Friday, January 23, 2009

News - 01/23/09...

WALL•E, Bolt, Panda Oscars Top Toons

Pixar pic earns six noms; Bashir gets foreign-language nom

Surprises abounded as the Oscars announced their nominated films, with Disney’s Bolt joining DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda and Pixar’s WALL•E—which earned six total nominations—competing for the animated feature nomination.

WALL•E and Kung Fu Panda were expected, Bolt beat out the Israeli animated documentary Waltz with Bashir, which earned its sole nomination for foreign-language film.

There were few surprises in the visual effects category with
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Iron Man and The Dark Knight earning the top honors.

failed to make the cut for Best Picture, but was nominated for best original screenplay, best original score, best original song, best sound editing and best sound mixing,

Earning nominations for animated short film were
La Maison en Petits Cubes, Lavatory – Lovestory, Oktapodi, the Disney/Pixar short Presto and This Way Up.

The Dark Knight failed to make the cut on a number of top categories, including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. Still, the film earned a total of eight nominations, including a best supporting actor nomination for the late Heath Ledger.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
earned the most nominations with 13, Slumdog Millionaire had 10 and Milk tied Dark Knight
with eight.

The winners will be announced in a ceremony hosted by Hugh Jackman Feb. 22 at the Kodak Theater.

The full list of nominees follows:

Performance by an actor in a leading role

* Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor” (Overture Films)
* Frank Langella in
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal)
* Sean Penn in
“Milk” (Focus Features)
* Brad Pitt in
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
* Mickey Rourke in
“The Wrestler”
(Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

* Josh Brolin in “Milk” (Focus Features)
* Robert Downey Jr. in
“Tropic Thunder” (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
* Philip Seymour Hoffman in
“Doubt” (Miramax)
* Heath Ledger in
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)
* Michael Shannon in
“Revolutionary Road”
(DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

* Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married” (Sony Pictures Classics)
* Angelina Jolie in
“Changeling” (Universal)
* Melissa Leo in
“Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics)
* Meryl Streep in
“Doubt” (Miramax)
* Kate Winslet in
“The Reader”
(The Weinstein Company)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

* Amy Adams in “Doubt” (Miramax)
* Penelope Cruz in
“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (The Weinstein Company)
* Viola Davis in
“Doubt” (Miramax)
* Taraji P. Henson in
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
* Marisa Tomei in
“The Wrestler”
(Fox Searchlight)

Best animated feature film of the year

* “Bolt” (Walt Disney), Chris Williams and Byron Howard
* “Kung Fu Panda” (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount), John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
* “WALL•E” (Walt Disney), Andrew Stanton

Achievement in art direction

* “Changeling” (Universal), Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt, Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Peter Lando
“The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Art Direction: Michael Carlin, Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
“Revolutionary Road”
(DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Art Direction: Kristi Zea, Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Achievement in cinematography

* “Changeling” (Universal), Tom Stern
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Claudio Miranda
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Wally Pfister
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
“Slumdog Millionaire”
(Fox Searchlight), Anthony Dod Mantle

Achievement in costume design

* “Australia” (20th Century Fox), Catherine Martin
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Jacqueline West
“The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Michael O’Connor
“Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Glicker
“Revolutionary Road”
(DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Albert Wolsky

Achievement in directing

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
(Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Fincher
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Ron Howard
“Milk” (Focus Features), Gus Van Sant
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Stephen Daldry
“Slumdog Millionaire”
(Fox Searchlight), Danny Boyle

Best documentaryBold feature

* “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)” (Cinema Guild), A Pandinlao Films Production, Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
* “Encounters at the End of the World”
(THINKFilm and Image Entertainment), A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
“The Garden” A Black Valley Films Production, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
“Man on Wire” (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
“Trouble the Water” (Zeitgeist Films), An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Best documentary short subject

* “The Conscience of Nhem En” A Farallon Films Production, Steven Okazaki
* “The Final Inch” A Vermilion Films Production, Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
* “Smile Pinki” A Principe Production, Megan Mylan
* “The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306”
A Rock Paper Scissors Production, Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

