Tuesday, August 12, 2008

News - 08/12/08...

The Princess and the Frog Artwork

Walt Disney Animation Studio had revealed some artwork from the upcoming animated film, The Princess and the Frog, starring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, Jenifer Lewis, John Goodman, and Bruno Campos.

The 2D animation film is due out December 25th 2009.

A musical set in the greatest city of them all, New Orleans, "The Princess and the Frog" marks Disney's return to the timeless art form of traditional animation. The film teams Ron Clements and John Musker, creators of "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin," with Oscar®-winning composer Randy Newman to tell the most beautiful love story ever told... with frogs, voodoo, and a singing alligator.

New United Airlines Animated Spots

United Airlines has unveiled five new animated spots for the Beijing Olympics. The commercial are elegant, visually-driven and beautiful to watch, just like the rest of the animated spots that the airline has produced in recent years. Pretentious to be sure, particularly for a carrier like United, but I still appreciate their attempts at fostering a more positive image by utilizing artistic animation. The ad agency responsible for these spots is the newly formed BDM, though two of its principals, Bob Barrie and Stuart D’Rozari, have been instrumental in United’s animation campaigns from the very beginning.

The real standout piece in this latest batch is “Sea Orchestra” (view hi-res version here) by Shy the Sun, the South African collective who also operates under the name The Blackheart Gang and who produced the short Tale of How. In this commercial, they combined hand-drawn textures and photographs into a brilliant and ornate CG package that is bursting at the seams with creativity. The commercial was produced in cinema resolution and I’m sure the visual effect of this on the bigscreen is overwhelming.

There are four other commercials in the series, including one by Ishu Patel. Click on each title below to watch a hi-res version:

“Two Worlds” — From the United press release: The commercial combines two different and distinctive animation styles created by directors SSSR, a Norwegian and Japanese team, who was responsible for the monochromatic world that was mostly computer-generated with a hand-crafted feel, and Gaelle Denis, a French director, who was responsible for the colorful fantasy world that uses using live action, computer generation and matte paintings, including textures such as Japanese rice paper.

“Heart” — From the press release: Using stop-motion animation and paper puppetry, California-based director Jamie Caliri and his team, place dimensional cardboard puppets in miniature sets that were shot frame by frame. The musical score for “Heart” is a piano duet of Rhapsody in Blue performed by Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang, who recently performed “Rhapsody in Blue” together at the 2007 Grammy Awards.

“Moon Dust” — From the press release: Ishu Patel, an Indian-born and Canadian-based animator, used his world-renowned back-lit technique in which a thin layer of plastic modeling clay is applied to a glass plate that has a 1000-watt light positioned beneath it and an animation camera above it.

“Butterfly” — From the press release: Polish director Aleksandra Korejwo manipulated colored salt using shed condor bird feathers on a black canvas positioned under a downward-facing camera.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

'Gotham Knight,' 'Teen Titans' Soundtrack Signing

La-La Land Records just sent The World's Finest a press release concerning an upcoming Teen Titans: Trouble In Tokyo and Batman: Gotham Knight soundtrack event!



4213 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505
Saturday, August 16, 2008, 2pm

La-La Land Records and Dark Delicacies invite you to meet, and get your CDs autographed by, the composers of the thrilling music scores from the hit DC/Warner Bros. animated features Batman: Gotham Knight and Superman Doomsday.

Composers Christopher Drake
(Hellboy animated features), Robert J. Kral (TV’s Angel, Superman Doomsday) and Kevin Manthei (Justice League: The New Frontier) examine the dark psychology of The Batman through their amazing scores to Batman: Gotham Knight.

Acclaimed animation composers Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis
(Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Teen Titans) harness all the fun and excitement of the Teen Titans’ feature-length adventure with their music from Teen Titans: Trouble In Tokyo.

Robert J. Kral will also be signing his
Superman Doomsday soundtrack.

Kevin Manthei will also be signing his
Justice League: The New Frontier

The composers will sign more than one item, but one of the items must be a soundtrack CD purchased at Dark Delicacies. CDs are available now at Dark Delicacies and will also be available for purchase at the signing.

