Thursday, December 24, 2009

News - 12/24/09...

Why Family Guy's Empire spoof made Lucas squeamish

Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side is the latest Star Wars spoof video that places the animated show's characters into George Lucas' Star Wars movies—in this case, The Empire Strikes Back—but director Dominic Polcino revealed that it took a bit of persuasion to get Lucas to sign off on some of the satire's racier elements.

Dark Side drops a few F bombs, as when Peter and Chris argue over the Family Guy-vs.-Robot Chicken spoofs of Star Wars. (Seth Green, voice of Chris, produces Robot Chicken.) Still, Family Guy got away with it.

"[Lucasfilm] were leery about some of the humor that went dark," Polcino revealed. "Saying, 'F--k you, dad' and stuff like that."

In the new DVD movie, Peter Griffin returns as Han Solo, Chris as Luke Skywalker, Lois as Princess Leia and Stewie as Darth Vader. Creator Seth MacFarlane also cast neighbor Mort Goldman as Lando Calrissian. ("We were running out of characters," MacFarlane said at his Los Angeles home on Dec. 12. "We figured hey, how about Mort?")

There's other racy bits, as when the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi reappears to guide Luke to Dagobah. Since Herbert the pedophile is Obi-Wan, he tries to take advantage of a prone Skywalker. "If you're familiar with Empire, when Luke is passed out in the snow about to die, Obi-Wan appears and tells him to go study with Yoda," said Mike Henry, voice of Herbert and Cleveland, in a separate interview. "Basically in the real movie, it's like, 'Luke,' and he wakes up. In this movie, it's 'Chris. Take your pants off.' Actually, I think exactly what it said was, 'Luke, pull your pants down.' So we're just going right at it."

The spoof is faithful, more or less, to the original version of Empire and not the 1997 special edition, which changed a few things, including dubbing a girlie scream over Luke's fall down the shaft in Cloud City.

"I actually wanted to make sure that our crew never saw the redone versions, because I wanted to be faithful to the original original where he does not scream," Polcino said. "In ours, I think he doesn't scream, but he does find his hand."

Not all of Family Guy's changes were controversial. Some were just practical. Since baby Stewie plays Darth Vader, the climactic lightsaber battle had to be modified. A Stewie-sized Vader had to be more acrobatic to fend off a Chris-sized Luke. "Yeah, we have to jump up in the air almost like Yoda did in the other movies," Polcino said.

For all that was changed, you might also be surprised how many lines remain exactly as spoken in the 1980 original film. Even though Chris has a squeaky voice, Green tried to sound as much like Mark Hamill's Luke as he could. "There are some moments in this that are verbatim from the movie," Green said. "So when a really specific performance is something that you remember from the movie, we try and replicate it."

Empire Strikes Back isn't the only movie spoofed in Something, Something, Something Dark Side. As you might expect in a Family Guy production there are references to other pop culture: American Idol, The Real World, even Rocky IV (Luke's training with Yoda features Rocky-style workouts, intercut with the live action footage of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) working out). "I wasn't in the writer's room for that, but that's a good moment," Polcino said.

Something, Something, Something Dark Side is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Chipmunks Battle Holmes and Avatar in Battle of Xmas Weekend Dominance

As James Cameron’s Avatar prepares for its second weekend in release, analysts are expecting this Christmas holiday period to be a record-breaking moneymaker at the box office. New in theaters this week are Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel, Guy Ritchie’s much-buzzed about Sherlock Holmes and (in limited release) Terry Gillian’s visually dazzling The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which is promoted as Heath Ledger’s final film.

Fox’s family tentpole Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel opens today (Oct. 23) in 3,657 theaters nationwide. Directed by Betty Thomas, the feature finds the high-pitched-voice singing pets in fine form as they meet their female counterparts, the Chipettes in high school. The hipster cast includes Jason Lee, Zachary Levi, Justin Long, Wendie Malick, Christina Applegate, Amy Poehler and David Cross. The film has been lauded for its excellent mix of CG animation and live action, courtesy of the team at Rhythm and Hues. The first live-action feature in 2007 proved to be a surprise hit, bringing in over $360 million worldwide.