Achievement in film editing

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lee Smith
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
“Milk” (Focus Features), Elliot Graham
“Slumdog Millionaire”
(Fox Searchlight), Chris Dickens

Best foreign languagBolde film of the year

* “The Baader Meinhof Complex” A Constantin Film Production, Germany
“The Class” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Haut et Court Production, France
“Departures” (Regent Releasing), A Departures Film Partners Production, Japan
“Revanche” (Janus Films), A Prisma Film/Fernseh Production, Austria
“Waltz with Bashir”
(Sony Pictures Classics), A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production, Israel

Achievement in makeup

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Greg Cannom
* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan
* “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”
(Universal), Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Alexandre Desplat
“Defiance” (Paramount Vantage), James Newton Howard
“Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Elfman
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
(Walt Disney), Thomas Newman

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

* “Down to Earth” from “WALL•E” (Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
“Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire”
(Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman andMaya Arulpragasam

Best motion picture of the year

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), A Kennedy/Marshall Production, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ce·n Chaffin, Producers
* “Frost/Nixon” (Universal), A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers
“Milk” (Focus Features), A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH Production, Nominees to be determined
“Slumdog Millionai
Italicre” (Fox Searchlight), A Celador Films Production,Christian Colson, Producer

Best animated short film

* “La Maison en Petits Cubes” A Robot Communications Production, Kunio Kato
“Lavatory - Lovestory” A Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company Production, Konstantin Bronzit
“Oktapodi” (Talantis Films) A Gobelins, L’École de l’image Production, Emud Mokhberi and Thierry MarchandBold
* “Presto” (Walt Disney) A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Doug Sweetland
“This Way Up”
A Nexus Production, Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

Best live action short film

* “Auf der Strecke (On the Line)” (Hamburg Shortfilmagency), An Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production, Reto Caffi
“Manon on the Asphalt” (La Luna Productions), A La Luna Production, Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
“New Boy”
(Network Ireland Television), A Zanzibar Films Production, Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
“The Pig” An M & M Production, Tivi Magnusson and Dorte H¯gh
“Spielzeugland (Toyland)”
A Mephisto Film Production, Jochen Alexander Freydank

Achievement in sound editing

* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Richard King
“Iron Man” (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Tom Sayers
“WALL•E” (Walt Disney), Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
(Universal),Wylie Stateman

Achievement in sound mixing

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
“WALL•E” (Walt Disney),Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
(Universal), Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

Achievement in visual effects

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
“Iron Man”
(Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Adapted screenplay

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
“Doubt” (Miramax), Written by John Patrick Shanley
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Screenplay by Peter Morgan
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Hare
“Slumdog Millionaire”
(Fox Searchlight), Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Original screenplay

* “Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics), Written by Courtney Hunt
“Happy-Go-Lucky” (Miramax), Written by Mike Leigh
“In Bruges” (Focus Features), Written by Martin McDonagh
“Milk” (Focus Features), Written by Dustin Lance Black
(Walt Disney), Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Animated Lies Earns Top Short Sonor at Sundance

Lies, an animated short film from Swedish director Jonas Odell, has earned the top prize for international shorts at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film features three episodes dealing with the subject of lies and their consequences, and is Odell’s second successful short. The live-action short, Short Term 12, won the overall jury prize in short filmmaking.

Additionally, two American animated entries were among the eight shorts that earned an honorable mention from the jury: I Live in the Woods by Max Winston and Western Spaghetti by PES.

The Farce is with Razzie nominee "Clone Wars"

Bombs away!

Lucasfilm's cartoon feature film "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" received a coveted nomination Wednesday for the annual Razzie Awards, which honor the very worst in cinema.

Directed by Dave Filoni and spawning a Cartoon Network TV series,
Star Wars: The Clone Wars was nominated for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel.

Also up for that category is the live-action
Speed Racer, based on the 1960s Trans-Lux anime series originally known as Mach Go Go Go.

Vying for the award, too, are the live-action
The Day The Earth Blowed Up Real Good (as Razzie organizers dubbed it), Disaster Movie and Meet The Spartans (considered collectively), and Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull.

