad.

Empires fall and recessions come and go, but Hollywood paranoia about box office grosses is eternal.






Press Release For Upcoming "The Spectacular Spider-Man" DVD Release

Sony Home Entertainment has provided the press release for the upcoming The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard DVD.

Press Release:

“If you are a Spidey fan you will not want to miss this!” - ComicsOnline.com, Matt Sernaker

From Creator Stan Lee comes the Full-Length Spider-Man Animated Adventure Based on the #1 Show on the KidsWB Morning Line Up!

The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard!

Debuts September 9, 2008 on DVD!

Exclusive Bonus Feature Includes the Exciting The Spectacular Spider-Man Music Video As Seen in Theaters


The web-slinging super hero returns in an all-new-to-DVD, full length animated adventure The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard, September 9 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Television. The first of four full length Spider-Man animated adventures to be created from episodes of the hit TV series, The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard is executive produced by Stan Lee and produced by Greg Weisman and Diane A. Crea. The DVD, which also contains an exclusive bonus feature ‘The Spectacular Spider-Man Music Video’, is perfect for collectors of all ages. The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard will be available for $19.94 SRP.

The action-packed The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard tests Peter Parker’s ability to tackle an onslaught of new menacing super-villains while still finding time to study Biology. Having just spent an exciting summer using his newly found powers to battle criminals, the not-so-typical 16-year-old Peter is now entering his junior year of high school. Here he encounters a new kind of terror: he must keep his “Spider-Man” identity concealed while dealing with the multiple pressures of teenage life at home and school and combating even bigger, badder super villains in the outside world.

DVD FEATURES
· Wide Screen Presentations
· Audio: English
· Subtitles: English, French
· Featurette: The Spectacular Spider-Man Music Video
· Closed Captioned





The storyboards of WALL-E, and more

RottenTomatoes has an exclusive interview with story artist Derek Thompson, who joined Pixar in January 2005 to work as a Story Artist on WALL-E. In the excusive article, Thompson explains the process of the story department and presents a look at some of the storyboards from WALL-E.

In its another exclusive article The World Of Wall-E , the site features Pixar’s and Stars’ Favorite WALL-E Moments. Please be warned of the possible spoilers.





Ghibli animator talks Ponyo on the Cliff

GhibliWorld has posted an English summary of an interview with Studio Ghibli veteran Kondo Katsuya, one of their top animators. Starting his career with Castle in the Sky in 1986, Kondo has worked on many Ghibli films, most recent being the Hayao Miyazaki’s upcoming film Ponyo on the Cliff. In the interview, Kondo shares his thoughts on working on Ponyo, the challenges that came along and also working with the master Hayao Miyazaki.





The Watchmen Teaser Trailer!

Empire Online has posted the impressive new teaser trailer for 300 director Zack Snyder's Watchmen adaptation, coming to theaters on March 6, 2009. The Warner Bros. Pictures release stars Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Carla Gugino, Stephen McHattie and Matt Frewer.

A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the "Doomsday Clock" - which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union - is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed-up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion - a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity...but who is watching the watchmen?

You can, right here!





World Leaders Grab Gold For Net10 Spots

What a year for Flash animated productions. El Tigre took home the top prize at the Annie Awards, Sita Sings the Blues snagged the Best Picture award at the 32nd Annecy Animated Film Festival and now the advertising world has bestowed upon upon a Flash project. Last month, the animated Net10 campaign was awarded a Gold at the Cannes Lions - considered the top advertising festival in the world.

In honor of this moment, Cold Hard Flash presents to you an interview with Mike Foran, the Executive Creative Director at World Leaders Entertainment, the studio where the Net10 campaign was produced.

AARON SIMPSON: How did you guys end up partnering with Droga5 to work on this eight spot campaign for Net10?

MIKE FORAN:
Droga5 was looking for an animation studio that could tackle a retro style reminiscent of Alex Toth and 70’s era Hanna Barbera superhero cartoons. Seeing that World Leaders produces The Venture Bros. for [adult swim] and that our VB artists design in a similar style, Droga5 selected us for the competitive bid. They asked us to submit a style frame, which we produced, revised, and then we offered a second style frame with even more characters. We leveraged the talent of our crew, particularly Matthew I. Jenkins, a lead VB Character Designer to create the frames that dictated which studio would win. They really liked our approach and aesthetic sensibility and awarded us the eight commercial campaign.



AARON: How long did the production last?

MIKE:
The eight spots took about six months - from an extensive character and background development process through the final effects pass and delivery. Last summer we spent a good deal of time refining the look, feel and color for each of the League of Evil characters. Concurrently we spent time creating a fun-but-evil lair to house this unique cast of villains. Every subtly was dissected and discussed over numerous conference calls. Everyone really wanted to make this campaign the best it could be – time wasn’t really the issue.

