Tuesday, March 3, 2009

News - 03/03/09...

Watchmen, Wonder Woman Move to DVD

Comic-book heroes lead a heavy week of new animated DVDs hitting store shelves.

Up first is Wonder Woman, the latest original animated DVD in the DC Universe line. The fan-friendly feature, which is rated PG-13, features the voices of Keri Russell as Wonder Woman, Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor and Alfred Molina as the villainous Ares. The movie is available on DVD ($19.98), two-disc special edition ($29.98) and Blu-ray ($34.99).

Warner is also serving up
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic as an hors d’oeuvre for this week’s major motion picture release. The motion comic animates the artwork from the graphic novel, along with a reading of the text a la an audio book to retell Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic story. The five-hour feature is available as a two-disc DVD ($29.98) or on Blu-ray ($35.99).

The other top releases this week are the Disney comedy
Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($28.96 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray), Baz Luhrman’s epic film Australia (Fox, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray), and the drama I Loved You So Long (Sony Pictures Classics, $28.96 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray).

Other animated releases this week include:
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: Robotnik Family Values (NCircle Entertainmnet, $6.99), Adventures of Super Mario III: What a Wonderful Warp (NCircle Entertainmnet, $6.99), Chowder, Vol. 2 (Warner Bros., $14.97), Franny's Feet: Princess Franny (Peace Arch Entertainment, $14.99), Max & Ruby: Bunny Hop Into Spring (Paramount, $36.99), Pucca: Sooga Super Squad (Vivendi Entertainment, $14.99), The Smurfs: True Blue Friends (Hanna-Barbera, $14.97), Sonic The Hedgehog: Sonic Goes Green (NCircle Entertainmnet, $6.99), SpongeBob vs. The Big One (Paramount, $19.99) and Super Mario Bros. Super Show: Mario's Adventures
(NCircle Entertainmnet, $6.99).

Review: Updated Wonder Woman Shines

Animation Magazine's Thomas J. Mclean looks at DC''s new animated Wonder Woman DVD -

Wonder Woman has always been a difficult character to get right. Sure, she’s appeared continuously in DC Comics since 1941, but her story hasn’t gotten the same attention over the years as her peers, Superman and Batman. And it’s been a long time since Lynda Carter suited up as the Amazon princess in the classic 1970s TV series.

The best news about the new Wonder Woman animated DVD hitting stores today is that it gets all the big stuff right. The important beats from Wonder Woman’s origin story are all there, from her being molded from clay to Steve Trevor’s arrival at Paradise Island to Diana winning the combat contest to assume the mantle of Wonder Woman. Fans who know the character’s story will be pleased to see that the script by Michael Jelenic—assisted by Wonder Woman comic book writer Gail Simone—has done justice to character’s long legacy.

But there’s also plenty of solid action, great voice acting and high quality animation to make this much more than a rote superhero origin. As with every entry in the DC animation canon since Bruce Timm—executive producer on this title—came on, this is a smart, well-designed and eminently appealing superhero cartoon.

The 2D animation on Wonder Woman is at least as good as last year’s Justice League: The New Frontier. The film, directed by Superman-Doomsday helmer Lauren Montgomery, manages to find its own color scheme and style, coming across as eminently modern. Wonder Woman herself manages to find the balance between beauty and brawn, delivering a believably powerful take on the heroine. Her faintly Greek facial features are a nice touch.

The supporting cast, which includes everyone from Diana’s Amazon rival Artemis to Etta Candy, is fully fleshed out and engaging. The voice acting, directed by DC toon vet Andrea Romano, sets itself apart with talent and with a serious tone. Alfred Molina as Ares and Rosario Dawson as Artemis in particular stand out.

Bottom line: Wonder Woman works as both a faithful adaptation of the classic comic book character’s story and as an entertaining, modern superhero epic.

Nick Solicits Reels for Online Job Database

Nickelodeon Animation Studios is building a digital database of reels by animators looking for work.