Can’t make the signing, but still would like to get autographed CDs? You can order CDs from Dark Delicacies to be autographed and sent to you! Check out their website www.darkdel.com for details!

The Dark Knight: Early Joker Concept Art

These early pre-Heath Ledger Joker conceptual designs can be found in The Art of The Dark Knight. I was shocked to discover that the Joker design they eventually settled on, actually seems a lot tamer than some of the early concepts. I recommend picking up the book, as it also features the entire shooting script.

Murmurs of Ninja Scroll 2 and Live Action Evangelion

From AICN, comes this news:

For those holding out hopes for more Ninja Scroll or a live action movie Neon Genesis Evangelion, it's not time to get too excited yet. However, in both cases, news coming Baltimore's Otakon pushes the probability meter's needle a little deeper into "maybe" territory.

Appearing at the US East Coast's largest anime convention, Madhouse Studios (that animators of Ninja Scroll, Paprika, the Girl Who Leapt Through Time) co-founder and CCO Masao Maruyama stated that Ninja Scroll writer/director Yoshiaki Kawajiri is involved with a script for a sequel to the big-in-the-US bloody affair. Maruyama also mentioned that, like Kawajiri, he has script approval for the sequel. The 1993 anime-movie previously spawned a 13 episode TV series in 2003.

Neon Genesis Evangelion distributor ADV Films is still promising that substantial news concerning a live action adaptation of the existential giant robot anime is on the horizon, but they also threw out that Appleseed: Ex Machina producer Joseph Chou is attached to the project.

Wire's Essential Knight: 7 Classics

The Dark Knight rules the box office for the fourth weekend in a row, so it's a good a time for SCI FI Wire to fire a grappling hook around a guide to the Essential Batman: The books that gave rise to director Christopher Nolan's reinvigorated version of the Caped Crusader.

Herewith a list of the top titles for readers who want to impress their friends with their knowledge of the works that influenced Nolan and company.

1. Batman: Year One (1987). Writer: Frank Miller. Artist: David Mazzucchelli.

The story of how young vigilante Bruce Wayne became a bat and Jim Gordon became a crusader against police corruption. Year One is thematically as close as you'll get to the world Nolan created for Batman Begins and Dark Knight. Gritty, grungy, brutal, this definitive epic features characters later used in Begins and Knight, such as mafia boss Carmine Falcone, bad cop Flass and a very different take on police commissioner Loeb. Year One also gives a peek into the home life of Jim Gordon, which was hinted at in Dark Knight.

2. Haunted Knight (1995), The Long Halloween (1997) and Dark Victory (2001). Writer: Jeph Loeb. Artist: Tim Sale.

A Manhattan-phone-book-thick, satisfying trilogy that owes more to The Godfather than to Super Friends. This is the story of how crime dons such as Falcone and Sal "Boss" Maroni (played by Eric Roberts in Knight) got phased out by the masked freaks who came to define the Gotham underworld. Loeb and Sale, two of the creative forces behind NBC's Heroes, also explore how Batman, Gordon and district attorney Harvey Dent interact--in a way that foreshadows The Dark Knight--and present nuggets about how the mob launders and stores its cash, which presages subplots in Knight.

3. "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge", Batman number 251 (1973). Writer: Denny O'Neal. Artist: Neal Adams. Reprinted in Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told and Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Volume 3.

After Batman became a joke in the wake of the Adam West Batman TV show, it was the team of O'Neal and Adams who made Batman cool, mysterious and scary again. This was the team's re-invention of the Joker, who'd degenerated into not much more than a prankster and a vandal. In this pivotal story, the Joker is restored to the vicious psychopath he originally was in the early days of Batman mythology. Without this gem, the Joker would still just be defacing art galleries. It's impossible to imagine Heath Ledger's Joker without this mini-epic.

4. Face the Face (2006). Writer: James Robinson. Artists: Don Kramer and Leonard Kirk.

A really good whodunit that explores the complex relationship between Batman and Harvey Dent, who becomes the villainous, dichotomy-obsessed Two-Face. Harvey's cured (or is he?) and becomes a protector of Gotham (or does he?). But somebody is killing off Gotham's minor-league villains in a way that mirrors Two-Face's style. If you think Harvey's relationship with Batman is hard to figure out, check out his relationship with himself. The Dark Knight makes a lot out of Harvey's goodness and what it means to Gotham. Face the Face does, too.