AARON: What was involved in the production and who was responsible for each step?

MIKE:
Droga5 provided us with the excellent scripts and rough character concepts. Matt Jenkins handled the character and background design and oversaw the storyboard process with me. I sat in with them during recording to provide some input on animation issues. Once we had the scratch tracks we got started on the storyboard process. The storyboards, layout, and pencil test animation were completed directly in Flash on Wacom Cintiqs, which allowed us to move quickly. But Flash alone didn’t provide the right look for our project as we needed a more traditional look. So we developed a Photoshop process for digital ink and paint, while still using the Flash environment for speed and versatility. The finished elements were then imported into After Effects for compositing and effects. We developed our own techniques for recreating the exact look of 70’s era film stock, with all their original imperfections and the effects of age.

AARON: What was the most difficult part of the production?

MIKE:
It was a challenge to keep things in the realm of the era we were satirizing. Our work pipeline is all digital, but the artists of the era worked solely on analog tools. We had to concentrate on working in an analog way, as if we were working with traditional paper and pencils. We didn’t want to use a lot of short cuts that Flash provides, as they would have seemed out of place on this project. And with all the digital effects at our disposal, it’s very easy to utilize some esoteric thing that wouldn’t have been used back in the 70’s, particularly with the budgets they had.

AARON: How does this production process differ from some of World Leaders other productions?

MIKE:
This is actually a progression of the production pipeline that we’ve developed and used for many of the studio’s projects in the past. By combining Flash with our other tools in such a seamless fashion, we’ve created a very versatile pipeline that’s as cost effective as it is quick to use. The new Adobe CS3 software helped in this case as the work we were doing in Flash integrated more quickly with After Effects, so we were able to save some time and increase our flexibility for changes.

AARON: How long have you been using Flash in your productions?

MIKE:
World Leaders has been using Flash since we founded the studio. Back when it was called FutureSplash, I used it on some cut scenes for video games. When we founded World Leaders, our first project was producing 10 episodes of WB’s Gotham Girls (recently re-released on the Birds of Prey DVD) which were produced and delivered with Flash. We have used Flash in some capacity on practically every job we have ever done.

AARON: What’s the best part of using Flash in a production?

MIKE:
Simply put - speed. It allows us to quickly test out animation with real time playback. We have developed a fully digital production pipeline that helps us to go from storyboards, animatic, layout directly into pencil test or final animation very quickly.

AARON: What was your reaction when you heard that your campaign had won Gold Lion at Cannes Lions Advertising Festival?

MIKE:
I was very excited – it’s the most prestigious award in the advertising industry. But all along, I had high hopes for this campaign. From the moment we saw Droga5’s excellent creative, we knew this was going to be a great project to be a part of. They clearly understood the subject matter they were satirizing, and from World Leaders experience creating The Venture Bros., they knew we got it. I’m extremely excited that everyone else gets it too.

AARON: What commercial jobs have you been working on since?

MIKE:
We recently completed a fifteen second commercial for Choice Hotels, featuring their rebranding of Econo Lodge. That’s really exciting because they have not advertised nationally on television in over ten years. We’re also starting up production on a web PSA in collaboration with DraftFCB for City Harvest. They are a fantastic nonprofit organization that rescues perfectly good food from restaurants that would otherwise go to waste, and donates it to homeless shelters. DraftFCB’s creative work on this project is great, so I am really excited to direct this spot.

AARON: What else is in the pipeline for World Leaders?

MIKE:
The Venture Bros. Season IV is underway, and we have some ten entertainment projects in various stages of development that we are particularly excited about.

AARON: What has been your favorite Flash animation production?

MIKE:
The one I am working on RIGHT NOW. Nothing excites me more than the new.

AARON: Thanks for the interview, Mike, and congrats on the award. For more Net10 animation, head over to the no-evil.net mini-site.





Sit Down, Shut Up! Back in Production

After walking out to protest Sony’s reluctance to grant them a WGA contract, writers are reportedly returning to FOX’s upcoming primetime animated series Sit Down, Shut Up! Deadline Hollywood cites sources that say Sony lured most of the scribes back with bonuses including pay bumps of as much as $200,000. Two writers, Bill Oakley and Ken Keeler, are apparently the only holdouts. The show is back in production under the jurisdiction of IATSE Local 839, also known as the Animation Guild.

The scribes that returned to the show reportedly turned down the pay increases offered to them in June, but agreed to get back to work when they got WGA-parity residual protections for themselves and future writers on this show.