The studio has requested artists interested in openings at the studio to send in their reel on disposable DVD, along with a resume and signed submission release form (available at http://nas.nick.com/SubmissionReleaseForm.pdf) to: Josilin Torrano – Digital Database, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, 231 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, CA 91502-1825.

The materials will be kept on file digitally at the studio for reference when the company is looking to hire for its next big show.

TeamTO’s 3-D Occho to Fly in Lyon

Paris and Valence-based studio TeamTO will present a sneak peek of its upcoming stereoscopic feature Occho Kochio this Thursday at Cartoon Movie in Lyon (March 5, at 3 p.m. in Studio 2). Based on a beautifully illustrated children’s book by Antoine Barraud, the CG-animated project is designed by Benjamin Renner, a graduate of the prestigious La Poudriere school, who won numerous awards last year for his short, A Mouse’s Tale.

Gallery celebrates Pinocchio’s 70th

A one-night only event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the release of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio is set for this Wednesday at Every Picture Tells a Story in Santa Monica.

The event will feature rare Pinocchio artwork from the Disney Animation Research Library, as well as the new “Disney View” panels from featured on the upcoming Blu-ray release of the film. The artist of those panels, Tony Bluth, will be in attendance.

The event runs from 6-9 p.m. at the gallery, which is located at 1311-C Montana Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90403. To attend, you must RSVP to BVHERSVP@disney.com.

No accident: "Kung Fu Panda" phrase influential

"There are no accidents," Oogway's solemn pronouncement to Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda, was among the words from Hollywood that most influenced the English language last year, a language monitoring group declared Thursday.

The phrase ranked seventh in the Top Ten list released by the Austin, Texas-based Global Language Monitor.

"Jai Ho!" and "Slumdog," both from Slumdog Millionaire, topped the 2008 list. It was the first time since the first list was released five years ago that two words from the same movie were ranked in the Top Ten.

Others ahead of "There are no accidents" were "Hmong" from Gran Torino, "Nuke the Fridge" from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, "Twinkie defense" (which followed the events depicted in Milk) and "Djembe" (The Visitor).

Rounding out the Top Ten were "What doesn't kill you makes you… stranger" (The Dark Knight), Posthumous (The Wrestler) and Katrina from Benjamin Button.

"2008 was a remarkable year for words in films, with a Hindi phrase, the name of a Laotian tribe, a West African drum, and a modified quotation from Frederick Nietzsche all making the list," said Paul JJ Payack, president and "chief word analyst" of the Global Language Monitor.

The Global Language Monitor uses a proprietary algorithm, the Predictive Quantities Indicator, to track the frequency of words and phrases in the global print and electronic media, on the Internet and throughout the Blogosphere, as well as accessing proprietary databases. The PQI is a weighted index, factoring in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum and velocity.

Dwarf Fight by Bill Tytla

This sequence of drawings by Bill Tytla from Snow White is a reminder of what attracted me to animation in the first place. Tytla’s mastery of draftsmanship, control over every element of the image, and ability to invoke vivid personalities from mere lines represents animation artistry at its peak.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

USC Animation Screening

The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts is presenting an open screening on Thursday (3/5) showcasing the latest films by its students and recent alumni. The John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (aka DADA) will present its annual Adobe First Frame screening, at the Directors Guild (DGA) Theater Complex at 7920 Sunset Boulevard (at Fairfax) at 7:30pm.

The program features 19 animated films spanning a range of genres and techniques - including stop-motion, 2D and 3D CG, character and experimental, all by Hench-DADA BA and MFA students. The program running time is 80 minutes. The event is FREE. No reservations necessary. Wine and dessert reception following screening. For more information check the Hench/DADA website.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Is Lasseter looking to toon up the way Disney markets its animated features?

Jim Hill shares an interesting bit of news coming out of Burbank. Which – in the wake of “Bolt” under-performance at the domestic box office – has John Lasseter asking Mickey’s marketing execs to take a far more innovative, targeted approach to the promotion of WDAS’ upcoming releases

As the folks at Walt Disney Studios will tell you, making a good movie is really only half the battle. You then have to find the proper way to promote your motion picture.