5. The Killing Joke (1988). Writer: Alan Moore. Artist: Brian Bolland.

The origin of the Joker, in which he's disfigured and driven nuts after a chemical bath, is retold with a twist in this, one of the most intense graphic novels to try to crack the psychology of the Joker. Featuring a plotline that had legions of fans stunned with "I-can't-believe-they-went-there" post-traumatic stress disorder. Never has the Joker been more sympathetic or vicious. Cited by Ledger as a basis for his Joker role. A classic that's still controversial after 20 years.

6. Gotham Central: Half a Life (2003) and Gotham Central: Soft Targets (2004). Writers, Greg Rucka (Half a Life) and Rucka & Ed Brubaker (Soft Targets). Artists: various. Collected in the graphic novels Half a Life and Unresolved Targets.

Gotham Central was an award-winning comic book about the Gotham cops who work behind the scenes and clean up the messes major comic-book characters leave behind. The "real" feel of the books is a lot like director Nolan's reboot of the movie franchise. In Half, as in Face the Face, we see just how good Harvey Two-Face can be (when the coin decrees it) as he becomes an ally of cop Renee Montoya. Things get complicated from there. In Targets, the Joker is made sweaty-palm plausible as he lifts a page or two from the playbook of the real-life Washington, D.C., snipers, planning and executing hideously brilliant acts of mayhem and keeping five moves ahead of everyone else--a lot like Ledger's Joker is five moves ahead of Btamn and the Gotham cops. The presence of actress Monique Curnen in The Dark Knight as Montoya-like cop Detective Ramirez seems to hint that Nolan and company are cribbing from this classic, lamentably defunct, series.

7. "The Crimes of Two-Face." Written by Bill Finger. Art by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos. Detective Comics number 66 (1941). Reprinted in Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler.

The first appearance by Harvey Dent/Two-Face, with art by the great Jerry Robinson, who acted as a consultant on The Dark Knight, and a script by Bill Finger, the guy who invented most of the Batman mythos. Worth reading just to note that the plastic surgeon who was supposed to fix the ravaged face of the character later played by Aaron Eckhart was ... Dr. Ekhart! Yes, the spelling is different, but the implications are too vast and profound for this to be mere coincidence. OK, maybe it is a coincidence, but what the heck ...

Animated News & Views Comic-Con 2008 Report

Three of the founders of Animated News & Views recently returned from California where they all met up for the very first time at Comic-Con International 2008. You can read their accounts of the meet-up, the convention itself, and their vacation-in-a-vacation at Disneyland in their report — filled with a ton of photos — over at Animated Views.

Filmation's DC Superheroes on DVD

DCs 1960s

In the mid to late 1960s, television animation was blessed with a variety of Filmation produced titles that observed the wide spectrum of DC super heroism and brought them to animated life, in only the way that Filmation productions could. And just as kids of all ages enjoyed the various superhero programs that aired then on CBS courtesy of The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, now available on DVD, kids of all ages can once again relish in the exquisite memory of animators past, breathing in the ink and the paint of an older generation of artists.

Now on DVD from Warner Home Video is the latest installment of Filmation animated programming from several decades back: DC Super Heroes: The Filmation Adventures, which includes several short-form episodes of animated purveyors of justice, which all originally aired from 1967-1968.

Culled from the above-mentioned CBS program several years ago, these shorter segments were often referred to as guest episodes, where additional DC universe superheroes gained the spotlight, even if only for seven minutes.

Characters such as The Flash, The Atom, Green Lantern and others are featured on this DVD release. On DC Super Heroes: The Filmation Adventures, fans will be treated to a two-disc DVD set with eighteen animated shorts; retail price is $24.98, runtime is 126 minutes.

Warner Home Video has previously released Filmation produced, superhero animation of course, such as The New Adventures of Superman" (1966), The Adventures of Aquaman (1967), and The New Adventures of Batman (1977), and others. Back to the current item, also included in the DVD release of DC Super Heroes: The Filmation Adventures -- August 12th -- are a half-dozen episodes spotlighting the Justice League of America. An episode breakdown follows.

