One Plus Hub Presents – Animation Groups in the Big Apple
October 22nd, Thursday 7pm
The One Plus Hub is an animation networking group which was launched in the fall of 2005. The One Plus Hub is comprised of over 900 members from the animation and related media communities at large. On a quarterly basis, animation producers, directors, writers, executives, agents, composers and managers in all media (films, television series, web, and mobile entertainment) come together to network and discuss the issues that surround the industry today and the future of animation from a business, creative and overall global perspective.
Special Guests include Lisa Goldman of Women in Animation, Linda Beck of ASIFA-East, and Ashley Fenwich of Women in Children’s Media.
The Beauty Bar
231 E 14th St
(bet. 2nd/3rd Aves)
(Thanks asifa east)
Animation, Fox, and Ice Age
A week ago, the Nikkster posted the speech of Bill Mechanic (late of 20th Century-Fox and the Diz Co.) to Indie Film Makers. And I herewith quote:
Nine years ago, I was a healthy and occasionally happy studio executive. I had taken Fox over a 7 year period from a doormat to the #1 studio and before that had spent 9 years at Disney building a then-dormant minor player into a muscular and, for the first time in its history, a real force in the studio world.
... I had fought with Rupert Murdoch over my desire to create a business for Fox in the world of animation. He felt no one could compete with Disney. Nevertheless I started up Fox Animation. ANASTASIA was a start, it made money. TITAN AE a misstep, and lost. Even though that is the nature of the business, that not everything works, he didn’t want to wait for ICE AGE to finish production. I didn’t have a foot out of the door before Fox tried to sell off the film. Luckily for them, they couldn’t get a deal done ...
Days after Mr. Mechanic's speech, I had occasion to talk to two veterans of Blue Sky who were there when Ice Age Uno was being made. They had an interesting tale that tracks the one told by Bill M.:
Mechanic's right. Fox couldn't get a deal done to sell the picture off. But man, were they trying to.
Fox was working hard to dump Ice Age and Blue Sky Studios. They just didn't want to be in the animated feature business.
They tried to sell that first feature to Jeffrey, to Pixar, to anybody who'd take it off their hands . Lots of people came through the New York studio to have a look at it. At the same time, Fox was attempting to unload the whole studio. They wanted out completely.
It never happened because the company could never get anybody to bite.
Now, of course, there's all kinds of people at News Corp. taking credit for the big success of the Ice Age series. But there was nobody taking credit back before the Spring of 2002, when the first one was released ...
It's like William Goldman always says: "In Hollywood, nobody knows anything."
Amazing how executives turn into flaming geniuses when a movie ends up making lots of money. And they're geniuses despite the fact they never wanted to make the movie in the first place, and in fact fought tenaciously to stop it.
(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)
Overseas Toonage Scorecard
The foreign derby race, in a nutshell:
Up -- $11.6 million generated from 3,579 locations in 27 territories, pushing overseas cume to $231.2 million.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs -- rained $6.8 million from 1,933 locations in 31 markets, pushing overseas cume to $21.6 million.
G-Force -- muscled its way past the $100 million mark overseas ($100.8 million) on the back of a $5.7 million weekend at 2,221 sites in 36 markets
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs -- $684 million
9 -- $16.1 million
The congloms are now clued to animation's commercial possibilities. Sadly, the Mainstream Media too often treats cartoons as the bastard step children of the entertainment world, but we'll just keep pummeling away until attitudes change.
(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)
Sneak a Look at Plympton’s Cheatin’
Oscar-nominated animation maestro Bill Plympton has revealed his latest short, Cheatin’. However, it’s not finished. What you’ll watch below is a (lavish) pencil test, that includes the entire story and a near full realization of the animation. Plympton has been steadily releasing his traditionally-animated dog series (Guard Dog, Guide Dog, etc…), and you’ll see a brief canine homage early on.