Leading the Razzie nominations for 2008 is
The Love Guru. Mike Myers' so-called comedy picked up seven nods, including worst picture, director and screenplay.

Disaster Movie
and Meet the Spartans, competing as a one work, received six nominations. The Hottie & the Nottie and In the Name of the King garnered five each, while The Happening
received four.

The Razzies are determined by 687 voters. Eventual "winners" of the Golden Raspberry Awards will be unveiled in intentionally tacky ceremonies set for the now traditional Oscar eve, Saturday night, February 21 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood.

SpongeBob’s Kenny to Host Annies

BoldTom Kenny, the voice actor behind SpongeBob SquarePants, will once again be the host for Annie Awards, to be held Jan. 30.

Kenny will be joined at the 36th annual event by a group of distinguished presenters, including animation legend June Foray, actors Brad Garrett (Ratatouille, ‘Til Death), Seth Green (Austin Powers, Robot Chicken), Michael Clarke Duncan (Kung Fu Panda, The Green Mile), James Hong (Kung Fu Panda, Blade Runner), Donald Faison (Scrubs), Ben Burtt (Wall•E) and director Henry Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas).

Also, Roy Disney, director emeritus and consultant for The Walt Disney Co. and chairman of the board of Shamrock Holdings, will present the Winsor McCay Award to Pixar’s John Lasseter.

The event will be held this year at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Sony's 2012 Moved to November

Director Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi film 2012 has been pushed back from its original July 10 release date to Nov. 13.

Execs at Sony tell Variety the move makes sense given the studio’s strong summer slate and its success with a mid-November release on the past two James Bond films.

The film now will compete with Warner Bros.’ Sherlock Holmes and Fox’s The Tooth Fairy.

Canada Film Board to Stream Archive Online

The National Film Board of Canada has made more than 700 films—including such animated classics as The Log Driver’s Waltz and Cosmic Zoom—available for streaming for free on its website,

The online project is part of a $1.3 million project to digitize the board’s archives. The board plans to add about 10 new films a month to the project.

Tom & Jerry CG/live action movie

Here we go again! Variety is reporting today that Warner Bros. is planning to turn Tom and Jerry into its own Alvin and the Chipmunks-like family franchise.

Plans are to bring the constantly warring cat and mouse to life as CG characters that run around in live-action settings.

Studio-based Dan Lin will adapt the classic Hanna-Barbera property as an origin story that reveals how Tom and Jerry first meet and form their rivalry before getting lost in Chicago and reluctantly working together during an arduous journey home. Eric Gravning is penning the script.

Warners owns the rights to Hanna-Barbera’s slate of popular animated properties and has several of them in development for bigscreen adaptation. Those include Robert Rodriguez’s version of The Jetsons and producer Donald De Line’s Yogi Bear.

It worked for Warners before (i.e. Scooby Doo), but adapting Hanna Barbera’s Tom & Jerry sounds like awful idea to me.

(Beyond awful, actually - anyone remember The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle?)

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Chris Yost on "Hulk vs." Direct-to-Video Movie's PULSE News has posted its first interview with Chris Yost, discussing his work on the Hulk Vs. direct-to-video animated movie. Yost discusses the "Hulk vs. Wolverine" segment, noting how he selected the antagonists for the chapter of the movie, the balancing act he needs to do to balance between hardcore comic book fans and newcomers to the Marvel superheroes, and the risks and rewards of writing for comic book fans.

An upcoming article will follow interviewing Yost about the "Hulk vs. Thor" portion of the movie.

George Takei on Moving from "Star Trek" to "Star Wars: Clone Wars" and More

Actor George Takei was the subject of a roundtable interview session last week in conjunction with his upcoming voice-acting role as Lok Durd in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Among other things, Takei discusses being the first major actor to move from a Star Trek role into the Star Wars universe, how much of a Star Wars fan he was before he started the project, and how he felt about his character.