[Disc 1]
Cartoons featuring The Atom: "Invasion of The Beetle-Men" (1967), "The Plant Master" (1967), "The House of Doom" (1967). Cartoons featuring The Flash: "The Chemo-Creature" (1967), "Take a Giant Step" (1967), "To Catch a Blue Bolt" (1967). Cartoons featuring Green Lantern: "Evil is as Evil Does" (1967), "The Vanishing World" (1967), "Sirena Empress of Evil" (1967).

[Disc 2]
Cartoons featuring Hawkman: "Peril from Pluto" (1967), "A Visit to Venus" (1967), "The Twenty Third Dimension" (1967). Cartoons sporting the Justice League of America: "Between Two Armies" (1967), "Target Earth" (1967), "Bad Day on Black Mountain" (1967). Cartoons focused on the Teen Titans: "The Monster Machine" (1967), "The Space Beast Round-Up" (1967), "Operation: Rescue" (1967).

AMPAS honors Canadian animator Frederic Back

The institution that hands out the Oscars is holding an exhibition of the drawings and screenings of Canadian animator Frédéric Back, the winner of two Academy Awards.

"Frédéric Back: A Life's Drawings" opened Sunday and runs until November 1 in the foyer of the Linwood Dunn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

Earning Animated Short Film Oscars for Crac (1981) and L'homme Qui Plantait Des Arbres (The Man Who Planted Trees; 1987), the unique hand-crafted films that Back created with colored pencils on frosted cels not only reflect the work of a gifted artist, but also one with a lifelong passion for the natural world and a strong commitment to environmental issues.

He also received Oscar nominations for Tout Rien (All Nothing; 1981) and Le fleuve aux grandes eaux (The Mighty River; 1993).

"These films have an appeal that really exceeded all I could have conceived or hoped for," Back told CBC News, speaking in French. "I never made films for glory. What I wanted to do was create something useful."

Back was in Los Angeles on Sunday at the opening of the exhibit, a retrospective of his 46 years as an animator.

"Entertainment is more interesting if it conveys ideas which transform people, so that 15 minutes, half an hour or two hours later, they are different from the person who entered the room," Back said.

Back has worked out of Radio-Canada (the French-language service of the CBC) in Montreal since 1952. He is a strong defender of the environment. The Man Who Planted Trees and many of his other works include environmental themes.

Born in Germany, Back came to Canada in 1948. An officer of the Order of Canada, he's also known in Montreal for creating the stained glass mural L'histoire de la musique à Montréal (History of Music in Montreal) in the Metro, the city's subway system.

The exhibition showcases drawings that Back produced for his animated films, as well as some of the thousands of concept sketches, notebook sketches, illustrations and landscapes that he generated throughout his career. Photographs, correspondence and travel diaries offer additional insight into the man behind the films.

Back's films are familiar to animators around the world, said Quebec sound artist Norman Roger, a professional colleague for over 30 years. "They are not well-known in Canada, but everywhere where I go when I am invited at festivals to be member of jury or to give workshops, people know our films," he said.

Pixar Animation Studios' James Lasseter -- executive producer of Wall-E, which also has an environmental theme -- will join Back to discuss the animator's work at a special presentation in Los Angeles on Tuesday of The Man Who Planted Trees. Pixar is one of the supporters of the Back retrospective.

"Frédéric Back: A Life's Drawings" is also presented with the support of Autodesk, the Governments of Québec and Canada, the Canadian Consulate General, SIGGRAPH and Société Radio-Canada.

Public viewing hours are Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., and whenever Academy public programs are hosted at the Dunn. The Linwood Dunn Theater is located at 1313 Vine Street, Hollywood. For additional information, call the Academy at (310) 247-3600.

Stan Lee's Pow Develops Quartz with Gonzo's Parent GDH

Animated television series is Lee's third Japanese project in development

Pow! Entertainment, the production company of American comic book pioneer Stan Lee, has revealed on its website that it is developing an animated television series named Quartz with GDH, the corporate parent of the Gonzo anime studio. Lee co-created many of Marvel Comics' flagship franchises, such as Spider-Man, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Iron Man. For over 15 years, Gonzo has been producing anime including Afro Samurai, Blue Submarine No. 6, Vandread, and Witchblade.