Audiences seeking more adult fare are likely to check out Guy Ritchie’s modern spin on Arthur Conan Doyle’s clever sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law star as the Victorian-era detective and his sidekick Dr. Watson as they battle a sinister adversary who has nefarious plans for England. Rachel McAdams plays the love interest, Irene Adler. The Warner Bros. movie showcases some remarkable set pieces and impressive vfx, provided by Double Negative, BlueBolt, and The Visual Effects Company.

Also continuing its run in theaters this week is Disney’s Princess and the Frog which has been faring well with family audiences across the U.S. As of Dec. 21, the acclaimed 2D feature had made over $47.6 million at the box office.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Director, Writers on Board for Marvin the Martian

Hang on to your Illudium Q-36 Space Modulators: Marvin the Martian is now several big steps closer to his own CGI-live action hybrid movie, with a director and writers coming on board to make it a reality.

Alex Zamm, who also is set to direct a Hong Kong Phooey movie, has signed on to direct the film for Warner Bros. and production company Alcon Entertainment, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A pair of TV writing veterans, Paul Kaplan and Paul Torgove, has signed on for the screenplay, and Mike Myers is being discussed as a possible voice actor for the lead role.

Warner Bros. and Alcon, which produced the current hit The Blind Side, is looking to release the movie at Christmas 2011.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Chorion Develops Beatrix Potter Animated Series

Beatrix Potter’s children’s classic Peter Rabbit is set to star in a new animated series under a new deal struck between publisher Frederick Warne and Chorion.

The series will include Potter’s most famous characters, including Jemima Puddle-duck, Benjamin Bunny and Mr. Jeremy Fisher. The series will be designed for TV and offered for international distribution.

Frederick Warne is part of the Penguin publishing company and has been the publisher and protector of Potter’s classic tales since they were first published. Warne has had a 25-year relationship with its licensing agent, The Copyrights Group, which is now owned by Chorion.

“As Beatrix Potter’s original publisher and guardian of Peter Rabbit and his friends, Frederick Warne, working with Chorion, will ensure that these timeless characters remain relevant and treasured by children in the future,” says Stephanie Barton, managing director of Frederick Warne.

“Our aim will be to introduce Beatrix Potter to a new generation of children and make her characters as loved today as they have been in the past,” says Waheed Alli, chairman of Chorion.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Goode Family Debuts Jan. 4 on Comedy Central

The Goode Family, the follow-up series to Mike Judge’s classic King of the Hill, is set to make its Comedy Central debut Jan. 4.

And how well the series does on the cable network will determine whether or not more episodes are made of the show, which is about a family determined to live the politically correct and eco-friendly lifestyle no matter what.

The series ran 13 episodes on ABC last summer before it was canceled due to low ratings. At the end of that run, producers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky told fans they were looking for a new network to pick up the show.

The official Goode Family page on Facebook states that if ratings are good on Comedy Central that additional episodes could be produced.

Comedy Central plans to air The Goode Family at 10 p.m. ET/PT Mondays.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Did you spot all of the in-jokes & Disney references in “Prep and Landing”?

WARNING !! There be spoilers ahead as Jim Hill reveals what co-directors / writers Kevin Deters & Stevie Wermers-Skelton hid under the tree in this new ABC holiday special

Okay. I know. JHM has already done a number of stories on “Disney Prep and Landing,” that new holiday special that Walt Disney Animation Studios produced exclusively for ABC (which – FYI – wound up being the highest rated Christmas special of the 2009 – 2010 season).

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But if you’re making plans to watch tonight’s encore presentation (which airs on ABC from 8-8:30 p.m. ET/PT), I thought that you might enjoy knowing where to look in order to catch all of the inside jokes / stuff that “Disney Prep and Landing” co-directors / writers Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton hid in plain sight in this new holiday special.

(L to R) Stevie Wermers-Skelton and Kevin Deters, co-directors / writers of “Disney Prep and Landing.” Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Take – for example – the German Shepherd that surprises Wayne and his old partner Peterson in this holiday special’s prologue. Does that dog look familiar? He should. Given that this CG canine is the title character of “Bolt” with a slightly different paint job.