Other topics discussed in the interview were how the
Star Trek character Mr. Sulu got his name, how he feels about John Cho assuming the role in the upcoming Star Trek movie, and his role on the TV show Heroes

Of Negotiations and Job/Salary Cuts

Now with high-fiber Add On:

In one of my recent studio jaunts, an artist pulled me aside to say:

"I'm getting jerked around the admin here. I had a contract that was up for renewal, and they called me in and said they would pick up my option, but only if I signed an amendment keeping my salary at the old rate. I think this is pretty unfair, since I'm on the low end of department pay rates now ..."

Of late, I've heard variations of the above at various work places. There seems to be something in the air.

... Warner Brothers Entertainment is the latest to cut staff, announcing 800 jobs would be lost, or 10 percent of its worldwide staff. NBC Universal and Viacom have already cut jobs, and industry watchers expect more job cuts to be announced by Walt Disney and Sony Pictures ...

The thing of it is, I don't know a studio that isn't performing serious belt-tightening, and this is on top of previous belt-tightening And part of the tightening is walking back salaries.

The complaint I hear from members is: Why are they doing this? The company had a great year!"

There's really a variety of answers, and here are three: 1) There's an economic meltdown going on, and corporations, no matter how great their recent success, are running scared. 2) Companies really are experiencing problems. And 3) Employees are more receptive to now wage hikes when lots of people are unemployed.

I know there's been a lot of angst among artists and tech directors in the cartoon business, and rightfully so. When management holds meeting saying how tough things are, people start worrying after their livelihoods.

I mean, if Harrison Ford isn't getting his usual stipend, things must be bad, no?

But that didn't change the sad situation of the employee who thought he was being abused: "I'm doing better work than the guys in the other cubicles, but they're making lots more money than me. It's not fair ..."

My answer was ...

"Fairness has got nothing to do with it. If Gargantuan Cartoons can buy your services for less, why do you think they'll voluntarily pay more? They are not in this to be even-handed, they are in business to make money."

Your task is to negotiate wisely and well. That means you

1) Know what others are making and can make a cogent arguments why you should make as much ("I'm faster and more productive, my quality is better," etc.)

2) Know what the company's bottom-line is. If they are really not going to raise your salary because of some corporate wage freeze, then you need a strategy to work around that. (Like, an agreement for a pay bump at a future date?)

3) Know what your bottom line is, and be prepared to act if you don't get it (for instance, walking away from a bad deal.)

4) Not giving a final answer until you go off and mull the company's proposal for 24-48 hours.

Negotiating pay hikes right now is really, really tricky. My advice, go in with as much useful information as you can to buttress your arguments, but don't assume a successful outcome.

The only way you can guarantee the pay raise you deserve is if you know what cards management is holding, and what money they're willing to slap down on the green felt table to keep you happy. (In other words, whether or not you've got sufficient leverage.)

Add On: And on the macro level, there is more great news with unemployment:

The number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose by a more-than-expected 62,000 last week, government data Thursday showed, as a year-long recession continued to chill the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits increased to a seasonally adjusted 589,000 in the week ended Jan. 17 from a revised 527,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said.

It was the highest level of initial claims since a matching reading in the week of Dec. 20. The last time claims were higher was in 1982 ...

Since employment is a lagging indicator and the leading indicators don't look so hot, we will no doubt have some ... ah ... choppy times ahead.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

A trailer for the weirdest Japanese movie you'll see all year

A new trailer has gone live for Big Man Japan, an independent movie about a Tokyo slacker who finds himself transformed into a stick-wielding giant, entrusted with defending Japan from giant monsters.

Before you say, "Oh, that old story again," check out the video.

A middle-aged slacker living in a rundown, graffiti-ridden slum, Daisato's job involves being shocked by bolts of electricity that transform him into a stocky, stick-wielding giant several stories high who is entrusted with defending Japan from a host of bizarre monsters. But while his predecessors were national heroes, he is a pariah among the citizens he protects, who bitterly complain about the noise and destruction of property he causes. And Daisato has his own problems: an agent insistent on branding him with sponsor advertisements, an Alzheimer-afflicted grandfather who transforms into a giant in dirty underwear, and a family who is embarrassed by his often cowardly exploits.