Pow! Entertainment and Lee have already been working with manga creator Hiroyuki Takei (Shaman King), Shueisha's Jump Square magazine, Viz Media's Shonen Jump magazine, and the Sony Music Entertainment subsidiary Dream Ranch on a project called Ultimo. This action title about two super-powered rivals will be previewed in the September issue of Shonen Jump in North America.

Lee is also developing the Hero Man animated television series with the anime studio BONES (Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Wolf's Rain) and Wowmax Media! in Los Angeles. Director Hitoshi Nanba (Baki the Grappler), designer Shigeto Koyama (Eureka Seven), and animator Toshihiro Kawamoto (Cowboy Bebop) are working on the project. Hero Man's story is tentatively set on America's west coast, where a boy discovers a toy robot that turn into a giant robot.

Lee revealed at Comic-Con International in California last month that he was working on a third, unannounced project in Japan, but did not mention the project's title or production partner at the time.

Imagi Picks Up DreamWorks’ Tusker

Daily Variety reports that Hong Kong- and Los Angeles-based animation company Imagi Int’l has taken the reins of the animated feature film Tusker, which was previously in the DreamWorks Animation pipeline. The family film set in India was originally slated to hit theaters in December of 2002, but slipped off the DreamWorks docket when the studio decided to instead make Shrek 2 and Madagascar. Imagi made last year’s TMNT and has adaptations of the popular anime properties Astro Boy and Gatchaman in production. Directed by David Bowers (Flushed Away), Astro Boy is scheduled to hit theaters worldwide in 2009. Gatchaman will likely follow in the second half of 2010.

Tusker is described a young elephant's journey of discovery, heroism and redemption, which intersects with and renews the life of a reclusive old elephant who has always been an outsider. Former DreamWorks Animation co-head of production Cecil Kramer, who shepherded Tusker at the studio for six years, brought the project to Imagi. Brooke Breton (Avatar) is producing the film from a screenplay by Ted Tally (Silence of the Lambs). Imagi is eyeing early 2011 as a possible release window for the toon.

Imagi recently pacted with Mark Pawley and his Singapore-based private equity group Oxley Spring Media, which agreed to buy $40 million Imagi stock to help fund the studio’s productions. The deal was supposed to close by the end of July, but Imagi has had to extend the dealine for payment to the end of August to give Oxley more time to arrange for funding.

Imagi plans to release a new animated feature every eight months. Among the other projects in active development is Cat Tale, an animated movie that follows the adventures of a cat raised as a dog. Galen Walker is producing from a screenplay by Aaron Mendelsohn.

Four Win aniBoom Radiohead Contest

Radiohead, aniBoom (aniBoom.com) and TBD Records have named the winners of the In Rainbows Animated Music Video Contest. Members of Radiohead hand selected four top videos and will personally put up additional prize money so that each of the four creators receives $10,000 to produce a full-length music video. Radiohead may use the videos in support of future singles from the album In Rainbows.

The contest invited all content creators and Radiohead fans around the world to produce a one-minute animated music video clip for any song from the band’s latest album, In Rainbows, for a $10,000 grand prize and the chance to produce a full-length animated music video. Promoted on Adult Swim and MySpace, inaddition to aniBoom.com, the contest generated more than 1,000 entries from more than 40 countries. More information on the contest can be found at aniBoom.com.

“The aniBoom video competition totally blown me away, it has,” said Thom Yorke, lead vocalist of Radiohead. “We are proud that In Rainbows songs were the source of inspiration for so many amazing creations.”

“aniBoom once again gave the independent creator community across the globe the chance to have their work seen by millions and access to an opportunity that typically goes to animators from the major studios, while generating the highest quality content at unprecedented cost efficiencies for both ourselves and our partners,” adds Uri Shinar, founder and president of aniBoom. “We are so proud to have provided Radiohead with such a tremendous selection of talent that they were moved to choose a total of four winners.”