“Walt Disney Feature Animation was just finishing ‘Bolt’ as we were gearing up production of ‘Prep and Landing.’ So we figured why reinvent the wheel?,” Deters explained. “That said, to make this reuse less obvious, we did change Bolt’s coloring from that of an American Shepherd to a German Shepherd dog. But – beyond that – it’s the same animation rig.”

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Bolt isn’t the only Disney dog to make a cameo appearance in “Prep and Landing.” Keep a close eye out for a Goofy-faced nightlight as Wayne & Lanny are putting Timmy back in bed.

“This is an extra special inside gag for Stevie and myself,” Kevin continued. “Given that the image of Goofy’s face that we use on that nightlight in Timmy Terwelp’s bedroom is actually from the poster for ‘How to Hook Up Your Home Theater.’ Which is the short that we co-directed for Disney. Stevie painted that poster herself, by the way.”

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As for the next blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Disney reference, keep an eye out for a snow-covered station wagon in “Prep and Landing” ‘s action-packed finale. Did you catch the license plate number as Wayne & Lanny were skiing over that car? If not, it reads “12501 WED.” As in December 5, 1901. Which is Walt Disney’s birthday.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Then – of course – there’s that holiday special that Wayne watches while he’s goofing off at the Terwelps house. Which is “Mickey's Christmas Carol,” the featurette that “Prep and Landing” producer John Lasseter worked on during his first stint at Walt Disney Animation Studios back in the late 1970s / early 1980s.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Beyond that … Deters & Wermers-Skelton take great pride in is the number of nods to Christmas classics and/or earlier holiday specials that they were able to slip into “Prep and Landing”.

“Timmy Terwelp is obviously our tribute to Tiny Tim from Charles Dickens‘A Christmas Carol.’, “ Stevie said …

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“And if you look closely at the plant behind Magee’s desk, you’ll see that it’s actually the tree from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

In fact, one of the funnier audio / visual gags in “Disney Prep and Landing” comes when Magee pours the dregs from her cup of Yuletide Joe into this flower pot. There’s this brief pause. Then – just like in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – the needles fall off of that pitiful little Christmas tree with the exact same tinkle-tinkle-tinkle noise.

Another intriguing aspect of this holiday special is the way that Kevin & Stevie chose to handle Santa. Or – as the elves call him – “The Big Guy.”

“Since we’re telling this story from the elves’ point-of-view, Santa Claus really is The Big Guy. Which is why we wanted this character to come across as being large, powerful and somewhat mysterious,” Deters explained.

Which is why – in “Disney Prep and Landing” – you get to see Santa from the waist down …

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… a brief glimpse of his glove and mouth …

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… even the back of his head …

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… But you never ever get a full-on view of Santa's face.

“That was a deliberate choice on our part,” Kevin continued. “That’s also why we went with veteran character actor Morgan Sheppard as the voice of The Big Guy. He brought sort of a gruffness to this role. Which is why you easily understand why Wayne would be kind of afraid when he dropped by Santa’s office on Christmas Day.”

Speaking of that portion of “Disney Prep and Landing,” if you look closely at what Miss Holly is typing on her typewriter, you’ll see that it’s the lyrics to “Jingle Bells.”

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Beyond that … The in-jokes go from things that film buffs will appreciate (EX: The code name of Santa’s sleigh? Rosebud) …

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… to gags that only members of the Deters & Wemers-Skelton clans will get. Take – for example – the toy giraffe in Timmy’s bedroom. Which is modeled after a favorite plaything of one of Kevin’s sons.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Or the name of the side of that container of milk that Wayne uses to make his late-night latte.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Or the fact that the Terwelps house (seen in miniature here in the snow globe that Santa presents to Wayne) …

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… is modeled after Kevin’s boyhood home.

I know, I know. It seems like that there’s an awful lot of Deters-related material in “Disney Prep and Landing.” Not to worry, though. Ms. Wermers-Skelton gets in her licks as well with this holiday special.