Dork Out on Cuppa Coffee’s Nerdland
A finalist for Best TV Series at Annecy, Cuppa Coffee’s Nerdland has been viewable on their website for months now, but I recently spotted the 7-minute pilot over on Vimeo. The stop-motion series concept was generated internally by puppet maker Ted Heeley, and then after teaming up with TELETOON’s Detour the 22-minute series was set into motion. In related news, the 2nd season of Nick at Nite’s Glenn Martin DDS, which is produced at Cuppa Coffee, was just announced.
Aniboom’s Marvel Motion Comics Competition
Mark Salisbury has uploaded a very worthy submission into Aniboom’s Marvel Motion Comics Competition. For another 2 weeks, users can vote for the top five entries, and then on October 19th the finalists will be announced. Here’s the Hulk and Wolverine in Puny Little Man:
Disney Debuts Diamond Dwarfs
The first-ever animated feature comes home in high definition for the first time this week as Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition (Disney, $39.99 Blu-ray and DVD combo pack).
The release is a major upgrade for the classic film, which gets a restored picture and a new 7.1 DTS Hi-Def Surround Sound track. The film also is the first to feature Disney View, which uses original watercolors to fill in the otherwise blank areas on a widescreen TV around the film’s original aspect ratio. The process used more than 18 panels of artwork created by artist Toby Bluth.
The film also is packed full of bonus features, including a look back at the original Disney home of Hyperion Studios, a Magic Mirror “host,” a BD-Live feature called “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,” as well as various games and puzzles.
The Blu-ray and DVD combo pack features the film in both formats; a stand-alone DVD version of the film is set for release on Nov. 24.
Also out this week is a pair of releases heralding the upcoming Astro Boy feature: Astro Boy: The Beginning (Widowmaker Films, $12.99) and Astro Boy Box Set Vol. 1 (Geneon Entertainment, $49.99).
Fans of more modern anime will surely be interested in Naruto Uncut: Season 1, Vol. 1 (VIZ, $39.97), while Aardman-philes will want to check out Chop Socky Chooks Vol. 1 (Fox, $19.98).
And with Christmas just around the corner, the holiday release are out in full force. Chief among them is the Blu-ray releases of A Charlie Brown Christmas (Paramount, $29.98 Blu-ray) and Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (MGM-Warner Bros., $29.99 Deluxe Edition Blu-ray). Another Seuss classic, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (Warner Bros., $14.98 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray) also is due out.
Other animated holiday releases out this week include: A Miser Brothers Christmas (Warner Bros., $19.98), HIT Favorites: Frosty Friends (HIT, $14.98), Veggie Tales — Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving (Big Idea, $14.93), and Animated Christmas Tales Collection (MGM, $34.98), which contains An All Dogs Christmas Carol, Olive: The Other Reindeer, Christmas Carol: The Movie and Pink Panther: Pink Christmas.
(Thanks Animation Magazine)
Coraline Director Selick Moves on From Laika
Stop-motion animator Henry Selick is leaving his position at Portland-based studio Laika.
Selick joined the studio in 2004 as supervising director. He wrote and directed the studio’s hit 3-D feature film Coraline, which was based on a popular novella by Neil Gaiman. The film opened in February to strong reviews and grossed more than $75 million at the domestic box office.
Selick’s departure comes at the expiration of his contract with the studio. The news was announced in a statement by studio president Travis Knight.
“Henry is a brilliant, inspirational, and visionary artist whose contributions are indelibly etched into the very DNA of Laika,” says Travis Knight. “We are tremendously proud of what we created together. Throughout our five years of collaboration, Henry has been variously my director, my mentor, and my friend. I will miss him and wish him well in his future projects.”
LAIKA owner and Chairman Philip H. Knight adds, “We’re so proud of what the studio has achieved with Coraline. Laika and Henry have created a classic film, one that will entertain movie lovers for generations to come. Henry’s skill and talent inspired a supremely gifted company of artists and his contributions are deeply appreciated.”