The WGA issued a statement that reads, “The fundamental issue here was WGA jurisdiction. Every primetime animated show currently on the air has been done under WGA jurisdiction with terms enforced by the WGA. Every single one. In the case of Sit Down, Shut Up! Sony insisted on hiring WGA writers, and Sony execs repeatedly assured them the show would be WGA. When the writers were told it would not be WGA, they walked out and demanded WGA coverage. For five weeks, they faced continuous ultimatums and illegal threats from Sony, while at the same time Sony offered enhanced economic terms. Finally, when Sony offered to pay ‘WGA-equivalent residuals’ and to give each writer up to $200,000 in additional compensation through a blind script deal, most of the writers decided to accept. We understand why they did so but wish they hadn’t. Had they stuck together we believe that they would have won WGA coverage for Sit Down, Shut Up! Two WGA members refused the deal, and we and their fellow writers applaud them.”






Wolverine Goes to Jetix Latin America

Jetix Latin America has acquired pay television and basic subscription television rights for the new animated action series Wolverine and the X-Men. Based on the Marvel Comics franchise, the show will air on Jetix outlets in Latin America this winter. The deal was facilitated by Bender Media Services, a New York-based company that represents the Latin American distribution of television producers.

Co-produced by Marvel Ent. and Toonz Ent., Singapore and First Serve International Ltd. in India, Wolverine and the X-Men revolves around the complex and mysterious leader of a group of super-powered mutants including Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Rogue and Mystique. There will also be special guest appearances from various other Marvel characters including The Hulk.

The animated superhero action begins as an explosive event shatters the lives of the X-Men and takes away their mentor, Professor X. The beaten heroes, including Beast, Storm, Cyclops and Nightcrawler, walk away from it all but are given a rare glimpse into the future, seeing a world in utter ruin and ruled by giant destructive robots. They discover the world has spiraled out of control because the X-Men have given up. Now Wolverine must take the lead on the ultimate mission—to prevent the world's destruction while fending off enemies Magneto and The Brotherhood.

Jetix programming is seen on 18 Jetix channels in Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific. The entity is part of the Disney-ABC Television Group at The Walt Disney Company.





Book Offers Crash Course in Character Animation

Award-winning animator and director Eric Goldberg has a new book coming out titled Character Animation Crash Course. Set to be published by Silman-James Press in September, the tome and accompanying CD will be jammed packed with the insights and methods needed to bring pencil lines to extraordinary life. Goldberg, whose credits include the Disney features Aladdin, Pocahontas, Fantasia 2000 and Hercules, will be signing the first copies at the San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, July 25 (2-4 p.m.) and Saturday, July 26 (11 a.m.-noon) at the Stuart Ng Books exhibit, booth #5012.

Goldberg is currently supervising animator on the character “Louis” in Disney’s upcoming 2-D feature The Princess and the Frog, set for a holiday 2009 release. His new book employs text and drawings to explore how characters are conceived and endowed with strong and unforgettable personalities. The CD of animated movie examples demonstrate in realitime, or frame-by-frame, Goldberg’s principles at play.

“This is the book I wish I had when I was first learning my craft,” says Goldberg. “The first part stresses the thought and preparation required to animate, and the second part is a no-nonsense manual describing classic animation techniques, all in the service of getting great performances from the characters. Whatever technologies continue to develop in the medium, the investment of personal feelings and emotions will always be animation’s future.”

Character Animation Crash Course features a forward by Oscar-winning Pixar writer/director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles, The Iron Giant). The 240-page book with color images will carry a suggested retail price of $35 when it hits retail outlets in September.





Batman DVDs Top Sales Charts in Advance of "The Dark Knight"

The Hollywood Reporter is stating that Batman DVDs have topped the sales charts for the week ending July 13, 2008, with the direct-to-video Batman Gotham Knight animated movie taking the top spot in standard DVD sales, followed by the reissued DVD of Batman Begins. The two movies switch places on the Blu-ray sales chart.





"Masters of the Universe Vs. The Snake Men" Coming to DVD

He-Man is up to his greatest challenge ever, facing not only his arch-enemy Skeletor, but the horrible threat of King Hiss in He-Man & the Masters of the Universe (2002): Volume 3 from BCI.

The 3 disc set contains the final 13 episodes which was titled Masters of the Universe Vs. The Snake Men. Each episode contains a moral that was never before seen on Cartoon Network. Also on the DVD is the never before seen episode 40, which is in a full-length digital comic book adaptation. Also included are 5 audio commentaries, extended video commentary, interviews with The Four Horsemen, image galleries, animatics, and 2 collectible art cards from artists Chris Bachalo and Jason Shawn Alexander.

The final set will be in stores on August 5th.





New Heroes Commercial!

NBC has revealed this new commercial for "Heroes," returning to the network on September 22.