Take – for example – the elf that revs up the engines on Santa’s sleigh (i.e. Dasher & Dancer). He’s voiced by Stevie.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But of all the in-jokes & tributes that are featured in “Disney Prep and Landing,” I think my favorite is buried down deep in the credits for this Christmas special. Which reads:

“In Loving Memory of WALTER A. FULLER”

Walter A. Fuller

“And who’s Walter A. Fuller?,” you ask. Not an employee of Walt Disney Feature Animation. But – rather – an air traffic controller at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

So how did Fuller earn that particular tribute in “Prep and Landing” ? Well, back in the Spring of 2008, while Deters & Wermers-Skeleton were still in the research phase of this new ABC holiday special, they wanted to visit an air traffic control tower. So that the one that Magee worked in at the North Pole would then have an authentic look and feel.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As it turns out, Walter was a neighbor of Susie Coffer, who works in Development at WDAS. So Coffer arranged with Fuller to bring Deters, Wermers-Skelton as well as a few other folks from Disney up into the Burbank Tower. Where Walter then proceeded to give this group a tour that they talked about for months afterwards. Which provided all sorts of info, insights, lingo and jargon that they immediately folded into “Prep and Landing.”

Unfortunately, five months after this tower tour, Fuller was one of the 25 people who were killed in that Chatsworth Metrolink crash.

And the crew at Walt Disney Animation Studios … Given that Walter had been so helpful, so generous with his time while they were researching “Prep and Landing,” these writers, artists and animators felt that they had to something to honor the memory of this very special man.

Which explains the credit at the end of this holiday special. As well as this elf who works in the North Pole Tower.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Look familiar?

ABC’s encore presentation of “Disney Prep and Landing” airs tonight from 8-8:30 p.m. ET / PT. Which -- to my way of thinking -- is a perfect way to spend a half hour on Christmas Eve. If you haven't already seen this acclaimed holiday special, be sure and check it out. To quote Lanny: "It's so tinsel."

FilmCow Delivers Llamas with Hats 2

Here’s a holiday gift that’ll freak out your relatives – Jason Steele has deliver the latest FilmCow short, a second installment from the Llamas with Hats series.

New "Despicable Me" Teaser Trailer and Stills

Universal Pictures has released a new teaser trailer for Despicable Me, their upcoming CGI animated movie starring Steve Carrell and Jason Segel scheduled for release on July 9, 2010:

In addition, Universal has released several new stills from the movie. Click on any of the thumbnails below to view full-size:

Despicable Me will be released on July 9, 2010. For more details, visit the movie's official website or Facebook page.

The Permanence of 3-D -- Part VI

After Avatar, the momentum picks up for viewing in three dimensions.

Piper Jaffray estimates the 3D market will grow from $5.5 billion this year to $25 billion by 2012 at a compound annual rate of 50 percent. ...

Good news, yes? But then there is this.

A new PricewaterhouseCoopers report concludes that every industry sector must make adjustments over the coming 18 months to meet the creative and financing demands of such expensive, complex production. Similar challenges involving creative and tech-related compatibility also will confront game studios and game consoles, TV station operators and broadcast and cable TV networks, Internet companies and consumer electronics manufacturers.

“Among the other issues studios must find answers to are the integration of special effects in a 3D movie ...

And what's the sub-text to the above? It's that the congloms are muttering to themselves:

If we lay out major bucks for all this pricey technology crap, are we going to recoup our investment? Or are we going to lose our butts?

I've read other think-pieces -- and thought myself -- that when we reach the point where 100% of the movies we love are in glorious Three Dee (in the same way that 100% are in color), that the fine companies who rule us will find it tough to charge the movie-going public a premium for watching stereo presentations.

Because nothing will be special if everything is special.

And if Viacom and/or Warner Bros. break ranks and drop ticket prices on their 3-D extravaganzas when market pressures become intense, won't every other company follow suit to stay in the game?

Or am I missing something?

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Toons of the 2000s: Top 25 Animated Television Series Countdown #10-6


Dates: 2005-present
Adult Swim (Cartoon Network)
80+ episodes

Created by Seth Green & Matthew Senreich
Starring: Various actors and actresses

A stop-motion comedy anthology show.

Why It Made The List
It's nice to have an animated equivalent of Saturday Night Live and MadTV, and it's even better to have one so rich in bizarre and often hilarious jokes. Robot Chicken also stands out for its very liberal use of old action-figures dolls, which gives its satirical jabs at those genres an extra punch—another dividend from its being animated in stop-motion.