“Making Coraline was one of the great filmmaking experiences of my life,” said Selick in a statement. “I appreciate the commitment that Laika and the Knights have made to stop-motion filmmaking and wish them continued success.”
Selick will continue to work with Laika and distributor Focus Features to promote Coraline through the upcoming awards season. Selick's previous films include The Nightmare Before Christmas and Monkeybone.
Laika will continue to make animated features, and is expected to announce its next stop-motion project soon.
The company also is developing a CG-animated feature, though since that project will not be the next one the studio greenlights, it recently let go about 60 staff members in its CG department.
(Thanks Animation Magazine)
MIPCOM Day One: Sweet Deals and Discoveries
We got the usual flurry of news about series pickups, acquisitions and exec shuffles on the first day of the 25th edition of the MIPCOM market, which is taking place this week at the Palais de Festival in Cannes (Oct. 5-8). The official word from organizers is that over 12,000 participants are attending the confab—which is less than the 2008 edition which attracted 12,500 delegates, but about 500 more than MIPTV in April.
Freemantle Snaps Schwartz
Among the big animation news today was that well-liked industry veteran Sander Schwartz was snapped up by Canadian outfit Fremantle Corporation to head up its new children and family entertainment division. The Emmy-winning producer was responsible for many of Warner Bros. Animation’s acclaimed toons such as Justice League, The Batman, Xiaolin Showdown and Teen Titans. Schwartz was head of Warner Bros. Animation from 2001 to 2007 and most recently served as president of international production and head of Sony Pictures Television Intl.’s global production group in London.
Mr. Davenport’s Latest Stroke of Genius
One of the exciting parts of working the MIPCOM Palais beat is meeting up with some of our favorite animation producers and learning about their upcoming projects at an early stage. The day started on a bright note with a visit with the brilliant Andrew Davenport, the co-creator (with Anne Wood) and writer of two of the U.K.’s most acclaimed and popular shows, Teletubbies and In the Night Garden. Davenport is at the market to promote his latest creation, CG-animated series Tronji, an intriguing 30 X 30” show targeting six to eight year olds.
The series is described as a landmark multi-media experience and centers on the adventures of a group of comical, absurd characters who live in a place known an Tronjiworld. The show also features three live-action children who enter this bizarro world to help battle a catastrophic phenomenon known as Wobble that sucks life, color and happiness away from their world.
“The point of the show is to ask children to identify what they’re good at, so that they can use their skills to solve the problems around them,” says Davenport, who is impressively articulate during our early morning meeting. “It was important for us to create this playful environment so that kids can practice these skills and help them learn without being obvious about it and hiding these lessons within the narrative.”
A Ragdoll production for the BBC, Tronji’s first 15 episodes ran on the Beeb, beginning in November of last year. This elaborate production will also have a major Massive Multiplayer Online Game component. Judging from Davenport’s previous efforts, this clever new offering is poised to take off in a big way globally—it might just take a little while before the rest of the world catches Tronji fever. Just think how long it took for Americans to really relax and enjoy the glory of The Teletubbies! “When you try to explain the show to people, it really sounds quite complicated,” admits Davenport, “but you’d be surprised at how quickly kids catch on to all the different stories and the show’s various components.”
And now for something completely different...we decided to check in with the gifted Richard Morss of Straandlooper Animation, which is a busy toon studio located in the town of Holywood in Northern Ireland. Morss, a TV toon veteran whose many credits include Lifeboat Luke and Tiny Planets is shopping a very clever and decidedly adult collection of animated shorts called Small Tragedies. You’ll just have to see these witty ditties to believe them, but once you sample them, you’ll want to pass them on to our friends virally. The one Morss screened for Animag was a hilarious song about a middle-aged red-neck guy who needs a lot of assistance from the blue pill in bed. Another big Straandlooper sleeper is Hector, the Fat Arse of the Law, a 12 x 15 spoof of those classic hard-boiled British cop shows that pop up on TV regularly. To find out more about these spirited, off-the-wall toons, visit www.straandlooper.com.