Groening on "Simpsons Movie" Sequel

The Daily News reports on comments made by Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening at the Television Critics Association panel in Los Angeles, CA, where he stated that there will be a second Simpsons movie, although he has "no idea when," adding, "The first one took us four years - mainly because we don't like to work any harder than we usually do." He also expressed his dislike for eyes in computer-generated animation, saying "The characters in CGI have human eyes. That's why I like the 2-D animation we use. Our illustrators draw a circle and put a dot in the middle. Now that is an animated eye."





Review: "Sozin's Comet" Produces an Epic Season Finale for "Avatar the Last Airbender"

Fans of Nickelodeon's Avatar the Last Airbender have had a long and frustrating wait for the conclusion to book 3. That wait is finally over as "Sozin's Comet," the show's four-part season finale, finally hits the airwaves on July 19. The wait was worth it. "Sozin's Comet" truly is the culmination of the preceding 57 episodes, expertly utilizing its extended running time to give this season of Avatar the finale that it deserves.

The astronomic event of the title has been a looming threat since the show's first season. A century earlier, the arrival of Sozin's Comet (and its amplifying effect on the Fire Nation's forces) was used by Firelord Sozin to launch a genocidal attack that exterminated the Air Nomads. The comet's return again threatens the world's stability, with only the Avatar Aang and his small group of friends standing in the way of Firelord Ozai and a complete and irrevocable Fire Nation victory. The stakes are impossibly high, and "Sozin's Comet" plays this tension to the hilt.

While waiting for the finale, a common topic of discussion among Avatar fans has been, "Will Aang kill Firelord Ozai?" Ozai's monstrous and irredeemable nature has only been matched by Aang's benevolence and fundamentally non-violent character. What has gone unstated up to now serves to drive the first hour of the show, as Aang grapples with the fact that the confrontation that he has been preparing for seems destined to end with the death of one opponent at the hands of the other, flying directly against every ethical and moral precept that defines him as a person. To the show's credit, they tackle this subject head-on, with Aang's ethical dilemma driving the first and second episodes of the show. Little else can be said without spoiling the entire plot, but the resolution to the dilemma manages to be quite satisfying while staying true to all the characters.

The third and fourth episodes are marked by four-pronged combat pitting Aang and his allies against Ozai, the malevolent Princess Azula, and the forces of the Fire Nation. These extended battle sequences range from vast, sweeping battles involving casts of thousands to extremely personal, intimate, face-to-face duels. Both are handled with equal skill and inventiveness, yielding up pulse-pounding thrills and heart-stopping reversals, along with some of the most sophisticated action animation ever seen on this show or, for that matter, any American action cartoon to date. It comes as little surprise to find the concluding episodes were directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, one of our favorite action animation directors, but he shows equal skill at the slower scenes, including one moving reconciliation and the quiet coda that ties off many of the remaining loose ends of the series.

Earlier two-part episodes of Avatar haven't always been very tightly coupled to each other. However, the epic scope of "Sozin's Comet" truly needs its four half-hour chapters to tell the story that concludes this season of the show. It manages its running time just about perfectly, using every moment either to drive the plot forward or to ratchet up the tension and raise the stakes for Aang and his friends. The only serious complaint that can be leveled at this season finale is that the voice of an important new character is a bit too hard to understand, which is quite serious considering the importance of the character's words to the conclusion. A more serious criticism is that the quality and emotional heft of "Sozin's Comet" makes the first half of book 3 seem even less substantial in hindsight. Perhaps rewatching the entire season again will make the larger plan clearer, but at the moment, "Sozin's Comet" makes many of the episodes up to "Day of Black Sun" seem like entertaining but ultimately unimportant filler.

The sense of finality to "Sozin's Comet" is also noteworthy. Franchises seem to be the theme of the day at many media companies, with many movies and TV shows getting more and more brazen at leaving doors wide open for interminable sequels and spin-offs. There are definitely unresolved plot elements and unanswered questions by the end of "Sozin's Comet," and it is unquestionable that Avatar's creators, its fans, and Nickelodeon all want more stories set in the richly engrossing Avatar world. Even so, "Sozin's Comet" provides a powerful sense of closure to Aang's story. This tale is Finished. Those dangling plot threads aren't an invitation to more direct follow-ups as much as they're just reminders that life is messy and we don't always get answers to the questions that we have. If there is to be more Avatar in the future, one hopes that it will not pick up where this show left off, but strike off in a bold new direction instead.

One thing is certain: with "Sozin's Comet," the bar has been set almost impossibly high for any future Avatar tales. Despite an uneven first half to the third season, this season finale easily cements Avatar's position as one of the finest animated television series ever made. The cast and crew of Avatar has produced a work that is truly exceptional, and "Sozin's Comet" manages to produce a truly satisfying conclusion while still leaving us hungry for more.

"Sozin's Comet" premieres on Saturday, July 19, 2008, at 8:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific)

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