I bring this topic up today because of some interesting rumblings that have been coming out of the Burbank lot lately. It would seem that – in the wake of “Bolt” ‘s under-performance at the domestic box office last year – John Lasseter asked for a review of that motion picture’s marketing.

You see, it just didn’t make any sense to John that a film that was as well reviewed as “Bolt” would then fail to find a fairly sizable audience. But – then again – given that the teaser poster for this WDAS release featured a stylized lightning bolt …

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

… rather than the extremely cute dog, cat and hamster that Disney’s artists had created … Well, one has to wonder if this really was the smartest way to sell “Bolt.” Especially since the inspiration for this particular image seems to have drawn from a teaser poster Disney’s marketing department created for “Hercules”

Copyright 1997 Disney. All Rights Reserved

… Which – let’s remember – didn’t exactly set the world on fire either when it was released to theaters back in June of 1997.

Given Disney’s Marketing department’s recent tendency to build promotional campaigns for the Studio’s animated features around supporting characters that test audiences have responded strongly to (Like Morcupine Porcupine from “Chicken Little”

Copyright 2005 Disney. All Rights Reserved

And/or Tiny the T-Rex from “Meet the Robinsons”) …

Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

… rather than these film’s title characters … Well, Lasseter has reportedly begun to wonder if Disney’s marketing department really has what it takes anymore. Especially in the wake of the tepid response that “The Princess and the Frog” teaser trailer received last year.

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Where – once again falling back on their same old tired bag of tricks – Mickey pushed a comical supporting character into the spotlight (in this case Ray, the Cajun lightning bug) and left Princess Tiana & Prince Naveen in the background.

Given how much is riding on “The Princess and the Frog” ‘s success (i.e. the revival of the Studio’s hand-drawn animation unit, that Tiana will be the first ever African-American Disney Princess, and – most important of all -- that the Company’s Consumer Products division is counting on this new set of characters to re-energize its $4-billion-a-year Disney Princess franchise), John has allegedly asked the Studio take a far more targeted, innovative approach for the promotion of this upcoming animated feature.

Actress Anika Noni, the voice of the title character in "The Princess and the Frog," receives her very own Princess Tiana doll at last month's American International Toy Fair in NYC.
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which – on paper, anyway -- is what the Mouse’s Marketing department is now doing. At the American International Toy Fair last month, Disney Consumer Products screened a variety of clips which showed how spirited and resourceful Tiana was. Which would (in theory, anyway) prove that this character was the perfect Disney Princess for our politically correct age.

Meanwhile, this past weekend at WonderCon, Walt Disney Animation Studios held a promotional panel for “The Princess and the Frog.” Which – given the testosterone-heavy audiences that typically attends events like this – talked up the movie’s special effects by showcasing the sequence in this film where the evil Dr. Facilier uses black magic to turn Prince Naveen into a frog.

Copyright 2009 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved

But will this more targeted approach actually help “The Princess and the Frog” connect with its would-be target audience? I know that a number of Disney Marketing execs reached for their Maalox late last week when Warner Bros. announced that it would be pushing back the release date of Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” from November 1st to December 25th.

“And why should that news upset the Mouse's promotions department?,” you ask. Well, up until Warners opted to move this Robert Downey Jr. movie to Christmas Day, “The Princess and the Frog” had December 25th all to itself. And given that “Bolt” ‘s under-performance at the domestic box office has largely being blamed on that animated feature opening in the theaters on the exact same day as “Twilight” … Well, let’s just say that this is now an issue that greatly concerns Disney’s Marketing staff.

Copyright 2008 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, it’s not just Lasseter who’s been raising concerns about the way Mickey markets its new animated features. I’m told that Robert Zemeckis (i.e. the Academy Award winner behind ImageMovers Digital) has been very vocal when it comes to his thoughts about how the Mouse should promote his new performance capture picture, “A Christmas Carol.”