Check back with us tomorrow for more MIPCOM discoveries, including close encounters with Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers. Yikes!
(Thanks Animation Magazine)
HIT Gets MIPCOM Hip to Hippo’s House
HIT Entertainment unveiled Hippo’s House, its most recent children’s property, at MIPCOM as part of its ongoing development slate.
Created by Tattiemoon and planned for 52 10-minute CG-animated episodes, Hippo’s House is about a magical home full of wooden toys with human aspirations.
The company also has announced the signing of Dave Ingham, the BAFTA-nominated preschool writer of Waybuloo and Charlie and Lola, for a series called The Real Mees. The show, aimed at the 4-6 crowd, teaches children to seek out and accept help from your friends rather than going it alone. Another 52 x 10 min. series, The Real Mees is a creation of Absolutely Cuckoo, which was behind Waybuloo.
HIT also is in talks with broadcasters for its previously announced project, Mike the Knight, also in development as a 52 x 10 min. CG animated series.
(Thanks Animation Magazine)
Fremantle Corp., Strict Machine Bite into Fang Force
Fremantle Corp. and Strict Machine announce their all-new animated co-production Fang Force at MIPCOM.
The Canadian-U.K. co-production is about a family of vampires that take on missions to protect their fellow vampires and thwart the evil Bloodfather, all while maintaining their cover as a typical suburban family.
The companies have 26 episodes available for buyers at MIPCOM.
“What attracted Fremantle Corp. to Fang Force are the series’ unique creative elements, its dynamic design and fun characters,” says Randy Zalken, the president of Fremantle Corp. “We have a ton of respect and admiration for our U.K. partners Simon Samuels, Ashley Pugh and their whole team of award-winning professionals at Strict Machine.”
(Thanks Animation Magazine)
John Lasseter named to Toy Industry Hall of Fame
John Lasseter, chief creative officer of the Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios, and principal creative advisor of Walt Disney Imagineering, will be inducted next year into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, the Toy Industry Association, Inc. announced Monday.
The honor will be bestowed February 13 at the 10th Annual Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards.
"As the director of blockbuster movies such as Toy Story and Cars, John Lasseter has brought toys to life on the big screen," explained Alan Hassenfeld, chair of the Hall of Fame Committee and 1994 Hall of Fame inductee.
Walmart founder Sam Walton will be inducted posthumously.
Established in 1984, the Toy Industry Hall of Fame comprises a roster of 55 individuals who have been previously honored for their significant contributions to the growth and success of the toy industry. Inductees are nominated by the industry at large and selected based on votes received from the Toy Industry Association's membership.
"We are pleased to honor Mr. Lasseter and Mr. Walton at next year’s induction ceremony," said TIA president Carter Keithley. "Both of these outstanding gentlemen have changed the way the world looks at toys."
The 2010 induction ceremony honoring Lasseter and Walton will occur during the Toy of the Year Awards event at Chelsea Piers/Pier 60 in New York. Lasseter is expected to be present to accept his award in person.
This is the Walt Disney Company's second induction into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame; Walt Disney was bestowed the honor in 1987.
The Toy Industry Association, Inc. is the not-for-profit trade association for producers and importers of toys and youth entertainment products sold in North America, representing over 500 companies who account for approximately 85% of domestic toy sales.
Iron Giant 10th Anniversary event
ASIFA-Hollywood will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Warner Bros. Animation’s The Iron Giant with a panel discussion featuring several of the key animators and crew members responsible for the 1999 animated masterpiece.
Among the many artists expected to attend will be writer and director Brad Bird, background artist Anne Guenther, art director Alan Bodner, lead animator Steve Markowski, and Scott Johnston who created the ToonShader software for the film. The panel will be moderated by animator Tom Sito.
The event will take place Friday, October 23, 2009, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium, on the campus of Woodbury University, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd., in Burbank, California. Seating is limited. Reservations are required for this event and tickets are available through www.asifa-hollywood.org/irongiant. Members of ASIFA-Hollywood and students of Woodbury are $5; non-members $10. Parking is free. Proceeds from this program will benefit the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive.