But it's also just good to have a show that isn't afraid to be random, and that doesn't have to tie itself down with a single set of recurring characters.


Dates: 2008–present
Cartoon Network
40+ episodes

Created by Thurop Van Orman
Starring: Thurop Van Orman, Brian Doyle-Murray, Roz Ryan, Jeff Bennett, Steve Little

A boy, a captain and a whale on a sometime-quest for Candied Island.

Why It Made The List
In a word: Weirdness. Weird characters, weird settings, weird stories. What would otherwise be fairly bland becomes an anarchic game of "What in the world is going to happen next?"

This unpredictability extends to its look. Unlike most cartoons, Flapjack is written in storyboards, meaning that they draw the story out rather than writing scripts, something used in Looney Tunes and other theatrical cartoons many decades ago. Another thing in common with the old cartoons of the bygone era is that the artists have the freedom to draw the characters as funny as they can get. As a result one can actually identify which artist drew which scene. This is very much a departure from other TV animation where all the characters look the same episode after episode, and a welcome callback to the days of Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, when it was possible to identify the animators of particular sequences.


Dates: 1999-2003 [to be revived in 2010]
72 episodes (plus 4 DTV movies)

Created by Matt Groening
Starring: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, Maurice LaMarche

A twentieth-century slacker adjusts to life in the thirty-first century.

Why It Made The List
Futurama features ingenious storylines about robots, aliens, and life in the future while also offering a sharp commentary on contemporary issues. This is exactly what you could expect from a science-fiction show, but Futurama enriches those virtues with excellent comedy, brilliantly realized by top-notch comic actors.

And, as befits a series about the future, it deftly blends traditional and cutting-edge animation techniques. Only a very perceptive eye is likely to pick up on the use of CG-animation in key models and backgrounds. These techniques are not just a crutch, however, and help give the show its comic speed and lightness.


Dates: 1999-present
128+ episodes

Created by Stephen Hillenburg
Starring: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Carolyn Lawrence, Clancy Brown, Doug Lawrence, Rodger Bumpass

A cheerful sponge and his friends have wacky fun under the sea.

Why It Made The List
Sweet, silly, and cartoonishly inventive, SpongeBob SquarePants is proof that contemporary animators can still capture the essence of Golden Age cartooning.

There's a reason the show is popular with all ages, from tots to grandparents: SpongeBob SquarePants himself. Like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, SpongeBob is a household name because he is a terrifically attractive personality who is fun to watch and makes the viewer feel good. And like Disney and Termite Terrace, the folks who work on SpongeBob have surrounded their star with a stable of equally memorable characters.

The show many not have the liquid animation of the 1940s shorts, but the visuals are bright and cheerful, and the characters are greatly expressive. When married to the great voice performances by Tom Kenny and his colleagues, they justify the show's immense popularity.


Dates: 1999-2002 and 2005-present
131+ episodes

Created by Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis, Mike Henry

Family life in Rhode Island.

Why It Made The List
Love it or hate it, probably no show has had a greater impact this decade than Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy. Its aesthetic has been very influential—see the widespread popularization of one of its trademarks, the unmotivated, deadpan flashback. And as an object of contempt it has inspired creative assaults, from cartoon historians like Jerry Beck to rival animators like Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

But the show is equally successful as the pioneer of a new economic model for animated series. After debuting to low ratings on FOX it was cancelled, but spectacular DVD sales led to its revival. It is fair to say that the emergence of the DVD market—which Family Guy did so much to highlight—has saved more than one animated series that would have otherwise been cancelled as economically unproductive.

Be here tomorrow for #5-1 of the Top 25 Animated Television Series Countdown.

(Thanks Toon Zone)

Cool new French trailer for Nolan's weird sci-fi Inception

We're eager to see Christopher Nolan's upcoming mind-bending sci-fi thriller Inception, but still don't have a clear idea what it is. And this newly bootlegged French-language trailer doesn't help much, but it sure looks cool. Is that city actually folding in on itself?? (Watch it while you can below before TPTB pull it.)

The movie, from the director of The Dark Knight, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine and Dileep Rao. It opens July 16, 2010.

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