Given that Jim Carrey will be playing seven different roles in this time-traveling holiday tale … Well, that’s just how Disney is going to promote “A Christmas Carol.” Not some much as yet another production of Charles Dickens’ much-loved story. But – rather – as a star vehicle for Mr. Carrey. Whose CG version of Mr. Scrooge will look something like this:

Copyright 2009 Disney / ImageMovers Digital. All Rights Reserved

Look for the first trailer for “A Christmas Carol” to hit theaters / the web sometime in April. And if that trailer fails to get significant buzz going for this ImageMovers Digital film, look for both Lasseter & Zemeckis to start leaning heavily on Bob Iger, Dick Cook and Oren Aviv. Insisting that something drastic be done about the way Disney Studios promotes its non-Pixar animated releases.

Announcement and Sample Pages for "Drawn to Life - 20 Yrs of Disney Master Classes"

Disney Executive Vice President and Executive Producer Don Hahn has released four sample pages from Drawn to Life: 20 Years of Disney Master Classes, which collect the lecture notes and handouts from legendary animator and teacher Walt Stanchfield. His teachings from the 1970's, 80's, and 90's were absorbed and used in practice by many of today's most heralded animation talents, including Brad Bird, Tim Burton, Glen Keane, and John Lasseter.

Click on any of the images below to enlarge.

A full-size PDF of the covers to both volumes of the text has also been released.

The two-volume book will be released on March 27, 2009. The complete notes about the book follow.

Animator Walt Stanchfield (1919-2000) distinguished himself with a long career at Hollywood's top animation studios, but his greatest legacy to the film industry is the torch of knowledge that he passed on to a new generation of filmmakers. His profound yet accessible writings helped breathe life into the new golden age of animation in the 1970s, 80s and 90s at the Disney Animation Studios by influencing such talented artists as Brad Bird, Tim Burton, Glen Keane and John Lasseter.

Published for the first time ever, Drawn to Life is an 800 page, two-volume collection of Stanchfield's insightful musings, which encompass direct instruction in animation along with a good dose of general life observations. Edited by Academy Award® nominated producer Don Hahn, Walt's notes represent the quintessential refresher for fine artists and film professionals, and it is a vital tutorial for students who are now poised to be part of another new generation in the art form.

One of the most successful producers working in Hollywood today, Don Hahn has been working creatively as a filmmaker at The Walt Disney Studios for over 30 years.

Hahn produced the classic Beauty and the Beast, which became the first animated film to receive a Best Picture nomination from the Motion Picture Academy. His next film, The Lion King, broke box-office records all over the world to become the top-grossing traditionally animated film in Disney history and a long-running blockbuster Broadway musical. Hahn also served as associate producer on the landmark motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit. His other films include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and the 2006 short, The Little Matchgirl which earned Hahn his second Oscar nomination.

He is currently developing the stop-motion animated feature
Frankenweenie with director Tim Burton, and directing and producing several documentary projects. Hahn has also authored three books on the art of animation, including the 2008 book, The Alchemy of Animation
, which provides the definitive account of how animated films are created in the modern age.

Superman and Batman Unite on your Mobile Phone

Warner Bros. have announced the new 'Superman Batman: Heroes United' moble game for your mobile phone. We're told the diversion is availble on all cellular carriers.

Fans can play an emulated version online.

Astro Boy trailer unspools at WonderCon

Attendees at WonderCon in San Francisco on Saturday got a look at a clip from the upcoming animated film Astro Boy. Based on the Japanese manga and 1960s television series and set in the futuristic Metro City, Astro Boy is the story of a young robot built by a scientist to replace his deceased son. Alas, Dad's grief isn't assuaged by the robot, so Astro Boy sets out on a journey to find himself. The film features the voices of Freddie Highmore (Astro Boy), Nicholas Cage (Dr. Tenma), Kristin Bell (Cora), Donald Sutherland (General Stone) and Nathan Lane (Ham Egg).