The winning submissions are: “15 Step V2.0” by Kota Totori of Japan, (http://www.aniboom.com/video/236519/15-step-v2.0/), “16 Tracks Vs. Videotape 2.0” by Wolfgang Jaiser and Claus Winter of Germany (http://www.aniboom.com/video/236713/16tracks-vs-videotape-2.0/), “Reckoner V2” by Clement Picon of France (http://www.aniboom.com/video/235299/Reckoner-v2/) and “Transmutation” by Tobias Stretch of the U.S. (http://www.aniboom.com/video/233397/Transmutation/).

Crunchyroll Adds Gonzo Anime Titles

Online media distributor Crunchyroll has acquired digital distribution rights to multiple GDH K.K. titles including Kaleido Star and Peacemaker Kurogane. Crunchyroll, which has built a large anime community on the web, will begin streaming the programs for free with a download-to-own option at the end of August. Purchase prices will range from $2 to $3 U. depending on the distribution platform.

Kaleido Star centers on Sora Naegino, an ordinary girl with a dream of joining the Kaleido Stage, an extravagant circus show comparable to lavish Broadway entertainment. Sora's life takes a dramatic turn when the owner of Kaleido Stage recognizes her potential and lets her join the troupe of beautiful and unique performers. He showbiz life soon consists of acrobatic stunts, romance, rivalry and friendship.

Peacemaker Kurogane is set in ancient Edo-period Japan, a time of social chaos and constant sword battle. The story follows the life of a young boy named Tetsu, who is driven to join the Shinsengumi, a sort of samurai S.W.A.T. force, in order to avenge his father’s murder. Along the way, he faces the complexities of life in the Shinsengumi and learns that perhaps his destiny, as his father once told him, is to be the Peacemaker.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., Crunchyroll is a leading online entertainment brand focused on Asian entertainment including anime, drama and music. The company’s distribution channel and partnership program delivers content to more than four million viewers worldwide. Crunchyroll is funded by the group Venrock. More information can be found at www.crunchyroll.com

Review: `Clone Wars' is fun though forgettable

DAVID GERMAIN, reviews "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"

You'll know you're in a different galaxy within the first seconds of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," which substitutes the Warner Bros. logo and theme music for the familiar 20th Century Fox searchlight and fanfare.

While anything remotely "Star Wars" potentially is a welcome trek for hard-core fans, however, it will be a mixed thrill given that the saga returns to the big screen as a cartoon.

George Lucas' prequel trilogy was so overloaded with computer-generated imagery that the digital animation of "Clone Wars" isn't much of a leap. The somber tone of those three movies — chronicling the downfall of Anakin Skywalker from snotty, brooding teen to black-hearted Darth Vader — is gone, replaced with a variation of the campy humor and camaraderie that characterized the original trilogy.

Still, a "Star Wars" movie should be an event. But whether because of its cartoony format or its relatively lightweight story, "Clone Wars" definitely is not an event.

For fans, it serves as a fairly promising introduction to the "Clone Wars" animated series debuting on Cartoon Network this fall. The movie centers on a fresh adventure of Anakin and his Jedi knight elder Obi-Wan Kenobi during the Clone Wars that have been so pivotal to "Star Wars" since the beginning — but about which we've heard so little.

There was a passing reference to this civil strife in 1977's
"Star Wars"
and a few glimpses of its onset in "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones." The action here and in the TV series takes place between that movie and "Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," before Anakin goes bad.

The new movie sets up a seemingly bottomless well of story possibilities for the TV show. There are plenty of returning characters, new faces and bit players around which Lucas' team can build episodes, so the series hopefully won't be merely another 'Droids-vs.-Clones battle every week.

"Clone Wars"
adapts a story arc director Dave Filoni (also the supervising director of the TV show) and company had been developing for the small screen.

Anakin (voiced by Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) start off in the heat of battle, leading a band of the Republic's clone soldiers against the comically inept android troops of a separatist movement led by the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, reprising his live-action role).

To show Anakin's soft, mushy, pre-Vader side, he's given his own Jedi apprentice, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), a spunky alien girl who quickly forges a wisecracking bond with her usually stoic mentor.

The two are assigned to lead a rescue of giant slug crimelord Jabba the Hutt's squishy, squirmy baby Hutt, who has been kidnapped in a conspiracy that gives all our familiar prequel heroes a part to play.

Among them: Jedi masters Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson, also back from the live-action flicks) and Yoda, Anakin's future bride Padme Amidala, and androids R2-D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, who was featured in all six live-action movies).

Filoni, a veteran of the animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," and executive producer Lucas' team craft a distinct design to set the animated version apart from the live "Star Wars" universe.

The characters have a chiseled, almost harsh look to them (Obi-Wan's beard resembles a miniature snowplow that's been grafted to his face). Their movements are a bit jerky, deliberately patterned somewhat after Gerry Anderson's "Thunderbirds" and his other cult action series featuring puppets.

Why? The best guess is to make good on the promise that this is "Star Wars" as you've never seen it. The jerky motions seem at odds with the fluid acrobatics of Jedi warriors, but this probably will be far less noticeable once the "Clone Wars" adventures move to the small screen.

While the movie has a huge body count as ray guns and light sabers flash, "Clone Wars" comes off as rather cute overall. The Shakespearean tragedy of Anakin's transformation into Vader behind him, Lucas turns his gang loose to be merry, even silly.

Again, that tone probably will work better in the shorter TV installments. In theaters, it makes for a reasonably fun if generally forgettable story, at least in terms of the grand-opera standards of the live-action
"Star Wars" films.

Maybe it's for the best that this movie landed under the Warner Bros. banner.
"Clone Wars" simply could not have lived up to that breathless pause of anticipation that always rises in the silence between the Fox fanfare and the first blaring note of the "Star Wars" theme, which also has been modified to let audiences know at the outset that this is a galaxy a bit farther out than they're used to.

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars,"
a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking. Running time: 98 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

British stage, screen actor Terence Rigby dies, 71

British actor Terence Rigby, the voice of fighting rabbit Silver in the 1978 animated feature film Watership Down, died Sunday night at 71 at his London home.

Rigby had been suffering from lung cancer.

Active on the stage and small screen, he was best known on TV for his role as PC Snow in 1960s and 1970s series Softly, Softly: Task Force. He also played Dr. Watson in the BBC's 1982 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, opposite Tom Baker as Sherlock Holmes.

In the 1980s, he was on TV in The Beiderbecke Affair. More recent television roles included Our Friends in the North, Midsomer Murders, Holby City, Heartbeat and Doctors.

Rigby's films included Get Carter (1971), The Dogs of War (1980), Scandal (1989), James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Mona Lisa Smile (2003).

Born in Smethwick, England (on the edge of the city of Birmingham) on January 2, 1937, he had been living in London and New York since February.

He became interested in acting while in the Boy Scouts. His pursuit of drama continued while at grammar school in Birmingham and later in the Royal Air Force. Rigby trained alongside the late John Thaw at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Taking an early interest in playwright Harold Pinter, he starred as Joey in The Homecoming in 1965. A decade later, he portrayed thuggish servant Briggs in No Man's Land. He also played Davies in The Caretaker.

Rigby became close friends with Pinter. "I used to go round to his house in Hanover Terrace," he said in a 2003 interview with The Guardian newspaper. "I had that irritating habit of just turning up, which I suppose is a working-class thing."

He appeared in several productions by Britain's National Theatre, including Pinter's No Man's Land, which featured John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.

Other National Theatre plays included The Cherry Orchard and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The latter, in 2005, was the most recent of Rigby's several collaborations with theatre director Sir Peter Hall.

He was cast in Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Pinter's The Homecoming and the 1977 play State of Revolution, which cast him as Stalin.

Rigby was in several theatrical productions in the United States, most recently in February in the Oscar Wilde play A Woman of No Importance.

"We are so proud of Terry and are going to miss him terribly," Catherine Sparks, Rigby's sister, told the Daily Telegraph. "He was true to his art and respected by all the industry -- he was the actor's actor."

"He will be sorely missed. There are not so many like him any more," said the actor's spokesman, Peter Charlesworth.

"He was a very powerful character actor, able to play villains and nice roles with ease. He was particularly good at playing Pinter roles, which were very difficult."

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