Another cartoon Dennis and his Dad won’t be seeing on TV. From Cartoon Network’s aborted Cartoonstitute program, created and directed by Chris Riccardi.
Three years in the making, and it looks damn good. Yellow Cake by Nick Cross - read his production blog and watch it here:
Carlos Ramos on The Beatles Rock Band trailer
Carlos Ramos, the creator of Nickelodeon’s The X’s, ponders on his blog, Why can’t we have more hand-drawn animated features like Pete Candeland’s trailer for the videogame The Beatles Rock Band:
It’s such simple animation but with so many great tricks your eye can’t see the strings. Things like blurred focus, CG instruments and props, fast camera moves, quick cutting and gorgeous held drawings make this some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The shame is that there isn’t a feature in our near future in this style. I swear it could save 2D but I’m sure that money is currently being spent on the next CG feature based on a children’s book with shrill celebrity voices.
I’m in complete agreement with Carlos. The trailer, which we wrote up earlier, is one of the most daring and dynamic pieces of commercial animation I’ve seen all year long. What prevents Hollywood from producing modestly budgeted animated features that have a clear directorial vision like this piece?
"Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures" Coming to DVD
Tvshowsondvd.com reports that the 1987 cartoon Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures is coming to DVD in Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures - The Complete Series.
Produced by famed cartoonist Ralph Bakshi (creator of Fritz the Cat and Cool World) it chronicles Mike Mouse, a worker at Pearl Pureheart's factory, but when trouble comes, he becomes Mighty Mouse to save the day.
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures was produced by Bakshi-Hyde Ventures and aired on CBS in 1987, and features the voices of Pat Pinney (Mainframe from G.I. Joe) as Mighty Mouse, Maggie Roswell (The Simpsons) as Pearl Pureheart, Dana Hill (National Lampoon's European Vacation) as Scrappy, Charlie Adler (Buster Bunny from Tiny Toon Adventures) as Bat-Bat, and Michael Pataki (The Amazing Spider-Man) as The Cow. The show also helped launch the careers of John Kricfalusi (creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show), Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E) and Bruce W. Timm (producer of Batman: The Animated Series).
The 3 disc set will contain every episode as well as 3 bonus Mighty Mouse cartoons from the Paramount vaults.
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures - The Complete Series will hit stores on January 5th, 2010.
Toon Tuesday: What was it like to work at the Mouse Factory back in the 1950s?
Disney Legend Floyd Norman writing for JHM, talks about what it was like to work at Walt Disney Studios in the post-strike era. And to Floyd's way of thinking, "The Bad Old Days" were pretty darned good
A group of young guys and gals gathered in the office of a Disney veteran on the third floor of the Animation Building. “Boy, you missed it,” the old timer rhapsodized as he spoke about the good old days of the late 1930s and early 1940s. “This used to be a great place to work, but the strike ended all that.”
If you know your Disney history, you’re probably aware of, what might be called Walt Disney’s paternalism during the early days of the Hyperion Studio. Disputes between labor and management were hardly an issue during the Great Depression. Most young guys and gals were happy to have a job, and a job at Walt’s cartoon factory was better than most.
Walt’s midwestern philosophy of, an honest days work for a fair wage appeared to prevail at the fledgling studio. There was no need to speak of unions or workers rights when there was no guarantee the studio would even be in business the following week.
The old guys I’ve spoken with told me they were delighted to quit their jobs as delivery boys or soda jerks in order to earn a wage at the drawing board. Better yet, Walt Disney even tossed in a few extra bucks for those industrious enough to come up with gags or ideas for future cartoon shorts.
Walt Disney’s fatherly attitude continued when the studio moved to its new Burbank facility in the San Fernando Valley. While there was a lost of intimacy provided by the overcrowded Silverlake plant, it was more than made up for by the efficiency of the new studio. Still, Walt Disney provided his staff with an ideal artists environment. While the nation crawled out of a crippling depression, the Disney animators enjoyed what could have been called a workers paradise.
Yet, even in paradise, all was not well. Walt found it difficult to create Disney magic when his animation staff was increasingly divided by a contentious labor action. The bitterness created by the 1941 strike could not be easily dismissed, and it would change forever the relationship between Walt and his artists.
The Walt Disney Studio of the 1950s provided artists with the perfect working environment
The legacy of that Disney labor action ushered in “The Bad Old Days.” No longer would Walt’s artists and staffers enjoy the perks and privileges of the studios’ glory days. From now on Walt Disney would run a tough, hard as nails, no nonsense business. The fun and games were over.
Well, at least that’s the way the old guys tell the story. However, I’ll have to add, “Well, you could have fooled me!” You see, when I found the Disney Studio at its worst, it was still better than most studios at their best. This, however, might take some explaining.
This young kid arrived at Disney in the early 1950s with scant knowledge of the studio's labor history. So, when the old guys informed me that Walt had stripped away all the “goodies,” I didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. From this kid’s naive point of view, everything looked just great. Yet, I was reminded continually that we were bearing the brunt of the 1941 strike, and all of us were being reprimanded by “Big Bad Walt.” So, I decided to compile a list on the many ways we were being “punished.”
First of all, let’s talk about working conditions. Number one, we had our own animation building and most of us had a private office, or at least we shared one with a colleague. In this case, I mean a real office with a door and a window with a view. The so-called office cubicle was non-existent.
Walt’s studio commissary operated at cost as a convenience for the workers. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing a menu from the Disney cafeteria or lunch counter, you would probably be in shock. Even though most didn’t earn much, we could still dine at lunchtime for around a dollar. If you chose wisely, you might even return to your drawing board with change in your pocket.
The commissary included a studio store that actually sold some pretty special toys and gadgets. Not the cheesy stuff so often seen today.
That's Marshall Horton & Buzz Fortney. We were all young kids delighted to be working for Walt Disney
Walt Disney also provided an onsite post office where employees could purchase stamps and mail packages. No need to hop in your car and leave the studio lot when everything needed was a few doors away.
There was ample wall space in the studio library for artists to exhibit their work. Should you be lucky enough to sell all your paintings or sketches, the earnings were yours to keep.
There were free classes and lectures by the Disney Masters on the subjects of animation, layout and story. All provided without charge and conducted at the studio after work. The Disney veterans donated their time in order to provide training for a new generation of animation artists.
A carpenter shop, machine shop, and an electronics department that would gladly help you solve problems should you require their help. Of course, this was in addition to their regular company work. The electronics department repaired my tape recorder, and Disney’s machine shop helped me build an animation camera stand. All freely given because we were “part of the family."
Finally, Walt Disney provided working conditions like no other studio in town. While most movie employees labored in grungy, factory like facilities, the Disney studio lot was a landscaped campus complete with squirrels that scampered across manicured lawns.
I began my animation career working in these “dreaded conditions,” clearly being punished for the sins of my predecessors. The funny thing is -- since I didn’t know Walt was punishing me, I assumed I was working in paradise.
If you were lucky enough to work for Disney back in the f1950s when Walt and Roy ran the place, you might have had a few gripes about things. However, you’d be less than honest if you didn’t admit that Walt Disney Productions at its worst had to be an incredible studio. And if you decided to remain in the cartoon business for the remainder of your career -- it would never, ever be this good again.
This young kid was working on "Sleeping Beauty" back in the good old days
J.J.'s Star Trek is officially the biggest ever
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek has ended its official theatrical run after 21 weeks, and an accounting by our friends at TrekMovie.com shows that, in inflation-adjusted dollars, it had the biggest box office of all the Trek movies (see chart after the jump).