The clip began with Astro Boy falling (apparently out of a window), plummeting quickly toward Earth. As he falls, flames shoot out of his feet. He has a bit of difficulty adjusting to his new power but quickly masters it (it will remind you of the scene from Iron Man when he first tries out his suit). He flies all over town, the flames from his feet cooking an underdone steak at a restaurant. As he bursts through the clouds (in a scene that recalls another superhero film about a man in a cape) and revels in his new ability, he says, "Wow! This is cool! I have to show Dad."

The animation is very well done, and Metro City looks great. It was a quick shot, and there was no panel afterward. Astro Boy will be released Oct. 23.

Wonder Woman's Virginia Madsen wants same role in live action

Oscar-nominated actress Virginia Madsen, who voices Queen Hippolyta in the new feature-length direct-to-DVD animated film Wonder Woman, told SCI FI Wire at WonderCon in San Francisco over the weekend that she'd like to reprise her role in a live-action version of the story.

"I want to play Hippolyta in the live-action movie," Madsen said in an interview. "So I'm going to start campaigning for that part now. Could you imagine what my competition would be? Because everyone, so many actors, want to play that kind of thing, because it really would be so much fun to go to work everyday, and, just as a female, to be able to play that kind of role, where you can kick butt and have awesome power. It's not that often that we find those kinds of roles. So I'd have pretty strong competition for this role if it becomes live action."

Madsen said that she grew up with Wonder Woman. "She was really the only [female] superhero," she said. "I mean, there was Wonder Woman and there was Barbie, and I certainly wasn't going to play with Barbie. I was so uninterested in her, and my mother was a feminist, so she thought Barbie was a negative influence. And now what's wonderful [is that] I have a 6-year-old step-daughter, and she has many superheroes to choose from, and the female characters in video games. When my boy was growing up, he had the Powerpuff Girls as much as he had Dexter's Lab. He had Spider-Man and he had Lara Croft. He's growing up in a time when there's more equality."

Madsen also confessed a love for Greek mythology, which informs Wonder Woman. "I loved that story, and I thought it was fascinating," she said. "Because there was more going on in Greek mythology with gods and goddesses, not just gods. I liked that there was a mystical part of the Wonder Woman story. Now to be a grown up and to actually be a part of it and get to portray Hippolyta, it's come full circle in a way."

Madsen admitted to being a fan of science fiction (one of her earliest film roles was in David Lynch's Dune. "Yes," she said. "I was a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, the whole genre. I mean, I was an actress from day one. So if I was reading The Wizard of Oz, I lived in that world while I was reading it. And if I saw an old Boris Karloff horror film, I lived in that movie while I was watching it. When I first went to Hollywood, in one of my first films, I actually got to go into that genre and be a part of it. That was a dream come true." Wonder Woman is on sale today.

CBR on "Spectacular Spider-Man" Panel at Wondercon 2009

Comic Book Resources has covered the Spectacular Spider-Man panel at Wondercon 2009 this past weekend, reporting on news and previews of the second season. The panel was hosted by series creator/supervising producer/story editor Greg Weisman, supervising producer Victor Cook, character designer Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man voice actor Josh Keaton. Among other news, the panel report reveals new and returning characters, teases story elements to be played out in the upcoming season, and the move to Disney XD and the fact that the second season is already airing in Canada and Bulgaria.

Up director Pete Docter on talking dogs, youth scouts and adventure

Pete Docter, director of Disney/Pixar's next animated movie, Up, and producer Jonas Rivera screened 17 minutes of footage from the 3-D movie at WonderCon over the weekend and revealed the creative process behind it in an exclusive interview with SCI FI Wire.

Up tells the story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), who in his golden years sets out on the adventure of a lifetime by tying thousands of helium balloons to his house. The only problem is that Carl gains an unexpected traveling partner in 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer Scout Russell (Jordan Nagai), whom he finds on his porch. Together they embark on a journey to remote South America in a quest to find the legendary Paradise Falls. Up opens May 29.