A wickedly deadpan spin on the giant Japanese superhero, Big Man Japan is the sixth film in Magnet's "Six Shooter Film Series," a series of six films highlighting the vanguard of genre cinema from around the globe. Big Man Japan opens in March 2009.

Teletoon Highlights Upcoming "Batman Beyond," "Batman: The Brave and The Bold" Events

The World's Finest has received an update from Teletoon highlighting upcoming network events.

The Canadian network Teletoon has scheduled Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker to air Sunday, February 8th, 2009 at 11am (ET). This encore presentation of the acclaimed animated movie is the second "Batman"-related programming for the day, with the Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode "Invasion of the Secret Santas!" airing earlier in the morning at 9am (ET). The episode sees Batman and Red Tornado fight to stop Fun Haus' Yuletide crime spree.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is also scheduled to air on Cartoon Network at 8pm (ET) on Saturday, January 31st, 2009.

New posters for Monsters vs Aliens and Up

IMPAWARDS has posted three new character posters for DreamWorks’ upcoming animated feature Monsters vs Aliens. Additionally, the site also shares a new poster for Pixar’s forthcoming film Up which can be seen here.

"Ponyo" Lands 3 Asian Film Award Noms; Aids Toho Bottom Line

The 3rd Annual Asian Film Award nominees have been announced, with Studio Ghibli's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea landing three nominations for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Composer. In a related story, Toho Studios reported earnings of $817.5 million at the Japanese box office in 2008, with nearly $170 million of that due to the box office success of Ponyo.

"Wolverine and the X-Men" Rewards the Faithful

Toon Zone reviews Nicktoons' "Wolverine and the X-Men"

Wolverine and the X-Men is a show that is determined to eat its cake and have it, too. It cherry-picks from the best elements of the two previous cartoon series, the live-action movies, and decades of comic books to ensure that the show feels familiar, but it also wants to strike out in different directions from all those earlier X-Men stories. It is much darker and more mature than the previous two X-Men cartoons, but not so much as to make the show unacceptable for the pre-teen to teen demographic. Right from the title, it wants to make sure you know that Wolverine is square in the spotlight, but that it's also an X-Men show with an ensemble cast. Wolverine himself is presented as both a violent, tormented soul and a cuddly friend to children-who-can-recognize-his-inherent-goodness. It manages a far better job of being all things to all people than it should, but it seems to do so at the cost of accessibility. If you're already familiar and emotionally invested in the X-Men, then the two-part pilot episode "Hindsight" is almost sure to give you a lot of reasons to keep watching. If you're unfamiliar with Marvel's mutant superheroes, then Wolverine and the X-Men may not have much to offer you.

In the world of the X-Men, genetic mutations can bring super powers. The more benevolent mutants seek to live in peace and harmony with humanity. This faction is led by Professor Charles Xavier, who trains them at his Academy for Gifted Students to use their powers for the greater benefit of human- and mutant-kind alike, with his top students teaming together to become the X-Men. Less benevolent mutant factions, such as the shadowy Brotherhood, seek to use their powers for their own selfish gain, if not conquer and rule the unpowered masses of humanity. On the flip side, many humans live in fear of mutant-kind, with the more extreme elements advocating the registration, imprisonment, or outright extermination of all mutants.

Wolverine and the X-Men begins with an attack that decimates Professor Xavier's Academy and scatters the X-Men to the four winds. One year later, mutants are on the run from the jack-booted thugs of the MRD, who imprison mutants permanently simply for existing. When the former X-Men member Wolverine reveals himself to save a human girl, he inadvertently exposes himself and the girl's entire family to the MRD, leading to the family's arrest and incarceration even though they have no mutant powers. Reluctantly, Wolverine finds himself trying to pull the X-Men back together, first to rescue the family he has inadvertently imperiled and then to begin battling back against both anti-mutant forces embodied in the MRD and Senator Robert Kelly and the pro-mutant Brotherhood that seems intent on sparking a human/mutant war.

The good news about Wolverine and the X-Men is that it certainly hits the ground running, with a minimum of set-up or exposition and a maximum of action. The opening credits alone are better than a lot of other action shows, and the premiere has a few quite impressive set pieces that often use mutant superpowers more creatively than before, especially with Kitty Pryde's phasing powers. They are also more than happy to dive straight into the middle of a tangled tale that splits its time between human/mutant conflict and intra-team soap opera, dodging the usual introductory plot of "new mutant discovers and joins the X-Men" that was used in the first movie, both animated series, and countless comic books. Recently, Steve Blum became the official voice of Wolverine, and he turns in a wonderful, slightly underplayed performance here. One can sense in Blum's performance the berserker rage that Wolverine is barely keeping in check as well as the push-and-pull between his inherently anti-social nature and his sense that he needs to take on a more active leadership role. This is only one of several places where the show is not afraid to step away from the usual X-Men story elements, and as a result it manages to carve out its own niche.

There are elements cribbed more or less straight from other X-Men stories as well. Unfortunately, one of them seems to be the uptight, stick-in-the-mud version of Cyclops, even though this also leaves him perfectly positioned for a hero's journey story arc of his own. On a larger level, the central metaphor of the X-Men has always been cooperation and understanding vs. fear and hatred, and this metaphor reappears in this new show. While most earlier X-Men stories use anti-mutant hysteria as a parable for racism, sexism, or homophobia, this new series adds in themes cribbed from the war on terrorism, including the indiscriminate punishment of an entire group of people for the sins of a few, indefinite incarceration on secret or non-existent grounds, and torture (and more on that later). These new elements make Wolverine and the X-Men far darker and more mature than any earlier X-Men cartoon, even if the parable doesn't really have much more depth than the fundamental good guy/bad guy dynamic of most superhero stories.

The downside to Wolverine and the X-Men is that if you don't already know who these characters are and their relationships to each other, I'm not at all sure that the show will give you enough to build up much an emotional connection to them. It doesn't help that the show fields dozens of characters within its first hour and is unable to even sketch in even the skimpiest details about many of them. As an example, the Brotherhood seems to be led by the mutant Domino, but she's only named on-screen once in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, and the only mutant abilities she exhibits are darker skin and gravity-defying cleavage. It feels like watching X2 as the first live-action movie: while it built on the achievements of its predecessor and was a better movie overall, it was also almost entirely impenetrable to a new viewer. One of the hallmarks of Chris Claremont's heyday writing the Uncanny X-Men comics was his ability to create long-running story arcs that were accessible enough to gain new readers month after month, no matter how tangled they got. Wolverine and the X-Men seems to have the long-running story aspect down pat, but not the accessibility. However, the show has already been renewed for a second season, so perhaps my concerns are irrelevant.

There is one element of "Hindsight" that truly rankles and requires a small spoiler to discuss (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know). At one point, an MRD officer uses a sensory overload device to torture the non-mutant father of the family who assisted Wolverine. When Wolverine frees the family, he tosses the MRD officer into the device, turns it on, and leaves him there. Poetic justice for sure, and perhaps not something to be taken too seriously, but it sends an almost unforgivably terrible message about torture: "It's bad when Bad People do it, but it's OK (and even funny) when Good People do it to Bad People." Unfortunately, that's probably the exact line of thinking that the MRD officer used to strap the father into the device in the first place, to say nothing of its relationship to untenable real-world justifications for torturing prisoners. Admittedly, Wolverine isn't presented as a terribly noble hero at this point in the show, and it might also fit into a larger scheme charting his growth and development as a leader of the X-Men. Unfortunately, neither of those excuses can entirely negate the message being sent here, and when you consider that the Army and the FBI have had to tell the producers of 24 that the use of torture on the show was promoting illegal behavior and negatively influencing the training of interrogators, I think it's better to assume at this point that the audience isn't going to catch any subtler points when it comes to torturing people.

In the end, Wolverine and the X-Men has plenty to offer to X-fans, regardless of which version of the team you favor. However, while it is made up of quality component parts, it's still a bit of a tossup whether that quality will be enough to draw you in if you're not already one of the faithful.

Wolverine and the X-Men premieres on the Nicktoons Network on January 23, 2009, at 8:00 PM (Eastern).

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