Here's their chart:
Here's their analysis:
The final tally, as of last Thursday, brings the film a few thousand short of $385 Million world-wide, which is certainly a big success, especially for a franchise that was given up for dead by some just a few years ago. ...
According to Box Office Mojo, Star Trek's domestic tally is $257.7 over the 147 day theatrical run. This includes $28.1 Million for IMAX (or around 11%). This makes it the highest-grossing and highest-attended film in the Trek franchise.
In broader terms, Abrams' film places in the top 50 (number 47, to be precise) of the highest-grossing movies of all time (180th adjusted for inflation).
Now we know there are a handful of you out there who insist this movie is a bomb because of the high cost of production (an estimated $150 million), the high cost of marketing it and the need for the film to gross about two and a half times its production costs to make a profit. We're not sure this is true, especially once you factor in the anticipated grosses from home video, not to mention ancillary revenue from TV rights, etc. etc. We think it's safe to say that CBS and Paramount are probably pretty happy with Trek's performance, particularly since it resurrected a moribund franchise and proved that it can be a going concern once again.
But ... the question remains: Was it the best Trek movie?
7 good things Spike Jonze added to "Where the Wild Things Are"
We knew that a movie based on Where the Wild Things Are would add stuff to Maurice Sendak's 48-page illustrated children's story. That could be a good thing if the right filmmaker gave us more Wild Things than our childhood imaginations ever experienced. The film's director and co-writer, Spike Jonze, may have done just that.
The film includes the book's key images of Max (Max Records) in a wolf suit, sailing to the land of the Wild Things, commanding them to be still, becoming their king and having a wild rumpus. That's five minute of screen time down, 85 more to go.
We spoke to the cast and filmmakers last weekend in Beverly Hills, Calif., where they discussed the new additions to Where the Wild Things Are. Here's a guide to Jonze's "improvements" to the beloved book. Spoilers follow! The film opens Oct. 16.
1. We meet mom. In Sendak's story, Max's mother is just an outside voice who sends him to bed without supper. In the movie, Catherine Keener plays Max's mom. She proves to be a loving, supportive single parent, comforting her son when he's upset. She blows up at him only after an exasperated night of Max's acting out in front of her date. That makes this Wild Things a story for parents, too. "When Max has that moment and bites her and everything, she cannot handle it, because she's at her wit's end," Keener said. "That, to me, is very real. As a parent, I don't always know, I don't have the time to sit here and teach you a lesson through this in the most politically correct, gentle way. I just react."
2. Max's wolf suit gets pimped out. Max still wears his wolf suit in the movie, but with a few modifications. Max now has finger holes and wears sneakers with his iconic costume. Costume designer Casey Storm explained how those alterations show more history to Max and his playtime costume. "Instead of having claws on the edge of the hands, he kind of grew out of the suit," Storm said in a separate interview. "It's a suit he's had for a long time, so he's cut the fingers off and he's cut the feet off, so you do see his tennis shoes. Also, for the purpose of practicality, to have him be able to be tactile and touch things and do things, it was good that you could have his fingers come out of his suit."
3. Wild Things step on heads to make a point. King Max leads the Wild Things in a dirt clod war, one of the new set pieces for the movie. After throwing hunks of dirt fails to get results, some of the Wild Things step on their brethren's heads, and that's not cool. It's just like how kids don't understand why their parents tell them to keep their elbows off the table. "You don't exactly know, what does stepping on the head mean?" Jonze said. "That means something in this society, but you understand the emotion behind it. I guess the idea was the same [as] a kid who's observing the world is observing all these weird adults and all the things we care about or don't care about or get upset about. They don't understand exactly the specifics about it, but they understand the feeling behind it. I think that sort of was the guiding force in creating the world of the Wild Things."
4. King Max has a political platform. In the book, Max became king, led the rumpus and went home. In the movie, he comes up with a plan as king. Max determines to build a fort for the six Wild Things, where there will be no sadness. The fort will melt any intruders' brains before they can hurt the inhabitants. This leads to another social lesson in children's terms. The fort still ends up making people/Wild Things feel bad and becomes socially oppressive itself.