Up producer Jonas Rivera (left) and director Pete Docter

The footage screened included part of what we viewed earlier, including Carl's first meeting with Russell; Carl's house ascending; Carl and Russell's first encounters with the giant bird, Kevin; and Carl and Russell's befriending Dug (not Doug, we're told), the talking dog.

Following is an edited version of our exclusive interview with Docter and Rivera. There may be spoilers ahead!

Where are you guys at in the process of making this film?

We're close to being done. We're five weeks away from being completely done with the film. We have 15 more minutes of music to record. We're going up to Skywalker Ranch to do the sound next week. ... There's a handful of shots left to light. So we're very close.

Rivera: Yeah, and it's post-production.

The score is by Michael Giacchino?

He's fantastic. I can't wait for people to hear the score. It's wonderful. ...

This is an unusual idea, to say the least.

It is, and it's been one of the challenges just kind of telling people what this movie is, but it's comedy and adventure built on a sort of bedrock of emotion. ... One of the things that's really important to me in everything that I've worked on is finding some relatable thing that the audience can identify with, ... that they understand is true for them in their own life. And in this film—we were talking about it a minute ago—this idea that you get swept up in the hustle-bustle of every day, and you have to fly here and na na na, and ... it's only once in a while you sort of wake up and go, "Wow, the time I have with my family and friends is really a precious thing, and it fades. It goes away." People grow up, they move away, they die, you know? ...

I think the first time we showed it to Jonas, he gave a great compliment. He just said, "I want to go home and be with my kids and be with my wife." And if you can kind of wake people up a little bit and just for 15 minutes make them appreciate all of the great things that they have, that's what this movie is about. ...

This feels to me like a kind of movie we haven't seen for a long time, which is the adventure movie, which they used to make a lot of and they don't anymore. And you even have sort of a retro feel to some of this, like the Explorers Club ...

Yeah, exactly. ... We came up with this idea of a floating house, and we worked backwards from that, thinking, "How did this guy get into the floating house?" And we came up with this whole backstory of him meeting this girl, and they fell in love, and they had this whole relationship. And this failed promise, that they didn't ever get to go down to South America to live this adventure that they always wanted to do. And so it was kind of based on that.

But that led us to this montage kind of feel, almost like a Capra film, reaching back to the '30s, because that's where the film takes place when we start out. And we wanted to infuse that through the rest of the film. To make kind of an homage to those films that we grew up with that we loved: ... Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, as well as ... Wizard of Oz and the Capra films ...

Rivera: It's a Wonderful Life.

Yeah, exactly. So ... it was a definite conscious choice to try to incorporate elements of those.

You also have this antic stuff: Kevin the bird and the talking dogs, which capture the essence of dogness.

That's the goal; that's good.

Docter: Yeah. I mean, there've been a lot of talking-dog movies, but I don't think anybody's really approached it this way, which is to think as much as we could about, like, what would a real dog [say]? What's important to a real dog? "Squirrel!" You know, it's those things of food and ...

Rivera: They cannot lie.

Docter: That's right. Yeah. ...

In part it was based on this idea, what I was talking about earlier, the fantastic adventure that Carl thinks his wife really wanted, this adventure of going to the ends of the earth and seeing rare, exotic creatures that no one's ever seen before and doing these amazing things. And, of course, he realizes that what she really wanted, and what she had, and what he had as well, is this most incredible adventure of all, which is the relationship that the two of them had. And so it was kind of working backwards from that punchline that led us to these other characters and tried to weave them in in a way that supports that theme.

You based Russell on one of the animators at Pixar?

Yeah. ... Pete Sohn. He's just such an entertaining guy that we thought, "OK, when you're looking to create memorable characters, ... if you can climb a couple stairs on your way up by basing it on someone that you know or whatever, that's a great head start." And he's definitely a character.

And Jordan Nagai, who voices Russell, was only 7 when he did the role?

Yeah, we were actually worried about that, that his voice might change.

Was it hard for a kid to focus for however many takes?

Docter: It's tricky.

It took a lot of sessions. ... And credit our editor, you know. Because he's not an actor. That was one of the things that was important about Jordan, casting him. We listened to over 400 kids, a country-wide casting call, and we found, it's pretty obvious, though it took us 400 kids to get through, that kids that were actors weren't, didn't feel right. They were too good, almost too polished. And this was just a regular kid. We just wanted that regular kid. But often, you said, reminded you of a kid growing up. We hope we hear that a lot, because we really want it to feel that way.

Do Next Gen cast members cameo in Abrams' Star Trek?

One of the more interesting rumors coming out of last weekend's WonderCon is the suggestion that the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation may appear in J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek movie. (Possible spoilers ahead!)

The always-reliable TrekMovie.com has previously reported that the setup of the new film takes place in the post-Star Trek Nemesis era before going back in time to the period before the original Star Trek series.

On Sunday, Latino Review reported from the IDW Comics panel, quoting the panelists that "part of the movie will take place with the Next Generation cast, and to look out for that. Another guy on the panel gave him a quick 'uh, oh' look, and smiled."


Here's what TrekMovie reported: "We have previously received no indication that there are any cameos of any Next Generation-era actors or characters. Just to be sure, we double checked with reliable sources and can confirm that there are definitely no TNG cameos in the new Star Trek."

Who's right? Stay tuned! Star Trek opens May 8.

Student Short is SuperGo!

Two of Alex Butera’s favorite things are Batman and Ninja Turtles. Well, last year he put out a real unique short called Baman Piderman that went on to become a huge-ass hit on YouTube. His MassArt student film, produced in 2008, goes more in the Ninja Turtles route. It’s titled SuperGo!, and it features a tribe of comedic but noble crime-fighters who often bite off more than they can chew. He used Flash as an ink and paint tool (but he only painted the intro), and the animation feels very full and lively. The film is a collaboration with his girlfriend, Lindsay Small.

Toon Tuesday : “Wonder Woman” shows how tough yet entertaining a home premiere can be

Jim Hill wishes that the Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment would dare to do what Warner Premiere does. Which is create direct-to-video animated features that are aimed at the PG-13 crowd

I belong to a very small club. That tiny group of people who were saddened when they learned that the Mouse was getting out of the home premiere business.

Okay. So Mickey hasn’t actually stopped making direct-to-video projects. Just last month, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released “Space Buddies ” (Which – for those of you who are keeping count – is the 8th “Air Bud” film). And then – of course – there are those “Disney Fairies” movies (No. 2 in this series – “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure” – is due to hit store shelves in October).

But beyond these two series (as well as an occasional long-in-production title like “The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Beginning”), the Mouse has basically gotten out of the home premiere business. Preferring to concentrate all of its efforts these days on trying to revive Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which makes me sad. Not so much because I’ll now never get to see “The Aristocats 2” and/or “Chicken Little II: The Ugly Duckling Story.” But – rather -- because Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment won’t ever make the movies that it should have made.

You see, back in the mid-1990s, Mickey had a very different plan in place for this division of the Company. Which involved producing home premieres that were somewhat ambitious in scope and weren’t necessarily tied to pre-existing Disney properties.

Which is why – in early 1994 – the Mouse made its licensees aware that what-was-then-known-as Buena Vista Home Entertainment was developing two intriguing direct-to-video projects. Which were home premiere versions of Mary Shelley’s
“Frankenstein” and Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days.”

Copyright 1994 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But then
“The Return of Jafar”
hit store shelves in May of 1994. And when 10.5 million copies of this “Aladdin” sequel were sold … That was pretty much all she wrote. Disney basically abandoned the idea of producing any original direct-to-video animated films. And instead embraced the notion of churning out home premiere sequels to the Studio's more popular animated features.

But not everyone who worked at the Mouse House forgot about this idea. Tad Stones – who worked at Disney for over 30 years on such animated series as
“Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers” and “Darkwing Duck”—eventually left the Company in 2004 to go work with Mike Mignola and create two “Hellboy” home premieres, 2006’s “Sword of Storms” and 2007’s “Blood and Iron.”