5. The land is bigger, but it still looks like Sendak art. In the movie, Max finds the wild things in their village of huts. The huts are a new addition to Sendak's concept of the forest, as are sojourns to the desert and the fort that Max builds. They all look like Sendak could have drawn them, though, because production designer K.K. Barrett used a cross-hatch style when he built sets to mimic Sendak's drawing style. "That was intentional," Barrett said. "We kind of came up with a system of a forest that was burnt where you could see infinite depth. It didn't obscure the [Wild Things], and it looked like the lines that he would draw, like his tree trunks. Then with the shading, the stick work in the huts and the fort. We wanted everything on the island to be more primal, more feral. We went back to what animals would build, should they build."
6. The Wild Things have names. The anonymous Wild Things of Sendak's book get names, at least the ones that made the cut for the movie. Carol (voice of James Gandolfini) is that iconic one in the front of Sendak's drawings with two horns. The long-haired one is KW (Lauren Ambrose). The one with the snout of a goat is Alexander (Paul Dano). The birdlike one is Douglas (Chris Cooper), the one with three horns is Judith (Catherine O'Hara), and Ira (Forest Whitaker) has the bulbous nose. Gone are the ocean creature and warthog things.
7. Bye-bye, bedroom forest. The one change even Sendak vocally opposed was that the forest no longer grows out of Max's room. In the film, Max runs away through the forest and finds the boat that sails him to the land of the Wild Things. Jonze thought having Max run away and discover the land of the Wild Things would make the whole adventure more real than if it had just magically sprung from his room. "I love that part of the book," Jones said. "As we started writing, it just didn't seem to make sense anymore to what we'd written up to that point. It doesn't make sense to have that kind of fantastical thing suddenly happen. It doesn't feel true. What feels true is running away, after that fight."
'Dark Knight' Producer Leaving 'Flash' Movie?
DC Comics' Silver Age has been getting plenty of Hollywood attention in "Green Lantern" these days, but the publisher's significantly speedier hero the Flash has been jumping his share of hurdles on the way to the big screen.
Not only has Adam Brody's planned Flash appearance in "Justice League: Mortal" been indefinitely sidelined by Warner Brothers, now it seems the hero's planned standalone film will have to run on without the involvement of "The Dark Knight" producer Charles Roven.
In an interview with IGN, Roven discussed his former attachment to the project, which hadn't had much traction since last year.
"I was involved at one point with 'The Flash,'" Roven told IGN. "And Warner Bros. came to me and said, 'The work that you've been doing hasn't yet resulted in something that any of us, including the filmmaking team, feel could be greenlit as a movie. We're trying to accomplish something that takes into account the entire, rich DC character world, and we'd like to pull it back. That doesn't mean that you aren't going to be a part of it. We just want to take a different kind of approach. Do you mind if we try that?' If we had something that was really working…"
Aside from the early departure of director Shawn Levy, "The Flash" hasn't seemed to suffer from lack of overall creative interest, but rather a sort of runner's fatigue as the right people weren't lined up in time to work with the studio's vision for the film under Roven. Roven offered no hard feelings and even expressed optimism at taking another lap with the scarlet speedster if the opportunity presents itself.
"Like, for example, they had something that was more or less working for them on Green Lantern, and now you have Martin Campbell directing it…But we didn't," Roven said. "The David Goyer screenplay, that didn't work. Goyer left the project. We then embarked with David Dobkin, trying to come up with another approach. We hadn't even hired a writer at that point. So for us, we completely understood. I've been making movies with Warner Bros. for 15 years, so that was fine, but I hope one day there's a way for me to get re-involved in the project."
Despite these departures, "The Flash," still seems to be on track under the guidance of longtime Flash and Green Lantern comics scribe Geoff Johns, who was brought on to assist with a script treatment as well as to serve as a producer and consultant on the film back in July.