Copyright Starz / Anchor Bay. All Rights Reserved

The success of the first “Hellboy” direct-to-video title led others in the comic book industry to explore the idea of getting in the home premiere business. Chief among these was Warner Bros. Who – in July of 2006 – launched the “DC Universe” project, a series of original PG-13 animated films built around the DC Comics characters that could then be released through Warner Home Video (WHV).

The first three movies that were produced as part of this WHV project – “Superman: Doomsday,” “Justice League - The New Frontier” and “Batman Gotham Knight” – really raised the bar when it came to home premieres. They featured strong vocal casts, sharply written scripts, and surprisingly intense & well-staged action sequences.

Copyright 2009 Warners. All Rights Reserved

So does the fourth film in this “DC Universe” project – “Wonder Woman” (which hits store shelves today) continue that trend? Surprisingly, yes. “Wonder Woman” isn’t just a good animated home premiere. It’s a good movie, period.

Produced by Bruce Timm, “Wonder Woman” is an origins story. So things start off right in the thick of battle with the Amazons going head-to-head with Ares, the God of War (voiced by Alfred Molina) and his unearthly minions. Now please keep in mind that this is a PG-13 direct-to-video release. Which means that swords are gonna swing and heads are gonna fly.

Copyright 2009 Warners. All Rights Reserved

Eventually Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (voiced by Virginia Madsen), is able to defeat Ares. And to reward Hippolyta for her efforts, Hera then creates Themyscira, that mystical island where the Amazons can live in utopian bliss hidden away from the corrupt world of man.

So Ares is locked away in a special cell on Themyscria. And Hippolyta – by mixing sand, a little blood and some lightning bolts together – is eventually able to produce a daughter, Diana (voiced by Keri Russell). Who then grows up to be the Amazon’s greatest warrior while – at the same time – wondering about the world that lies just beyond that magic invisibility shield that cloaks Themyscria.

Copyright 2009 Warners. All Rights Reserved

Unfortunately for Diana, it’s not all that long until the world of man actually invades Themyscria. Steve Trevor (voiced by Nathan Fillion)’s fighter jet is shot down over the island. This sets in motion a chain of events that lead to Ares’ escape. And as the God of War exits the island and leaves a wave of chaos & destruction in his wake, it’s up to Diana to journey out into the world of man and (with Steve’s help) recapture Ares.

Which – I know – sounds kind of campy and over-the-top. But “Wonder Woman” really isn’t. Thanks to Michael Jelenic’s witty script and Lauren Montgomery’s solid direction, this home premiere serves up characters that you care about & can believe in. Then fold a surprising number of laughs as well an action-driven storyline and you've got a 74 minute-long direct-to-video that's far more entertaining than most summer blockbusters.

Copyright 2009 Warners. All Rights Reserved

I mean, just wait ‘til you see “Wonder Woman” ‘s climatic battle, which takes places on the Mall in Washington D.C. There isn’t a live-action director working today who doesn’t wish that he or she could do what Bruce Timm just did. Which is stage an action sequence where Diana and Ares battle in, around, over and through some of the more recognizable buildings & memorials found in our nation’s capital.

Watching “Wonder Woman” … Well, it made me wish that Disney would embrace a home premiere project like Warner Bros. ‘s “DC Universe.” Maybe revive “Gargoyles” as a series of direct-to-video films where (thanks to that PG-13 sensibility) the show’s writers could then get just as tough, dark & twisted as they wanted. (Though Disney’s creatives would have to work really hard in order to find a way to top Ares’ trips to Hell to meet with his uncle Hades [voiced by Oliver Platt]).

Copyright 2009 Warners. All Rights Reserved

These “DC Universe” home premieres really show what can happen when you don’t play it safe. When you don’t just churn out sequels to already successful animated features. But – rather – take a few chances and then reimagine older stories.

Which is what The Walt Disney Company could have done back in the mid-1990s if they’d just gone ahead with production of those video premiere versions of “Frankenstein” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”

No comments: